Monday, June 16, 2008

Lavrent Shumanyan: A Man Molded by the Wounds of War
[June 16, 2008]

During the Artsakh War the tank he commanded was the first to plunge into battle, straight towards the enemy positions from which there was little chance of returning from in one piece. He was given these difficult missions because everyone knew that Lavrent wasn’t one to shirk the responsibilities assigned him and that he’d fulfill the mission objectives no matter what the cost and safely return. Anyone who knows the man will attest to these traits of his.

The courage exemplified by Lavrent Shumanyan is legendary; the many scars his body carries are a striking testament to this fact. The scars are so numerous that he can’t remember the events surrounding every incident in which he was wounded. His many hospital stays were short in duration. As soon as his wounds were treated Lavrent would make his way back to the front lines.

“Land mines exploded underneath my tank a total of 29 times.” he notes and recounts one particular battle when he received a head wound “from 3 mines simultaneously exploding and throwing me out of the tank to the ground.” This however wasn’t the last battle he fought in for Lavrent could never rest easy while the lives of his comrades in arms were in danger. It was this internal motivation that drove him to take on ever new challenges that fate had in store for him. He met these challenges but still has to overcome the blows destiny has left in its wake.

Having served in the Soviet military as a sailor Lavrent could never have imagined becoming a tank driver within the period of a few hours. It was Avo (Monte Melkonian) who came up with the idea. Lavrent, born and bred in the Martuni village of Yemishjan, recounts that, “In early 1992, after serving some nine months in the Soviet Army I returned to Karabakh where military operations had already commenced.”

It wouldn’t dawn on a stranger that Lavrent is only 36 years old. You’d have to be told the road this man has traveled to realize that the slings and arrows of life have left their mark on this disabled man’s exterior.

A tractor technician by trade, the need for skilled individuals like Lavrent was felt from the first day of the war. Then tractors had to be quickly repaired in order to transport artillery shells to the front. This is how Lavrent was first battle weaned. Later on he participated in the war in a host of military capacities.

“One day Avo instructed our unit leader to send me to see him. I go see Avo and he tells me that I have to become a tank commander. Since I had also dreamt of becoming one I was naturally quite pleased at the prospect. I asked Avo to give me a week’s time to prepare but he tells me, ‘No, you must be ready in three hours.’ They instructed me as best they could and then we were off to the forward positions.” recounts Lavrent and continues with his war time saga during which he made it all the way to the Omar Pass in the Mrav Mountains of northern Karabakh.

It was there that Lavrent was wounded for the last time in the war and it proved to be the worst injury he sustained. His column was making its way along a narrow oath towards Omar Mountain. A series of mine explosions violently rattled the tank he was in and all the crew were thrown out. The rest of the tank crew were taken to local field hospitals while Lavrent stayed behind awaiting help to arrive so that the tank could be repaired and continue on ahead. Lavrent was waiting a few meters distant from the tank when a series of explosions threw him into the bushes. “The Azeris hit my tank with an RPG says Lavrent who remembers the blood flowing out of his ears. “tried to contact my guys but I couldn’t pronounce the words, my entire mouth had gone numb. Luckily the guys realized that I was in trouble and soon arrived on the scene.”

Lavrent’s future wife, Zarineh, knew that he had been wounded on numerous occasions. At the time she was working at the old-aged home in Stepanakert when she met Lavrent and fell in love. But Zarineh was always melancholy, something which vexed Lavrent. It turns out that she was an orphan. “Before getting married my mother would constantly ask me what kind of girl did I want to marry - a beautiful girl, a rich one…? My answer was always the same - an orphan girl. This way I’d perform an act of kindness during my life. And that’s what happened. For one year and two months Zarineh literally “tortured” me. She’d never stop to talk to me but afterwards, when the opportunity arose, I quickly decided to get married.” says Lavrent while glancing over at his wife.

Zarineh was just four years-old when her parents and sister died. She was looked after by a series of caring strangers until Lavrent came along. They married in 1994. At first they lived in Lavrent’s native village. After the ceasefire Lavrent continued to serve in the ranks of the Artsakh Army. In 2002 the army provided them with an apartment in Stepanakert that the couple was forced to sell 18 months later so that Zarineh could be taken to Yerevan for surgery. She’s already undergone six operations but still experiences heart problems. After all their problems Zarineh states that God bestowed them with little Arsen, their pride and joy.

Arsen, now seven years old, is their third child and his birth has somewhat served to mollify the grief they felt after loosing their second child.

Lavrent has moved to Shushi and has started from scratch. He’s trying everything to start his own business and take care of his family. So far he’s not made a go of things. In 2007 he applied for a loan under the “Government Assistance Program for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises” but was turned down for unexplained reasons.

Presently, the family’s only income is the monthly 54,000 dram pension that Lavrent receives as a registered 2nd degree disabled war veteran. Years ago the government granted him a Niva automobile which he possesses till today. A periodic source of income for him is the Graz dump truck donated to him on a temporary basis by Ara Manoogian, an American-Armenian. Lavrent sometimes uses the truck to make some extra money but confesses that business isn’t that great.

“I’m not saying that the government should be giving our guys financial assistance but rather jobs so that we can work and provide for our families. What about the guy in a wheelchair, how can he survive?” asks Lavrent.

He remembers all his wartime buddies, especially those who wound up falling on the battlefield. Lavrent can go on talking about them for hours on end. But he holds a special place in his heart for Aperik (Ararat Shamamyan) who was only 17 when he was killed.

Years of difficulty have so tempered and molded Lavrent that most problems are brushed aside as commonplace. Perhaps the only thing that could break the spirit of this self-confident and daring man are the injustices, of which he confesses there are many, in our everyday lives. As he himself sums it up, “There are men who change cars like they were changing a pair of socks, but then there are those who can’t even change their own socks.”

Anahit Danielyan

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