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Hayk Makiyan

Gayane Hovsepyan

Shushi Church Bells Are Silent: There are No Bell-Ringers

Artashes Nazaryan works as an emergency services’ rescuer in Artsakh.

He was four years old in 1988 when the family fled Shushi at the outbreak of the Artsakh war. They returned to the town in 1992 when Armenian troops liberated the town.

Nazaryan and five other emergency workers fled the town on November 7, 2020 in the face of advancing Azerbaijani troops.

During the 2020 war, his team of rescuers ferried the wounded and dead out of Sushi. 

Nazaryan and his family now live in Stepanakert, the Artsakh capital. The lights of Shushi, on the hill above, are visible.

We’re seated in the yard of his house. Irina, Nazaryan’s wife, offers us tea and sweets.

Nazaryan, who also paints, is reluctant to talk about Shushi’s capture by Azerbaijani troops.

When the war ended, Nazaryan and the other rescue workers were given leave, but were called back to search for the dead and missing. 

We’re in his new studio, full of oil paints, brushes and unfinished canvases.  

"I’ve been working in the rescue service for eighteen years and have been painting for as long as I can remember," says Nazaryan. All his paintings remained in Shushi. His new studio is full of paintings made after the war.

Nazaryan’s first painting following the war is a series of Shushi church bells. They are silent. There are no bell-ringers. Another painting shows some bowls.

“Bowls that have yet to be filled. The empty bowls are the families who left, leaving all behind.  Like the bells with no bell ringers,” Nazaryan says.

 Artashes' son, 11-year-old Artak, silently follows our conversation.

‘Do you paint?” I ask the boy. He says yes but doesn’t want to show us his paintings.

When I ask if he draws, Artak takes pencil and paper and starts to sketch.

On the first day of the war, the Shushi anti-aircraft station was bombed. The explosions frightened the boy. He can still hear the terrible noise they made.

For a moment, we forget that Artak is drawing us. He tells us not to move around. 

It’s midnight, time for us to say goodbye to the Nazaryans.

Artak gives us his drawing as a parting gift.


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