I have sat down to write 11 times now. After every time and after every heartfelt attempt to turn my sadness and anger into words, new graves were dug. More hearts were broken. More lives were lost fighting for every inch of our homeland.
These traumatic moments, though shocking and unusual, are by no means foreign to us. They still hurt…almost to the point of paralysis. Almost…
There is a somber tradition in the Armenian church. It’s called the “karasoonk”—a requiem service 40 days after death. I’d like to honor my hero during this time. His name was Arthur Aghasyan.
I met Arthur in 2014 in the town of Martuni in Artsakh during AYF Youth Corps. Arthur showed up at our door and never really left. He would spend every waking hour with us. He would tell us about his life; we would tell him about ours. It didn’t matter how different the two were; it never does for our people. He would meet us for breakfast before camp, and we would explore Martuni together afterwards. It never even crossed my mind that we were so close to the border… not with him around. We were always safe by his side. He quickly became a part of our family.
When our group left Martuni, we knew it would be the last time we’d see Arthur before his 18th birthday. We knew that in less than a year, he would enlist in the Artsakh Defense Army. We knew in our hearts that he, our friend who had turned into a little brother in our two weeks together, would take the pride he had for his home and bravely reflect it onto the battlefield. And… we worried. Like hell. Like our friend Arpa reminded us, not because we thought less of him, but exactly the opposite. We knew that he would do anything and everything to protect Artsakh. And that he did.
In 2016, shortly after the Four Day War, we woke up to news that Arthur had been awarded the highest medal of honor: Battle Cross Order of 2nd degree («Մարտական խաչ» 2-րդ աստիճանի շքանշանով). We weren’t shocked, no. He had defended just as we knew he would. He was the most humble of heroes. He sent a message less than 48 hours later that read, “erp ek galis Artsakh?” “when are you all coming to Artsakh?” Though I have visited Artsakh many times since, Arthur was always on the frontlines protecting us. He was there well past his two years of mandatory service… and each time that we were unable to meet, I became increasingly proud to know him and to be able to call him a friend.
Years later, on October 7th, 2020, we read his name on the list.
The list that we have since read thousands of names on—the names of not just our brothers, uncles and fathers, but our sisters, aunts and mothers, too. Each name we read on the list of fallen soldiers or innocent civilians, we read the name of a family member. We read the name of a brother or sister. Because that’s what Artsakh is for us. It’s where our family lives. It’s where we feel most content. It’s home.
we were supposed to see Arthur again.
The list that reminds us all of why we have to keep fighting, keep protecting, continue doing anything and everything to protect Artsakh. The list we never wanted to read his name on, because we were supposed to see Arthur again. We were supposed to reunite in Martuni, at his family’s house in the village of Nngi for a night of khorovats, singing and dancing. We agreed we would. All of us together, again.
And we will. We will meet again. Because he will be cherished and honored forever. Because we will say his name. Arthur’s name and all of his comrades’—all 1,299 of them. We will say their names. We will tell their stories. We will keep them alive. It’s our duty after we rebuild our sacred land.
These past 40 days have been days that I naively thought my people would never live through again. Not in my lifetime, at least. You see, Artsakh is a force to be reckoned with. Artsakh signifies our will and determination—our right to exist as a nation. The thing about Artsakh is that… it’s our everything. Our people are willing to ensure the security of generations of Armenians to come, by proudly serving and protecting our borders. Our people are willing to fight for the highest honor: by giving their lives for Artsakh.
We will not rest. Now is not the time to stop using our voices. Now is not the time to skip the protest, to stop spreading the awareness. Now is the time to work together and establish our next steps. It is time to reach out to those who may be less informed. Now is the time to continue writing our painful yet beautiful story. Let us keep our heads high for our heroes, both immortal and invincible. For Tatul, for Bedo, for Garod. For Arthur.