It was a Saturday evening—just like any Saturday evening in Kapan, Syunik in the early 1990s. My family was talking about the war with Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, about how the enemy army had advanced and it was no longer safe in the neighboring region of Syunik. My father was unusually stressed and quiet. I was six years old then, and to me the world was measured in chocolates and ice cream. War seemed very distant and unreal. I didn’t quite understand what the words “peace” and “war” meant, but if you told me that war meant a lack of chocolates, I would have been the first to advocate for peace. So that night, I sneaked a chocolate and hid it under my pillow. My parents were having a tense conversation about the war and our family’s safety. I was just happy that no one noticed or questioned that I quickly put on my pajamas and eagerly went to bed. I slowly opened my bar of chocolate and was about to enjoy my first bite when I noticed two big eyes staring at me in the dark. It was my youngest sister Tatevik. She had overheard the adults speaking and was petrified. She was almost crying, although she had even less of an idea of what war meant. I felt bad for my little sister. Not so bad as to share half of my chocolate, but bad enough to share a third of it. At that point, I thought war meant a little sister nagging you for a bar of chocolate. I concluded that war was not good and that I should ask God for peace—and for my own chocolates. I enjoyed the rest of my chocolate and soon drifted off to sleep thinking of my friends and our plan to build a house in the front yard of our apartment building. Earlier that day, I convinced my friends that the only way to achieve unlimited playtime was through independence from our parents in a house of our own. There were some small technicalities to figure out, such as how exactly we were going to build the house, how we would get a TV to watch our favorite cartoons and what we were going to eat, but I was sure that we would find solutions. What I didn’t realize was that in a few hours my childish fantasy would crash, and I would learn what war really meant. Gradually I would realize what many children my age already knew, which would change the trajectory of my life forever. After all, I lived in Kapan, Syunik, a region in Armenia neighboring Nagorno-Karabakh that was about to be attacked as a result of advancement of the enemy forces. Learning what war really meant was an unfortunate inevitability for me.
It was probably around 9pm when we heard a loud noise. I thought it was thunder. Then again a loud noise, then again. The sound was getting closer and closer. I was sleepy and confused, and the only thing I remember was my elder sister Armine grabbing my hand and telling me to run with her. I barely had a chance to put my slippers on, and the next thing I knew, I was running with Armine as fast as I could. We quickly descended to the first floor of our building. Not all buildings back then had underground shelters. Our five story-building, constructed during the Soviet era, didn’t have any underground space—only one big office area with large windows. That office had been turned into a temporary shelter. I suppose it was better than nothing. The door of that so-called shelter was already open. Armine and I entered and moved toward the safest room we could find. I remember having so many conflicting emotions. I still couldn’t understand what was going on and why we were hearing those loud sounds come closer and closer. I couldn’t understand why mothers were holding their kids as tight as they could. My parents, sisters and grandparents joined us within a few seconds. I was happy to see my mom— it always felt safer when she was around. Then I turned and saw one of the older neighbors—Sandught tatik. God, we all were afraid of that woman. She was perhaps 80 years old then, an old, small, grumpy woman who didn’t like children. I remember telling my friends that I had serious suspicions that Sandught tatik was the same lady who poisoned Snow White in the fairy tale and that we shouldn’t take any apples from her (not that she would ever offer anything to us). So, I was really afraid to see Sandught tatik in the middle of the night in the shelter. At that moment, I thought war meant seeing Sandught tatik in the middle of the night, and suddenly war seemed scarier.
The enemy forces shelled the city of Kapan throughout the night. I could feel the level of stress rising and hear men discussing which part of the city the missiles were targeting. At first, I myself felt stressed. But soon I noticed that my friends were in one of the rooms of the office/shelter, and I quickly joined them, forgetting the conversations about the war. It was close to midnight, and we all were now fully awake, little six and seven year-olds in our pajamas playing hide-and-seek. I didn’t even care that I had lost one of my slippers on the stairs while running to the shelter. I was just happy that my plan of unlimited playtime was somehow coming to fruition. Our happy play was in such stark contrast to the adults’ mood that Sandught tatik quickly chased us out of that part of the shelter. That’s when I thought I found a great place for hiding. It was a big conference room with wide windows and seemingly unending tables. One of my friends, Beniko from the third floor, was hiding with me. We were so excited to find this room that we probably thought we were masterminds of hide-and-seek. I don’t recall if we were hiding for seconds or minutes, and I didn’t realize at the time that it was probably the most unsafe room in an already not-so-safe shelter, but I do remember that after a while my mom found us and pulled us out just seconds before missile shrapnel hit the windows, tables, walls and everything else in that room. That was the first time I realized that war was an actual threat to human lives. Later that day I would find my slipper fixed to a stair by sharp metal particles. Later that day we would learn that one of my relatives died attempting to help his wounded friend. Later that day we would learn that one of my playmates was in the hospital in critical condition. Later that day we would learn many horrible and unimaginable things. War was on our territory, claiming the lives and livelihoods of people, and six-year-old me was having a hard time processing it all.
Now I am 35 years old, and the war in September-November 2020 again claimed many lives of my compatriots. Just like back in the 90s, I lost many relatives and friends during the recent war. Today, Syunik, my home region, is once again a target by enemy forces. I fear another potentially large-scale war could break, claiming lives of soldiers, citizens and young children. Lives of ordinary people who love others, who have dreams, who laugh, dance and play…35-year-old me is still having a hard time processing it all. And just like in the 90s, I am left with the same basic question: can the human world be human enough to stop wars and bring lasting peace?
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