YSIP 2013 intern Nana Shakhnazaryan writes about her visit to Artsakh and what it means to her.
After hours of driving and stopping, swerving and climbing with nothing but flower spotted mountains to keep with the passing of time, we arrived in Artsakh just a few days ago. It’s a hard place to get to and an even harder one to write about. A land cemented in a conflict as old as most of us interns, a land unrecognized and practically unknown internationally, Artsakh is home to 140,000 people and a homeland to thousands more.
I am one of those thousands and so, trying to write about a land so responsible for the course of my life up until now is proving to be more difficult than I thought. I could write about the facts of the war and the men, women, and children who died; there are words that attempt to package those emotions and, for the most part, succeed. I could write about the sweetness of the fruits, the cold wind on mountains that practically touch the sun, or the way that grapevines lick almost everything man-made: words for that exist as well. Maybe I could even write about how much closer a group of thirty human beings felt when the space we shared was no longer a city like Yerevan. All of these things would give insight on what this trip was in one way or another; each story would answer a question the reader might have had. Instead, I want to write about the Nagorno- Karabakh Republic in a way that hasn’t forced me to favor certain emotions over others, in a way that hasn’t asked me to forget one experience because another would be more suitable for an audience like this.
Artsakh is the in-between of place, time, sentiment, and space. It is a word that doesn’t have its sound yet. It is a refugee. Locked in a land it has bled to be apart from, it is suspended in government, discourse and public understanding. But, this is a liquid suspension because, despite Nagorno- Karabakh being a frozen conflict zone, structurally, culturally and economically, it is moving. Progress is what I felt, partly because I want to believe it and largely because Artsakh is transforming itself. It is rebuilding what was bombed and pillaged and building what never had a chance to be. In fact, going to the ruins of the Real School in Shushi was a testament to the priority of this reconstruction; quality education and new culture has not been condemned to death here. Artsakh is in between so much concretely and abstractly (historically, politically, culturally) that it injects that quiet chaos in the visitor.
And now come those emotional words I tried to handle earlier. Pride (because we defended it with what little we had, and won), peppered with shame (for are there not families we also displaced?). Happiness about the beauty we coexist with: the hushes of bees in fertile fields and clean air that hugs the chest; and the overwhelming sadness about the destruction of war. A more eloquent word for this in-betweenness is elusive but it stands to articulate everything this land is. It is separation and unification: its progress is “frozen” but fluid, its land “unrecognized” but settled, and its people “forgotten” but alive, proud, and dancing.
The last night we spent in Artsakh, a toast was made before thirty pinched cups of mulberry vodka floated to the air. We were reminded of the dream we were in to be where we were, to be eating and talking, laughing and dancing as young Armenians in a land that had so recently been ravaged by Hell. Under the music of our instruments and the hum of our language, I hope we realized that the stones in our shoes, the dirt in our clothes, and sun in our skin meant that we were, in fact, welcomed by the free and independent Republic of Artsakh..