(Second of a several part series)
If you watched “300” and wished you could have visited Sparta, good news: there is Artsakh.
The parallel between the Battle of Thermopylae and the Artsakh War is actually striking: the Artsakhtsis and Spartans were both severely outnumbered, fantastically outgunned, and, on paper, fighting them should have been a cakewalk for their enemies. The only difference in their stories (besides a few thousand years, the weaponry, and most everything else) was that Artsakh won and Sparta didn’t.
This is a martial culture. The calm of Stepanakert would have you think you’re not in a war zone if it weren’t for the soldiers everywhere. There are barracks all over the place that house thousands of soldiers and they are all carefully guarded.
The young men wear their neatly prepared uniforms proudly. They don’t have any reservations about what they will need to do if there is a war but you will not hear a single person go into a bravado-inspired tirade about crushing the enemy or threaten to kill civilians.
Both the men and women of the older generations have seen war and you can see it in their eyes and hands. Though they are serious, they are never disrespectful and their shells of titanium belie a kindness so rare, I was subconsciously reticent to interact with them because I might violate its purity.
The women are the fierce parallels of the men. One we met runs a youth center. She tells the kids who come through there that as an Artsakhtsi, you cannot afford to say that something is impossible, you have to make it possible. Oh, and she brings her baby to work where she attends to the child and works concurrently. And oh, we went on a hike that involved crossing narrow bridges with some of the local kids and she brought her baby, probably so he can grow up to be a badass like everyone else. And oh, she’s having her fourth child.
If there is another war, which is incredibly unlikely, the people here alone would crush the Azeris. I think that’s why there hasn’t been a war yet – there are still Azeris who remember what it was like fighting against the Artsakhtsis and are, plainly, scared.
There are many reasons to come to Artsakh but if there was only one, being among the men, women, and children who are the essence of what we want to be as Armenians and thinking that you share something with them would be it.
By: William Bairamian