Hadrut – Life, Memory, Perseverance
“The bus for Hadrut leaves at three o’clock,” Anooshig warned. “Be there at two-thirty. If you’re late, you’ll have to stand the entire trip.”
I arrived early at the bus station on Azadamardigneri Street in Stepanakert. I found Anooshig standing near a bus with “Hadrut” written on it in Cyrillic letters. The bus was already half-full. We climbed in and sat in the front seat, just behind the driver.
I watched as the Karabaghtsis loaded the old, Soviet-style bus with huge sacks of flour, potatoes, and walnuts. Boxes of cooking oil and champagne were shoved under the seats. By the time we left, people were standing in the aisles and sitting on the sacks of flour, ready for the long journey. At exactly three o’clock, the driver closed the doors and drove off.
The driver offered me a bottle of Jermoog mineral water. “You’ll need this,” he said. “It’s a long trip.”
On the way, Anooshig and I talked about my trip to Hadrut a year earlier, when Shahkeh Setian, Vahan Bournazian, and I brought mail from her relatives in Oregon. “My mother and grandmother are waiting for you,” she said.
After a fifteen-minute stop in the town of Martuni, we continued our journey. We passed through the destroyed cities of Fizuli and Jebrail, towns outside Karabagh captured during the war.
The bus wound its way through the mountains south of Hadrut. Finally, after a three-hour drive, we reached the town and stopped on the main street. Men began hauling off their sacks of potatoes and flour. Then, every few yards, we came to another stop, each time with more people leaving the bus. Half an hour later, the driver stopped.
“This is where the driver lives,” Anooshig said. “The bus will stay here until Monday morning. Our house is close. We’ll walk from here.” We stepped out onto the road, muddy from early fall rains. A short time later we reached the Oganyan home.
Anooshig opened the back gate. Her mother, Dora, came to greet us. “Welcome back, Andranik,” she said. “Tell us what you’ve been doing in Stepanakert.” We walked through the garden and towards the covered area in front of Dora’s home. Her mother was preparing chicken, bread, and madzoon for supper.
I gave Dora several pictures I had taken during my previous visit. Saroukhan, a relative and neighbor of the Oganyans, walked in through the front gate. He was a large, burly man. “Welcome to Hadrut,” he said. “Tell us about our relatives in Oregon.”
We sat at a large table near the edge of the garden. We looked at pictures I had brought from the Oganyan family in Oregon, and talked about life in America.
Saroukhan was pleased. “For you, Andranik, we will sacrifice a sheep,” he said. “Come here. I need your help.”
We walked to an enclosed area where Dora’s sheep and goats spent the night. Saroukhan chose one of the sheep and led the animal away. The sheep struggled, but Saroukhan wrestled it to the ground.
I held down the animal’s legs with my feet. After the sheep was butchered, we hung it on a large hook attached to a tree. I watched as Saroukhan expertly carved the sheep. I shivered in the cold evening air. “I’m a hunter,” he laughed. “I’m used to spending freezing nights in the forest.”
We talked late into the night. Dora continued a story she had begun a year earlier, about the death of her son, on the last day of the Karabagh war.
“My husband died last year. Before the war he was robust. Healthy. When the war started, with his sons in the army, he couldn’t eat. He worried all day long. He lost weight and was sick often.” Dora continued, “During missile attacks, my mother and I hid under the house, in the dirt. When the GRADs fell, we had only thirty seconds’ warning. Everything was destroyed — buildings, trees, animals. Everything. My husband and daughter wouldn’t go under the house. Anooshig would say, ‘With my brothers fighting, how can I hide under the house?’” Dora paused. “The war ended in Hadrut before the main cease-fire. Our son, Ardashes, was killed on the last day of the fighting here in Hadrut.”
Every morning, at about nine o’clock, Dora walked her goats and sheep down a muddy road to the base of a mountain. From there her flock would continue upward, with the other animals of Hadrut, to graze on the mountainsides. There I met several shepherds, and others taking their animals to the mountains. They asked me about life in America, and if I liked the nature and surroundings of Hadrut. Looking out over the green hills and lush, mountainous terrain, America seemed a distant place. . . .
One of the men pointed to a mountain, where the flocks were slowly winding their way to the top. “The animals are making their way to the forest, near the peak of that mountain,” he said. “It only takes them about twenty minutes.”
Then, in a voice filled with pride and sadness, he talked about the war. “I remember the worst day of the war. August 15, 1993. GRADs rained down all day. I will remember that day as long as I live.” He pointed to the tall, heavily-forested mountains surrounding Hadrut, still bearing the green colors of summer. “Our boys formed lines near the mountaintops. Not one Azeri entered Hadrut. They wanted to drive us out. To kill us. We are still here.”
“Fizuli is in that direction,” one of the men said. “Over there is Jebrail.” He pointed west. “Goris is past that mountain, and the village of Khndzoresk, in Armenia. The whole region is called Zangezur, all the way to Meghri, near Iran. Garegin Nzhdeh fought there eighty years ago. He saved Zangezur from the Turks.”
Every morning, after walking the animals to the mountains to graze, I went with Dora to the aghpyur for the day’s supply of water for drinking and cooking. Once, while walking near the Oganyan home, I noticed a large house which looked abandoned. I asked Dora if anyone lived there.
“An old woman,” she said. “A family lived there until the war started. Their two sons would have served in the army, but they fled to Yerevan. They will never return.”
I asked Dora what would happen if the family came back to Hadrut.
“I can’t tell you what would happen,” she said. “The people of Hadrut never forget.”
As we walked the streets and pathways of Hadrut, neighbors frequently invited us into their homes and gardens, to talk and eat. “Come to our house,” a woman said, standing at her front gate. “Tell us about your life in America.”
Several family members were sitting outside, enjoying bread, cheese, tomatoes, and eggplant. A bottle of tooti oghi was on the table. “The oghi in Hadrut is excellent this year, Andranik,” one of the men said. Another raised his glass. “May your trip be a successful one. We know you will like Hadrut and its people.”
The woman then said, “Follow me up these stairs — you can bring your camera.” An old woman was sitting on the top step. “This is my grandmother. She is 96 years old. Her health is perfect, but she can’t see or hear anything.” I silently greeted the family’s matriarch.
After reaching the top of the stairs, we entered a large room. On a small table was a picture of a man in uniform. Fresh flowers had been placed around the picture.
“My son was thirty-six years old when he died. He was killed after the war. The story of his death is too much to bear. He was killed by Armenians. If he had been killed during the war, I could understand. But he was killed because he wouldn’t steal for them. How can I live knowing this?”
She stood by her son’s portrait. I knew she wanted me to take a photograph. She looked off into the distance, her eyes moistened with tears. I could barely take the picture.
It was Sunday morning. We had already walked the animals to the mountain, and had finished breakfast. “Let’s go to church,” Anooshig said. “Sourp Haroutiun, a very old church, has just been renovated. It’s a very special day for Hadrut.” I grabbed my camera, and in a few minutes we were on our way.
We walked down muddy paths and well-paved roads towards the church. As we approached Sourp Haroutiun, the streets were crowded with people. Cars were parked everywhere. It seemed this day was important not only for Hadrut, but for all of Karabagh.
A huge crowd filled the courtyard of Sourp Haroutiun. With great difficulty, we reached the entrance of the church. Those in the courtyard were waiting for someone to leave, so there would be room to go inside. We slowly made our way into the church.
Behind a thick veil of incense, Bishop Barkev Mardirosian conducted the Holy Badarak. Parents held children in their arms, so they would be able to see the ancient services, and Bishop Barkev, who was then a candidate for the catholicosate of the Armenian Apostolic Church. I lit several candles, in memory of those from Hadrut who had lost their lives in the war.
Later, after the service, we talked with writer Zori Balayan, whom I had met the previous year during my stay in Mountainous Karabagh. We talked about his book, Between Hell and Heaven, a powerful account of the war in Karabagh. It was also a pleasure to see Prof. Gourgen Melikian of Yerevan State University, there to celebrate the re-opening of Sourp Haroutiun.
While we were with Prof. Melikian, I noticed a small crowd gathering. “They know you are from America,” Anooshig said. “They heard you speaking English.” I talked with Armenians from Hadrut, Yerevan, and Stepanakert, telling my impressions of Sourp Haroutiun, Hadrut, and Karabagh. Once, after saying I wanted a glass of water more than anything else, glasses of water began appearing from nowhere. . . .
Later that afternoon, Anooshig and I walked to the thirteenth century Spitak Khatch Vank, located on a mountain overlooking the old section of Hadrut. Near the domeless church are several gravestones and a funerary monument with a khatchkar carved on the inside. On top of the bell tower is a white cross, thus the name Spitak Khatch Vank.
It was my last day in Hadrut. Standing near the back gate of the Oganyan home, I visited with a Russian family, their daughter, and Anooshig. “Come into our house,” the man said. “I have just finished some repairs.” Once inside he poured two large glasses of wine. “This is new wine, made from this year’s grapes. Try some.” I tasted the tart wine. “Don’t you like it?” he joked. He drank his glass of wine without stopping. I joined the Russian in a traditional toast.
Suddenly, Dora rushed in, saying, “Someone is waiting for you at my house. She wants you to mail a letter to England.”
I hurried back to Dora’s house. A young woman sat at the table, where she had spread out pictures and a letter. “I have a friend in England,” she said, “and would like you to mail this letter for me. Can you translate it into English, and mail it from America?”
I happily agreed.
Two beautiful young girls ran in from the garden. They were still dressed in their school clothes.
The young mother continued, “Everything I have is for my daughters, so they can grow up and be healthy and happy.”
The girls had angelic faces. I noticed their mother was quite thin.
The woman spoke quietly. “My husband was killed during the war,” she said. “I receive twenty-five dollars a month. How can we live? Families who are without husbands or fathers have been promised aid. We haven’t seen a thing. With that twenty-five dollars I can only buy flour for bread and pay for electricity. I will go without food so my daughters can live.”
Without shame, the young mother began crying. She gave me the letter and a picture of her daughters to send to her friend in England. Then she offered to pay for the postage. I looked into her eyes. I was unable to answer.
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