Residents of a northeastern Karabakh village were awakened from their sleep on the night of April 2 to face a new reality: the dark sky was lit up by Azeri shells, which turned into a downpour within seconds causing vast devastation to the peaceful community.
“I did not feel very well that night. A sound from outside woke me up. I got up to take medicine for blood pressure. I opened the door to get a cup of water, and heard shots, sounds of explosion,” Safura Iskandaryan, a 52-year-old resident of the village of Talish in the NKR’s Martakert region, emotionally gives her account of the events.
“My husband also got up. We saw that they were shelling the village. They first struck the military unit, and our house is 300 meters away from it. The second strike was further down. Bomb fragments were landing in our garden. We hardly managed to dress my disabled mother and hide in the bathhouse, which we used as a bomb shelter.”
The woman says their family hid in “the temporary shelter” for four and a half hours. She remembers their house being hailed with shots and how they narrowly escaped. Later, she says at the front gate they met Armenian soldiers who ordered them to immediately leave the village.
“You cannot imagine how fast we got in our car, and took with us as many of the villagers as we could: most of them were children, my brother with his grandchild. We already knew that the Azeris were in the village, in the upper district. Those poor people, who were brutally murdered, were living in a house in the upper part. We took 30 people in our car and my husband drove to the village of Mataghis,” says a mother of four kids, repeatedly mixing sequence of events, because of her emotions.
The Iskandaryan family is one of many in Talish who experienced déjà vu on April 2, again feeling the pain and loss of the war on their own skin: they were displaced from their own houses for the second time in 23 years.
Recalling harrowing details of the night, the woman says that they got into a terrible bombardment in the village of Mataghis. They saw how the Mataghis power station was blown up by a Grad multiple rocket launcher system used by Azerbaijanis.
“It was like watching a movie. Children were crying and adults were screaming: ‘Edo jan, save us, drive forward, they are shooting.’ My poor husband was shouting: ‘I am not worrying about me, what shall I do with these children?…” We hid around a hill in our car, and when the enemy soldiers were busy with charging their guns, we were able to flee. We looked back at the houses for soldiers’ families and saw them collapsing like in a movie. We reached the village of Maghavuz, where gunshots were heard, too. Cars were rushing out of the village. Everyone was trying to save their families,” she says.
The Iskandaryans, together with other villagers, moved to Armenia, and got to their relatives’ homes.
The village of Talish, which is home to about 500 people, is one of the oldest villages of Artsakh. As a result of hostilities, most of the village, which is not far from the line of contact, was destroyed. The village’s administrative building, its school, kindergarten, and other infrastructures were bombed. Dozens of houses were leveled to the ground. It was on the night of April 2 that the rival soldiers shot dead two Talish civilians, Valera Khalapyan and his wife Razmelay, and cut their ears. They also killed 92-year-old Marusya Khalapyan.
Iskandaryan says that they robbed the houses of the village, took away computers, different electrical gadgets, the mobile phones of the villagers.
“There were people, who managed to escape just in pajamas. At such critical moments people just want to flee and save their life. The largest shop in the village was mine. Now my husband is there and says that they have taken everything. The villagers of Talish need help to be able to get back on their feet,” she says.
NKR Prime Minister Ara Harutyunyan, visiting the town of Martakert, and the villages of Mataghis and Talish on April 6, said that the government will do its utmost to help to quickly reconstruct the residents’ houses and community infrastructure damaged in the bombardment. The prime minister said that within a few days Ministry of Urban Development specialists will inventory all the damage in order to start the restoration work as soon as possible.
Iskandaryan says that farmers are constantly calling each other to ask whether they are going to return to the village or not.
“The answer is one: if the village is reconstructed, they will be happy to return. The village had been destroyed during the war, but during those 23 years we re-built Talish. The village guests used to say: ‘what a lovely and rich village it is’. We were accustomed to living under the shootings, but not like this. We were afraid of only commando raids that had become frequent, but not of shootings,” she says.
The villagers of Talish dream to return to their homes, to live, to create. Iskandaryan is worried: her daughter and husband plowed the land and they were going to start sowing maize in a few days.
“How can it be? We’re so happy with our soldiers. We knew that if they were there, then we were safe and could sleep tight. But now I cannot imagine that I can go there again, and go to bed peacefully. I do not believe that there is a ceasefire. One cannot trust an Azeri. Today, they say that everything is alright, but later they fire at you in the back. I will go and check myself how strong the positions are, and only then I will return to Talish. We want peace,” says Iskandaryan.