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article imageScarred by war, Armenian veterans look warily to the future

By Mariam HARUTYUNYAN (AFP)     Mar 6, 2021 in World

Nver Gasparyan, who was injured during the fighting for control of the mountainous Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year, is haunted by memories of the war that ended in national humiliation for Armenia.

The 20-year-old was one of thousands of people wounded during six weeks of a brutal conflict that erupted in September and saw swarms of Azerbaijan's drones pummel the ageing Soviet-era hardware of Armenia's military.

"I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to remember," Gasparyan told AFP as he was undergoing physiotherapy to strengthen his injured legs.

"I want to forget everything as soon as possible, to erase the sounds and images of war from my memory."

Thousands of people  were wounded during six weeks of a brutal conflict that erupted in September
Thousands of people were wounded during six weeks of a brutal conflict that erupted in September
Karen MINASYAN, AFP

At a hospital for veterans being treated for physical and psychological wounds in the capital Yerevan, Gasparyan said he avoids ruminating about the future.

"I don't think about tomorrow, whether or not I'm going to study. Right now I'm focused on getting better and restoring the mobility in my legs," he said.

- 'Not going to give up' -

The latest flare-up in fighting between the ex-Soviet rivals left more than 6,000 people dead on both sides and sparked a political crisis in Armenia, which has struggled to come to terms with the devastating loss.

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan that erupted last year over the disputed Nagorno-Karabak...
The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan that erupted last year over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region claimed around 6,000 lives on all sides
ARIS MESSINIS, AFP/File

Thousands returning from the front are now also processing the war and what comes next.

Military doctor Roman Oghanyan was wounded by shrapnel near the frontline when artillery hit his ambulance, killing his colleague.

He told AFP he lost consciousness and woke up later in a hospital.

"God saved me... from an imminent death, and I'm not going to give up," the 25-year-old said.

"I plan to go back and work in the ambulance service and continue helping people."

The health ministry in the tiny Caucasus nation has said that some 600 soldiers are disabled and around 150 require prosthetics.

More than 300 veterans are undergoing treatment at the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Homeland's Defenders in Yerevan, one of several facilities designated for former soldiers.

The health ministry has said that some 600 soldiers are disabled and around 150 require prosthetics
The health ministry has said that some 600 soldiers are disabled and around 150 require prosthetics
Karen MINASYAN, AFP

"We are helping the wounded understand how their bodies have been affected ... and are trying to motivate them to go on to live," the hospital's chief physician Lusine Poghosyan said.

"These guys not only have to learn how to live without an arm, a leg, or an eye, but also to heal their moral trauma," she told AFP.

"The 18-20-year-olds have seen horrible things. Many have persistent nightmares or suffer from insomnia."

- 'In a hurry to live' -

Thousands of people have been taking to the streets in Armenia near daily, calling for revenge and demanding the government's resignation, ever since Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a ceasefire agreement that handed over significant territory to Azerbaijan.

Chief physician Lusine Poghosyan says they try to motivate the wounded soldiers to go on living
Chief physician Lusine Poghosyan says they try to motivate the wounded soldiers to go on living
Karen MINASYAN, AFP

But the embattled premier has said he had no choice but to agree to the humiliating ceasefire agreement, or see his country's forces suffer even bigger losses to a superior enemy.

Unlike protesters on the streets, Sarkis Harutyunyan, who lost both his legs in the fighting, is eager to move on.

The 20-year-old conscript was just a few months shy of fulfilling his contract when the war broke out and now says he can't wait to start learning to walk with his new prosthesis.

"I'm in a hurry to live. I have plans. My girlfriend is waiting for me and we plan to get engaged in two months," he said with a bashful smile.

The war in Karabakh ended in November with a Russian-brokered ceasefire that saw Yerevan cede swathes of territory, and a mass exodus of Armenians from what they say are ancestral lands.

The war in Karabakh ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire that saw Yerevan cede swathes of territo...
The war in Karabakh ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire that saw Yerevan cede swathes of territory
STRINGER, AFP/File

But Harutyunyan's native Martakert district has remained under Armenian control and he says he hopes to return there one day with his family.

"There is no need to look back. The guys did not die in vain. Nothing was in vain."

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