Gayane holding one of her newborns (Karine Armen photo)

Hope and Despair for Artsakh Refugees in Armenia

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By Karine Armen

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Many organizations started helping Artsakh refugees immediately after the annexation by Azerbaijan. On October 24, collaborating with a reputable organization, I shadowed a social worker, visiting families now resettled in various parts of Armenia. The first family we visited had five children. Their 5-month-old triplet boys were born during the blockade.

On that warm October morning, we entered Gayaneh’s rented apartment. The social worker conversed with Gayaneh and her parents-in-law. I quietly observed the family dynamics. Turning to the 12-year-old boy, I asked, “Do you miss your home? How do you like the school here?” He silently nodded, expressing no complaints. I guess he had learned not to complain and be thankful, but his eyes were sad.

Meanwhile, the social worker attended to Gayaneh’s in-laws, discussing their pension and other concerns. I asked Gayaneh, “What were you doing in Artsakh?” With a sigh, she responded, “I was a history teacher in our village.” Recollecting their life, she mentioned their recently renovated house. Her 40-year-old husband operated an auto repair shop on the first floor while they resided above. Additionally, her in-laws owned extensive property, including land, tractors, a truck, and a car. They relinquished everything, arriving in Armenia solely with their documents and one suitcase.

Gayaneh’s daughter holds her new sibling (Karine Armen photo)

In a brief span, Gayaneh and I had made a connection. She candidly shared, “I loved my job. But one day, feeling unwell, I visited a clinic and discovered I was pregnant with triplets.” Considering their age and the prevailing political and economic climate, they hadn’t contemplated more children. Yet, with a sparkle in her eyes, she whispered, “It was a gift from God. I wanted these magical triplets.” The triplets were born amidst the economic blockade on May 25, 2023, in a hospital in Stepanakert. News spread about these remarkable births during a disturbing period.

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Observing Gayaneh’s family and their resilient spirit, I learned gratitude and positivity from her. The other two babies woke up, initially smiling, then started crying as hunger struck one after the other. It sounded like a chorus. Grandmother attended to the heaviest boy while the 10-year-old girl comforted the lightest, leaving Gayaneh to care for the middle child. Their coordination resembled a well-run operation, efficiently managing three babies in a small space.

Finally, I needed to ask Gayaneh about her unwavering positivity, I wanted to probe her mindset. “How do you maintain such resilience without complaining?” Pausing thoughtfully, she smiled and replied, “I’m grateful that everyone is alive and we reached Yerevan safely.”

Staying positive is a defense mechanism, a survival strategy. The reality is that 100,000 Armenians have left their lands and rich history. It is a humanitarian issue. Displacement, loss of money, lives, land, churches, and cultural landmarks are genocidal. We need to continue being resilient.

(Karine Armen (Kurkjian) is a teacher, photographer, social worker and writer. She taught as an elementary school teacher in Glendale for 32 years. She has a B.A. in photography and social work and a M.A. in Education Administration. In 2010 Karine translated her mother’s self-help articles from Farsi to English and published them in a book called Inner Heaven. She is working on her memoir about cultural identity.)

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