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‘The child was frightened by a shell burst and died in front of his mother’: Artsakh exodus #15

October 27 2023, 22:30

As a result of Azerbaijan’s attack on September 19, the family of Artsakh resident Tatev Mikaelyan experienced a double tragedy. They lost not only their homeland—a home they had built over the years—but also their 88-year-old grandfather, Artush Mikaelyan.

Soon after the war began, Tatev’s family and other residents hurriedly left the village of Nerkin Sznek in the Askeran region and fled into the forest to go to the neighboring village of Khachmach, where, according to Tatev, it was safer.

“We were warned that the Turks were entering the village, and we must leave urgently. The Turks have already blocked the only road leading from our village to Stepanakert. The villagers managed to get to Khachmach, which was located in the depths and was almost invisible to the enemy, but soon they had to leave and walk on foot to the village of Karmir to find a road to Stepanakert through the forest. In this turmoil, those who managed to get into a car headed to Stepanakert,” Tatev says.

Only when they hid in the basements did they realize that their grandfather was not with them. They started asking questions and found out that the grandfather refused to get into the car and stayed there with elderly fellow villagers like him.
Tatev’s grandfather was found ten days later during search and rescue operations, when she and her family were already in Yerevan. Rescuers called them and reported they had found the body of Artush Mikaelyan. The forensic examination showed that the man suffered cardiac arrest, but the Tatev family is not sure that it was the real cause.

There were other people with Artush Mikaelyan; two of them were abducted, then returned through the mediation of the Red Cross, but nobody heard from the other three.

Tatev believes that most likely her grandfather did not want to leave his son’s grave and therefore refused to get into the car. Tatev’s uncle died in 2020, during the 44-day war in Artsakh.

Through the mediation of the Red Cross, the body of Artush Mikaelyan was transported to Armenia, and he was buried on October 1.
“We buried him in a closed coffin,” Tatev says.

On September 19, Tatev was in Stepanakert, at her brother’s place. They realize that war had begun after the second explosion. They went down to the basement and stayed there until the fire ceased.

“There was no electricity or gas; people helped each other. There wasn’t even bread. If someone had something edible, they shared it with others. We could not contact our family members. We heard the sounds of shells, and it was clear that rocket fire was on the border of Stepanakert. We thought that they had already entered the city.

The war lasted only 24 hours, but the sounds of shelling did not stop for a minute. There were casualties even among civilians, including children. People came out of basements to find their relatives. Parents went to schools and kindergartens to pick up their children.

“There was a case when parents picked up a child from school, and a 12-year-old child was frightened by the sound of a shell burst and died in front of his mother,” Tatev said.

Tatev and her brother found their mother and grandmother on September 21, after which they got out of the basements. Tatev’s father was in positions during the war; they have not heard from him for three days. Three days later, the father called his daughter and said that he was besieged. Through the mediation of Russian peacekeepers, Tatev’s father and his comrades were disarmed and taken out.

After the ceasefire, uncertainty reigned in Artsakh, Tatev recalls. People did not know what to do or not do. Tatev says that when the opening of the humanitarian corridor was announced, people began to search for fuel to get out.

Tatev brought Artsakh’s soil with her. Before the war, the mother used to send soil from their village to another daughter to Stepanakert for flowers.

“I took a handful of this soil and brought it here as a memory of my village,” says Tatev.

Tatev’s family lives in the apartment of actress Anahit Kirakosyan and one of her friends in Vanadzor.

Despite the boundless melancholy, the family, forcibly displaced from Artsakh, feels good in the picturesque Lori nature, and the city of Vanadzor somewhat reminds them of Stepanakert, but there is a more important task: finding work.

In Stepanakert, Tatev worked at the Nature Conservation Committee. After the forced exodus, she started looking for a job in the state system; however, there was neither a suitable option nor a vacant position.

Tatev intends to fulfill her long-time dreams – to become a florist, photographer, or TV host. She says that if she receives a suitable job offer from Yerevan, she will move there. Tatev is ready to learn as needed and then apply the acquired knowledge to practice.