by Sevak Hakobyan

“In the 1990s, we fought the Azeris with spades, pitchforks, and hunting rifles,” says former military service member Grisha Harutyunyan, of Barekamavan, a border village in the Tavush Region, as he remembers the Artsakh War years. “We formed a detachment,” he continues. “Then Vazgen Sargsyan himself came by and provided us with weapons.”

Although we won the war and Artsakh was liberated, the conflict has never quite ended. For years, the enemy forces have been firing at our soldiers and peaceful residents. In the words of Harutyunyan, if, in the past, Azeri hostilities were limited to sniper fire, now they include the firing of mortar shells into Armenian villages.

“Barekamavan sits about two kilometers from the Azeri positions,” Harutyunyan says. “Even if their guns and mortars go quiet, the Azeris still occasionally set off brushfires to hurt us. Last year, the grass was particularly dry, and the fire they had started reached our village.”

Throughout the years, many have left Barekamavan for good. Today there are only a hundred residents left. People have been forced to leave the village since it’s under Azeri fire almost constantly, making it too dangerous to raise families here. Yet Harutyunyan has never thought of budging from his birthplace. Hasn’t he, after all, risked his life to help defend the village?

“We have 40 teachers, but only 20 students in Barekamavan,” says Harutyunyan, who lives with his wife and son. “Young people are moving away,” he continues. “And there aren’t too many jobs here. Most of our residents are livestock farmers. I myself raise cattle and sheep.

When Azerbaijan invaded Artsakh in April 2016, Harutyunyan was no longer able to go fight on the battlefield. That’s because apart from being too old for military duty, the 66-year-old veteran suffered from abdominal hernia, a condition which made it difficult for him to carry out even basic daily activities such as grazing his animals and doing house chores.

Fortunately Harutyunyan knew that doctors from Glendale Adventist Medical Center (GAMC) were scheduled to come to Noyemberyan Hospital in October to provide free medical services to Tavush residents. The medical services, including surgeries, were to be performed as part of a large-scale medical mission implemented jointly by GAMC and Armenia Fund US Western Region, for the second time since 2015.

On October 19, American doctors operated on Grisha Harutyunyan. The veteran was impressed by not only the outstanding quality of the specialists’ work, but also the supportive and compassionate attitude of the GAMC staff. “I’ve talked to many patients from our region who were treated by the American doctors, and everyone said they were absolutely delighted by the warmth and attentiveness shown by the medical staff,” Harutyunyan says following his surgery, while he waits at the hospital for his son. “Such considerate care helps us heal in spirit too,” he adds.

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Photo Credit: Areg Balayan