Meline Balayan, the mother of four children, regrets the most that she did not manage to visit her husband’s grave for the last time when she left Artsakh. The displaced woman from the Gishi village of Martuni region of NK became a single mother in the summer of this year, when her husband, Gagik Balayan, was killed in an anti-aircraft missile strike.

“I have two girls, two boys. One of my daughters is 19 years old, the other is 13. My sons are 7 and 3 years old… My husband was a soldier. My little son didn’t go to sleep without talking to his father at least on the phone. For a long time after his father’s death, he had fever, cried, did not sleep, kept saying ‘papa, papa…’ I say papa will come, but my son points to the sky, says ‘papa is there’ and points with his hand to show that he was hit… My husband loved his car very much; he loved to drive. He always took the children to places. After he died, we used to park the car in the neighbor’s yard. My little son used to sit in the car and say ‘my papa’… The car stayed there: we couldn’t bring it with us,” the woman said.

Meline now lives with her four children and the mother of her dead husband in Ranchpar village of Ararat region. “Now we are living on rent until we find something. I know that if my husband were with us, everything would be easier… He has left so many good memories for me, my child, that will be enough for a lifetime. I do not believe that he is no more: I constantly feel that he is with us. For him, family always came first.”

Remembering the events of September 19, the woman tells. “The children were very afraid of the voices. At first, we didn’t believe it. One of the children was in kindergarten, the other in school. My mother-in-law came, we collected the children in the neighbor’s basement. The children would not stay, one went out, the other did not stay. I was annoyed, they were crying, and my little son was scared and called ‘papa-papa’. When we got out of the basement, we came to Stepanakert, then we set off in a van. On the way, a Turk stopped to check, but I wasn’t scared of him, I knew that nothing bad would happen to us.”

The woman says that Gagik had health problems, but after the 44-day war, he clearly decided that he should serve and take positions. Gagik’s father also died in 1993, during the first Artsakh war.

“On the day of his death, he called and talked with everyone: with relatives and neighbors. We were in Martuni, at my uncle’s house. He called and said he would come and take us home by car… We woke up in the morning and found out… a drone hit,” Meline Khachatryan says, adding that the other day was her eldest daughter’s 19th birthday. On that occasion, he gave her a bouquet of red roses with the note “To my wonderful daughter, from papa…”.

Ani Gevorgyan

Ani Gevorgyan is a journalist, photographer, and the winner of the Freedom of Speech Award. She has participated in photo exhibitions at the UN headquarters (New York) and the Geneva office, the Palace of Europe (Strasbourg), Paris, Rome, Berlin, Vienna and elsewhere.

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