Second Generation Soldiers: A Karabakh veteran’s view of duty and family

A veteran of the Karabakh war is holding two photographs in his hands – one has three little boys in it, the other three soldiers – arms around one another’s shoulder. At first there seems no connection, but after taking a closer look the resemblance becomes obvious – the same eyes, same faces and same expressions in the eyes, with only age and maturity showing the difference.

“I look at them and think that they take things easier, life tempers people. I was younger than they are now, when I got married… war makes people grow up faster,” says 39-year-old Artur Yeghiazaryan, father of the three soldiers in the photograph.

Each page in the family album holds a memory of its own, a whole life lived together with his 37-year-old wife Nonna Yeghiazaryan. They matured early because of the war.

Artur recalls his school years, when they’d skip classes to go take part in the demonstrations held at then Opera (now Liberty) Square, in Yerevan. Later, when he was a first-year student at the history faculty of Yerevan State University, a demanding sense of duty to country led him to leave university and go to the frontline.

At 18, he was under Zhirayr Sefilyan’s command, serving at the first company of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun (ARF) located in Shushi after its liberation in 1992 (it was later replenished and restructured into the legendary “Shushi Liberation Battalion” or, as people call it, “Dashnaks’ battalion”). Parallel to his military service Artur, who was also a member of ARF’s Nikol Aghbalyan student union, fulfilled his long-cherished dream – together with his friend he founded “Aram Manukyan” Lyceum in the fall of 1992 in war-torn Shushi. The lyceum is now Shushi’s school N2.

“Our comrades-in-arms were encouraging us to found the lyceum, saying that the war would be over one day, and the children shouldn’t remain illiterate and uneducated; the years of war will pass, they said, but we will lose a generation,” tells Yeghiazaryan. “Many of the guys from our battalion taught at that school, but as soon as things would get hard they would again be part of the battalion, back to the battlefield.”

In Shushi still frequently shaken by landmine explosions, the lyceum soon became a unique educational center, where children not only studied, but were fed, and given clothes from time to time.

“Most of the students’ parents were in the battlefield, many had fallen there; schoolboys were the men at their houses – in the morning they tended to the livestock, took them to pastures, then went to school. In the evening they chopped wood, worked the land. After dark, when passing by, we saw through windows how they were doing homework by candlelight,” he recalls with sadness and great affection for his former students.

Shushi is where Artur met his future life partner; he and Nonna got married a few months later.

“Our parents objected against marriage at such early age – I was 18, while Nonna hadn’t even become of age (she was turning 16). We got married regardless. My comrades in arms and I went to ask for Nonna’s hand; my parents were unable to attend [from Yerevan] our wedding ceremony, because the roads were blocked,” he recalls.

In 1993 their twin sons Ara and Aram were born – the first twin infants of liberated Shushi.

“I had a feeling that we were going to have twins; it is in our genetic pool, and besides, in Artsakh especially twin boys were often born during those years, as if the nature was somehow trying to make up for the losses brought by the war,” recalls Yeghiazaryan. “And a year later, in 1994, our third son Argam was born.”

In 1995 the Yeghiazaryans moved to Yerevan.

However, today their three sons born in that land stand on guard in the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno Karabakh.

“When our sons were born at a time of war, we were celebrating the birth of Armenian soldiers, rather than of our children. We always knew that they must go serve in the army. To our family avoiding service is something beyond honor,” says the Karabakh war veteran.

Ara and Aram are students of Yerevan State University’s Theology Faculty, and Argam studies at the faculty of Eastern Studies (department of Turkish studies).

“All three left university to go to the army. They judged it was better to serve together with their age group, rather than after graduation,” says Nonna Yeghiazaryan.

Talking about her three sons makes the mother’s eyes sparkle, she flashes a bright smile, and casts a nostalgic look at the photographs.

“The twins are very active, while my youngest son is a bit different, he doesn’t speak much, if you don’t make him speak he can go through the whole day without uttering a word, it’s like he has his own world. If at home the brothers might fight and argue, outside they watch each other’s back, and the same goes for the army,” says Nonna.

During the 2012 parliamentary elections Yeghiazaryan ran for single-mandate representation nominated by ARF and lost to his pro-establishment opponent.

Today, too, the Yeghiazaryan family often visits Shushi. And on the seventh day of the seventh month of 2007, after 15 years of being married, they finally had a wedding ceremony at the beautifully restored white-stoned St Ghazanchetsots Church in their native Shushi.