Martakert: A Karabakh town defying war under Azeri shelling

Photo: Nazik Armenakyan/

Despite being regularly shelled by Azerbaijan, Martakert, a town at Nagorno-Karabakh’s northeastern border, tries to continue to live a normal life, defying war.

Martakert Mayor Misha Gyurjyan
Martakert Mayor Misha Gyurjyan

“There is no panic, we are calm. As many as 169 volunteer servicemen from Martakert are at military posts with the soldiers and the rest are in town, do their everyday work. The town has water, light, natural gas. The two schools are open, though the number of students decreased a bit. No problem, they will return. The Martakert-Yerevan, and Martakert-Stepanakert transport is working,” says Martakert Mayor Misha Gyurjyan, who himself is a veteran of the 1992-1994 Karabakh war.

The town is three kilometers from the Karabakh-Azerbaijani contact line, and 75 kilometers from NKR capital Stepanakert. It is home to about 4,800 people, the total number of students in the two schools is 800.

During military actions, Martakert civilians often become targets of Azerbaijani armed forces, which constantly shell the town. Dozens of homes have been destroyed. However, life in Martakert is going on, and its residents continue to “impose” peace by reconstructing destroyed houses, cultivating gardens, and tending cattle.

Artur Shahbaryan, one of the builders, who are repairing damaged homes, says that they have been working for already 15 days. They repair ceilings, walls, broken windows.

Photos by Nazik Armenakyan/

“If those who live in this house had left it a few minutes later, all of them would have been killed as a result of the exploded shell. Whenever I am told, I will put down my tools, take a gun instead and go to [military posts]. I am a war veteran. I fought for the liberation of Talish and Seysulan. But there is a need to repair these homes, too. People should have a place to stay,” says Shahbaryan from Arajadzor.

Suren Ayvazyan, a resident of Martakert, says: “We hope that there will be peace, and we will not have to leave our homes. This is our land. Where shall we go? Why do they shell civilians? Let me show you the place where a shell of adversary dropped,” says the father of two sons, who are conscripts in Hadrut.

Manya Grigoryan
Manya Grigoryan

Manya Grigoryan, a mother of three sons, is trying to arrange things in the renovated house. She says that she was on duty in hospital on April 2. Her husband and three sons were at home. When the shooting became intense, her husband and sons went out of the house, and minutes later the house was bombed and destroyed.

“A shell of a Grad system dropped into the house after they left the house. Everything was destroyed. Now my two sons are in Khnatsakh, in the Askeran district. They stay in my parents’ house. My husband is at a military post, and my elder son will start his service in the army in June. Never did I imagine that a thing like this might happen. We have no other place to go. Our home is in Martakert: we have lived here for 20 years. Where else shall we go? How can I leave everything and go,” says Grigoryan, wiping away her tears.

In the border town of Martakert people live face-to-face with war. The homeland starts and ends here. Heroes are born here.

During the Artsakh war, on July 4, 1992, the Azerbaijanis with the support of the USSR’s 4th Army captured Martakert and kept it under their control for almost a year. On June 28, 1993, Armenian forces finally liberated Martakert.

Ruzanna Ayvazyan
Ruzanna Ayvazyan

Ruzanna Ayvazyan, a 48-year-old resident of Martakert, with her husband, took part in that war. Now, their son is at a military post. Ayvazyan says that she often visits soldiers by going up to the military posts.

“I took sweets and juices from my shop to the military posts for them all. I encouraged them to stand strong and be brave. I told them that we had also served in the army and had lived through worse feelings. Though I worry for them a lot, they are perfectly united. If there is any need, I will close down my store and will stand next to our children,” says the mother of two children.

She wipes the tears off her eyes and says: “I understand how worried are those parents from Armenia, whose sons are next to us. I went up the military posts and kissed them all and told them to consider me as their mom. I’ll do my best for them”.

The main topic of people gathered at different corners of Martakert is the same: they are actively discussing the April war and the processes that followed it.

“We are standing on our land like an oak. We were born here and live here. Our life is here. My father and my two brothers, we all participated in the war, and now our children are more courageous than us. We will foist peace on them [Azerbaijanis] by our existence,” says Yura Baghryan, a father of three children and six grandchildren.