Children asleep in Goris on their family’s belongings (Anoush Baghdasaryan photo)

By Lida Asilyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

GORIS, Armenia — As one walks in the crowded, narrow streets of Goris in the south of Armenia, thousands of interrupted lives and destinies haunt a visitor. In all the corners of the city’s small square one can see bundled belongings in chaos, kids asleep on their bags, people queuing for warm food, and an endless number of cars and buses coming.

Anoush Aghajanyan, a woman in her 50s forcibly displaced from Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), puts her current state succinctly, possessing: “only some documents and handbags. It has been ten days that we are wearing the same clothes.”

In the early afternoon of September 19, 2023, Azerbaijani armed forces launched a large-scale military offensive against Artsakh, resulting in 200 dead and 400 injured. The attack came nine months into Azerbaijan’s blockade of Artsakh that left 120,000 ethnic Armenians, including 30,000 children and 2,000 pregnant women, deprived of food, medicine, and basic necessities. Azerbaijan also disrupted Artsakh’s fuel and gas supplies, restricting the movement of ambulances and cars.

Town square in Goris filled with bags and belongings of Karabakh refugees (Anoush Baghdasaryan photo)

“I was at work, at school, teaching, and all of sudden, I heard everyone screaming that a war had started. We were trapped by war, like being in the middle of a burning pot,” Aghajanyan said. She rushed from the school to her house, grabbed her grandchildren, and ran to the center of the village, where there were some cars trying to evacuate people.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

“We had just 30 minutes to pack everything and escape. If we were a bit late to exit the checkpoint, we would’ve been imprisoned in the village and besieged by Azeris,” Anoush added. Later, they weren’t able to return to the village; it was already besieged.

Anoush and her family of three arrived in Goris after taking a long and exhausting two-day trip with scarce food and water. An endless queue of cars and buses was trapped on the road of life. As they reached the Azerbaijani checkpoint at the Lachin corridor, different measures were taken to check, scan, and humiliate the people, with the guards making the Turkish fascist group Gray Wolf’s hand signal and calling the men insulting names.

“It seemed we entered another world. We were scared that our relatives wouldn’t make it and would be caught,” Aghajanyan said.

After a 10-month blockade imposed by Azerbaijan, not having bread, regular water, electricity, and gas, the people of Artsakh continued their daily routines, busily engaged in their work and trying to make ends meet, as impossible as it seemed.

“The blockade itself was a huge issue. However, being at home meant being free, while being in foreign lands means being a captive,” she whispered, pulling her gray jacket that has her only comfort for the past ten days closer to her.

“Yet we adapted to the situation. We could never have imagined that we would be forced to flee, leaving the graves of our relatives behind and losing our Artsakh,” she shared.

Children asleep in Goris on their family’s belongings (Anoush Baghdasaryan photo)

MORE FROM Armenia & Karabakh

Let the Numbers Speak

As of today about 100,625 forcibly displaced persons have arrived in Armenia from Artsakh, and 91,924 of them already have been registered by Armenian officials, Armenian Prime Minister’s Press Secretary Nazeli Baghdasaryan said: “The number of registered and already identified persons is increasing hour by hour. As of now, it is 99.2 percent. We are confident that this number will reach 100 percent in the next one or two days.”

Baghdasaryan also noted that 8,000 people have already been connected to primary health care centers while 324 people continue to receive treatment in medical institutions.

Among the forcibly displaced persons, there are students and children. According to the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport, 8,000 students — 32 percent of children — are already visiting various educational institutions in Armenia.

If You Fall into Their Hands, You’re Done!

“I have been forcibly displaced twice. The first time I was displaced from Shushi to Stepanakert after 2020, and this time here. I didn’t bring anything with me. I just got up and came. It was cold, and I was freezing,” said Edik Edigaryan, a gray-haired man in his early 60s, who sent his family to Goris first and then came later with his fellow villagers.

When the war started, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces first attacked the electrical station of their village. People stayed without electricity and then things got even worse when the Azerbaijani forces started shelling the village. He helped to take out the bodies, but the hospitals were full. People were placed on the ground and in the corridors as all the rooms were full, he said.

“There were young boys among us, 13-, 14-, 18-year-old boys, who came to help us, so we managed to take out the corpses. We did it at night to escape the shooting from their side, but they were shooting anyway. We barely took out the bodies,” Edigaryan said.

Coming from a village near Stepanakert, he saw Azerbaijani forces making “big-big fire on the mountain” to put psychological pressure on the villagers.

A young man with a Karabakh flag in Goris (Anoush Baghdasaryan photo)

Passing the checkpoint was an additional challenge, especially for the men. “I was lucky to be in a car with only old passengers and children. There was an old woman, an old man, and three children. They [Azeris] didn’t pay any special attention to us, but when there were younger people, those who were in their 30s, and the Azerbaijani soldiers called them out of the car, started to bully them, make fun of them to provoke a fight, and arrest them.”

Edigaryan also says Azerbaijani soldiers filmed some people to say things “that weren’t true.” “They force people to say that ‘Karabakh is Azerbaijan’ and that everything is peaceful now and so on, putting psychological pressure on them.”

A young woman in Goris is trying to engage a child from Karabakh in Goris (Anoush Baghdasaryan photo)

For a moment, Goris seems like a station where all the destinies take to one place – chaos and uncertainty.

“Witnessing all of this, one starts to lose touch with reality. I am afraid Azerbaijan won’t leave Armenia alone,” he said.

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: