Samvel Gosyan / We Will Return
Translated by Aramazd Stepanian
I am Eric Grigoryan, 20 years-old, from Shushi. Before the 44-day war I was studying at the Agricultural School. The Artsakh soil is fertile, here even the rocks can blossom. I was dreaming of establishing a garden, imagining the trees blooming, and the way their branches, weighed down with the weight of the growing fruit, bow to the land that sustains them. I didn’t get the chance to pursue my dream. Our vampire neighbors thrive not just by lapping up our blood, but they want our dreams too. And their dream is to annihilate Armenians. It was the same a hundred years ago, and there is little hope that the Turks and Azerbaijanis will ever become civilized. The nomad is a nomad, even in a palace, even garbed in gilded garments. You can try and tame a beast as much as you want, but the sight of naked blood will provoke its fury, wanting to shed more blood. Their lust for blood is insatiable. Nomadic people with no history and no culture of their own, stick to the trees like poisonous fungi, trying to establish themselves that way. Maybe the causes of their animosity towards Armenians are more deep-rooted. I don’t know, I hadn’t paid much attention to the issue in the past; the war compels the reevaluation of not only your life, but those of your predecessors, who passed through hell, just like my friends and I have done. After so many losses many things have taken on new meanings, former views and emotions have lost their color. I don’t feel youthful anymore, I am no longer carefree, the war robbed me of that. Death seemed so unreal, so far away from me; I saw it face to face, so close that its breath froze my eyes. My friends and I have certainly passed through hell. Many lost their lives. With those who lived, their youth was lost. In war, life is like an express train, not everyone gets to his or her chosen station. Some don’t even make it to the train. Obviously war means people being killed, still, the death of each and every one of my comrades is like a bloody wound, that won’t be healing any time soon.
I wish my memory didn’t get fragmented, turning into patches and episodes. The start and the end are mixed up. I remember the beginning, and I remember the end, but it’s not possible to put the pieces together. I was at the observation point when the enemy began to fire. The rockets were falling like hail, there was fire and smoke all round, soil and dust would spray up sky high, into the air, like water from a fountain, painting the blue sky grey. Even with the whistling of the rockets and explosives, we could hear the shuddering din of the enemy tank chains, and could see how they were treading on our homeland. It seemed to me I could hear the earth’s groan, the earth that were to turn my dreams into flowers and harvests. The earth was wounded, like many of us. It too needed help. The enemy threw more and more forces at us, trying to break our resistance. With what supreme exertion, forgetting the fear of death, and pressed hard against the trench wall we tried to push back the opponent’s advance. No, it’s not happening, the details have ‘evaporated’, they’re gone, atomized! It seems the war, using a giant eraser, has wiped details and the order of events from my memory. Sometimes the war felt like a bad dream that had nothing to do with me, but how can a dream cause so much pain? In one episode, I was attacking the enemy in a tank and a rocket exploded beside the tank. It shuddered, shook and broke down… And then I was in another tank. The skirmish was fierce. I had heard many things about the first Artsakh war from the older men. This war was not like what they had described. So many tanks, so many drones, countless helicopters and fire, fire, fire…
It seemed as if the battle was not on the ground, but between the earth and the sky. We fired too, trying to hurt the enemy more… The Azeris were bombarding us from their areas, with long range missiles. It was an unequal fight, but no one thought of retreating. The self-sacrifice of nineteen and twenty year-old boys, their resistance and their patriotic dedication was amazing. The basic remedy for our pain was our common struggle, to remain steadfast and safe in our fatherland. No section of our people has been more secure than another, no generation has managed to avoid war, and as rule, nothing has taken away from our country more than war. This time a missile landed right on top of our tank. The commander was killed instantly, my comrade was wounded. I was unhurt… Yes, it was trench warfare. The Turks were close, almost visible. I was firing and concentrating on being as accurate as I can be, and I didn’t feel the rocket exploding near me, which buried me in the dirt. That first moment, the awareness that I am alive but I am buried under, sapped me, but the next moment with great effort I got out. “How are you,”—asked Roman,— “I’m alright,”—I said. I hadn’t felt the impact of the fragments that had tattered my pea-jacket all over my body armor. Then Roman was wounded. The Turks were a few meters away. Of the seventeen of us, almost no one was left. Bright boys, who should have lived, had children and realized thousands of plans. Only Vahé and me were left. This is the end, I thought. We are death’s next targets. Thousands of thoughts were swirling in my head, but I can’t remember what they were. Maybe Vahé was living the same torments, when he said,—“We’ll keep this grenade and blow us up as soon as the Turks get close.” Only one grenade was left. Death rather than be captured by the Turks was preferrable to both of us… I can’t tell you what supreme power it was that made us feel stronger than death. And at that moment, a loud explosion was heard, and I saw how my left leg flew in the air, and both Vahé’s legs turned into misshapen, blood-drenched piles of flesh… At first there was no pain, only my eyes blurred and in the mist I saw my mother, hair scattered, searching in the fires, probably for me. I tried to go to meet her, but I was immovable like a rock. I wanted to call out and say where I am, but there were only groans instead of words… And then someone was dragging me along the ground.
… Then I was in a vehicle, all round me bodies, earth soiled and bloodstained. I shuddered. The battle had been fierce, and pulling the bodies out of the crossfire there had been no time to separate the wounded from the dead. I shook them to see who is alive and who is dead. Although I know that no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t help any of them. Then suddenly a hand caressed my head. I looked, it was Vahé. After that I lost consciousness several times… The hospital days were torture. It felt as if I hadn’t actually lost my left leg, but it had been divided into pieces and was spread all over my body, causing it to feel like a field of pain. I wanted to scream, but didn’t for the shame of it. To scream not just out of physical pain, but for the pain of losing my friends. I felt guilty that I existed and they didn’t. I was ashamed of my own weakness that I couldn’t bear the pain, nor the insulting power of injustice… Sons of bitches, sons of bitches, why are you so bent on viciousness and killing? Isn’t life short enough?
Gradually my pains eased. I have begun to come to terms with the situation. The doctors are saying I’ll soon regain my memory. I am training, so when I put on the prosthetic, I won’t have a problem. My family visits. My mother is almost always with me. Others visit too. Vahé came the other way. It turns out he survived, and they managed to save his legs too. That was such joy. We talked a long time, trying hard to remember. We remembered our dead friends. We mourned… We were both convinced that the Armenian soldier was not defeated. He fought to the bitter end. He fought not only the Azeris, but also against Turkey, Pakistan, Israel and mercenary terrorists… Maybe we were defeated somewhere else, I don’t know where, but we weren’t defeated. Let someone point out where, to prove it; but the more I think about it, each soldier’s struggle was a heroic one, their spiritual strength greater than that of the drone and capable of flying much higher. Beware, all those who attach the title or the label of defeat when expressing their opinion of our army. The soldier was not defeated, I saw them fight. Vahé, me and our comrades knew what we were fighting for, what were we defending. If that hadn’t been the case, we wouldn’t have lasted even a few days. After a defeat, everyone searches for the guilty. Just now, the pain of the loss weighs too much to bring the whole story out into the open. But I am convinced truth has no expiration date and one day we will be able to call things by their true name.
Vahé promised to visit often and telephone every day. I was really happy to have found him. I had been happy in the same way when I had seen my father at our post. In the Artsakh wars, my father had been wounded four times, the last two during this latest one. To date there are shrapnel pieces in his body from the first war. My father is from Askeran. The Azeris burnt his house when he, my grandfather, my grandmother, my two uncles were at the battlefront. That means the entire family was fighting to free Gharabagh from the Azeris. Don’t think I made a mistake by reflexively including my grandmother too. No, Grandmother Zinaida, who was not yet a grandmother then—she was a forty-eight year-old woman—fought the Azeris with her own hunting rifle. In May 1992, she disappeared without a trace and we still don’t know what happened or how was she lost. Did the Azeri kidnap her? Killed her? Did they bury her? There are many who’ve disappeared without a trace in this war too…
This war is merely a continuation of the ones before. And once again meaningless death, refugees, ruin. In the last war my uncle lost his leg. He and his family, with the others, did everything possible to save Gharabagh from the Turks, spared nothing for freedom and independence… And now, they [the Azeris] like to repeat excitedly that the Artsakh question is permanently settled. Is that so?… Anyone believes that?… Settled for whom? It’s wide open for us, and it will remain unsettled for us until the time when the Artsakh’s borders are reestablished and an honorable peace prevails.
Recently a correspondent from “Armenian Soldier” publication telephoned and asked, — Are you at home?”
I asked if she remembers a previous conversation we had had.
What did I forget?— she asked.
That I don’t have a home,— I said,— that my home is back there in Shushi. I don’t know when I’ll be home again.
I remember that you are from Shushi,— she explained herself,— I was asking about your Yerevan home.
Every human being has one home,— I said,— my home is in Shushi, as to where I live now, it is a house.
She tried to console me, but I interrupted her by repeating:
I have a home. I just can’t go home right now, because I can’t look at Shushi from afar.
“I have a home”,— this time I repeated in my mind… It’s all the same, the decisive moment will come, when we, becoming avengers all, will take our revenge for our martyred friends, our destroyed homes and wounded land. We will make the Azeris and their Turkish brothers understand that Artsakh was never theirs, and their ‘fatherland’ and they themselves are mere inventions in these parts, and that they are only usurpers and terrorists, and it is impossible for justice not to open its eyes and ears to see your iniquities and hear the voice of truth. Our mothers and our sisters, our whole nation seeks peace, but not by assurances of subservience to nomads. We are used to imposing peace by righteous struggle rather than supplication. We are powerful and have always been more powerful than you. Our tomorrow will bring peace and there is no limit to our spiritual strength and beliefs that will bring on that day. Historic justice will prevail and we will return. Our soil cannot tolerate the stranger for too long. It longs for its children as much as its children miss it. We will return to plant trees, and to name these trees after our martyrs, so when the trees bloom, we can feel their presence, and we will say that they have not died, but have only transmogrified into trees and are once again with us, beside us.
We will return, We~ wi~ll re~tu~rn…