I never thought I would purposefully learn war vocabulary. Smerch rockets, kamikaze, ballistic missiles, UAVs. The list is long, my eyes are tired, my lower eyelids are wet…casualties, artillery, blockade, shells…A tiny teardrop crawls down my cheek, I shut my eyes. The teardrop warms the cold of my skin, but the heat is not pleasant. It feels more like a burning, one that arises after… What was the word?… Ah, bombardment. The sharp, acute, prickly burning that arises after bombardment. I hope you never wake up to a war.
September 27 started out as an ordinary Sunday morning. I was crawling carelessly back into my bed, wrapped in soft sheets, enjoying the only day of my week when I can spend more time in bed than usual. I was about to fall back asleep when my 10-year-old sister ran into the room and whispered through sobs: “Milena, wake up, a war has started.” I sat up, my eyes wide open, my brain fully awake, as if I just drank 25 cups of Death Wish coffee. I took my phone and the first thing I read was “Azerbaijan launches invasion along Artsakh-Azeri border, capital city of Stepanakert is being shelled.” For a minute I shut and rubbed my eyes, in the hope of waking up…in the hope that what I just heard and read was all a nightmare. But the pressure didn’t help; some realities are worse than nightmares.
Hours later my entire feed was flooded with information about the war. Footage of corpses, badly damaged residential blocks, bombarded civilian vehicles, shelled kindergartens and schools. The photographs of children in Artsakh bomb shelters reminded me of my own sister. I realized she was out of my sight, so I went to look for her. I looked all around the house, the yard, checked the neighbor’s house, called her friends, all in vain. For a minute I thought I was never going to find her, and that was perhaps the coldest shiver I have ever felt in my body. In the midst of a devastating panic attack, I heard a chair squeak from the cellar of the house. I ran and soon found her huddled in the corner of our basement, with Mashuk (her beloved soft toy) held close to her chest.
I could say and do nothing but sit next to her and hug her tight.
“Are they coming to our house too?” she asked in a prudent, barely audible voice.
“They…who?” I asked confusedly, almost ignorantly.
“The bombers,” she said. She distanced and looked straight through me, her eyes wide open and pupils dilated. Under the low light of the only light bulb in our basement, I saw fear and horror in her expression.
She asked me about the roots of this war. I had to lean against the wall. It was cold, but I needed some sort of physical support to organize my thoughts and talk about war to a 10-year-old.
“Artsakh has been part of Armenia since 189 B.C.,” I began, doubtful that she’d be able to absorb much of what I was about to explain. “It was the 10th province of the Armenian Kingdom. But the old and crazy man Joseph Stalin wanted Azerbaijan to join the Soviet Union so that he could have control over the entire Transcaucasian territory.”
“But what does Artsakh have to do with this?”
“Stalin needed a way to bribe Azerbaijan. So he promised to give Artsakh as a gift to Azerbaijan if the country decides to join the Soviet Union.”
“But that’s crazy.”
“I told you, he was an old and crazy man. But Azerbaijan still has no control over Artsakh because 99.7-percent of Artsakh’s ethnic population is and has always been Armenian.”
“So Azeris want to kill and get rid of all these people to get Artsakh? That’s crazy too. We need to protect us.”
I could not tell her the second layer of this story. I could not tell her that we need to protect us not only from Azeris but also from IS jihadists who have been sent to Azerbaijan by Turkey. I knew that would be too scary for her. It is too scary for me. But if you wonder what Turkey has to do with this conflict, you have only to refer to a map. You’ll understand that Armenia and Artsakh are the sole obstacles to Turkey fulfilling its lifelong dream of Pan-Turkism. It is why 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were killed during the Armenian Genocide in 1915, and the reason why another genocide might happen again if people choose to stay silent. Silence kills lives when weapons shoot loud.
Today, I chose to scream. I chose to talk to each and every one of my international friends and tell them about the issues that are threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of Armenians living in Armenia and Artsakh. I decided to learn war vocabulary in English to be able to express all my thoughts and feelings about this war. And you know what I found out? There is one word in Armenian that does not have any equivalent in English. The word գոյամարտ (goyamart) literally means “fight for survival.” This word best summarizes Armenia’s history and what is happening right now in Armenia and Artsakh.
I hope you never have to experience goyamart, that you never have to look for the names of your friends and brothers and loved ones in the “In Memoriam” list of martyred soldiers. And perhaps most importantly, I hope you don’t contribute to this list by staying silent.