My “Holiday Joy” On the Other Side of the Lachin Corridor
By Lilit Sհahverdyan
Today is December 30. Tomorrow is New Year’s Day.
It’s my first time staying in Yerevan following the end of classes. For the first time, I will celebrate New Year’s away from my family and home.
I usually prepare for my return to Stepanakert from the beginning of December: final exams, my birthday, and homecoming. On the Monday morning of December 12, I used my phone to track the news.
So-called Azerbaijani “environmentalists” put up tents along the Lachin Corridor and raised banners displaying the words “Ecocide” and similar messages. They blasted music, not surprisingly about Karabakh, and declared themselves to be peaceful protesters.
Those gestures, described by the Azerbaijani media as a “public demand” for preserving the mines in Artsakh, blocked the only land road that connect 120,000 Armenians to the outside world, the road that could take me home.
After ten days of actively tracking the situation, I lost count of the day.
The blockade of Artsakh reminds me of the 2020 war when checking the news round the clock comprised a huge part of my routine for 44 days.
Now I realize that “the show must go on,” and my expectations of a return are fading away. While the “eco-activists” are chanting the Azerbaijani anthem every morning and watching the world cup with the Russian peacekeepers, I’m preparing myself for a “long winter” without my parents, my siblings, and my home.
I got stuck in Yerevan, and instead of mourning this hopeless situation, I’m forcing myself to feel happy for the little things around me. It’s not always possible, though. I often get overly aggressive seeing other people sharing their pre-holiday joy. For me, just feeling my mother’s embrace would be enough for complete happiness.
I talked to my mom yesterday. She said she’d vacuumed and cleaned my room, so it was ready to welcome me home. She also joined the march to the local airport, where the Russian peacekeepers are stationed, because people demanded direct negotiations with them.
“I did the most I could, so you would return sooner,” she told me. I barely held back from crying like a kid who misses his mom, though that’s exactly how I’ve been feeling since December 12.
Supplies are running low in Artsakh. Grocery stores are gradually closing. Vegetable stores have nothing but empty boxes of sold-out products. Vacant shelves in supermarkets are gathering dust.
Artsakh will soon face a humanitarian disaster. And here I am in Yerevan, where the most popular topic of discussion is how beautifully the city center is decorated this year. Supermarkets are filled with all the unnecessary items, and loud Christmas music at Republic Square keeps reminding people that the most long-awaited family holiday is approaching.
My preferred destination, however, would be Renaissance Square in Stepanakert, where tens of thousands recently rallied to protest the injustices the Artsakh people have faced for years.
One of the speakers, Tsovinar Barkhudaryan, declared from the podium: “When I see the empty showcases of the shops in Stepanakert, I feel scared. But when I think that I could turn up on the other side of the road without the chance of returning, I praise God for being home.”
I get goosebumps hearing Tsovinar’s speech. And it’s scary here in Yerevan, “on the other side of the road,” where food is in abundance and New Year’s preparations make people delusional about the reality some 300km away. All the roads are open here, and food shortages echo the horror stories told about the “cold and dark 1990s.”
I turned twenty on December 22. All my friends and acquaintances know my endless love and dedication to Artsakh, my homeland.
Usually, I receive quite common birthday wishes - happiness, health, success. This time, I heard words of compassion, and most people wished me a quick return to my hometown and a peaceful sky above Artsakh. Not ironically, my birthday wish for myself was to open the road as soon as possible so me, my sister, and hundreds like us could reconnect with our families. My wish didn’t come true; the road of life is still blocked.
When speaking about people landlocked in Artsakh, I feel like it’s me that’s besieged. I’m the one deprived of her home and family.
If I had a choice, I’d opt for being forever besieged in Artsakh rather than not being able to go home. I’d choose to face the obstacles my family and my people are encountering on the barricades with them.
I dream of standing at Renaissance Square holding an Artsakh flag in my hand as a part of another historical massive gathering. I’ve always felt nostalgic about the huge rallies people held in the late 1980s, and now, as history is repeating itself, I am separated from history.
I’m stuck in Yerevan. Here, where we use loudspeakers to announce that Artsakh is blockaded, passersby pay little attention. They are busy with their holiday preparations. I wish I could also care about New Years and Christmas.
After having accepted the fact of celebrating the winter holidays without my family, I crafted several scenarios in my head. I could travel to Tbilisi with my sister, visit my closest relatives in Yerevan, or just have a “holly-jolly Christmas” at my place. But I have neither a symbolic tree, nor any other decorations to feel the magical spirit of New Year and Christmas. Friends invited me to raise a glass on New Year’s with their families in Yerevan or even in the mountains of Tavush.
“We cook baklava the Artsakh way. You can join us,” one of them told me. Hearing this was enough to give my consent.
Sometimes, when despair and hopelessness invade my mind, I complain about my situation. I feel guilty about complaining. I have a roof over my head in Yerevan. I’m mature enough to take care of myself, and I have relatives and friends around me. Others have trouble finding a place to sleep. Kids traveled to Yerevan to enjoy Eurovision and stayed separated from their mothers. Others from Armenia went to Artsakh for work and can’t get out.
Being on “the other side of the road” feels just as miserable as being landlocked in winter when supplies are running low and you’re about to face a humanitarian crisis in the 21st century.
Family and home have always been a priority for me, but only after getting separated from them did I acknowledge their actual value. When Christmas lights blind my eyes and I witness other people fortunate to be with their families, I get heartbroken again. My mom, by phone, tells me every, “I haven’t lost hope. You still have time. There’s still a week, five days, three days.”
And the countdown reaches zero. Tomorrow is New Year’s, my most-awaited day of the year.
I couldn’t get together with my family. I’m just an average victim of the dirty politics of men in suits.
Anyway, Happy New Year.