Julietta Grigoryan with her grandchild in her house. Grigoryan settled in Masis, Armenia during the war to take care of her sister-in-law and grandchildren. Her family returned in December 2020 and live in the same house. They are expecting the government to restore the destroyed parts.

The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War Anniversary: Shosh Village Between War and Peace

577
0

By Lilit Shahverdyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

SHOSH, Artsakh Republic — This is Shosh, a village in Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) that today lies along with the new borderline between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. From their balconies, the locals have a clear view to observe the movements of the enemy. It´s a stark reminder of what they lost in a war that started exactly one year ago.

On September 27, 2020, Baku launched a major offensive against the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, resuming the unresolved territorial issue of the former Soviet Union. A ceasefire between the sides was signed on November 10, with the intervention of Russia.

The population of Shosh was 621 prior to the war. The village municipality asserts that today there are only 480 people living in the village, 37 of them being displaced people from occupied regions in Artsakh. Shosh was heavily shelled during the first Karabakh war (1991-1994), and also during the last one. Andreas Margaryan, a 64-year-old white-haired man, was the head of the village during Soviet times and now engages in agriculture and beekeeping. He rebuilt his 150-year-old stone house twice and assures he will do it again since he owes it to his offspring.

Andreas Margaryan filtering honey.
Margaryan and his two sons are engaged in beekeeping. They either sell the honey or keep it for their families. There is a separate room in the Margaryans’ house with the necessary machines and tools for making honey.

“Everyone has a duty to fulfill in the village. If you do not have anything to do, then you do not belong to this community,” repeats Andreas. He still contributes to the prosperity of Shosh and puts his best foot forward as long as he lives within the walls of his ancestral house.

Grandchildren of Andreas Margaryan.
Margaryan has three children and five grandchildren. He is willing to reconstruct his house for the kids to grow up in good conditions. The roof was damaged due to shellings and will soon be restored.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Children in Shosh already acknowledge the danger they are living through and do not dodge their duty. Last year, the morning of September 27 was not a horror movie for Artyom, but rather something new and unwonted: he heard shootings and saw the smoke of burning military equipment. Artyom is 10 years old but imagines himself as a soldier from bygone times, and on that awful September 27, he didn’t take fright. Instead, he took shelter only after bringing back their cows from a neighboring village that was in the same danger.

Suren Babayan’s roots in the village dates to mid-19th century. He has lived his six decades with a dedication to Shosh, went through two wars, and witnessed a lot, from amity with the Azerbaijanis to expecting the next bomb to target his house. He lost pasturelands and animals, friends and relatives, but his hope hasn’t utterly expired since the villagers are still adjacent to their lands. The village has started to revive after being heavily shelled in the recent war: the damages are gradually eliminated due to state support and people have returned to their homes and the normal rhythm of life. However, Suren assures, the destiny of this tiny corner is hidden in the haze.

“I’m a man of a certain age and comprehend everything,” states Babayan, “but how can the youth have faith in the future, seeing their lands under enemy control? We cannot control our future. It’s vague and still unresolved.”

Two grandsons of Andreas Margaryan.
The boys are playing with a telephone in their bedroom. The wall behind them is also damaged.

The Republic of Armenia provided a budget of 90.5 billion drams ($187 million) to overcome the crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh, from which 3.6 billion drams ($186,000) will be invested into the development of the economy. Minister of the Economy of Nagorno-Karabakh Armen Tovmasyan asserts that all the branches of the economy are currently in decline except construction, which has increased by 106 drams due to the widespread destruction the war caused. As the village of Shosh suffered significant losses in infrastructure, around 150 buildings are gradually being reconstructed.

However, Sosh is now deprived of lands for agriculture; the animals cannot freely graze as crossing the border is hazardous․ According to the municipality, in June 2021, it was still possible to get two horses returned due to negotiations through the Russians, but more recently, four horses were taken away by the Azerbaijanis. Local authorities also affirm that seven men from the village died during different military operations around Shosh.

Currently, there are no major issues with electricity and water supplies, but what will happen in the future remains unclear. The president of Nagorno-Karabakh Arayik Harutyunyan has announced that the state will implement new projects for the development of agriculture, particularly focusing on the provision of new lands for sowing. Serious measures have been taken towards increasing the number of livestock, providing 10,767 animals to the Shushi region, which encompasses the village of Shosh. According to the Ministry of Economy of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, livestock regulation and pasture management programs have been initiated in 11 communities, including Shosh.

The villagers conducted themselves differently during the war: women, children, and the elderly found temporary residences in safer spots in Armenia, while men prioritized the protection of their homes. According to an official international report, Armenia hosted around 109,000 refugees and asylum-seekers as of October 2020, while this number was reduced to 37,000 by May 2021.

The Babayan family tree. The Babayan family is known in the village as “Hurunts azg” (the nation or people of Hurunts), and they settled in Shosh around 150 years ago. Their family tree was painted in 2017 for a competition and took second place. Samvel says he underwent the war sitting on the same sofa, expecting that his house will be shelled next.

Babayan and Margaryan did their best to maintain relative stability in the village, which was constantly shelled by the Azerbaijani forces. Margaryan invested his energy and capabilities in supporting military storage, while his sons were at the frontline, together with the local group of fighters. Stressing the importance of commitment for the fatherland, he quotes a movie: “At the end of the day, we will all die, but we will be envious of those who fell for the protection of their homeland. Death for liberty is a holy death.” Margaryan is certain about his commission to defend Shosh since the vigor of the inhabitants pushes each other to move forward. “My grandchildren will live in this house as long as I find their living safe,” he declares, sharing the opinion of his peers.

Artyom, who dreams about becoming a soldier, lives with his parents, grandparents, and young cousins. His grandmother, Julietta Grigoryan, is 59 and works at the local school as a cleaning lady. She had to leave the village during the war for one reason: her sister-in-law was giving birth. The baby was born in early October in Masis, Armenia, where their family had temporarily settled. She recalls the days spent in Masis with warmth as she was affably welcomed by the locals. “Our neighbors were Yezidis,” she remembers, “and they would bring products for us every Friday: meat, coffee, and sugar — they shared everything with us.”

Despite the lack of proper living conditions, Julietta’s family returned soon after the ceasefire, with her newborn grandchild. They have received support from international NGOs, like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the state but still believe the immediate menace is not eliminated since she can see the Azerbaijani troops right from her balcony. The villagers are concerned about their livestock as the location of the village prevents people from farming and pasturing. The Azerbaijani often take away the animals that cross the border, while sometimes the Russian peacekeepers intervene to return them. Grigoryan cultivated land on the other side of the border but now the access is very limited and is possible only with the intervention of Russians. Julietta explains: “Once I went there with my husband but the Azerbaijani didn’t let us in. The second time, they shot in the air to frighten us. Yes, we can collect our harvest with Russians, but we cannot freely cultivate.”

The presence of Russian peacekeepers doesn’t inspire that much hope in the villagers, and Margaryan recognizes the value of self-governance which has been impeded by the recent war. “Independence, anthem, and flag are values for which the Armenians struggled for hundreds of years. Now we are losing it,” he says. “I feel like a subordinate person in my own house. I have the keys, but my home doesn’t belong to me.” This opinion matches the viewpoint of Babayan, who believes that Nagorno-Karabakh will not belong to anyone. It will remain an apple of discord forever. However, he finds that there’s no alternative to the presence of Russians. “We should trust them as long as we have a chance to have our voices heard. If they leave, on whose door shall we knock?” states Babayan.

Babayan was among the ones who endured the sleepless nights and all the horrors of war, residing in the village which was so close to being taken over. His rock during those sinister days was his wife who left Shosh only in late October, as every second spent there became fateful. “I was sitting on this sofa with my wife, hearing the rumbles from neighboring houses that were destroyed, and waiting for the next bomb to target our house,” he remembers. However, the shadow of death following him did not prevent Babayan from taking measures. While his three sons were at the frontline, he would take care of the villagers’ livestock or take people to Stepanakert by his car. Animals suffered and died because of shelling and lack of care, but Babayan made it possible to keep safe some of the livestock.

Despite the difficulties the villagers undergo to maintain their rhythm of life, they still feel deeply attached to Shosh, and the notion of leaving the village for the sake of a better life is odd to them. People comprehend the abundance of issues in the village that need to be solved and are inclined to take measures and fulfill them. Margaryan is willing to complete the reconstruction of his destroyed roof to overcome the challenges of approaching winter frost and doesn’t hesitate to improve the living conditions for his grandchildren. “The one who is bonded to the village will dedicate his last gasp to Shosh,” assures Margaryan, adding, “This is our fate and we shouldn’t try to escape it.”

Hope springs eternal also for Samvel Babayan, whose silver lining lies in his son’s courage to create a new life after losing his watermelon fields. His eldest son cultivated lands in Aghdam (now in Azerbaijan) to grow and sell watermelons, but the war turned out disastrous for him as all the fruits of his labor was handed to the Azerbaijanis. “I lost my faith in the future for a moment,” states Babayan, “but lucky for me, my preconceptions were vague.” His sons overcame this setback and began to cultivate new lands in Askeran, which remained Armenian. This fact consoles Babayan, and he is now convicted that the game is not over. “My sons could leave for Russia like many others who lost pasturelands, but they didn’t. If they still hold out hopes, I’m proud of my sons,” says Babayan. He believes that if one desires to ensure the next day and the future, he should get a grip and work.

“Death is inevitable,” he says. “Today, we have to live.”

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: