Taking a Trip to Maghavuz, the New Northern Border of NK
The last time we were in Nagorno-Karabakh, it was in the midst of what is now referred to as “The Second Karabakh War,” and some villagers from Maghavuz had found refuge in the nearby forests. The 44-day renewal of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan resulted in Armenia giving up a significant amount of land and launched a Russian peacekeeping mission in the breakaway state. We decided to visit Maghavuz, a village a dozen kilometers away from the new Northern border of NK, and capture those villagers as they grapple with loss and tell the story of the conflict from their own vantage points.
On the way to Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh, our van passes a few Russian checkpoints.
“Military personnel? Weapons?” they ask.
“None,” the driver replies, and everyone shakes their heads.
As we pass by the entrance to the city of Shushi, the cultural gem of the region now under Azerbaijan’s control, passengers of the van lean toward their windows trying to get a closer look at the Azerbaijani flag. One of the journalists quotes Lorca: “We’re all curious about what might hurt us.”
A billboard in Stepanakert informs us that Putin is the Person of the Year 2020 according to a local magazine.
Stepanakert is bustling with life. In part, it is because of the internally displaced people from the captured areas. Nevertheless, the restaurants where one would often come across worried sergeant majors are now the meeting spots of schoolchildren. Peacekeepers are strolling the streets, asking the locals for directions. Rope dryers are heavy with clothes. The lights are on at night.
The market, which was shelled, has been restored. The smell of fresh bread and fragments of small talk hang in the air.
Karine tells us that during the war she told her 9-year-old grandson that he too will fight in the war when he grows up.
“But Grams, he asked anxiously, what if I get killed?” she laughs.
We buy tickets to Martakert, the northern district of Artsakh, at the Central Bus Station of Stepanakert. There’s an old-fashioned café right next to the ticket window where you can sip coffee as you wait for your ride.
Under the watchful eye of Jesus Christ, we are in Martakert in about an hour. “No destination in Karabakh is far anymore,” the driver remarks.
Maghavuz, the village we’re headed to and the point where the peacekeepers’ mission ends in the North is then a 10-minute ride away.
When we get to the house of Artush and Armenuhi, he is feeding the pigs and she is knitting.
Armenuhi tells me it’s a romper for her grandson who was born a month after his 30-year-old father died in the war.
He is now in Yerevan with his mother.
We share with Armenuhi and Artush pictures of them hiding the shelling out in the forest in October. They spent the whole 44 days of war out in the open with their hunting rifles without proper nourishment or equipment, refusing to leave.
“Such good times,” she says. “He was alive then. And I didn’t know he was going to die. I wonder how I’ve managed to stay sane. Sometimes I still wait for him to open the door of the house, it’s like a fairy tale world we’ve constructed for ourselves.”
She tells us how attentive and gentle Andranik was, how he had the gift of seeing beauty everywhere. And adds:
“I hope no mother, not even an Azerbaijani mother, experiences this.”
The dawns in Maghavuz are particularly stunning.
The next day, after a quick breakfast at Armenuhi’s house, we set out to visit other villagers we had met in the forest.
Lyda, an 83-year-old woman who lives alone, assures us that if any Azerbaijanis trespass, she will immediately spot them on the horizon. She is a big fan of calendars and never throws them out.
Nora says she saw a couple of peacekeepers at the church and, to their great joy, gave them a chicken as a welcoming gift.
“But why did you return?” I ask grandma Nora, knowing she could have been safer in Yerevan.
“I’ve raised my six children in these mountains, have sung for them in these fields when I was young,” she replies.
Then in her room, she tells us in secret about being married off at 17 and trying to escape during the first month.
“It wasn’t for me, I wanted to be a teacher. I loved books, I wanted more,” Nora says.
“Our village is 4 kilometers away from the new border so we had to move here,” the boy in yellow says after boasting about being the oldest one. “Can’t stop the cows from wandering into their territory. Oh, and by the way, I stayed here with my dad the whole time, all through the shelling.”
“Such a liar,” says his mother afterward. “Of course we sent the kids to Armenia immediately.”
In the yard next to their house is a random pile of letters in Russian and Armenian. “How do you sleep there all alone?” one of the letters says. Another letter reads: “Anoushik is all grown up now. We tell her something in Armenian, she replies in Russian.”
It is Armed Forces Day. At the memorial, the villagers greet each plate with a hand touch, warming them up for a moment.
Artush is sizing up the wall. Soon his son Andranik and an 18-year-old Vahe Verdyan from Maghavuz will also be commemorated here.
The principal of the school and Andranik’s chemistry teacher have already added his portrait and biography to the classroom wall. Everyone’s biography says that they were hard-working students who had many friends.
In the hallway, above the portraits of those who have died in the previous war, is the second half of a famous saying by the 5th-century historian Eghishe: “To die unknowingly is death. To die knowingly is immortality.”
But who can know how many of those whose portraits are on these walls went into it knowingly?
Photos by Narek Aleksanyan
Written by Nare Navasardyan