When the war started, 20-year-old Vahagn Hovakimyan was serving in the army for one year and three months. During that time, he went home once, last spring. On September 17, his parents saw him in the Mataghis military unit. Visits were banned due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The father, Hrachya, who had come from Russia and had not seen his son for a long time, somehow persuaded the commander to allow him to see the boy for a few hours. It was their last meeting.
Mataghis was a crucial place for Vahagn, where he aspired and where he reached. They wanted to postpone the conscription due to health problems, but Vahagn went to the military commissariat and refused the right to postpone. Vahagn was proud that he was a soldier holding the position of Mataghis. “It is an honor to hold the Mataghis positions,” he said.
They were left alone on the edge of the gorge
On September 27, at 7.20 AM, the family members opened Facebook and saw that a large-scale attack has started on Artsakh. The first blow came in the direction of Talish-Mataghis. The Azeris entered the position, entered the trench, entered the military unit. An order was given to retreat to ensure the safety of the soldiers. The boys fled through the woods in the middle of the night. The connection with Vahagn was lost for a while. Vahagn was moved to another location, to Martakert and the surrounding villages. Three commanders were killed there. The fourth one was not sent. Many of the volunteers who came to the rescue left, leaving the position to 18–20-year-old conscripts. They were left alone, standing at the edge of the gorge descending from the 530th height. There was no way out, no way in.
“Remove only the wounded, leave the bodies”
Seven soldiers participated in the fight at 6 in the morning. It started with a barrage of shells, aviation, artillery. Vahagn, who was the platoon commander, fought with 5 weapons, put one down and fired the other. Several people were injured from the very beginning. Then came the order to retreat, “Remove only the wounded, leave the bodies,” was commanded. One of the boys, an 18-year-old soldier who was seriously injured on his right leg 20 meters away from Vahagn and was lying on his back, was given a weapon to protect himself. The boys could not take him. They left a weapon nearby and fled. He was killed by the enemy who shot him in the spine and head.
Azeri soldiers came to the hill in Armenian military uniforms with red ribbons on them. Vahagn did not leave the position. He told his friends to go down safely: “I would take care of them, someone should take care of them, right?”. They say that he met the Azeris face to face in the trench. Heavily wounded, he got into the fight and at the end blew himself up with a grenade so that he would not be taken prisoner. It was on October 13.
Three days before his death, he was able to call his sister, wish her a happy birthday, and his mother, Angela, told her to take care of herself, be well, and turned off the phone. At that moment, her mother sensed a cry in his voice. “My son was sobbing, although he never was a crier; he knew what was going to happen,” said the mother, Angela. The father, Hrachya, said during the funeral: “He lived right, he served right, he died right.” But it was much later: they searched for his body for three months.
The corpse as a currency
The news of Vahagn’s death was received by his relatives on October 18 from his friends. And the hardest days of the family have begun. After a fruitless search in hospitals and morgues, the father decided to go to the hill already in the hands of the Azerbaijani forces, where his son was killed. He was greeted with a weapon and allowed to go to the edge of the gorge. They even showed the place where the body could be buried. The father dug and saw a military boot. He removed the body with its head cut off and its arm torn off. The Azeris told him. “Take the body and go, or we will do the same to you.” He took it and left. Then it turned out that it was A.’s body. Hrachyancalled A.’s relatives and said, “I brought your son’s body.”
In a few days he went to the hill again. This time he was with his brothers. They have developed a plan with the Armenian side. They called the Azerbaijanis and said, “We have one of your corpses. Let this man come, find his son’s body, and we will give you your corpse.” They answered from the other side: you will give not one, but two, and that’s when we will let you come. We did not mind, but they then set a condition: we will give you two, you give us three corpses. At the end of the bargain, the corpses were handed over, and Vahagn’s father re-entered the area of the hill.
He was approached by a large group of a major, colonel, soldiers, translators, all –without a weapon. They said, “This all is our territory. You need a soldier, we’ll give a soldier, you need a shovel, we’ll give a shovel, if you need, we will come with you, we will help with everything. Seek and find your child, just be aware of mines. The whole day is at your disposal.”
Azeris spoke Russian. One of them said. “You think we like all this? Blessed are the days when we lived together as friends. Maybe those days will come again.” And the colonel patted Hrachya’s shoulder: “You will find your sheikh [hero in Azeri]. Your son was a hero. We treat and respect the sheikhs as saints. Look for him; you will definitely find him.” And the brothers started searching. They found remains of soldiers – jaws, legs. They said: “It is the relics of several families. Let’s take it with us and give to the families. Let them bury their children too.”
Vahagn Hovakimyan’s body was not on the hill
He was found in the Stepanakert morgue. They received the news on January 6 that three bodies were brought to the morgue: two were unrecognizable, only the bones were left, and one was preserved. The preserved body was Vahagn’s. “Vahagn Hrachya Hovakimyan” was read in the pocket documents. They chocked, and cried, and realized that Vahagn really had been buried like a sheikh, buried with honor and dignity. They even left the Bible in his pocket.
P.S. Vahagn Hovakimyan’s body was buried on January 13. The basis of this publication is the information provided by his family members to Forrights.am.