Wednesday, May 18, 2005
[May 18, 2005]

Until the Next War

"Ever since I was a boy, when I studied Armenian history, I dreamed about going to war. If you don't have that dream, then you're as sick as the current government," said Hovsep Aghabekyan, whose friends call him Mr. Hovsep.

From 1992 to 1994, Mr. Hovsep fought in the battles for Zangelan, Ghubatlu, Jebrayil, Fizuli, Shushi, Hadrut, and Kelbajar. The commander of Shushi's elite reconnaissance brigade, he didn't go home throughout the war. He cannot say how many of his comrades died in front of his eyes.

After the war Hovsep returned to Yerevan and briefly held the position of assistant commander of Yerevan 's 5th division. The government didn't like him, he said, explaining, "I had different principles."

Today Mr. Hovsep is a construction worker, but it's not a steady job. He says he won't ask for help from the government since he knows they won't help him. "I have friends who are first or second degree disabled, and they get no help," he explains. He has a wife and two children; they live in a rented apartment. Some time ago the landlord increased the rent by from $30 to $50 a month. Hovsep's wife, Lusine, says that the landlord didn't even ask them if they could afford to pay that much. "In the neighborhood, prices are high, so he probably he decided to raise our rent as well," she said.

The couple married when Hovsep returned from the war. Their children are in school now. Lusine describes their life together in one word: survival. Lusine confesses that their problems are disheartening, but said about being married to Hovsep, “ I am happy and proud."

I asked Mr. Hovsep whether he had known what he was was fighting for when he was fighting. "I didn't fight for the situation we have today; I fought so that social problems could be put right," he said.

Was there anyone he could go to for help, for instance his wartime friends? He fought alongside the current vice minister of defense, Arthur Aghabekyan. "During the war he was a great friend," Mr. Hovsep said. But later, things turned out differently: "My close friend asked him for help. My friend is 1st degree disabled, but the vice minister didn't help him. He and my friend fought shoulder to shoulder. Now my friend's life is broken, he's in jail," he recounted. 41 years old, Hovsep Aghabekyan plays soccer regularly. "Tomorrow there might be another war, and soccer is a good way to stay physically fit," he explained.

Khachatur Giloyan went to war when he was seventeen. He had grown up knowing all about war. "It's probably in my blood. My grandfather told a lot of war stories; he was a soldier for Nzhdeh, Andranik," he said.

He decided to go to war himself when he saw the first corpses of the victims in Yerevan. His parents were against it. "The first time, I ran away from home, and they understood I had to go," Khachatur remembered. He lost his right leg in the war, and was granted 2 nd degree disability. The government, however, refused to recognize him as permanently disabled. Why? "If your leg doesn't grow back within ten years, they give you permanent status. That's our law," he explained.

The government pays Khatchatur a soldier's pension that he considers a humiliation. He went to war as a volunteer, below draft age. "Tomorrow you won't be able to prove to them that you went on your own, and not because you were forced to,” he said. Did Khachatur understand what was he fighting for when he was seventeen? "There are times when you shouldn't look for an explanation," he said, added philosophically, "The motherland won't forget you, but it won't remember you either, since it doesn't know about you."

The "motherland," in this case Karabakh, did however show its appreciation to Khachatur in the form of two medals—“Mother's Gratitude" and "For Bravery". "Everyone gets this medal,” he said of the second one. “Those who fought and those who didn't.” As a result, the efforts of those who fought and those who didn't were rendered the same. "Today, people who didn't fight at all receive that medal. It happens all the time. And there are people from my division who were wounded, but they don't have any papers; they go to the hospital and ask for money."

Khachatur Giloyan is now 29 years old. He got married five years ago and has two children. Though he is young, he has serious health problems. Even so, he says that if there is another war, he will try to go and fight. What is he doing in the meantime? "Mainly I do buying and selling, because who is going to keep me?" he said. He explained the current state of mind of his fellow freedom fighters: "You know why 90% of fighters who say they don't have a job or anything are like that? It's because they only know how to fight. And our government is bad; it doesn't take care of these people. So these people are waiting for another war, so they can fight." He described a case in which a 2nd degree disabled fighter received a three-years sentence for stealing. “His child had bronchitis. He went and stole some medicine. They caught him and he confessed."

These two Artsakh freedom fighters celebrate May 9 th as a day of remembrance, the one thing the government hasn't managed to take from them. They say the government should have understood that it had to keep working with the soldiers who kept reliving the war after it ended, like the US did with Vietnam veterans. That didn't happen and now the fighters are waiting for the next war. The war for liberation ended, but the dreams of war did not.

Mher Arshakyan

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