Four new and expecting mothers speak about the personal cost of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war and what they think may come next.
The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War tore through families like shrapnel. Thousands on both sides lost sons, brothers, and husbands. Many children will grow up never knowing their fathers.
OC Media spoke with four mothers of such children of war, two women who are Azerbaijani and two who are Armenian. The women spoke about the pain of losing their relatives, about the hopes they have for their unborn or newborn children — and if they can imagine a future in which their children will finally know peace.
Thirty-seven-year-old Fahima Abdullayeva was six months pregnant when she became a widow. Her husband, Eldar Abdullayev, a 40-year-old military doctor in the Azerbaijani military was killed in Nagorno-Karabakh, in the town of Hadrut, on 18 October 2020 — their 11th wedding anniversary.
Together with their daughters, 15-year-old Asya and 9-year-old Aysun, the family would move to keep up with Eldar’s deployments in different parts of Azerbaijan for all 22 years of his military career.
In August 2020, one month before the outbreak of the war, because of security concerns and better educational opportunities, Eldar sent his family from a village close to the line of contact, some 300 km to the east.
His family thought he would join them soon — he planned to retire the following spring.
‘He reassured me we would not fight; just take care of the wounded’, Fahima recalled. ‘I was not ready for my husband to die.’
After Eldar’s death, she fell into a deep depression. She barely ate or slept and the symptoms of her diabetes worsened — only the birth of her daughter, Ahu, snapped her out of it.
‘When the baby was born, I returned to this world’, she said. ‘When I am angry, she wakes up and looks at me with his gaze. When I cry, I take her in my hands and the pain goes away. It seems as if Eldar himself is beside me.’
For many families who have lost relatives in the war, peace is a possibility — but reconciliation is too much to bear.
‘What reconciliation? We do not need it. No way. I find a kind of consolation in the fact that we control the land Eldar died for’, Fahima said. ‘Once Ahu grows up a bit, I will take her there.’
In her view, if Armenians and Azerbaijanis get too close to each other, ‘one day this could all happen again’.
Lusine Arsenyan's 18-year-old son Davit Chakryan had been serving in the Armenian military for about a month when the war started. He called his family almost every single day letting them know he was okay. On 14 October, the calls stopped.
Then, Davit’s body was found.
The death took its toll on Lusine, who already suffered from chronic bronchitis among other health issues. She also felt as if she was developing strange new symptoms. When, forty days after the death of her son, she returned to her job as a nurse — her co-workers gave her a medical examination.
It did not take long to discover the cause of her newfound symptoms — she was pregnant.
Daniel was born on 8 June and delivered by caesarean section.
‘Before the incident with Davit, I had a dream. The flower in our house wilted and fell over. I took it out and put it under the sun, and it began to grow’, Lusine recalled. ‘I think that was the child. He was born and gave us a new life.’
‘He will not replace Davit, no — he is hope and consolation’, she said.
Lusine said she hopes there will be no war in Daniel’s future, and that ‘everything’ should be done to avoid another.
‘A parent who has lost a child has no right to lose another’, she said. ‘It is a tragedy that children grow up and then shed each other’s blood.’
Twenty-three-year-old Narmin Bakhtiyarova became a widow on the eve of the signing of the trilateral agreement that brought an end to the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.
The mother of two children was three months pregnant then.
Her husband Orkhan volunteered to fight in the Azerbaijani army on 30 September, the fourth day of the war. He was not a military man but a greengrocer who wanted to fight for his country.
Narmin says she was in touch with him until 6 November, the day he was killed by a sniper’s bullet near the city of Shusha (Shushi). While his family members and friends were searching for him for a week after the war stopped, a sudden evening phone call made everything clear.
He was buried at the ‘Alley of Martyrs’ in his native region of Dashkasan, about 400 km west of Baku.
Before the war started, the Bakhtiyarovs already had a six-month-old son. Narmin said her husband dreamt of becoming a father to a girl as well. He wanted to call her Nafas, ‘Breathe’ in Azerbaijani, and when the baby was born, the family followed his wish.
‘Like her name, this baby has become a breath of air for us’, Narmin recalled. ‘When I miss my husband, I can at least hug my daughter.’
Despite what happened to their father, Narmin said she would not oppose either of her children joining the military one day. Though, she admitted, should prefer that her son becomes a police officer and her daughter a doctor, as their late father would have wanted.
She hopes that someday a peace is reached — and that there are no more ‘partial families’ like hers. If this peace also meant open borders so that Armenians can come to Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis to Armenia, then all the better. So long as the deaths stop.
‘A mother losing her son is not the same as a wife losing her spouse. Babies get deprived of a father’s care’, she said. ‘No matter if it is here in Azerbaijan or on the other side, I would never wish for a child to lose his father.’
Stella Baghdasaryan has a calendar in which her son Vahe scribbled notes during his compulsory service in the Armenian military, marking the days until it ended.
On 30 September, three months before he was supposed to demobilize and three days into the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, Stella lost contact with her son. His body was found two months later.
The calendar sits in a bright corner of the Baghdasaryan family home, next to a notebook, some childhood drawings, a watch, a diploma, and photos of the young man who all these objects commemorate. Vahe smiles in every photo.
‘He died giving his life to his homeland’, Stella said.
Vahe was her only son, and as his sister was already married, he was the only child still living at home.
Finding themselves with an empty home, Stella and her husband have decided to try for another child. To their joy, they recently discovered that Stella is pregnant
‘I'm 44 years old, I can't wait, my daughter is married, my husband and I will be left alone. I am glad I took this step, and there is light in my heavy sadness’. she said.
If she gives to a boy, she’ll name him Vahe, ‘in honour of his hero brother’.
‘I will always hug him and imagine that Vahe was born again.
But when young Vahe comes of age, Stella is adamant that he will not put on fatigues. ‘I have already decided that he will not serve in Armenia. I won’t give him up, I won’t give another son to the army’.
‘His brother gave his life’, she said, ‘so that little Vahe could live in peace.’
At the same time, she does not believe that peace will truly come.
‘I do not hope to live in peace next door to an Azerbaijani, this is impossible’, she insisted, adding that despite that, another war is the last thing she wants.
‘I don't want anyone's blood to be shed. A parent will always remain a parent, whether she is me or an Azerbaijani mother. Is there a difference? No, we both kept our sons inside us for 9 months, gave them life and raised them for 20 years.’
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.