A Day in Shushi
All it took was dinner to make me feel at home in Shushi. We were sitting at a long table outside of Saro’s guesthouse where his wife Hasmik served us heaping plates of the best dolma I have ever eaten. As Saro poured us glasses of homemade mulberry vodka, Hasmik’s sister Valentina passionately informed us about Karabakhtsi politics. We stayed up late into the night talking, eating, and drinking, but when I got up the next morning I was all the more ready to explore the city.
Saro showed us around the city that has been his home since his family fled from the anti-Armenian pogroms in Baku in the late 1980s. He showed us rocks and gems from the mountains ofArtsakh at the geology museum where he is the director.
We then met his friend Ashot, who is the director of the history museum. Ashot took us on a brief tour of Shushi’s history, showing us clay pots and other artifacts from prehistoric times, as well as traditional Armenian instruments and folk costumes from centuries ago.
Shushi has been a historic city since before it became a popular stop for merchants on the silk road. Bits and pieces of the original road still weave their way throughout the town, including through Saro’s back yard. One of the caravanserais still exists as well, standing next to an old indoor market that is being rebuilt. Across the street is another reminder of Shushi’s history: an empty mosque, restored by the people of Shushi, and mourning the days when Armenians and Azeris lived together in peace. Those days came to an end when the Soviet Union began to collapse, and the new nation of Azerbaijan formed its identity along ethnic lines. The pogroms spread quickly after they began in Baku, but when they reached Artsakh, the people took up arms to defend their homeland. They didn’t have weapons or an army, but they were able to make guns out of objects they found in their houses and fight back. Ashot showed us some of these guns in the history museum, where he also told us how he was part of the military company that liberated the city of Shushi.
I could see the scars of war on every street as Saro took us through the city. Many of the historic houses and apartment buildings were empty and ruined, which made it feel almost like walking through Pompeii, or some other ruin. Unlike these relics of the past, however, Shushi is still a living, breathing city.
Saro showed us some of his favorite details in the doors and gates of the buildings, as well as an old house that his friend, an artist, has plans to rebuild. He also took as to the carpet museum, which has amazing examples of traditional Armenian carpets from throughout Artsakh’s history.
Our final stop is Gazenchetsots Church, which, like Shushi was damaged in the war, but continues to be used by people for weddings, celebrations, services, or just a quiet and peaceful place to pray. It was built in the 1800s, and still stands today, restored past its former glory, a brilliant symbol of Shushi’s resilience and spirit.
We ended our time in Artsakh with another meal at Saro’s house. He and his family were so hospitable to us, and after an amazing day in the city, I wasn’t ready to leave. When we drove into the morning mist the next day, all I could think about was when I would come back.
Contact Saro Saryan at 097 23-17-64, or find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/saro.saryan?ref=br_rs