The Wounds of Waiting: Families of Missing in Action suffer not knowing

Their dresses are black, their faces tired of waiting and sad. Handkerchiefs are either in bags or in hands. Endless mourning; longing for news.

On August 30th the Vanadzor Office of the Helsinki Civil Assembly organized an event in respect to the International Day of Missing People. At the American University of Armenia business center, about 40 people gathered to remember those who are still missing from the Karabakh war.

Samara Grigoryan turns the documents she holds, puts in order her letters and inquires addressed to different people and structures and her own handwritten papers about the military service of her son, Vrezh. She takes a small picture of her young son. Her eyes fill with tears again.

It has been 13 years since she hear from him. He was 20 then. The last time was in 1992 when Vrezh Grigoryan was fighting in Mardakert region among the fighters of the “Arabo” detachment. On June 29th there were fierce fights and on June 30th the news came that Vrezh was missing.

“As the sun rises we hope our son will be found, as the sun goes down we are hopeless again,” tells Samara Grigoryan, age 57. “89 people were missing from ‘Arabo’ detachment. My Vrezh was with them, he volunteered to protect his homeland.”

Samara says everything was confused after Vrezh was lost. The family sold its apartment to finance their search for the son. Last September, Vrezh’s father Azat, died. Samara says it was due to the pain of losing his son.

“No news for 13 years, we couldn’t get any information. We are still without answers,” says Samara, “This pain of soul has griped all of us – those who have lost sons, husbands, brothers.”

In February 2004 the International Committee of Red Cross handed over the list of the people missing as a result of the conflict to the authorities of Armenia, Azerbaijan and the de facto authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh. The updated list at present contains 3,165 names.

“The International Committee of Red Cross continues supporting the authorities of the two countries in fulfilling their obligations under the international humanitarian law and to find out the things that have happened to those people,” says delegate of the ICRC Catherine Patronoff. “We try to cooperate with the authorities of the Republic of Armenia. They will get significant support in this matter from us, but they should undertake the major operation.”

Representatives of Armenian NGOs that are engaged in the issues of missing people, assert the state is deficient in that matter.

“When we began the work, we saw how the relatives of the missing people were desperate, for they had no structure to address to or any opportunity to get support, and the state does not care for the problem,” says the President of the Vanadzor Office of Helsinki Civil Assembly Arthur Sakunts.

Sakunts says getting information about the issue from state structures is also difficult.

“Just to get statistics we lost long months, not to speak about the lists of the missing people that are still not published,” he says.

According to the data given to Sakunts by the Ministry of Defense the total number of soldiers missing, taken hostage and prisoners of war in RA and NKR as of July 29, is 947.

“I know my son is alive, I am sure, but we can’t learn anything; they seem like to have an arrangement to say one thing and do not want to say either your son is alive or he is not. I can’t stand it any more,” says Maxim, father of missing soldier Felix Galstyan.

Maxim says he has tried to find his son by his own means and he has been told his son is alive. But, aside from that information, the father does not know anything about his son’s health, place or status.

President of the Community and Right NGO Samvel Mkrtchyan says independent of whether the victims have been lost in the battlefield, or as a result of violence, their relatives have the right to know what has happened to them and the role of the state here is big.

“The state should seriously be engaged,” says Mkrtchyan. “The NGOs should support the state in this matter, but it seems to be the opposite; that is why there is no result.”

Fate, uncertainty and endless expectations…

“My mother is 88,” tells a mother of a missing son in the film “Hope Dies Last”, who does not accommodate to the loss. “When you bury your son, it is a great sorrow. If your son is missing, that is an endless illness I wouldn’t wish to anyone.”

The film “Hope Dies Last” shot in 2004 with the support from the Dutch “Inter-Church Peace Council” is a collection of small stories about people missing in different conflicting countries, including Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“It is planned to show the film on TV channels so that society becomes aware and closer to this problem,” says Sakunts. “And maybe that will also make possible to keep the problems of the missing in the center of attention.”

President of the Soldier’s Mother NGO Greta Mirzoyan says publishing the lists of the missing in press will help people get oriented.

“Several years ago we handed the documents of the people killed in the conflict to the Azerbaijani side collected by one of our soldiers,” says Mirzoyan. “If our statesmen also publish the lists of the missing, the problem will somehow be alleviated.”

However before clarifying anything the participants of the event say they have found themselves in not knowing whom to address and where to go.

“Each time that we go to Yerablur monument of freedom fighters, every mother deep in her heart believes the monument has nothing to do with her son, that her son is alive and will some day return home,” says Samara Grigoryan. “And the state bodies either keep silent or say it is not their business.”

The parents say they have done whatever they could do without the state interference, but they haven’t reached any results and now they expect the state support.

“Our sons have gone to fight for their homeland and have been missing,” they say. “Years have past but we wait for them, but the state instead of making efforts to find out information about them and returning them to the homeland, posthumously honors them with the Medal of Bravery.”