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Trdat Musheghyan

Maria’s Nightmare: Mourning Her Brother, Murdered by Azerbaijani Soldiers

Last year’s war in Artsakh dealt a devastating blow to Maria Asriyan.

On October 21, 2020, Azerbaijani troops captured the village of Azokh, in Artsakh’s southern Hadrut region, where 82-year-old Maria was born.

It’s where Yuri, her 80-year-old brother and only living relative, still lived.

Maria searched high and low for news of her brother. In December, she found out that Azerbaijani soldiers had slashed Yuri’s throat, killing him. 

Yuri’s graphic murder had been videotaped. Spread on Azerbaijani social media, it shows an Azerbaijani soldier pinning Yuri to the ground, raising his chin, and cutting his throat with a knife.

"What can I say about my brother? He was a very honest, kind, moral and hard-working man. I have not seen the video. People on all sides have seen it. The whole world has seen it," says Maria, choking back the tears and reaching for her brother’s photo.

There were five children in the family. Maria was the only girl. Yuri was the youngest of the four brothers. Their father died in the Great Patriotic War and Maria’s mother raised the family on her own. 

In 1956, Maria Asriyan moved with her older brothers from Azokh to Baku, where she lived until 1990. Yuri stayed in the village with his mother. In 1990, when the anti-Armenian pogroms in Baku started, Maria left Baku with her brothers, settling in Sis, a village in Armenia’s Ararat Province. 

Yuri Asriyan was a single pensioner in Azokh and had his share of health problems. Before the war, Maria spent much of her time in Azokh, caring for her brother. 

“He managed well, but these past few years, after our mother died, Yuri’s condition went downhill,” Maria says. 

The family owned a small plot of land in Azokh where they grew figs, walnuts and cornelian cherries.

“We had five cornelian trees and the cherries were the size of my thumb. I picked the fruit and Yuri asked me to make jam. I made fifteen jars,” says Maria. 

On September 27, 2020, when Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh, Maria was asleep in her brother’s house in Azokh.  Yuri woke her, saying he had heard noises outside. 

It was the sound of war.  

Maria stayed in Azokh until October 16, taking care of Yuri. Most of the villagers had already left. She wanted to leave as well and scrambled for a way out. She wanted to take her brother as well, but Yuri was adamant – he wanted to stay.

“My brother was sweating so that the bed was soaked. I changed the sheets twice nightly. I went to a neighbor who was gathering the clothes off the line, ready to get in a car and leave. I returned home crying. I told Yuri to pack his things so that we could leave as well. He refused. I looked for his shoes. He had hidden all his clothes.”

Maria failed to convince Yuri to leave. He had visited Maria’s home in Sis, a cramped basement.

“He knew there was no place to live in Sis. We would have managed somehow,” says Maria, wiping away the tears.

Maria left Azokh for the last time on October 16, hitching a ride in a bread delivery truck. Some men drove her to Goris, in Armenia. She then made her way back to Sis.

Maria says that when the villagers left Azokh, they did not take anything with them, believing the village would never be captured. They thought there were Armenian soldiers defending Azokh. 

Yuri Asriyan's body was found on January 21, 2021. 

After returning to Sis, Maria spent day and night visiting various government agencies to have her brother’s body transferred to Armenia. She wanted to give him a proper burial.

She first went to the Artsakh government’s office in Yerevan and then to the State Forensic Medical Center for DNA identification. There, she identified Yuri’s remains from his clothing.

Finally, after a long wait, when the results of the DNA identification were confirmed, Maria received Yuri’s remains on March 24, 2021. 021. He was buried in Sis.

"Who supports a brother? It’s the sister. No one cries except the sister, right? God has given me too many tears. Do you see this?” she asks and raises the sleeve of her shirt, revealing a scar. “I fell during the funeral, my foot slipped. I could not control myself. I broke my arm. The next morning, I went to the hospital and the next day they operated. Thank God, it's fine now, but I couldn't control myself, I still can't come to grips with what’s happened," says Maria.

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Maria now lives in a basement room, with crumbling walls, in the back of a house owned by her elder brother’s sons.

She survives on a monthly pension of 50,000 drams ($102).  m

Maria never allowed Hetq to photograph her. She doesn’t want her face to appear in public view   

Our conversation over, she led us to the wooden door of their house, said goodbye, and looked back sadly until our car disappeared.

Illustration by Harut Tumaghyan

Comments (1)

It is very emotional story between brother & Sister. I think life is sometimes very unreal. I do know know why innocent people being in pain or killed ? Life is not fixed. God will help us all of you. I wish all the best senior MARIA. MARIA...

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