Ceasefire Generation: Young residents of borderline villages reflect on past two decades of relative peace

Childhood against the backdrop of war, a first-grader’s party that never took place, a strong desire to get out of dark and damp basements… Ceasefire as a perpetual waiting for peace for the generation bearing the irreversible stamp of war, incurable memories…

“My father came and said that Shushi is liberated, then ceasefire, which for many children like me meant going out to the yard and playing, enjoying the sky and the sun,” Anahit Kartashyan, 27, one by one pulls out the savored memories from warm deep corners of her soul and carefully arranges them. “As soon as shootings got more intense we went down to the basement.

Imagine us climbing up and down four-five times a day. At times we lived there for days. But everyone was so united and close. We cooked and ate all together. And the children organized a performance for the grown-ups almost every day.”

Anahit’s roots lie in the border village of Chinari in Armenia’s Tavush province (on the maternal line) and Aygedzor (on her father’s side) and reach up to her birthplace – the town of Berd, 10 kilometers away from the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, which became of the theaters of war in the early 1990s, and even today regular ceasefire violations happen there.

Just like all men in this region Anahit’s father took to arms and protected the borders of their motherland, and the mother with three children continued living in Berd, but Anahit can remember that as the situation got serious her father moved the family to Aygedzor, closer to the border.

“Now I understand why: if your family is behind you, you will fight till the last drop, no place to retreat. In my war-related memory I can vividly remember the corridor of our house with three small sacks containing our birth certificates and clothes of first necessity. When shootings started we would grab our sacks and wait for one of the neighbors to come and help our mother to take us down the basement. I can still remember the panic on the staircases. I still hate panic.”

Having attended the kindergarten under the thunder of cannon fire, school under the “ceasefire shootings”, and later the Yerevan State University’s Faculty of oriental studies, Anahit is currently doing her PhD at Russia’s Saint-Petersburg State University’s department of oriental studies, where she was sent by YSU upon an international and inter-university agreement.

Parallel to her studies Anahit works distantly at the center for Western Armenia and Western Armenians issues study.

“I temporarily live in Russia. As our Armenian students at Saint-Petersburg usually joke “I’m an intellectual migrant worker,” says Anahit, whose two sisters and brother study in Yerevan, but her parents still live in Berd. “We sometimes use the occasion to go to Berd, Aygedzor and Chinari. Our attachment to Shamshadin is so strong and unexplainable. It’s not just a birthplace, it’s where you are yourself devoid of any pretense. However exhausted and frustrated you are just a one-day visit is enough to return with new energy, because you realize you have a lot to do, and no right to get exhausted.”

In her opinion an ordinary resident of the borderland does not care much about the ceasefire chronology, conflicting parties and conflict history, they need practical steps. According to Anahit, for any war survivor ceasefire is like air and water.

“If, for instance, you dine with anyone from Shamshadin, the first toast will be for peace. The ceasefire was necessary for both sides, the question is how we acted after the ceasefire and what lessons we learned. We had enough time to develop the border areas, but we did nothing, even worse, our population decreased and now we have what we have. In the border villages every day is an undeclared war. People got used to even that, and their only demand is social security,” says Anahit and adds that the state must carry out concrete steps to develop the border regions, must apply advantages for their residents – lower taxes, affordable medical care and education, support for small and medium-sizezd businesses, and most importantly, job opportunities, so that a university graduate does not have to leave for Russia or Yerevan to find a job.

According to sociologist Aharon Adibekyan, research shows that the generation born during the war or ceasefire years sees their future outside Armenia.

“Searching for a better fortune abroad becomes a painful point, however half of the generation grows to be patriots, we have our hope in them, not in those who receive their higher education and try to leave Armenia,” says Adibekyan.

War, ceasefire, border, daily shootings, mined areas… these words become common to the ear when approaching the Armenian-Azeri border, whilst away from the border they are like not-that-well-understood pile of phonemes heard in a film.
According to ethnographer Hranush Kharatyan, in general there is no understanding of the phenomenon of ceasefire.

“In Armenia there is a feeling that everybody speaks about war, but it’s not much of a reality, even the word ceasefire is not in our lives, and there is a feeling that people don’t have to be ready, I don’t think that’s the best state,” says Kharatyan.

Narine Vardanyan, born in the village of Nerkin Karmragyugh, in 1994, is well-aware of the price of both war and ceasefire and peace, and sometimes gets upset that her capital-born peers do not understand her, do not imagine her emotions and feelings when her hometown is under fire.

“Recently a historian with a very serious face was explaining what a ceasefire is. Perhaps he is right, only from his emotional speech he had to leave out the words agreement, document, conflicting sides and then he would have the reality – we reached ceasefire due to our men who fought, who fought and died. The relative peace that we have is not due to a piece of paper, it’s due to our nation-wide struggle,” says the coeval of the ceasefire agreement, who reminds that the paper-agreement did not serve its purpose, which is proved by the fact that Narine’s classmate boys are still in daily danger protecting the border marked by their fathers.

The first-year student at the YSU Faculty of Journalism, Narine has almost no memories of her childhood, she is told that the day she was born there was heavy snow, her father was in the front and for a long time they couldn’t find a car to take the mother in labor to the regional center of Berd, and when finally there was a car and they reached the hospital, there was no electricity, “we are a generation of difficult-labor and alive-with-a-miracle.”

Studying in Yerevan Narine confesses that she relates all her dreams and goals with her village, and she hopes she can put one of her hobbies, writing, to service to tell the world about the everyday life, history and heroes of her small village.

Narine tenderly packs some clothes for a couple of days, sweets bought for her parents in the village to spend the coming weekend in the village with her family.

“Going from Yerevan to our village for me is the same as going home on a break for a soldier. I look forward to it and I miss home and everyone even more the days before going there… Before I used to take some books with me, now I leave books, lessons, university, all in here not to bother me. By the way, I return to Yerevan just like a soldier returning back from his break – with a difficulty and missing my home, my real home.”