Khndzristan is an unassuming village in the Askeran region of Artsakh populated by several hundred people living off the land, growing most of their food, and keeping animals. It is a life which is very close to nature, is short on many modern amenities but has a community spirit borne out of an innate wish to support their fellow villagers, as well as economic necessity. Prior to the war Khndzristan was an Armenian village, with other villages close by being populated by Azerbaijanis. Neighbouring ethnicities had existed for a long time and had given little cause for concern.
I was interested to understand from the people in the villages what life was like during the war and how this had affected them and to get a sense of the reality of it from individual stories.
Eleonora Beglaryan was born in the village in 1960, and grew up there marrying her husband, Alish, and having 4 children with him. They came from a long tradition of villagers, Eleonora being a committed mother and wife, and Alish being a driver and a forest manager, living off the land and building a flourishing Artsakhian family. There was little contact with the Azeris in the nearby villages, and there were no problems for them to worry about.
After 1988, following the vote to join with Armenia, relations between the communities started to deteriorate on a local level as well as a national level. For Eleonora and Alish there was friction with the neighbouring Azeri village, as stones were being thrown at them and there were incidences of killings, and beatings. There was a suggestion that the Azeri military were paying the villagers to carry out these acts. The Armenian villagers were becoming more and more anxious about their safety.
Alish joined up with 24 fellow men and an unofficial group of Fedayeens was formed to consider how they could defend themselves. He met with this group on many occasions and kept much of his activities away from his family to try and avoid any unnecessary panic, but it was clear to Eleonora that conditions and the general atmosphere was getting worse. At times he was away for weeks, and she had to struggle to raise her 4 children, one of which, their daughter, was only a year old.
In 1990, after a meeting of the leaders, Alish was returning home, and a car passed by carrying some Azeri OMON; they shot him in the leg. Initially his colleagues thought everything was fine, and they took him to hospital, however the bullet that hit him was of a spiral type and it passed through his leg into his heart. When they got to the hospital, there was no light, and they could not operate properly and he died; he was the first person to die, from the village, during the war. As he was dying, Alish whispered the name of his baby daughter – Lilly – telling his friends to look after her.
Eleonora was left with her 4 children, alone, to educate them and bring them up. The Azeris started to bombard the village from the air and with GRAD missiles. She had no choice but to evacuate and take her children first to Stepanakert and then to Yerevan to find safety. It was only later in the war that she was able to return to the village as the bombardments had ceased.
She still lives in the family house, and most of her children have moved away, but the picture of her husband who was the first of the village heroes, hangs proudly on the wall of the living room.
I also met with Aramis and Arphenik Ghulyan whose son, Ashot, was one of the early Fedayeen leaders, with Alish, working to defend the village. The Ghulyans were originally from Baku as Aramis was working for an oil company. Ashot was an active boy, and eventually joined a wine company travelling throughout the world selling his products. When the conflict started he returned home. He was a natural leader although he had no military background and used their house as a temporary headquarters converting the basement into a weapons store.
As the war developed he became more well-known, and was a targeted man. He had to leave his home in the village and camped out in the forests. He led from the front, and won all of the battles that he was in, despite being wounded on 11 occasions and being given the nickname “Bekor”, recognising the “shrapnel” that he had in his body. He encouraged others to form volunteer groups and build up the defensive capability of the region and his contribution and heroism is well known to the people of Artsakh.
In 1992, at Martakert, he was killed. Although 20 years ago, for his parents, the emotion is still very raw. For Aramis, the process of describing the story of his son, and the events leading up to his death were too much for him to describe and had to leave the room during my interview. I continued to talk briefly with Araphenik who is nearly blind from her old age. She was so sorry that they were not able to enjoy any time with their son, he did not have enough time to sit with them at meal times and remain a family member. As she continued to talk about her son she became more and more upset. Their son did much for the country but in her words “ we are old, ill, and not very happy”.
Lyuba and Zaven Beglaryan’s son David was 23 when he left his service in Germany to return to the village to help with its defence. He came back from Yerevan by plane; the last one ever to leave the airport for Artsakh. At that time people were just defending against the Azeris with stones and basic materials to stop them from stealing and killing their cows . He was also part of the wider group including Ashot and Alish which provided protection for the villagers.
David had a girlfriend that he was planning to get engaged to, and settle down in the village and continue the family traditions. The day of the engagement was delayed to when he had completed “a job” he had to carry out. 10 days before the planned engagement, he was killed.
All 3 men exhibited the same basic qualities which is of an unselfish desire to defend their families and fellow countrymen from the Azeri aggressor, and protect their established homeland. These were only 3 of the many men and women who did what they needed to do to achieve this goal. Although 150,000 people are eternally grateful for their ultimate sacrifice and now enjoy living in a semblance of Peace and Freedom, the loss for the parents and families is never that far away.
Lyuba’s husband joined our interview at the end, and added his thoughts to his son’s story; he had difficulty finishing as he broke down in tears. Lyuba’s final words which summed up their position, and for that of the other families was very poignant “We have a normal life but our hearts are broken forever”.
Categories: War and its Legacy