Visiting Refugees From Nagorno-Karabakh

Thousands of ethnic Armenian families forcibly evacuated from the region of Nagorno-Karabakh continue to work at rebuilding their lives in Armenia. Weeks after their evacuation, journalist Gohar Abrahamyan visited some of these families at a refugee camp, located near Gyumri.

Editors’ note: Journalist Gohar Abrahamyan provides an audio report of her experience below. Listen to the audio clip, then read more in her feature article “No Turning Back” in the December edition of ONE. A full transcript follows.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, people were on the verge of starvation, exhausted because of the nine-month-long severe blockade imposed by Azerbaijan. They were not just physically malnourished, but also mentally suffering, losing hope and strength to fight, while the worst was yet to come. On September 19, Azerbaijan unleashed a large-scale military attack targeting also peaceful citizens, children.

Reaching the hospitals for many was just impossible. No gasoline, no transportation, no bread, only severe shelling and bombing. Some 120,000 people lost everything: their homeland, where their ancestors lived for centuries, their houses, all their memories. But those who at least did not lose their relatives, or at least found their dead bodies, were considered lucky.

About 99.9 percent of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population, within 96 hours, was forcibly deported and fled to Armenia. Thousands of volunteers were involved to help displaced people, and Armenian Caritas was among the first in this humanitarian rescue front line.

Initially first aid and hot meals were provided in the Syunik region, which was the first bordering region, and later in Torosgyugh of Shirak region. Over 150 refugees found here accommodation.

I visited Torosgyugh, a small village just 10 km from the regional center city, Gyumri. Here is the famous and beloved camp operated by Armenian Caritas with the support of the Catholic Church.

As you pass through the camp’s gates, the sounds of children fill the air. For around 300 days, these children were getting too hungry, dreaming of a piece of chocolate or any sweet tea, and sleeping in the shelters under bombing and heavy shelling. Now they are safe, though haunted by memories of rocket attacks and awful images they witnessed.

Psychological trauma is obvious and is with everyone. A 9-year-old girl, who once was a lively and excellent student, now struggles to concentrate in class and barely interacts with her peers. Her friend says she is constantly crying.

While men are silent, it seems they are the general embodiment of the whole tragedy. They have always been the pillars and defenders of their family and the country. And now they have lost both. They have lost also the ability to take care of their families. The last drop of hope they left in their houses they had built themselves. But still, they are lucky now. They are in a camp with comfortable cabins equipped with all essential amenities.

In these difficult days, the biggest consolation is the support of each other — people who do everything to help refugees every day, volunteers, organizations that have replaced all their programs with humanitarian assistance. People stand for each other, and this general support is the source of strength and recovery, when you really, really feel that you are not alone.

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

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