In Mataghis: Living (again) with war

Photo: Nazik Armenakyan/

The trenches dug by children can be seen in gardens in the village of Mataghis in Nagorno-Karabakh, where their favorite war game has been interrupted by a real war. They have been used to hearing shots from the frontline since they were born, while at a more mature age, all of them want to become soldiers.

“Children are talking about the Smerch, a multiple rocket launcher, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and it’s not that their parents have brought them up like that. Their childhood passes through this very semi-war environment, where the air, land and water are associated with patriotism. Even if parents wish, they cannot bring up their kids in another way. When I got wounded, and once was talking to my youngest son of four years old on the phone from the hospital, he said: ‘Daddy, we have taken our guns and are going to kill Azeris’,” says Zaven Avanesyan, the community head of Mataghis, who got wounded on April 2.

Photo: Nazik Armenakyan/
Zaven Avanesyan, community head of Mataghis / Photo: Nazik Armenakyan/

The village of Mataghis, in the Martakert region in the northwestern part of NKR, is located on the left bank of the river Tartar, 30 kilometers from Stepanakert, and 12 kilometers from the village of Talish. It also bears marks of the four-day war, and people continue to live on and disregard the war.

Avanesyan has recently been discharged from hospital. Early in the morning of April 2, when the Azerbaijani side started to shell the village, Avanesyan got out of the house, and tried to arrange the evacuation of the villagers, but did not manage.

“The first shell passed over my head, but the second fell straight on my car, which is why I received a shrapnel wound. About 300 projectiles fell on the territory of the village, the bulk of which didn’t hit houses.” says the community head. “Anyhow, thank God that nobody was killed in the village, just three wounded civilians, and all of us already feel well. Of course, there was panic, because people had not expected such an attack. Villagers didn’t get a lot of property damage but mostly infrastructures of the village suffered.”

Mataghis has 640 residents, the number of pupils is 102, a total of 43 children attend the kindergarten. The first traces of war are still unhealed. Mataghis is again a heated place, and as they say, the war does not allow people to forget it.

Women, children and the elderly have been evacuated from the village. It is the second time within 22 years that the villagers have had to leave their homeland.

“[We have evacuated people] for security reasons, as it was only a verbal agreement to the ceasefire, which has been violated since the very first day. The men are in the village, the military unit is here. We guard our village,” says Avanesyan, who has three children.

In 1991-1992, heavy combats were carried out in the directions of the Mataghis and Levonarkh villages. In 1992 Azeri soldiers captured the village. The residents of Mataghis left for different regions in Armenia and Karabakh. In the same year, a volunteer detachment was formed from the residents of Mataghis in capital Stepanakert. In separate detachments, and later in the Defense Army, it took part in liberation battles for various regions of Karabakh. In April, 1994, the forces of the Defense Army and the volunteer detachment of the town of Echmiadzin liberated the village, and the resettlement of Mataghis began in August.

After the previous war, eight families from the village of Chaylou moved to Mataghis. Avetisyan says that the community continued to develop, and young families were provided with social housing and jobs.

“The number of residents did not increase within 22 years, but Mataghis greatly developed in the last 5-6 years. This war hasn’t stopped progress. After this, we will develop more and more, and everything will be better,” he says.

The men of Mataghis gathered at the house of 35-year-old Khachik Arakelyan, who moved to Mataghis from Chaylu 22 years ago. The conversation around the table is again about war, future plans and the resistance.

“When [the Azeris] hit the village of Talish, the sounds [of shells] could be heard here. Then their projectiles started to fall into our gorge. A short time later we saw lots of cars coming down from Talish. We began to quickly gather our things, but the most important issue was to evacuate families. I called my father and brother. All of them live in the village. My father gathered the children in one car and moved them to the next village of Maghavuz,” says Arakelyan, a father of three children.

He says that Azeri forces targeted the Mataghis military unit and the Karabakh Hydro Power Plant (HPP).

“From the positions near Talish, they were hitting Mataghis, which makes 13 kilometers, but they were also able to hit even the road to Maghavuz, which is 35 kilometers away [from those positions]. After evacuating my family, I left for my shift at the power plant, where I work. Suddenly I saw a projectile falling straight on the HPP. The first turbine was damaged, but they missed while trying to hit the second. Of course, we have already repaired it,” he says.

Photos by Nazik Armenakyan/

Arakelyan lives in a new neighborhood built for young families. He says that after ten years of living in the apartment, it becomes theirs, according to the social program implemented by the government.

“It is the sixth year that we have been living here. I will not go anywhere else. Even in this condition, if the border is finally established, I am not afraid [of living here]. Once, at the age of 14, I lost the village of Chaylu. Now I’m not going to lose the house and the village once again. Chaylu was an Armenian village. The Azerbaijanis [of the village] were our shepherds. Chaylu’s lands begin at the end the territory of Mataghis. The village is now in the neutral zone. Yesterday I went to see my children. My son asked me to take him back with me. I told him that I will, but a little later. He says: ‘Well, then switch on Skype for me to have just a look at our house’,” says Arakelyan.

Syoma Avanesyan, Zaven Avanesyan’s 67-year-old father, recalls how, in 1989, he managed to move his family from the town of Mingechaur to Mataghis, then again they were displaced in 1992 and went to Stepanakert. They returned Mataghis only after the liberation of the village.

“In Mingechaur, my wife and I used to work at school. When the events [around Karabakh] began, the danger gradually increased. They made round marks on apartment doors of Armenians to attack later at night. There was a booth of an Armenian shoe-repairman in front of our house. They blasted it with a bottle of gasoline, after that we came out of the town,” says the father of four children.

Residents of Mataghis are against ceding territories and instead of [installing] peacekeeping forces they demand the recognition of NKR.

“Let them recognize [the independence of NKR] to put an end to this war, to let people know that there will be no attack in this area, to ensure people’s safety and to let them peacefully live on their lands,” says Syoma Avanesyan.