When the war started on September 27, Shushanik Sevyan (37) and Ruzan Azaryan (32) took their children and fled from their homes in the Kalbajar region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The two women, sister-in-laws married to two brothers, found shelter at a friend’s house in Gavar region, and hoped to wait out the fighting and return home. But six weeks later, when the ceasefire was signed, they were told that their village--Charektar--would be surrendered to Azerbaijan, one of many communities where ethnic Armenians were forced to abandon their homes. In a strange twist of fate, however, after 65 of the 70 families who lived in the village burned down their homes and fled, it was decided that Charektar would remain under Armenian control. The status of the village does not change Shushanik's fate--her house remains but it is surrounded by Azerbaijani-controlled land and she is too afraid to go back.
Shushanik, who lost her husband in April, took her five children, her husband’s coffin, and a few belongings, and left. Her sister-in-law Ruzan, whose husband fought in the war, joined her with her own three children. Today the two families are looking for a new place to call home, and trying to recapture a sense of normalcy after the trauma of losing everything.
Into the unknown
Lernagyugh, an Armenian village 150 kilometers from capital Yerevan, is dying. While it was once a robust community, just four people remain there today. The village is remote, closed off from the rest of the country during the winter, and it lacks even basic services, like schools.
The Last Residents of a Dying Village
The first time Shahen Harutyunyan was handcuffed he was 14. On November 5th, 2013, his father Shant and a group of activists were arrested as they walked towards the Presidential palace in central Yerevan for what they called the “Revolution of Values”. Shahen was in the group: as he was underage he was soon freed by signature while Shant was imprisoned.
Shahen, An Armenian Revolutionary Teen
As a boy Samvel Mikayelyan was mesmerized by his neighbour’s fingers as they flew over the large loom as she weaved threads and crossed knots. He decided then to become a rug weaver -- no matter if tradition in Armenia has it set in stone as a woman’s job.
Armenia’s Male Carpet Weaver
Tehmine Yenokyan, 32, is an Armenian journalist and activist who has been fighting against an international mining company that wants to dig for gold in the mountains near her home.
The activist fighting the mines
Anna Seinyan, 28, is from Karabakh. She has been serving in the Armenian Armed Forces for seven years.
Serving her homeland and her family
Tsovinar Araqelyan is 39 years old and lives in Garni, which is 30km away from the capital. Everybody in the village recognizes Tsovinar as a fear catcher/ candle pourer. In Armenian villages and cities, the art of fear catching has been used for centuries. For some, fear catchers can take the place of doctors and psychologists. When a child gets scared, for example, many parents first reach out to the local fear catcher. They only visit a psychologist in extreme situations. Tsovinar says scared and stressed individuals come to her everyday. Her clients are not limited to family members and fellow villagers. Some people travel to Garni from other regions of Armenia to seek her help. Her clients praise her ability to help them. They credit her strong energy with helping them overcome their fears in a single day. For them, that makes her a better option than psychologists, who might require several sessions to solve a problem.
The coronavirus pandemic has influenced many artists around the world, including Gyumri resident, Aleksey Manukyan, 46. He suddenly got interested in creating installations, made from useless things, like construction waste, findings, plastic bottles, and ground. This is his way to confront the reality of isolation.
Abutab Aliyeva, 63, Maguli Okropiridze, 52, and Seda Chagharyan, 69, live in different countries in the South Caucasus but today, in the post-conflict period of this war-torn region, they all face the same challenge: for the last 30 years these women, who all live near conflict zones, have lived in constant fear for the security of their families.