Sasoun Mikayelyan looks at the black and white photos taken during the Karabakh War.
The dividing line between past and present runs through them.
Smoking a cigarette, the ash falls on his black pants. Sasoun brushes it aside, never diverting his glance from the photos. Those who survived the war have gotten old; others are buried in the Yerablur Military Cemetery.
Sasoun of the Sasoun Brigade
In November 1988, Sasoun had taken a convoy of cars to relocate the residents of the villages of Badakend and Chardakhlou to the town of Spitak. One night, while the residents were ready to leave, the Azerbaijanis attacked the village. They broke down the doors. The homes went to those who could capture them. Sasoun doesn’t want to describe what happened; it’s a scene that constantly plays out before his eyes. Instead, he gets lost in his thoughts.
By 1989, Sasoun Mikayelyan had volunteered with the Sasoun Brigade. Sasoun hails from the Vanadour village of Hrazdan. Not only were there guys from Hrazdan in the brigade, but from Tavoush, Akhalkalak and Karabakh. His family gradually got used to the idea of him participating in the war. They were seven children in the family and conditions were tough.
Sasoun was 18 when he lost his father. His mother died when he was elected the mayor of Hrazdan. Recounting this, Sasoun takes a deep drag on his cigarette and glances around the room.
“It was during the war. One day mu mother told my sister that it would be best if Sasoun was killed rather than taken prisoner. I would ask, ‘Has my mom gone crazy or what?’ Later I understood the meaning of those words,” says an emotional Sasoun, quickly wiping his moist eyes.
He remembers the blockade of Voskepar in November 1991. “I entered the kindergarten and saw the pictures of the kids had fallen to the ground. I said we should pick them up. I looked at the toys and noticed they were kind of sad,” says Sasoun, recounting an episode of his life etched in his memory.
28 Pieces of Sugar and the War
“At the time, who imagined that it was a war?” Sasoun notes. They had no weapons and fabricated home-made grenades.
The brigade was in Haterk starting in 1992. They lived in a pig pen. The guys even had to make their presence unknown to the villagers. Sasoun says the brigade attacked the Soviet forces on three occasions, taking 32 prisoners.
Sasoun recounts that on one evening he was to distribute sugar to the prisoners. He only had 28 pieces of sugar. He handed all 28 pieces and gave the remaining four captives sugar powder.
To learn about the state of the prisoners, some Soviet Army officials travelled to a nearby forest. On the night before military commander Vazgen Sargsyan visited the Armenian soldiers. “It was night. We were seated. They told us not to smoke or turn on a light. At dawn, lo and behold, Vazgen Sargsyan shows up with two sacks of bread.”
On Crutches Back to the Front
Sasoun Mikayelyan regards the events at Khojalu as the first large military operation. They had drawn up plans to attack Khojalu on February 19, 1992. They later postponed the attack until the 25th, the birthday of General Andranik. Sasoun describes what happened succinctly – we attacked, fought and liberated it.
He points to the battle to liberate Shoushi as another intense operation.
“The liberation of Shoushi was a puzzle for many. It was like standing on a bottle and grasping it,” says Sasoun. The battle lasted six hours and Sasoun says he was wounded in 107 places. The wounded brigade commander was taken to Stepanakert and then to the Nor Nork Hospital in Yerevan. One of his legs was out of commission. They immobilized the leg and he returned to the front, to Martakert, on crutches. He says those fragments, still in his leg, are more a part of him than any of the authorities in charge today.
“The boys would listen to Khechoyan”
In Mikayelyan’s brigade was the writer Levon Khechoyan.
“He was the brigade’s teacher and the guys listened to him,” says Sasoun, describing Khechoyan as a unique writer. Sasoun adds that the guys in the brigade pleaded with Khechoyan not to man the front positions. They wanted to keep him alive.
“The last time I saw Levon he told me that if we didn’t meet again in this world, we’d meet in the next. Five days later he was killed,” Sasoun recounts.
Of Gains and Losses
I glance at his black ring with a white cross. Sasoun says he’s worn it for the past 37 years and that no jeweler has been able to say what material it’s made of.
“One night I was writing something and noticed that the cross had come off. I looked and saw it had fallen on my finger. This ring has some history,” Sasoun says.
When talking about the losses incurred, Sasoun cites Vazgen Sargsyan who said that he had given everything for the war and came away with a pride.
“It was the first time we liberated the country, and now the boys can’t even make a living,” Sasoun notes.
It was Vazgen Sargsyan who suggested that Sasoun run for mayor of Hrazdan. When Sargsyan asked him if he was up to the task, Sasoun says he replied, “Why, are you afraid I’ll fall off my chair?”
Sasoun jokes when he tells the story and then gets serious. He says that he often got irritated when serving as mayor.
“Let me recount an incident. One day a man showed up and said that his 28 year old daughter had died and that he didn’t have money to pay for the coffin. The man said his neighbors couldn’t raise the money. The seller wanted the coffin returned.”
Sasoun says that war can break out at any minute.
“Those who fought desire peace the most,” says the Sasoun Brigade commander, again glancing down at the black and white photos.
Photos: Hakop Poghosyan