Legacy of Trauma in Karabakh

Legacy of Trauma in Karabakh

Institute for War and Peace Reporting
may 12 2004

Armenian veterans continue to feel the shock of the conflict as if it
ended yesterday.

By Ashot Beglarian in Stepanakert (CRS No. 233, 12-May-04)

“This is how we live,” said Gennady, a weathered former soldier, as he
ushered us into a modest home furnished with only the bare essentials –
a table and a couple of chairs in the middle, and beds by the walls.

“I’ve never craved fame or wealth, and I never treasured life that
much, never feared death,” he told IWPR. “I just want my children to
live. And I pray to God that their lives will be different from ours.
We saw too much blood.”

Gennady is intense and gesticulates a lot when he speaks, but he
appears preoccupied rather than intimidating. “Sometimes dad’s mind
wanders off,” said his son, and Gennady himself did not disagree.

Ten years after a ceasefire was called, the Armenians of Nagorny
Karabakh still live in daily recollection of the war fought over their
territory. The memories are especially fresh among men – every male
between the ages of 18 and 45 was called up to fight.

Even though they ended up on the winning side, they have bad memories
of the war.

Zoya Mailian, a psychologist who often sees patients haunted by the
horrors of the war, said ex-combatants most commonly suffer from
chronic post-traumatic stress, which creates a range of psychiatric

“The stress factor can hit you a few days, months or even years later,”
she explained. “In most cases, it makes itself felt through haunting
memories and recurring nightmares. Not infrequently, people suffering
from this kind of trauma lose interest in activities that made sense to
them before. Others may become wary to the point of paranoia, or very
tense and irritable. This condition can be treated by psychotherapy,
but it’s important to see a doctor at an early stage.”

War veteran Mikhail Sarkisian still hears the noises of war. “I was an
artillery gunner, and all that horrendous noise had a terrible effect
on me. Now I can’t stand the slightest sound. I’m very irritable.”

Sarkisian admitted that, “At times I have an inexplicable yearning
for the sound of an artillery barrage.”

Another veteran said, “Whenever I hear a noise, my arm seems to hear
it first – any sudden loud noise echoes with pain in my old bullet
wounds. It’s as if you expect a punch out of nowhere all the time. It
must be a subliminal memory of the Azerbaijani gunfire and bombardment,
which used to start out of the blue.”

Life in peacetime has hit many veterans hard as they have tried to
adjust to new conditions and find employment. Shortly before Karabakh
celebrated May 9, the anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi
Germany, the local parliament passed a law granting a 20 per cent
pension raise worth between 700 and 2,000 dram (1.2-3.5 US dollars)
for former soldiers maimed on active service, as well as the families
of those killed. Invalids and families are expected to receive extra
help next year.

But this hasn’t cured the sense of alienation experienced by many

“I’m so ashamed to be staying at home, looking after the kids while
my wife is at work. I don’t have a job,” said Gennady resignedly,
stroking his two sons’ hair.

As the years have gone by, veterans have had to cope with growing
indifference from the society around them.

In 2000, Nagorny Karabakh’s government launched a memorial campaign
entitled “No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten”, designed to
extend social benefits to all registered war veterans, including
those who fought as guerrillas before a regular army was formed in
1992. However, very few have benefited so far.

Sergei Khachikian, who received several combat awards, is unable to
find a steady job, and lives in poverty.

“I’ve been trying forever to renovate my place, which is pretty small
as you can see,” he complained. “It looks terrible, like a war ruin.
The government pledged some help, but nothing’s happened yet.”

Retired general Zhora Gasparian is adamant that veterans shouldn’t
wait for the government to help them, but should look after themselves.

“Laziness and reluctance to work causes a lot of problems,” he said.
“We have really good, fertile soil, but it needs care. I have retained
my love for farm work since my schooldays…and I still work hard,”
he said, displaying his hardened, blistered hands.

A career officer with 40 years of service behind him, Gasparian
receives a pension of 120 dollars from the government, which is
hardly enough to live on – certainly not if you want to live like
a general. But he manages, and also helps out several war-widowed
families. “We’ve got to help them in every way,” he said.

Major-General Vitaly Balasanian, who chairs the Union of Karabakh War
Veterans, believes the veterans do need help and recognition. “The
armed forces and the soldiers of yesterday – the army’s chief reserves
– must always be at the centre of the government’s attention. It is
important that our veterans are valued and esteemed by everyone,”
he said.

Karabakh remains unrecognised as a state, and the tense atmosphere of
“neither war nor peace” which has characterised the truce since 1994
has created a sense of continuing unease and sensitivity to any change
in the status quo.

Despite the reconstruction work, economic growth and improved living
standards seen over the last 10 years, the legacy of war continues
to make itself felt as people suffer from deprivation, the threat of
sniping along the ceasefire line, and unexploded mines.

Many people in Karabakh believe these problems – including the tough
situation facing veterans – can only be resolved properly once there
is a lasting peace deal in place – whenever that might happen.

Ashot Beglarian is a freelance journalist and regular IWPR contributor
in Stepanakert

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS