Armenian Refugees Persist in Faith

Last September, after a nine-month siege of Nagorno-Karabakh and an intense one-day operation conducted by the Azerbaijani military, an estimated 100,000 ethnic Armenians were forced to leave their homeland. Many of these refugees receive support from the Armenian Catholic Church, which operates a summer camp in Torosgyugh, Armenia.

Lusine Davtyan has experienced firsthand how history repeats itself.

Last September, after a nine-month siege of Nagorno-Karabakh and an intense one-day operation conducted by the Azerbaijani military, Lusine was among the estimated 100,000 ethnic Armenians forced to leave their homeland and relocate to the Republic of Armenia.

“I was a year old when my mother took me from Nagorno-Karabakh amid the shelling,” she said, referring to the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, which took place between the emerging independent states of Armenia and Azerbaijan between 1988 and 1994.

“Now, as a 34-year-old with my own 1-year-old child, I found myself leaving in a similar way.”

When the shelling began on 19 September 2023 at 1 p.m., Lusine, a mother of six children, aged 11, 9, 5, 4, 3 and 1, was in the yard of her two-story home in Martakert, a town in the historically Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. She gathered her children quickly and ushered them into the basement. She had no means of communication with her husband, Mher, a soldier stationed at the border.

Three days later, Mher found his wife and children sheltering in the cellar. Taking minimal belongings, they fled, making way for Stepanakert, the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh region during the Soviet period. From there, they made their way to Armenia.

Having no contacts or acquaintances in Armenia, those processing the incoming refugees directed them to the northwestern region of Shirak, where the Armenian Catholic Church operates a summer camp in Torosgyugh. The camp, which the church operates closely with Caritas Armenia and receives funding from CNEWA, has provided a ray of hope.

“We fought for our land, our homeland, but, unfortunately, we lost everything,” said Mher, visibly exhausted.

The Davtyan family settled into two rooms in one of the camp’s cabins. There, they have found solace in the physical and emotional support they have received.

“We are incredibly fatigued, utterly exhausted, making it challenging to comprehend what steps to take or where to go,” said Mher, recalling their flight into Armenia.

“Fortunately, they are taking care of everything for us. At least we have a roof over our heads, receive three meals a day, and have been provided with clothing. In summary, they’ve granted us a chance to rest.”

Despite the challenges, Mher clings to his hope in God. Even in the bleakest moments, he said, he has persisted in his prayer and relies on his faith. He was also eager to start looking for work to support his family.

“I am a sculptor with experience in construction as well,” he said. “I hope I can secure a job soon.”

The older children started at the local school soon after their arrival at the camp. Nine-year-old Luiza longs for her home and school back in Nagorno-Karabakh. Her mother said the once playful girl was silent for weeks, hardly communicating with her peers.

“The children are experiencing a difficult period; there are moments when they wake up in distress, shedding tears. They’re coping with considerable stress, often reminiscing about our home, their belongings, clothes, and toys,” said Lusine.

“It’s an emotionally taxing situation.”

A communications specialist, Gohar Abrahamyan covers issues of justice and peace in the Caucasus for local and international media.

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