We Are Our Mountains - The Spirit and People of Artsakh
The first thing I noticed about Artsakh was the landscape. Rolling hills, sheer cliffs, and rugged peaks in a patchwork of greens and browns seem to go on forever. The second thing you notice is the people. Almost everyone has fought for their homeland.
Cemetery of the Soldiers of Artsakh's War for Independence
Some people, like Saro, whose guesthouse we stayed in, fled from Baku and other regions of Azerbaijan where Armenians were ethnically cleansed in the 1980s. He then fought in Artsakh's war for independence and was wounded in the shoulder by an Azeri bullet. Saro and his friends had to fight for their independence because the international community refused to recognize the people of Artsakh's human right to self determination, even when the Azeris planned to continue their program of ethnic cleansing in the region. (Read more at www.justiceforartsakh.weebly.com ) When they started to attack, however, the people of Artsakh fought back. Ashot, the director of the Shushi history museum showed us some of the home-made guns that Armenians fought with at the start of the war because they didn't have an army or any weapons.
The View from Saro's Guesthouse
"We fought with pitchforks, shovels, knives, and anything we could find," Karlen, the director of Artsakh's historic Amaras monastery told us, "I was a blacksmith, so I helped the people in my village make the homemade guns."
Karlen fought for the people of his village in trenches so close to the Azeri bases that they could hear the other soldiers singing. Today, in his house in the monastery complex, he and his wife Anahit can hear shooting from the border every night.
The men weren't the only people who fought for their homeland. At the Mamik and Babik statue that is the symbol of Artsakh, we met Ludmilla, who was there with her daughter and grandkids. She told us how she had fought in the army to defend the homeland that she loved so much. She also described how her son in law in Moscow keeps telling her to come, and live easier without the threat of war, but she refuses.
"I was born here and I will die here," she says, "And I want my grandkids to grow up here."
Even Artsakh's younger generations don't plan on leaving. Susanna Petrosyan, who runs a charity that helps Artsakh's children, soldiers, isolated villagers, and many other people in need, told us about her devotion to her homeland.
"During the April War, I stayed here with my four kids," she told us, "Now I really understand the saying 'We Are Our Mountains.' We cannot be separated."
Karen Mirzoyan, Artsakh's Minister of Foreign Affairs, also sees potential in Artsakh's younger generation.
"Artsakh's greatest heroes are its ordinary citizens," he told us. "The future is looking bright for us. Just give us time."