Marking April 7 as the Mother of a Martyr

Hasmik Gasparyan

“Every April 7th, Sero Aghabekyan made holiday postcards, wrote beautiful wishes, added heart emojis and gathered field flowers to give to not only me and his sister Sirush, but also to random women on public transport,” recalled a tearful Hasmik Gasparyan, “His ultimate purpose was to bring joy to people, as God brings joy to our lives,” she continued. 

Gasparyan lost her son Sero in the 2020 Artsakh War.

He loved to celebrate motherhood on April 7, which marks Annunciation Day of the Holy Virgin in the Armenian Apostolic Church. The solemnity and annunciation of the Virgin Mary are celebrated as a blessed day for mothers and women awaiting the joy of motherhood.

The 44-day war has deprived thousands of mothers of the festive significance of this day. Their sons no longer gift them with a bouquet of flowers. They do not receive their loving embrace. These mothers are struggling every day, trying to find strength within themselves to make their sons’ dreams come true.

Gasparyan is one of those thousands of mothers. A 45-year-old single mother, she raised two children: Sero and Sirush. Sero was a professional dancer and a graduate of the State College of Dance in Stepanakert. He worked for a year in the State Dance ensemble and then decided to move to the village and become a dance teacher for schools in Chartar, Martuni and Gishi. Baghdasaryan said her son wanted the talented children of the villages to have the opportunity to learn, sing and dance.

In the notebook left by Sero, we read:

“You cannot find a better way than the national dance to influence a person, nourish him from national roots and make the national dance more versatile: to sing and dance in Armenian. This will sustain the eternity of our nation.”

Then we read, “Dance is a celebration that elevates our human essence. It is through dance that we are able to embody the most abstract thoughts and discover what we cannot see or name.”

Sero Aghabekyan was a professional dancer and a graduate of the State College of Dance in Stepanakert

Sero was a dreamer. He dreamed of studying abroad as a stage director and coming back to Artsakh to establish dance theater. He also dreamed of collecting enough money to sew folk costumes for his students with his mother, who is a seamstress.

Gasparyan continues to do tailoring, even though she gave up learning that craft. After rediscovering God, as she explains, she seems to have gained new strength and wants to study to become a designer, buy a better sewing machine and fulfill her son’s dreams. “What keeps me alive is God’s love,” she says. “The more I love God, the more I feel close to my son.”

When Azerbaijan launched the 2020 war in Artsakh, Sero immediately volunteered and went to the battlefield. He encouraged his fellow comrades and assured them that everything will be fine. Sero went to the battlefield with a smile on his face.

Sero Aghabekyan on the battlefield with his arm in a dance motion

During the war, he came home to change his clothes just once and told his mother that things were different on the battlefield. His fellow soldiers were like family to him, and he tried to take care of them. He was only 21 years old when he died on the battlefield; he succumbed to his burn injuries from a military drone strike.

Baghdasaryan says she sympathizes with those mothers who were unable to find the bodies of their martyred sons and understands the pain of those mothers whose sons were unrecognizable. “I’m probably a happy mother, because I saw my son’s face and body when he was buried,” recalled Baghdasaryan. “He seemed to be smiling, and I’m grateful to God for that,” she sighed. 

“In my dreams, Sero comes and says that he is alive and that the other boys are with him. I talk to my son through God,” added Gasparyan , whose home is adorned with framed photos of Biblical saints. She said she finds the strength to communicate with her son through her dreams.

As Artsakh suffers a months-long blockade, Gasparyan remains faithful. “I can’t even think about leaving the homeland,” she insists. “What keeps me here is the smell of the homeland. In no other country does the land have this smell. This land is covered with the blood of all our sons,” says Hasmik, who is committed to the struggle and doing what she can through her work. “I am not afraid,” she says. “If the Azerbaijanis and Turks come, they should be afraid of me, because I am on my land.”

Gasparyan believes this struggle is not easy, but we must endure, share what we have, help each other and be united.

Gasparyan brings her son’s backpack, from which he was inseparable. She takes out a notebook, wallet, headphones and his childhood Bible. While flipping through the notebook and looking at the photo of her son smiling while dancing, Gasparyan said, “It may sound strange for a mother who has lost her son, but I have a dream. When the blockade is lifted, I will learn national dances. I will organize an event dedicated to my son. I will invite all his friends, colleagues, students and relatives, and I will sing and dance. With that dance and through God, I will connect with my son and make him happy,” added the grieving mother with a faint smile and determined eyes.

An excerpt from a 2017 letter to his mother and sister when he was a 17-year-old conscript:

Hello dear Mother, hello Sirush. How are you? I cannot give you a gift this holiday. That’s why I’m sending a letter. I think it will be a good gift. Merry Christmas. May you always be happy and healthy. May smiles be on your faces. May there always be peace, and may God always be by your side. May you always overcome your difficult trials with God’s grace. Always pray to God. It doesn’t matter if it’s a happy moment or a sad one, even the most difficult. I do the same. Please convey my wishes to my grandparents, aunts and uncles. Let there be no disputes between you. Wishing my dad Merry Christmas, too; I wish he finds the right path. Sirush, my sister, please, always study and believe. Always remain hopeful. If you wish, anything will happen. One day, the second door will open for you, and your face will open again. Celebrate the new year with joy. Always keep this letter. Happy New Year and Merry Christmas!

Much love to you,
13 months left (until the end of military service)

Siranush Sargsyan

Siranush Sargsyan

Siranush Sargsyan is a freelance journalist based in Stepanakert.

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