Language is one of the few things left in me that make me who I am

Gayané Ghazaryan is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Yerevan, Armenia. Using oral history as her primary methodology, she explores narratives of home, displacement, and cultural identity. Gayané also does documentary photography and teaches visual storytelling at Tumo Center in Yerevan. You can read her recent article here.

Mira Tovmasian is a student from Stepanakert, Artsakh who was born and raised in the village of Karin Tak, currently occupied by azerbaijan. Mira studies Russian Language and Culture and works as a learning coach at Tumo Center for Creative Technologies.

Since December 12, 2022, the Lachin corridor — the only road connecting Armenia and the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh (or Nagorno-Karabakh) — has been blocked by azerbaijan1. Thousands of residents of Artsakh are without food, medicine, and medical care. Such situations, including shutting off gas and power outages, as well as open military aggression, including directly against Armenia, have been occurring regularly since 2020 when azerbaijan occupied part of the territory of Artsakh during the 44-Day war. The russian militaries, who are supposed to keep peace in the region, actually fail to ensure the safety of local civilians.

Mira Tovmasyan lives in the blocked Stepanakert and is there right now. Two years ago, after the Second Karabakh War, she and her family — like thousands of residents of Artsakh — were forced to flee their homes, leaving them to azerbaijan. Mira spoke with Gayané Ghazaryan, a researcher from Yerevan, about this war and the role of russia in it, about colonial violence and exile, about hope and the language that becomes a Home when the home is taken away.

Mira: Hello, everyone. My name is Mira. I am 20 years old. I live in Artsakh, in the city of Stepanakert, and that’s all.

Gayane: I am Gayane, and I live in Yerevan. I am 25 years old. I do a lot of different things. I am mainly concerned with the issues of human rights, culture, and ethnic groups.

Currently, Mira, you and I are more than 300 kilometers apart, aren’t we? And 5 of those kilometers are in a very problematic state. It seems to me that it is worth speaking about. What kind of feelings do you have now? And for people to understand what we mean: the only road connecting Armenia to Artsakh, the five-kilometer corridor, is currently under blockade by the azerbaijanis, and it is the only road that allows any essentials to reach Artsakh from Armenia.2 The same is with people who need to come to Armenia for medical assistance, treatment, etc. How do you feel about it these last two days?

Mira: Actually, I first learned about it accidentally and had almost no emotions. Even now, I still have almost no emotions. I don’t know. Maybe, it’s something intrinsic, and I definitely don’t panic.3 I try to think rationally. When I learned about it, I thought that they would open it soon; I still do because, for me, everything depends on us. If everyone decides that this is our right, it’s our home, and the invaders have no right to do these kinds of things. And if we all come together and go there, something definitely will change. Actually, the part of the road where they are is about 2–3 kilometers away from Stepanakert. And russians have shut down the entrance to the city so that we can’t get out and go there so that no conflict will arise.

They, our neighbors [azerbaijanis], are getting bigger in numbers right now. Maybe, you have seen the videos where some random ladies stand on the land that I have lived my whole conscious life on — they are standing on the territory of my native village and say: “This is our land, we came here, etc.” 

This makes me furious. There’s this thing eating me from inside, a vice that goes: “This can’t be real. They are committing such nonsense, won’t they ever be punished for that?” I think they will be punished — if not in this life, then in another one, as it is impossible for human beings who consider themselves conscious to do such things. And there is some power inside, which tells me that things can’t stay like this — they can’t continue doing this forever. And there is a belief inside that it will get better and everything will change radically. Some day it all will turn 180 degrees. I don’t know why, but I am sure of it, and I try to do everything depending on me to contribute because, at the same time, it feels horrible. 

Actually, it’s hard to imagine, to comprehend that all this is happening to me. You might’ve imagined this at the back of your mind, but it never occurs to you that it could happen to you too. But the fact is — it is happening to you. But I can speak for myself and say that I am not broken. I will do everything, depending on me.

Gayane: It seems to me that all this is a tactic to break people because it isn’t new, and it has become a pattern. They come up with something new, but as long as people aren’t broken, their tactic doesn’t work. Maybe it does to some extent, but not completely. Also, those people blocking the road are so-called “environmentalists”, right?

Mira: Actually, I can say that it is a very small percentage because people here are mostly — I don’t know what kind of people they are (laughing lightly) — most of them don’t think, “Oh, we are in a blockade, there isn’t this, there isn’t that”. On my way home, I saw lots of cars waiting for gas. And there is a word in our dialect, kro — it means very strong, firm. And I can confidently say that people here are like that.

Gayane: That is, people stay resilient.

Mira: People are resilient. We don’t give in to provocations. Everyone stays home. There is no gas, no heating, no hot water, and so on — so people use wood stoves. We use one, too. It’s true that we don’t have hot water and gas to prepare food, so we cook on the stove. We will somehow deal with it. But they [azerbaijanis] aren’t going to get away just like that.

Mira Tovmasyan baking bread in the tondir back in her native village of Karin Tak, currently occupied by Azerbaijan

Gayane: Mira, you mentioned that you saw them come to your home, standing on your land and saying that they own this territory, and so on. I know your story — where you were born, how you’ve been forcefully displaced. If it isn’t too traumatic for you at the moment, can you share your thoughts about Karin Tak,4 and what home is to you now? How does Karin Tak relate to your idea of a home?

Mira: Actually, this is probably one of the most sensitive and heavy topics that I have in my life, and I will try not to go too deep into it because I cannot convey through words the emotions that I have. It’s like I have the vocabulary for it but can’t put words together to express how I feel.

I was born in Karin Tak. I lived in my village until I was 18 years old. Since the war, the last time I was at our house was on October 2, 2020. That’s when we had to leave because my brother’s wife was pregnant. She also had a small child, and there was no man at home; everyone was on the battlefield. My sister-in-law wasn’t feeling well, and my mother decided to take us out of the village to ensure that she could go to labor safely. We went to Goris and lived there for a while. I worked as a volunteer. That way, I could get rid of heavy thoughts for at least some time: it was impossible to comprehend that our life would take such a turn that this is how things would end up. Then, when my father and my brother were injured, we went to Yerevan to take care of them and stayed in different places, so the further story is very chaotic, I will not refer to it.

My village is one of the purest and kindest places I have ever known; there is no falsehood or pretense there. This is something I can’t translate into words. It’s a very terrible feeling when you see invaders, who have nothing to do with this place, come and say: “We lived here, this is our land”, and then massacre us. I can’t put up with it. I don’t understand how cynical people can be to show up and declare such things. Even though this land is mine, I’m not going around announcing it, even though what they claim is false, and what is mine is the truth. I don’t know. Maybe it’s not right that I don’t insist on my truth, declaring the land mine. But I carry it inside me and do what I can to fix things and change this situation. Let me put it like this — I work in silence.

Gayane: And what do you think is the difference between you and them? Them having such ambitions, saying, “This is ours, this is ours” — what role do you think their state propaganda has here?

Mira: Actually, there are many factors. The first one is their propaganda, which is extremely powerful: already in kindergarten, kids are instilled with a hatred of Armenians. The word “Armenian” is an insult there. We also say that if you call someone a “Turk”, they will be offended, right? But we have reasons for that, and they perceive it very differently, “Armenian” is a terrible insult. They teach kindergarten kids: “Armenians are evil, you must kill them, the more Armenians you kill, the more the gates of heaven will open before you.”

Gayane: I think it was you who told me that they have a children’s game called “Kill Gayane!”

Mira: Yes, I read about it or saw it on TV a few years ago — I don’t remember exactly. But it was basically like this: they showed how they made a game and brought it into the kindergarten. “Kill Gayane!” The children had to choose the instrument, the girl, and how they killed her. I don’t know what kind of upbringing that is. No matter how strong the propaganda is — have, they lost the ability to think? They have the Internet there. They aren’t cut off from the rest of the world, like, for example, North Korea. There is the Internet, there are young people with a progressive mindset who participate in various forums. They travel the world, they have money. Their state police don’t catch them and lock them up. But, of course, when there were protests, people went to prisons. But still, don’t they have the opportunity to use different information sources? If they don’t want to look at the Armenian ones?

Gayane: This is something I’m wondering about myself. You know, it’s not like we have great relations with Turkey, but we have some communication with its civil society, at least. And as far as I’ve interacted with the civil society there, with the conscious society — I always have the same impression that they are much more open and aware than the civil society in azerbaijan. And since neither you nor I have been there, it’s a bit difficult to know what it’s really like inside because we are closed off to them, aren’t we? And they are closed off to us. As far as I know, information is very filtered in azerbaijan. For example, you cannot use some websites there. But the sad fact is that people seem to not be so aware of the scale of propaganda, as if they choose not to look deeper — there’s no active resistance to it. Cruelty wins over humanism, and we see cases like the one with the women on September 14-15.5 The same as with your aunt’s case.6 No matter how much propaganda there is, how could a person commit such terrible crimes against another person? I don’t agree with that. That’s a puzzle for me as well — like you said, they can’t distinguish right from wrong.

Mira: I always try to put myself in the situation to understand what behavior I might have: what would I do? I think I wouldn’t be able to kill a person. I could never do that. I feel terrible when I see an ordinary animal being killed because life is being taken away. If you are a conscious person, you understand that you don’t have the right to deprive someone of life, be it a person or an animal. It’s not you who gave that life.

Gayane: You deny them their right to live.

Mira: You have no right to take away the right to live. It doesn’t matter — an animal or a person. But it seems that they don’t think about it. They didn’t just kill a person but did it by torturing them to death.

Karin Tak village

Gayane: And killing by torturing is encouraged among them. I remember that when it was my brother’s time for mandatory military service, he was very worried. Not because he was afraid of the service or going to military positions. One day he said to my mother, “I’m not afraid of that. I’m afraid that I might have to kill someone if there is a need for it.” He knew that it might come to it and didn’t want to do it. His greatest fear was that he might suddenly need to kill someone. 

And what is the discourse coming from azerbaijan? That if you kill an Armenian, you are a hero, as was the case with Safarov,7 right? It’s like we see that museum they opened with images of Armenian soldiers, etc., which is simply inhumane.8

When discussing this, we always say that the Armenian side puts all the blame on azerbaijan, but azerbaijan is not the only perpetrator in all of this. I am sure that those big international players have a very big role here. Where and with whom did the problem of Artsakh begin? It started with russia, didn’t it? And the relationship between Artsakh and russia is very strange. Artsakh has suffered a lot because of russian geopolitical games from the very beginning: they just took our lands and gave them to azerbaijan. And now it is like that. In my opinion, all these years, we have been a playing card in the hands of russia, both we and azerbaijan, because russian imperialism has found something extremely profitable here. Russia is reinforcing its control in the region and selling weapons. They are selling arms to us and to azerbaijan. They trade with azerbaijan and Turkey. They give lands to azerbaijan. They take lands — for example, in Syria. They trade with Turkey. I consider russia to be one of the main sources of the Artsakh conflict and one of the aggressors. Despite that, the last time when I was in Artsakh, I learned that many people see russia as a savior.

There is another thing that saddens me. What russia is doing to Ukraine is the same as what azerbaijan is doing to Artsakh/Armenia. And yet, I saw some posters and car stickers with russian Zs and the Artsakh flag. And I’m not saying that all people encourage or justify russia’s actions, but there are some who see russia doing the same thing to another country and support it. I know that when Artsakh was handed over to azerbaijan, Ukraine congratulated them. Then people here were saying that they [Ukraine] are against us, etc. But it seems to me that the actions of political leaders should not make us inhuman. The peaceful population of Ukraine is not guilty of their president’s sending congratulations to azerbaijan. They are not guilty. Putin and his regime killing them or occupying their lands can not be justified by that. 

I want to understand how you feel about russia’s role in the Artsakh conflict and what you have noticed around you — what do people think about all this?

Mira: Actually, it is a very difficult question because the situation is also complicated. People are trying to find hope, light to salvation. They see salvation in the only power, which is russia. I don’t know what to say because I always try to find hope in myself or the people I know and trust. 

In this case, russia is trying to gain all kinds of benefits, and I don’t know how to answer this question precisely. When you walk down the street, you hear different opinions, and it doesn’t matter whether you want to hear them or not — they become audible. People are different, and you hear that “russia will come to save us”, or “America will come to save us”, or “Armenia has given up on us”, or “This is our end. We are dead.” You hear various opinions and try to reflect on and analyze them. I can say that our salvation is only in us if we try to work competently. That means putting our hopes in ourselves. Not on some individual or state, which throws crumbs at you trying to attract you, to create a situation in which you are oppressed, so they come and try to save you. I’ve always thought that you should rely on your own intelligence; the smarter you are, the more you can help to educate the generation who value knowledge and understand how to take the right step, find the right path, etc. And I consider the work that I am doing now very important9 because I know that I am doing something for a change, I am doing something for our thriving.

Gayane: I have this question because I always remember Charents’ 10 words “Oh, Armenian people, your only salvation is in your power of unity!” And it seems to me that the lack of that unity is also the curse of our people because we were and are terribly divided — be it the division of Armenia-Artsakh, and even the regions within Armenia: you are from Shirak, I am from Lori, you are from Yerevan, I am from Gyumri… Not to mention the differences between “Karabakh Armenian — Armenian Armenian” that they push.

Mira: It is one of the most absurd things.

Karin Tak village

Gayane: I’m sure that these divisions aren’t naturally formed. The power that has an interest in dividing you needs to use these words and enhance these phenomena — by dividing Armenians into the ones from Karabakh, Artsakh, Yerevan, and who knows where else. I am sure that this phenomenon hasn’t emerged naturally — this split is in the hands of those in power. And this is just one kind of division, there are many other tactics to divide us. I agree with you about us needing to rely on ourselves and our unity. But now the problem is that, first of all, we don’t have that unity by and large, either within Artsakh or within Armenia or in Artsakh-Armenia relations. And right now, we are so weak. Strategically weak, diplomatically weak. I don’t know what the government in Armenia is doing. We don’t have a government that will represent the interests of our people, and by interests, I mean at least the right to live on our land — the most basic right. How will we be able to get out of this situation?

But at the same time, I don’t accept that black-and-white dichotomy, “either russia or America/the West”, because both represent some kind of imperialist regimes and no matter which side you go to, your people will lose and suffer. You are at a dead end. But I completely reject that “either this or that” idea because, in the case of both, we will lose ourselves. And in the case of russia, as you mentioned: russia creates a problem, then comes and presents itself as a savior so that you constantly depend on them.

Also, Mira, there is something else that concerns me about russia: the language. When I was in Artsakh and greeted people, they greeted me back with «здравствуйте» (zdravstvuyte — “Hello” in Russian) and not even «привет» (privet — “Conversational form of hello in Russian”). “Privet” seems to be a borrowed word; in Armenia, when I say “ողջույն” (voghjuin — “Hello” in Armenian.) to someone, they often answer with “Privet”. But in Artsakh, I felt that the language has become very, very, very russianized. I think you’ve said that you’ve been using those words so much they have entered the dialect. They already feel natural. Do you think that it’s one of the layers of colonisation — when the language has taken in so many foreign words? If we take, for example, Persian and Armenian, they are very close to each other. We have very similar words, and some of them are almost identical. But Russian is miles away from our culture, our indigenous culture. I believe that it is something forced by the russian empire and then by the Soviet system. It is not ours, it is foreign. But today, it has become “ours” in Artsakh, so how much does this cut us off from our indigenous culture? To what extent does it colonise us culturally?

Mira: The questions you ask are really difficult, but it’s okay. It all started with the fact that Artsakh was part of the azerbaijan Soviet Republic, and the state languages here were azerbaijani and Russian, but not Armenian. In other words, the Armenian language was pushed to the margins, to the third place, and was hardly taught in schools. I remember my mother telling me that they studied Azerbaijani history, but they didn’t learn Armenian history, there was no mention of the history of our church. And the Armenian language was taught very poorly. At the time, authorities were doing everything to push Armenian out and to promote Azerbaijani, a newly formed invaders’ language, which has an alphabet made up of Latin and even Armenian letters, that with the Armenian language already being pushed out. During that time, as I mentioned, the state language was Azerbaijani, and Russian was used a lot because Russian was considered the common language of the Soviet Union. That played a big role in the spreading of the Russian language here. Almost everything was done in Russian: there were many Russian schools, and the education was mostly in Russian, the same in the universities. Our grandparents spoke Russian very well, and they still use it a lot in their speech.

That is the reason why there are so many Russian words in our dialect. But it’s not only Russian words; there are many Persian and Turkish words as well, and many others mixed together. Actually, our dialect is very different from formal Armenian, but it doesn’t mean that we think lesser of the Armenian language, and I don’t think that it weakens our ideology. Because it does not hold that much influence. We just communicate, but it’s not going to make us join russia or put russia higher than our mother Armenia. For any conscious Artsakh resident, this is inconceivable. And let me say that our grandparents and our parents mostly used Russian a lot. Now it is not so much like that, thanks to the fact that our education is in Armenian. We have only one russian school in the whole of Artsakh, mostly for children who have russian citizenship or who lived with their parents in russia and moved here. Only those people still learn there, and it’s not like everything is in Russian. They learn Armenian as well.

Gayane: So it’s about the introduction of Russian into the Artsakh dialect — because the Artsakh dialect itself is as much Armenian as formal Armenian. The problem here is not between the dialect and formal Armenian but between the indigenous Artsakh dialect and Russian. So, it came as a necessity to choose between the two: either to fall under the influence of the Azerbaijani language or to be influenced by Russian — it’s as if people chose the “lesser evil”. But yes, the fact that today’s generation is more inclined to learn Armenian also makes me very happy and gives me hope. 

Also, while on the subject of language and dialect, Kurds automatically came to my mind. In Turkey, the Kurds have not had the right to speak their language for a long time — since Atatürk, since the foundation of the Turkish Republic. People have been literally tortured and imprisoned for speaking their language. But at the same time, the Kurds living in the territory of Western Armenia, for example, in the Kars region, have kept their language, and until these last decades, those people did not even speak Turkish. They kept their language, and the older generation, the grandparents, did not learn Turkish.

But it makes me sad that it didn’t work out in our case. We fell under the same Soviet project and switched the language. And when I say “under the Soviet project”, I don’t mean that I am against socialism. On the contrary, I am a socialist. But I think that the Soviet Union was still an imperialist system and countries like ours became its victims. Not in the economy but especially in culture because we have been partially cut off from our culture. And the problem of dialect has always remained such a pain. Why have we departed from ourselves? And it is not only the dialect of Artsakh. We have different dialects in Armenia, but they have mixed with Russian, now English is also added to it, but I think that keeping the language as pure as possible is a good thing.

Also, the other day we were talking with a group of people about the solidarity of various oppressed peoples and communities. Do you remember when we went to one of the demonstrations in Stepanakert, one of the speakers said that we should unite with oppressed communities in azerbaijan, for example, the Talish people? What is solidarity to you, being here, living in Artsakh? How can we, Armenians, being the oppressed people, especially in recent years when the pressure has increased and become an existential threat, show solidarity with other oppressed people? At the moment, people living in Iran come to my mind. How could the people living in Artsakh, who are now very oppressed, show that empowerment, that solidarity with other marginalized or oppressed groups?

Mira: Wait, I need to think. Actually, I try to think in formal Armenian, but it doesn’t work. I mix up the words.

Gayane: You are the only person whose Artsakh dialect I understand completely.

Mira: It’s very good, because they always say: speak slowly, what are you saying? It’s gorgeous that you have learned [In the Armenian text, she uses the Russian word “shikarni” instead of the Armenian equivalent for gorgeous]. Do you see me saying “shikarni” again? Tell me what you think, then I will share.

Gayané Ghazaryan. The view from my balcony; my morning lullaby

Gayane: Knowing me, you will notice that I have a great sense of solidarity towards the Palestinian people, and they are going through the same thing as we are. They have the right to live in their homes, but Israel literally takes them out of their homes, eliminates them, and also tells them to pay taxes. In other words, I am physically very far from Palestine, but I express my solidarity to the best of my ability, be it by informing people on online platforms, the same is with the Kurdish movement. For example, there are many misconceptions in Armenia. Ordinary people understand the Kurds as a homogenous, unanimous people and also immediately remember the involvement of the Kurds in the Genocide, but they do not talk about the fact that many Kurds saved Armenians. They do not talk about the strong Armenian-Kurdish cultural ties in Soviet Armenia and having a sense of solidarity, I am trying to inform people as much as possible about the problems of those groups and people to find connections between us.

How else can we have stronger solidarity with those people who are facing similar problems? Because I am sure that, for example, a Palestinian does not know an Artsakh citizen and vice versa. Or for example, people living with the same problem of the war in Ukraine at the moment, when Artsakh was under fire, by and large, did not raise their voices about Artsakh. As if many nations are going through the same thing, but they show support to the aggressor instead. I don’t know if I am explaining correctly or not.

Mira: When the russian-Ukrainian war started, our authorities sent a large plane with humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Little Artsakh, which is not recognized by the world, which no one wants to recognise or understand that people live here and have lived here for thousands of years, how the generations of those people live here now; the people of this small, unrecognised state have sent humanitarian aid to a giant Ukraine. I don’t know why this wasn’t spoken about. They didn’t talk about it. And although Artsakh itself is in need of help, we send help to others. In my opinion, it is a great sign of solidarity on the part of our country that we have sent some help, although it may be considered small, it is still help.

They don’t call for violence here, right? Our neighboring countries call for violence, for killing. Nothing like that happens here, it doesn’t matter whether the violence is done here or in another state. I have many friends who make publish a lot of posts explaining what this war is here so that people know that there is such a thing. They inform people that such a thing is happening, and I haven’t seen one call for violence from them. I can say that the solidarity among Artsakh-Armenians is very great. We want peace and wish the same for others. If somewhere someone is fighting each other, we don’t support that fight.

Gayane: Yes, you don’t support it.

Mira: No, because we experienced all that on our own skin.

Gayane: That’s very good. When the war in Ukraine started, I saw a lot of Armenians on social media, I can’t say from which part of the world exactly, express things like: “But remember when azerbaijanis were killing us, they [Ukraine] were happy and congratulated azerbaijan?” They were basically saying that because Zelensky congratulated azerbaijan, now it is okay for his people to suffer. There were a lot of such posts, and it made me terribly worried because I think that we, being people who have seen so much pain, under no circumstances should be happy about someone else’s pain, even if it seemingly brings a tiny sense of justice because it doesn’t. This is not justice. Whichever state uses violence, ordinary people suffer. Now it is Pashinyan who is sitting there pleased with himself, or Aliyev, or Zelensky, or Putin. It is always the men and women of the common people, the working people, who die.

It makes me very happy that you say there are no such calls in Artsakh. Of course, there is always someone up for violence, but your impression is that there is no one.

Mira: Well, some people think like that․ They want violence, but people I know, conscious people — they are against it. I emphasize the word “conscious” because if a person is not conscious, they can’t come to the conclusion that killing a person is bad, that if you have seen all that, it is not necessary for the other person to see it too.

Generally, war is a very bad thing, very bad. It’s a terrible thing. If during the war, you don’t call for one to kill the other — no matter how much they hurt you — if you don’t wish that pain on your enemy, it proves that you are very strong, not only physically but also mentally.

Gayane: I think it is important not to lose your humanism amidst everything. Mira, before we finish today’s conversation. Since the main topic is the idea of Home, I would like to talk a little about Home — not as the place you live in. What is Home to you?

Yesterday I was talking about this topic with a very close person. We understood how Home can mean many different things to different people. For me, Home is the place where you feel safe, physically and mentally. That is the place where you are wanted. It is a peaceful place. My Home starts in our neighborhood and spreads throughout Armenia. For me, Armenianness is very important, and it is part of my larger, global perception of Home. Also, when I say Armenianness, this visual image comes to mind, I don’t know why: a mountain, a field-like mountain, there are flowers there and some half-ruined stone building, it could be a monastery or just stones. I remember there is a book — a photo book with pictures of the abandoned monasteries of Western Armenia and their history. There was an arch. It was a church or a monastery, and that arch was broken in half, but it is still standing. It is split in the middle, but it is standing. For me, it is a kind of symbol of being Armenian. 

For me, Home starts from my neighborhood and extends to the entire land that holds the Armenian memory because I believe that the land has a memory. If the indigenous people lived there, created there, the land keeps that memory.

What is your idea of Home?

Gayané Ghazaryan. A fragment from my neighborhood

Mira: For me, Home is the place where you are real, where there is no falsehood and pretense. Where you are yourself and don’t pretend to be someone else. Home is the place where your feelings are real. For me, Home begins with my house. I really can’t come to terms with it [displacement]. I cannot count this [Stepanakert’s house] as my Home because I do not agree with the idea “Where there is bread, there is home” or “Where your family is, there you are”. I do not agree, because my house in the village, for example, maybe just four walls for many people, but it is not just four walls for me. It is the Home that my grandfathers built, which was destroyed during the First Karabakh War, and then my parents rebuilt it. For me, a Home is a place that was built on dreams. In other words, there, you feel at peace, you feel calm, you feel safe, you are real, you are wanted, and you are loved. Even if there is a storm in you, no matter how much everything tries to break you, no matter how bad you feel, there is one thing: it is the place that heals you.

I tell many people to watch “Harry Potter” movies. I always say I’ve watched it nine times, and people say: “Okay, well, is it possible to watch it nine times?” I actually watch it a lot, because when we were still in the village, there was a moment when I felt very bad, and that evening when I was alone in the room, I turned on the TV, and there was  “Harry Potter”. I sat cozily, covered myself with a blanket, and watched the movie. I still have that feeling of calmness in me. That is, I’m not watching that movie because it made a big impression on me, but for the important feelings that I experienced at that time, and now I’m trying to re-live them.

After the war, I was so broken that it was impossible to really smile. I mean, I was smiling, but the smile was fake. It’s so severe that your emotions get all mixed up that you can’t comprehend reality. You try to pick up the pieces of what you were before the war and what you are after the war — they are very different characters with different ideologies. And until you try to recover, patch up, and recreate the image that was there before, it’s heavy. And the Home plays a big role in it. Huge one. For me, my Home is the place where I’ve left my dreams and my future. It was everything to me. I loved it so much, and I still do.

After the war, there are many times when you jump up in your seat and think that it’s only a dream and that you’re actually in your Home now. You touch the walls and things around you, and you realize that it’s not a dream. It’s a bitter, cruel reality that you just can’t put up with and that you shouldn’t put up with. You have to live with it, but you must work to change that reality.

Gayane: Mira, this house in Stepanakert where you’ve been living after the war — you’ve been there for two years. Is it still as alien and strange as it was at the beginning? Hasn’t it become the place of your dreams yet?

Mira: It’s never going to become a place of dreams because it is not even close to the Home in my head. I consider this purely as lodging, and the owners of the house are also very important. No matter how bad the house is, if the owner of the house is a good person and can understand your pain, even a tiny percentage, you immediately start loving that house, it doesn’t matter if it is good or bad. I don’t even think that there might come a time when this house will become close to me. I don’t want it, and I don’t want to put up with this reality. I always think I’m still going [back to Karin Tak]. Although my house might be destroyed or damaged — it is clear that they looted and took away everything — we will renovate it and live there, no matter what.

Gayane: I admire your faith, it gives me strength. You know what else is interesting? I have never had my own house because we’ve been renting since I was a child, and it feels that my Home is not a place made of stone. It’s more of a mental space and a phenomenon. But in your case, I really feel that it has a physical, tangible basis. And I really hope that one day you will go back to your Home and your dreams.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Would you like to add something or ask me something?

*Mira’s bits throughout the rest of the conversation are done in Artsakh dialect*

Mira: Is there anything about me? People, I spoke in our language.11


I’d like to talk in our language [Artsakh dialect]?

Gayane: Please speak your language.


Gayané Ghazaryan. Gegharkunik region, Armenia

Mira: You know how is it? When I speak “proper” Armenian, it feels like it creates a barrier, it cuts your brain from your tongue. When I turn to the formal Armenian language, I lose track of my thoughts. I don’t understand why it is like this, but when I start to speak in dialect, my brain works well, beautifully.

Gayane: Because it is your language. Why does that barrier occur? Because this is your language! Your language is your dialect. And that’s what I mean when I say russian was imposed on us, it was totally foreign to our language. Now your language is the Artsakh dialect — you should speak it because it is yours, like this dialect [Yerevan dialect] of Armenian is mine. And therein lies the connection between language and your identity.

Mira: It is my Home. For example, when I come to Yerevan, they don’t understand me. I say: please, understand me. I always try to speak formal Armenian so that people understand, to be good and comfortable for them, but for some reason, no one thinks that it makes me uncomfortable. Although I love formal Armenian very much, I love our classics, I read them, I admire them, but I prefer to speak in dialect because this is my Home. They have taken away the most important things from me that should not be taken away from a person. If you want someone to be a full-fledged person, a real person with their whole value system, you shouldn’t take it away from them; for example, my Home, my house, my everything, have been taken away from me. One of the few things left in me that make me who I am is language. Only the language, the dialect, is mine. Everything was taken away from me, and if I betrayed it [the dialect], how am I myself? And I consider language a living organism that lives because I use it to speak in it. And when I cease to talk, to use it — it weakens, wears out, and causes me pain. The good thing is that a lot of people want to learn it.

Gayane: When we met, I understood that you speak in the Artsakh dialect because you want to. You feel comfortable. That’s why from the very beginning, I’ve never told you, “Mira, speak ‘proper’ Armenian with me”. I myself don’t speak “proper/literary” Armenian. And it is very encouraging that you keep your dialect.

When I went to Martuni, I met a woman displaced from Hadrut. That woman said the same thing. In Martuni, they have told her, “Don’t speak in Hadrut dialect!” [They haven’t said, “Don’t speak Artsakh dialect!”]. And she has answered, “That’s the only thing left from Hadrut. Shall I lose it too?” Like you said — it will be a betrayal.

  1. we use azerbaijan in lowercase, like russia, to condemn its policy against Artsakh and Armenia.
  2. Lachin corridor — the only road connecting Artsakh to the outside world and to Armenia — was blocked on December 12, 2022, by citizens of azerbaijan who claim to be “eco-activists”. At the time of this text’s publication — January 24, 2023 — it is still blocked.
  3. The dialogue was recorded in the middle of December 2022
  4. Karin Tak is a village in the Shushi District of Artsakh.
  5. It is the case of the desecration of a female Armenian soldier by azerbaijani troops in Jermuk during the war in September 2022.
  6. Mira’s aunt was brutally murdered and her body mutilated by azerbaijani soldiers in her own house in Karin Tak village, currently occupied by azerbaijan.
  7. Ramil Sahib oghlu Safarov is an officer of the azerbaijani Army who was convicted of the 2004 murder of Armenian Army Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan. During a NATO-sponsored training seminar in Budapest, Safarov broke into Margaryan’s dormitory room at night and axed Margaryan to death while he was asleep.
  8. Military Trophy Park in Baku was opened in April 2021. It includes war trophies seized by the Armed forces of azerbaijan from the Armenian Army and the Artsakh Defence Army during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, as well as scenes with wax figures of Armenian and Artsakh soldiers.
  9. Currently, Mira works at Tumo Center as a learning coach
  10. Yeghishe Charents is a renowned Armenian poet, writer, and public activist of the 20th century
  11. She means Artsakh dialect of the Armenian language by saying ‘’our language’’. And further on, by saying language, they mean dialects.