“I blame myself” - Gyumri Family Inconsolable Over Loss of Son in Artsakh War
The Matevosyan family has lived in a makeshift house in Gyumri for thirty years.
Gagik Matevosyan, the father of the family, says they may get a new apartment soon. "When the local municipality told us we’d get an apartment, we were very happy. But now, we don’t care about it anymore” says Mr. Matevosyan.
His youngest son, 25-year-old Armen, died during last year’s 44-day war in Artsakh. On October 6, near Horadiz, Armen was severely wounded in the head. He was first transferred to Sisian, then to Yerevan. Doctors could not save his life. The young man did not awake from a coma.
As soon as they heard the news, the family left for Yerevan. Mr. Matevosyan says the doctors knew that their son would not survive the moment they brought him to hospital. The wound was very bad, but the family did not lose hope. Armen might have survived if he had been wounded elsewhere.
"My Armen had a very calm character, but last year he kept himself very busy. He was afraid he wouldn’t finish whatever he started. Maybe because he felt something" says Armen's mother, Tamara Matevosyan.
Armen last talked to his family on the phone the day before he was injured, on October 5. First, he talked to his mother, as if he had called to say goodbye, then he called his father and his older brother, Artur. "That day he knew he would not be alive," says Mrs. Matevosyan.
Armen and his older brother, Artur, served as border guards, on the Armenian-Georgian border. When they learned that Artur was to be conscripted to the battlefield, Armen insisted that his brother's name be removed from the list and he be taken instead. Mrs. Matevosyan says Armen wanted to go instead of Artur because the latter got married two months prior to the war.
The Matevosyans have set up a corner in their living room as a shrine to their deceased son. Armen's pictures, military awards and sports medals are displayed on the table. Armen had quite a lot of success in sambo and judo. His trainer even offered him the chance to continue his career in sports, but he chose military service because of the stable salary.
Last year, Armen started several jobs during his time free from military service. He rented some land and planted potatoes. He started making handmade wooden cornices and supplied handicrafts to flower shops.
Armen had also dug a small pond in the yard with his own hands, had drawn water from the river flowing nearby and started breeding trout.
"Because he was very busy, he did not spend much time at home, and I missed him. I wanted to always be where he was," says Mrs. Matevosyan. Armen was going to leave his military job soon and devote all his time to agriculture and woodworking.
Armen's uncle, Gevorg Matevosyan, also went to Karabakh to fight and was seriously wounded when he and his comrades-in-arms were carrying the bodies of fallen soldiers. It happened a few days after Armen was hit. He’s in hospital, in critical condition. He has amnesia and his hearing is deteriorating daily. It’s not clear when, or if, he’ll recover.
"I always blame myself that my son is gone. It doesn't matter what I’m doing, I always question myself. My Armen is always with me," says Mrs. Matevosyan.
Mr. Matevosyan used to work as a construction laborer in Russia. He hasn’t made the seasonal trip for the past two years and hasn’t decided if he wants to return or not. Mrs. Matevosyan works at a bakery at minimum wage. It helps her escape the grief she bears.
Armen's older brother and his wife are expecting a baby soon. Mrs. Matevosyan hopes the baby’s arrival will ease their pain. She says the only thing giving her the will to live is the prospect of new life in the family.