I was born in the Martuni region of Artsakh [the Armenian name for Karabakh] and lived in Shushi for twelve years before the current war. We were still in bed when the shelling began. The explosions were loud and clear all around us. One moment I was visiting my sister in Martuni, and the next we were in the middle of a war.
All the men in our village immediately prepared to take their wives and children to safety. Then they headed straight to the frontline. My son took us to Shushi and then went to war. We fled to Yerevan as Shushi came under artillery and rocket fire and Azerbaijani forces were getting closer. Our house remains under control of the Azeris, and I do not think we can ever go back.
My son, who is 35, fought bravely in the war. Now he has no house, no job, he has nothing left. He was planning to get married, now that cannot happen. He is living in his car instead. Before the war he was leaving for Russia every year, working there for several months and then returning to Artsakh. I do not know whether my son would like to live in Artsakh or in Armenia, or leave for Russia or Europe, but that’s his business and I’ll support him by all means.
The only thing we want is to work, earn money, and take care of our families. I work as a cook, my favourite dish is the traditional Armenian Khashlama. It is a delicious stew of lamb meat and vegetables. I am also qualified to work as a teacher or an administrator, but for now we are stuck here. I don’t want to take handouts, I do not want anything from anyone. My husband died nine years ago so we are looking after a large family.
It is not the first time I have been a refugee, sadly. My husband’s parents lived in Martuni, and every summer he would come to visit them. He had been born in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, but we moved to Tajikistan in 1981. There were pogroms against our Armenians in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, in 1990 because they thought ethnic Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan were coming to take their homes. We had to flee to Armenia. We went back to Dushanbe quite soon, but then a civil war broke out a few years later and we decided to leave for Arstakh permanently. Now we have been forced to flee again.
Valentina Qamalyan, 57
This post was originally published on Radio Free.