It’s not every day a trip or a post about said trip gets you banned from entering a country. That is however the case with going to Artsakh and then trying to enter Azerbaijan. Although I probably wouldn’t make it into Azerbaijan regardless with my very schizophrenic passport (Swedish passport, Armenian name, Iranian birthplace). As usual I’d like to say sorry for the long blogging break, I’ve been suffering from a combination of sickness, impression overload and a focus on editing drone videos for a while. Also welcome to all the new viewers to the blog! It’s so nice seeing people from all over the world reading about our time in Armenia.
If I’d summarize the 4 day trip to Artsakh in three words it would be: Intense, Humbling and Bittersweet.
Intense since we were on a tight schedule for all four days. Emma’s post on day 1 features an early morning depature from Yerevan, a visit to Tatev, which is still to date one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in my life. and finally reaching our homestays in Shushi. Day 2, 3 and 4 followed the same pattern with very packed days, and in retrospect it was totally necessary to be able to experience as much as possible from Artsakh. I’d like to give a major shoutout to Birthright Armenia and Armenian Volunteer Corps for planning this, it’s an impressive feat.
My day 2 started a bit differently than most other volunteers, I had the pleasure of helping my volunteering buddyette Marie shoot some drone photage of Shushi in the early morning. There are areas of the town which are still devestated and abandoned from the war of 1988 – 1994. Thankfully most of my peers, friends and myself have little experience of war-torn nations or locations so it was in many ways an eye opener for me. I’ve grown up hearing and reading about the war, in the same way I’ve heard my parents stories of growing up in Iran during the Iran – Iraq war and missile strikes in Teheran, but it’s one thing to hear about it and read about it, a different one to actually see it for yourself.
The first stop together with the other volunteers was to the Fallen Soldier museum, a museum for the local Artsakh soldiers who fell in the conflict in 1988 – 1994, and the soldiers who’ve died in border skrimishes and the 4 day war of 2016. It was the most intimate and sad visit to any museum I’ve been to. Not cause of the scale of casualties, but because it was such a small place, where all the walls were covered with pictures and names of the soldiers, as well as the curator of the museum being a veteran of the war himself.
Hearing him talk about the events of the war, the desperation in their resistance early on and the personal stories of some of the soldiers just made it all so much more real. It’s not every day one quotes Joseph Stalin, but one of his more famous quotes is “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic”. This museum was all about tragedies. The curator himself said he knew about 40% of the roughly 3000 local casualties, amongst these his brothers, one who was planning his wedding before he was killed. For me personally what made me the most sad, was the bittersweet duty he held. On one hand he’s a keeper of their sacrifices, their hardships and their deaths, but at the same time he’s also a reminder of their lives, their songs and their happyness in the face of adversity. I felt for him as he’s talking about his friends, his brothers during every tour every day. I have the utmost respect and admiration for him and the burden he’s taken upon himself.
After the museum we got a chance to visit two military bases, and to be honest I’m glad we got the see the tragedy that is war before going somewhere that could possibly be a more glorified side of things. Not that the soldiers gave any impression of glorifying the conflict but more because you can easily forget the purpose of these bases, of the equipment etc. It’s easy to see a tank as a “cool” piece of machinery and forget that it’s a weapon of desctruction and death. We also got the eat lunch with the soldiers, and again this was for me a humbling experience. Without going into right or wrong these kids, which they honestly are, these 18-20 year old kids are serving in a conflict which might not be resolved in our life times. It gave a very personal touch to the conflict.
We did other things during this day, we wen’t to the Tatik Papik monument, we had some free time which was appreciated to be able to enjoy the company of good friends, we got to meet the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Artsakh Republic. But these events kind of dwarf in the presence of what I started talking about. They were fun but I don’t want to take away the focus from the more serious events of the day, which means this post will end kind of abruptly. The people of Artsakh all know someone who gave their life, who served, who’s currently serving or in other ways are affected by the tragic war. I will also say that it’s not just tragic from a Armenian point of view, Azeri family’s were also displaced, killed and wounded in the conflict. It’s just something that’s an open scar for both Armenian and Azeri people. I won’t go into the politics but I feel for the people on both sides who’ve been harmed in this 30 year old conflict.