BY MARIA TITIZIAN
“Today, I am the father and my wife is the mother of three sons, all serving in the Armenian Armed Forces simultaneously.”
These were the words of Artur Yeghiazaryan, an Artsakh war veteran whose two eldest sons have been carrying out their compulsory military service in the Armenian Armed Forces and who, a few days ago, sent off his third and remaining child to fulfill his two-year military service. All three sons are serving in Artsakh. All three sons, along with thousands of other young men are protecting our borders, our people, and our statehood.
It was a proud moment for this war veteran to announce to the world that all three of his beautiful children were fulfilling their duty to their nation. Yet, it makes you wonder about the unspoken fear that must be tugging at his heart, to know that his sons are on active duty and would most probably be confronting danger on a daily basis.
These are ordinary people being asked to make extraordinary sacrifices for the nation. The proud and outwardly stoic father, the mother who carried, delivered, raised, nurtured, educated and loved those three boys in a way that only a woman and mother could do, now sit in an empty home, waiting for the day when their children will return to them, safe.
These are the sacrifices that fathers and mothers and sons in Armenia are making every day, almost twenty years after the ceasefire following the Karabakh conflict. These are the people for whom it should be an honor for all of us to stay and fight.
Several years ago, a Swedish parliamentarian visiting Armenia as part of a delegation asked me, rather condescendingly, how I felt about mandatory military service in Armenia. There was an insinuation in her tone of voice that wasn’t approving. I forced myself to be polite and said, “What we want and what we have to do isn’t always the same thing.”
We know the cost of war. One only needs to visit Yerablur and walk along the countless graves of young men, some as young as 16, to know that the loss of a single Armenian life in war time is a deeply-felt loss for every single living Armenian today. The luxury of maintaining a professional army is something we don’t have and for the time being, compulsory military service is our only option to ensure the safety and security of our country.
The threat of war hangs over us like an ominous shadow. There have been countless ceasefire violations on the line of contact since 1994. Each time a young Armenian soldier becomes the victim of an Azeri sniper, the whole nation mourns. It’s a scorching reminder that tensions can flare up and the region, once again, can be embroiled in another armed conflict, the consequences of which would be devastating for all sides. The leadership of Azerbaijan continues its threat-of-war rhetoric, spreading anti-Armenian hysteria in its country and using the millions of dollars from its oil revenues to spew this hatred beyond its borders to the international community. The name Ramil Safarov has become synonymous with this pure, unadulterated hatred towards Armenians everywhere.
It’s not easy to be a soldier in a country, which has to confront these kinds of overwhelming challenges. Aside from the foreign threat, our armed forces continue to be plagued by non-combat deaths among its soldiers due to hazing, internal conflicts and poor management by commanders or officers in charge. And what about those who hold high public office but haven’t served in the army? Or those who make sure their sons don’t serve thanks to their connections with the ruling regime? Why is it that the young men from socially vulnerable families are shipped off to serve on the line of contact where the potential of imminent danger is even more likely? This is a problem faced by armies around the world, especially in those countries where there is conscription and corruption.
The state must give those who do serve and who serve honorably certain special privileges in society for they have been prepared to pay the ultimate price so that the rest of us can live in peace.
After hearing about the Artsakh war veteran and the sacrifices his family is making, I came to understand the following toast that I have heard so many times around dinner tables while living in Armenia, “May our children never see war, may our children always live under a peaceful sky.” This coming New Year, when I will be sitting around the countless dinner tables of my friends in Yerevan, I will propose the same toast to parents like Artur Yeghiazaryan, whose three sons are serving on the line of contact, far from their family, in cold, dark trenches protecting families like my own. May God bless them and make sure that they live under a peaceful sky for the rest of their days.