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Rima Grigoryan

Hayk Makiyan

Those Left on the Battlefield: Artsakh’s Davit Abaghyan Leads the Difficult Search

The task of retrieving the bodies of dead Armenian soldiers, volunteers and civilians, left on Artsakh battlefields now controlled by Azerbaijan, continues today, one year after the 2020 war ended.

Search teams of Artsakh’s State Emergency Service have been carrying out this daunting and dangerous task since November 13, 2020.

The search teams have found and removed 1,670 bodies from territories now under Azerbaijani control. 27 have been identified as civilians.

Davit Abaghyan, who heads the service's operative headquarters, tells Hetq that there all areas have been searched and the work will continue.

"The area is very large. That's why it often happens that when we look at the same area a little differently, for a second time, we find a corpse," says Abaghyan. 

The search teams must receive prior agreement with Azerbaijani officials as to where and when they can carry out their work. Sometimes, Azerbaijani officials refuse such searches, citing various reasons. Searches are also delayed due to unfavorable weather conditions.

Abaghyan says their work is hampered by a lack of credible information.

“For example, the parent of a soldier who took part in the war calls and says that his son is missing. We try to verify what happened, looking for someone who might have saw something. If we locate an eyewitness, we let them escort us to the place in question,” says Abaghyan.

Abaghyan says he’s in constant contact with parents and relatives of missing soldiers and volunteers. He confesses that it was difficult work in the beginning due to the psychological strain felt by all.

“We never reject a parent’s request to conduct a new search, even after three or for attempts,” Abaghyan says, adding that the search teams understand how important it is for the relatives to find whatever has remained of their loved ones. Coming back empty handed is especially difficult for the searchers.

The search teams also face risks out in the field. Some of the areas are mined. When Azerbaijani officials only allow a short time to inspect an area, the rescue teams sometimes carry out the work without the aid of demining squads.

Azerbaijan has transferred the remains of 482 bodies to Armenian officials.

To date, most of the remains have been transferred on the very first day of the search. The bodies of 114 servicemen were handed over to Armenian authorities near Shushi. 106 bodies were handed over on February 16 near the village of Karmir Shuka. 

Top visual: Lili Petrosyan 

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