"Mom, call Vardan": Goris Welcomes Displaced Nagorno-Karabakh Residents
12:58 - 26 September, 2023

"Mom, call Vardan": Goris Welcomes Displaced Nagorno-Karabakh Residents

As we traversed Vayots Dzor, traffic thickened, and the presence of ambulances and trucks hinted at our approach to Goris.

Strolling through rain-formed puddles, we arrived at the building that, just a week ago, had been the drama theater. There is a big blue bus in front of the building. Agony and fatigue emanate from the faces of the people visible through the window. In my mind, I find solace in the barrier before me, grateful that it shields me from getting closer to the weariness etched on people's faces. A child, around four years old, nibbling on a piece of bread, emerges from the building and is on the verge of crossing paths with volunteers bearing food. "The taxi has arrived. Are all of you ready?" A Red Cross staff member escorts a family of eight, engaging in playful banter with the children and bidding farewell like a caring relative as they board the vehicle... "Move back, make way for this car!" the policeman shouts, using a commanding hand gesture to guide people and clear the path. A two-year-old child in a red coat wanders around. "Is she by herself?" People exchange glances. As we attempt to find our bearings, a mother, cradling another baby in her arms, guides the little one by the hand, and they pass through the barrier. An elderly woman stumbles and ends up in a puddle up to her ankles. I wonder if she has an extra pair of shoes; she was wearing slippers.

While I stand on the sidewalk, trying to absorb my initial impressions, my attention is captivated by a 5-6-year-old girl in a red hoodie, standing in front of a White Ford. The family of Gohar is from the village of Haterk, Martakert. "On September 20th, accompanied by our relatives, a group of 25 people, we embarked on a journey to the airport. We spent five days there, and then they [the peacekeeprs] helped us to cross the Hakari Bridge," recounted Ruzanna, Gohar's mother. She mentioned that they had cattle and were able to slaughter some for meat and take with them. That's how they lived until they reached Kornidzor. When I inquired about their reception at the airport, she appeared surprised and asked, 'Who, the Russians? It is an open field, we went there by car, slept in the car, lived by ourselves'. According to her, five soldiers were killed in the village. "There is still a 19-year-old child who couldn't be brought out. He has four sisters. As we were departing the village in our cars, the mother of the deceased kept glancing back, as if hoping to catch a glimpse of him following us. She can't believe that her son died." Tears welling in her eyes, Ruzanna adds, "She's still waiting for him to come." One of her family members also passed away, her husband's cousin, a young 19-year-old soldier. She explains that they are making efforts to transport the body to Armenia with the assistance of the Red Cross. They are waiting for other family members to join them to go to Yerevan. And what's next? "Then I will go to Pyatigorsk, my daughter is there. And then in the end people will leave Armenia as well as they left Artsakh."

Ruzanna with Gohar

I approach the girl who stands alone under a wall and ask, "Who are you with?" Babo (grandmother). While I'm attempting to identify Nare's grandmother, I notice a woman on the right side of us, diligently trying to corral the kids who are enthusiastically chasing a stray dog. Gohar's family loses their home for the second time. They fled from Shush to Stepanakert in 2020, now Goris, then... "probably Russia, we have family there."

Aren, Alen and Nare

In front of the Goris Hotel, men smoke anxiously. They don't talk to each other, don't talk to strangers. The hotel corridor bustles with activity. A child is gleefully bouncing on a sofa, savoring chocolate with all ten fingers. The man pulls fruits, sweets, and juices from the bag, sharing them with both children and parents waiting in line. The girl with short, curly hair can barely contain the aid packages she's received in her small hands. "Could you please give me a bag?" she requests, turning to me with a warm smile. "I'm Larisa," she introduces herself, then introduces her brother. "And this is Artyom."

Larisa's family emigrated from Yeghtsahogh, although Larisa herself proudly notes that she is from Shushi. "She was born in the maternity hospital of Shushi," her mother corrects. Yeghtsahogh is now completely empty. "On the 20th, at one o'clock in the morning, we took the children out, brought to the Russian post. Our village was completely evacuated, including the neighboring villages -Hin Shen and Mets Shen. We didn't take anything with us – no clothes or anything. The head of the village gave a car to evacuate people. We went out, the Turks followed us into the village," she says. At the Russian checkpoint, according to Susan, residents of three villages were accommodated and provided with food, and then escorted to Kornidzor. At the checkpoint, they did not pass inspection, they did not leave the cars, only passports were checked.

Susan with Larisa and Artyom.

Susan's family has no relatives, neither in Goris nor in Yerevan. She mentiones that she can't live in the city. She's uncertain about the next destination, but she's determined not to go to Russia. "I want to settle in a village, secure a job, and raise my children." A man from the side interjects, "Wouldn't you consider living in Meghri? I invite you." "Meghri? Isn't that close to the Turks?" she questions. "It is. What if I relocate there and they launch another attack?"

The hotel corridor is gradually emptying out. Video footage of the fire at the Stepanakert fuel depot has already been released. On the sofa, a woman cries out with longing and repeats once more, "Mom, I'm calling, he's not answering, please call Vardan."

I quietly leave the hotel. Time outside has stopped. Men are desperately smoking, as if in the same position as an hour ago. My ears are still ringing.

"Mom, call Vardan".

Victoria Andreasyan

Photos by Anthony Pizzoferrato

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