By Hasmik Gyozalyan
30-03-2018
“From the Trench to Eternity”: Sasun Mkrtchyan
Eritasard.am continues to present the “From the Trench to Eternity” series, which features stories about the lives and endeavors of servicemen killed while performing their duties as servicemen.

This time the main character is contractual serviceman, explorer/machine-gunner, Private Sasun Mkrtchyan, who is also a knight holding the 1st Degree “Combat Cross” Order of the Republic of Armenia. On April 1, 2016, Sasun Mkrtchyan handed over the shift and returned to Yerevan from Artsakh, but at dawn on 2 April, he went back to Talish after hearing the news about the military operations unleashed by the adversary. On the night of 2 April, he fought courageously and died during the military operation for liberation of the 170th position seized by the enemy.

By the decree of the President of the Republic of Armenia, Sasun Mkrtchyan has been awarded the 1st Degree “Combat Cross” Order, and by the decree of the President of the Republic of Artsakh — the “Combat Cross” Medal. He has also received the “Haykyan” Special Award.

Life goes on

The house where Sasun Mkrtchyan lived is at the tip of one of the narrow streets stretching from Baghramyan Avenue in Yerevan. It seems as though I will have trouble finding Sasun’s house amid the homes sorted along the entire length of the street, but the people I see on the street know the hero of our days and show me the way.

Everyone, including Sasun’s parents, grandmother and sisters and their children are home, and the only person missing is Sasun. The little blue-eyed child was born after his uncle died and is named after Sasun.

We talk. All the stories are about Sasun. While they take breaths to narrate the episodes of his life, starting from his childhood and ending with the heroic acts that he committed, junior Sasun runs from one corner to the next, hiding behind his grandmother and smiling mischievously behind his grandfather. We all notice the little one’s smile and smile, including Mrs. Narine, Mr. Fahrad, the grandmother, Ani…they smile. This means that life goes on, and by being born, junior Sasun reaffirmed this truth.

With the longing for the Yergir (Land)

Sasun Mkrtchyan’s paternal and maternal forefathers emigrated from the Sasun province of Western Armenia. They came and settled in cliffs and caves temporarily until they could find a way to return to their native Sasun, but…

Sasun’s paternal and maternal families lived in the Kaqavadzor village of Aragatsotn Province. Mrs. Narine recalls the following: “Even though I was little, I had an idea of who the Turks were. As is known, patriotic songs and national dances were prohibited in the Soviet era, but even in those conditions, patriotic songs were always sung in my father’s home and in Sasun’s family. We grew up listening to stories about the lost homeland, that is, Sasun. When we started families, our children would obviously grow up in such an environment as well. They constantly had to listen to stories about the freedom-loving Armenians of Sasun and grow up with the longing for the Yergir (Land).”

Sasun was born on July 10, 1989 and was the second child of the family. Sasun’s mother rushes to say the following: “My daughter, Ani was 1.5 years old when my son was born. Upon the grandmother’s request, we named him Sasun. Like all children, he was also a happy, active and energetic child, but he would always listen and understand and would never make trouble.”

“I always felt safe and protected when I was with Sasun”

Sasun Mkrtchyan studied at H. Hayrapetyan School #78 in Yerevan. His sister, Ani remembers the years in school with longing. “My brother was younger than me, and I had taken serious responsibility to pay attention to Sasun in school. When Sasun was in the first grade, I would punctually stand next to him during breaks so that I could protect him, if necessary. It was as if I was Sasun’s big brother. Later, he was the one who became my defender. He was not an excellent student, but he was punctual. He would wait for his English lessons with interest. He had great aspirations.”

Ani keeps silent for a second and continues. “My brother and I had a bond even when we were older. When my daughter was born, I would often leave her with Sasun. He would take care of the child with such a heartfelt attitude. It was as if there were two people within Sasun - a peaceful, simple and kind Sasun and a very manly and strong Sasun with honor. I always felt safe and protected when I was with Sasun.”

“We almost didn’t notice how the two years of military service went by”

Sasun was 10 years old when his parents decided that he had to attend Muai Tai lessons. He participated in several competitions and was awarded medals and certificates. He was a member of the Armenian Muai Tai Boxing Federation, as well as a referee and commentator.

In 2007, he left for fixed-term military service at one of the military units for on-duty military service in the northeastern direction of the Republic of Armenia.

“He would never tell us about military service. He never wanted anything from us. In general, he was not demanding. It is safe to say that we almost didn’t notice how the two years of military service went by. One day, he called and told us that he wouldn’t be able to talk to us for a while since he and the other soldiers were going to climb to the positions. A couple of days after that, he informed that he had undergone a tonsil surgery, was recovering and would soon be going back to military service. He hadn’t told us about the surgery so that we wouldn’t get worried,” Sasun’s mother recalls.

In 2009, after military service, Sasun got accepted to Yerevan Institute of Judicial Expertise and Psychology and worked as a bailiff at the Court of Appeal of the Republic of Armenia. Mrs. Narine shared the following story:

“Sasun didn’t work at the Court of Appeal for a long time. He wanted to serve in the peacekeeping brigade of the Armed Forces. Of course, we didn’t support his decision that much, but we didn’t oppose. In 2014, he started serving in the Special Significance Regiment as an explorer/machine-gunner. He would calm me down, saying the following: “Dear Mom, I will be working in Yerevan. I will be going to work at 09:00 and coming back home at 17:00”.”

“Mom, I had missed you so much!”

On 1 April 2016, Sasun handed over the 15-day shift and left Artsakh for Yerevan. His friends and girlfriend, Goharik would always see Sasun off and greet him when he would return. On that day, according to tradition, they were at home. My interlocutor remembers all the details of that day and every minute. “Sasun’s father went to the military unit to greet Sasun, and they returned together. Sasun was extremely tired and dusty. He entered the house, threw his backpack on the floor, hugged me and kissed me…He said: “Mom, I had missed you so much!” Later, I realized that he hugged me in a different way that day…Then, he changed his clothes and came to greet the guests. They sat and talked, and in the evening, he saw Goharik off to her house and returned.”

Sasun and Goharik were going to get engaged in April. The parents were impatiently waiting for the joyful event. The engagement ring was already ready.

“He came home and we had a long talk about the engagement. I told him that I had already bought the brandy and had asked about the cake. Sasun went off to sleep. Starting from 6 in the morning, he would constantly receive phone calls. He said he would come back soon and left the house. After a while, he called his father and told him that he was leaving for Artsakh. We didn’t know that a war had broken out. When I went to my workplace, I noticed that everyone was worried and reading the news on the Internet. They told me that a war had broken out in Artsakh. I immediately went to the church, lit a candle and called Sasun. He was calm and said: “Dear Mom, I’m going, I’m a little busy, I’ll call you again when I get there.” At 13:00, they were already in Artsakh. We would call him on a regular basis until evening. He would constantly calm us down, telling us that everything was fine. The last time we talked was in the evening. Sasun said he was going to turn the phone off due to lack of communication and would call when he could. I asked him the following: “My son, call us as soon as you have a chance, call and say ‘Mom’ so I can hear your voice and then turn the phone off”. He talked to his father and uncle. After talking to us, he called Goharik and sent an SMS stating that he was fine and turned off the phone.”

It was a long night. The Mkrtchyans spent the night in front of the television set. That same night, Sasun was leading a battle with his fellow servicemen to liberate the military position seized by the enemy. Since early morning, Sasun’s father, Mr. Fahrad had been calling his son, but there was no reply. It seems as though Sasun’s parents are reliving the panic and indescribable pain. “His group had made an attack to retrieve the seized positions. The battles were heated. They managed to liberate the first position. At the most heated moment of the attack for liberation of the second position, Sasun got furious, lost patience, stood up straight and fired at the special detachment soldiers of the adversary with his machine gun. The adversary suffered many casualties, but Sasun was lethally wounded. The commander helped the servicemen bring him down from the positions with great difficult and hand him over to the doctors, but the doctors failed to save him from dying.”

It was necessary to retrieve the military position that was of great strategic significance. The adversary’s special detachment soldiers exceeded the Armenian soldiers several times in number. The battles were heated and fierce, and it was a matter of life or death. It seemed as though time had stopped for Sasun. He forgot about his dear parents, Goharik, the world and…became a hero.

“Grandma, stay active until I come”

With blue-green eyes and a delicate facial features, Grandma Nina (Sasun’s maternal grandmother) didn’t say a word at all, but her eyes showed the anger deep down inside. They said she was hard at hearing, but knew and felt who we’re talking about. Her parents died during the Great Patriotic War, after which she and her sister were taken to an orphanage, adopted by different families and lost touch. To this day, Grandma Nina hasn’t managed to find out anything about her sister, even though she has searched long and hard. She came to Armenia to work as a Russian language teacher and started a family, and Sasun was one of her most beloved grandchildren.

Ending the conversation, we prepare to go to the corner of Sasun’s glory, but Grandma Nina holds my hand and makes me stop. Her eyes are filled with tears, and her face has become rosy due to her emotions.

“Sasun…is gone,” the grandmother says.

She talks with an interesting accent that is a mix of Russian, literary Armenian and one of the dialects of the Armenian language. I feel tense and try to understand. The grandmother continues. “He would say, ‘Grandma, stay active until I come’. He would say that before leaving. How can I forget? He was very attached to me. He would come and help me in the village. I have 32 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Sasun…is gone (there is no one like Sasun-ed.). Nobody has his personality and nobody can move like him.”

The smiling soldier who loved flowers…

Out of the boys killed during the Four-Day Artsakh War, Sasun Mkrtchyan was the first soldier whose photo was shown on the Internet. I saw the “face” of the war in Sasun’s photo and felt more pain.

Days after the war, the photos of Sasun with flowers were also posted on the Internet, including photos of Sasun near a blossomed tree and with a bouquet of wild flowers. It would be hard to imagine anyone stay indifferent to a smiling soldier with a bouquet of flowers in his hands.

Those photos are now in a frame, at the corner of the glory of Sasun. The mother shows one of the photos of Sasun hugging his dog near a blossomed tree with rosy flowers, smiling mildly.

“I had received a certificate at my workplace as the best employee. It was in a frame. One day, I returned home and saw that he had enlarged his photo and put it in a frame. Since the color of the frame was a dark color, it had an impact on my mood. He laughed and said, ‘Mom, but look, it’s a great photo, don’t you like it?’ Later, I realized that he had taken the photo out and put the certificate back into the frame. After the war, it took me a long time to find that photo. I turned the whole house upside down, but didn’t find it. I decided to put another photo in the frame. When I took out the certificate, I saw that Sasun had left the photo underneath the certificate. Now I have put the photo back into frame, just like he wanted,” the mother said.

Sasun had a unique love for flowers and nature and especially loved wild flowers.

The mother goes on. “He had become attached to the gorges and mountains of Artsakh. Sometimes I would tell him he was born in Yerevan and would ask him why he loved the forests and mountains in Artsakh, and he would say ‘Mom, you don’t understand!’”

The photo with the bouquet of flowers has a story behind it. He had gathered the wild flowers for Goharik, taken a photo and sent it to her.

…I can’t live without you

You feel unusual tranquility at the corner of Sasun’s glory. The mother has carefully sorted her son’s order, medals, sport awards, photos, uniform and personal items. The ashtray and cup that Goharik had given Sasun as gifts, Sasun’s wallet with a photo of Goharik (the photo that Sasun forgot to take with him on 1 April) and Goharik’s letter (a part of which is cited below) are here.

“…When pain ‘speaks’, there is silence everywhere…even time stops. My dear, my time stopped on 2 April when you said that you are leaving…

My Sasun! Time stopped on the borders of Karabakh, but the path of my life continues to stretch to Yerablour Military Pantheon, without time. To tell you the truth, I am also amazed at how life and time can ‘live’ separately…Well, perhaps they can, but I can’t live without you.

Please, my angel, stay with me forever…”

“I respect my son’s decision”

Mrs. Narine concluded with the following: “Indeed, my Sasun had thought about us. He would never want to hurt us, but that is the decision he made at that moment. I lost the most precious thing for me, but I have never blamed him. I respect my son’s decision, and that is what gives me strength to live. I am living with Sasun on my mind, and I am living to keep his memory alive.”