Borik Mkrtchyan said that in 1992 he and his wife Anya were the only people left in the village of Vank in the Martakert region of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. Everyone else had been force to leave their homes, for Yerevan, a hostel, or somewhere else.
"There was no one in the village,” Grandmother Anya recalled. “Vazgen Sargsyan, may he rest in peace, came and asked me why I wasn’t leaving. I told him, ‘When my Arto comes, then I'll leave the village.’ He called Arto by his radio name, 18, and asked him why his mother wasn’t leaving. My Arto said ‘She is staying there to take care of me and the soldiers.'"
From 1992 till the 1994 cease fire deal, every day, under constant attack from helicopter missiles and Grad rockets, Anya baked 150-200 loaves of lavash (Armenian bread) for her eldest son Arto and the soldiers under his command in the Gantzasar militia. After the very first tough battles there was no one left in Vank.
"The warehouse manager would bring flour, I would bake it, and people would deliver it," recounted the 67-year-old woman, who has been paralyzed and bedridden since an illness. Her 73-year-old husband said that before her illness, Anya weighed 95 kilos. She weighs much less now. He praised the woman's bravery during the years of war, and added that he had only stayed in the village because of her. Anya has a very good memory, too; when they remember the past, Borik always accepts her version of events.
The Mkrtchyans’ eldest son Artavazd first fought in the village of Kichan, then headed the Gantzasar paramilitary. He was wounded in a battle in the Omar mountain pass and taken to the Chldran hospital, but eighteen days later, not heeding the words of his doctors or his parents, he returned to the front. During one of the battles for the last positions in Martakert he called his father on the radio. Borik recalls his sons words: "He said ‘Father, the war isn’t over yet. I'll take the last position and I'll come back. He was 36 years old."
This least Borik said with difficulty, his eyes filling with tears. Anya wept silently in bed. "May April 18 be forever cursed."
Then Anya recalled how she was wounded during the war; she still has shrapnel in her leg. Three years ago she went to Yerevan for treatment for a women’s ailment, and she asked the doctor to remove the shrapnel as well. "I asked, please remove the fragment, and the doctor replied ‘I don't know how to do that.’ I said, ‘You went to war, so you should know. You just went to war for money.’ And it’s still there…"
Borik and Anya are from the Mkrtchyan clan; their grandfathers were brothers. Borik recalled that at first he was in love with long-haired Maro, but then his mother told him that he would marry Anya. When I asked whether he stilled remembered and loved Maro, he replied with a smile, "Ehh, now we are done."
The couple have lost two of their five children. They have twenty-one grandchildren and nine great grand children. Anya spends her time with them when she is healthy. She never watches television. Arto's younger brother is a plumber and also lives in Vank. People of his age and younger have things to do in the village.
Their granddaughter Mona explained that all of the young people study in Stepanakert-she went to university there for a while, but she didn't like it and left. Mona now works in the Eklektika hotel, built by Levon Hayrapetyan, who is from Vank. Other villagers also work there, or in the wood processing factory. All the villagers are happy about Hayrapetyan.
But Borik says that the villagers have no means to cultivate land. The former wood- worker receives a 10, 000 dram pension, and his wife receives a similar amount. They have two cows, and like others they have land, but do not cultivate it. In stead, they gave their land over for the hotel and the surrounding buildings.
"There are no combiners, nothing. Nobody cultivates the land," said the villager, who lives at the edge of the forest. From his house we hear the continuous sound of buzzsaws in the forest. "They're the ones to benefit, they sell wood, and destroy the forest. They take the wood and sell it in Yerevan or Stepanakert."
The old man is referring to forestry department workers. And he says even before the war, some of the villagers went to Yerevan and sold the weapons they had received for fighting.
I asked about the donkey contest which takes place in Vank each year. Mona smiled and said that this year her brother Artur had won second place, taking home $1,500. Borik joyfully told us the story, proud of his grandson's success.