02 Apr With Our Soldiers: The First Visit
BY DICKRAN KHODANIAN
It was early May and at this point I had been living in Armenia for a couple of months volunteering with Birthright Armenia at Civilnet News and at the National Library of Armenia. Armenian Youth Federation’s (AYF) With Our Soldiers Campaign had restarted and the committee had appointed the one-the-ground task force in Yerevan shortly after the Four Day War in April. This Yerevan task force was responsible of arranging the visits and delivering the collected funds to the families of the fallen soldiers. Our visits were being organized in conjunction with the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) in Yerevan as we waited for funds to arrive from the US.
The first couple visits were scheduled to be in Yerevan on May 18. The order was strategically organized based accessibility of the route, financial status of the family, and time management. The initial couple of families we chose to visit were in Yerevan and close to one another and the home of serviceman Adam Sahakyan was the first on our way that day.
A couple of days prior to May 18, I made the nervous phone call to Adam’s parents requesting permission to visit their home. The apprehension and intimidation of fulfilling the work of this campaign began from that phone call. At first, I was unsure of how Adam’s parents would respond and I had questioned their acceptance of my visit.
When I called, Adam’s mother picked up and sounded perfectly fine but as soon as I mentioned Adam and the purpose of my visit, she began sobbing and immediately handed the phone to Adam’s father. Adam’s father explained that the mother had not been doing so well since his passing and that they absolutely wanted no cameras or media presence during our visit.
It should be noted that prior to our visit, several Armenian news outlets had contacted the Sahakyan family and wanted to visit their home and conduct interviews. Adam’s mother initially saying yes to some media outlets made sure to tell us that she did not want any media presence during our visit because she had been emotionally exhausted and simply could no longer endure putting up a brave exterior in front of the cameras. We assured her that the main purpose of our visit was just to provide our heartfelt condolences and to hand deliver funds from the US.
March 18 arrived and the Yerevan task force gathered at the ARS headquarters in Yerevan. We had picked Adam Sahakyan’s home to visit first because it was the closest and first one on the way of our longer route. Sahakyan’s family lived right next to the Republic Square in Yerevan on Abovyan Street.
It seemed like a very prime and central location near a great deal of new and fancy restaurants and stores. Stores like Adidas and restaurants like Diamond Pizza and Jazzve were right next to the address that we had on file.
Initially, we experienced trouble locating where the entrance of the home was. Then after asking some of the nearby locals, we were told that we had to go through a tunnel that was right in between the Karas Fast Food Restaurant and Diamond Pizza.
As soon as we passed this facade, the rest of the building comprised of tiny apartments in wretched conditions where dozens of families resided— including the Sahakyan family. Before asking one of the residents which home was Adam’s home was, the resident already knew why we were there and kindly led us the way.
I had done some reading on Adam just based on what information was available to the public and had seen pictures of him all over. When the door opened, there stood Mushegh— Adam’s brother who shares a striking resemblance to Adam.
Joining Mushegh, his parents Khachatur and Gayane also greeted us as soon as we entered. During this visit, I was accompanied by another member of the Yerevan Task force, Khachig Joukhajian and a member of the ARS who was also crisis therapist by profession.
The apartments in this building were extremely small and outdated. Their home consisted of a kitchen, one room, and a living room that had a bed in it. This living room with a bed was where our visit was took place. Mushegh was standing up during the visit due to the lack of seats and space and their father was sitting on the bed in that room that happened to be Adam’s.
When we talked in, pictures of Adam had filled the room with a designated shrine in one area that featured his awards and a picture of him in his military uniform. Next to his picture were pictures of Jesus Christ, pages of prayers, and his army hat.
So we sat down, and of course like any family in Armenia would, they served us coffee, juice, and sweets while the ARS member introduced the With Our Soldiers campaign and us. After our introduction, the ARS member blatantly asked if the mother or father would like to say a few words about Adam, the type of person he was, what he studied, and what his hobbies were.
A month had passed since Adam’s death.
When you’re in that type of setting, it’s safe to assume that the family would most likely not want to discuss their son in such detail, especially given the fact that his death was unexpected and during war. I assumed it would be too difficult for any of Adam’s family members to express how they felt. I assumed our meeting would be very concise, consisting of the ARS member saying a few words and us handing them a letter from the AYF as well as an envelope with the funds. And initially, I thought we wouldn’t get too personal because it might have come off as disrespectful.
I was wrong.
The first thing Adam’s dad said was that he was extremely proud of his son for being the patriotic, smart, and talented young man that he was. Him and Adam’s brother Mushegh then continued to give us a quick biography of Adam, including some minute details that wouldn’t normally be seen in articles published about the soldiers that had passed away in the April War.
Adam’s father told us that both Adam and Mushegh grew up in Yerevan and had attended school No. 114 named after Khachik Dashtents. In 2013, Adam had entered the architectural design department of the Yerevan State University of Architecture and Construction of Armenia.
Mushegh explained to us that Adam participated in multiple sports and took up a special interest in karate and boxing throughout his childhood. Adam was a yellow belt. In fact, all of the awards and his actual belt were hanging on the wall in the living room where we were sitting.
Adam’s father then brought out a book of drawings that were drawn by Adam. He said that not many people knew this about Adam, but he actually loved to draw and was very talented. Page by page we went through the entire book, which showcased all of Adam’s amazing work
We were told that Adam began his mandatory military service in 2014. He was actually a couple of months shy of completing his two-year service when he was killed. His family members told us that when he first began his service, his duties in the army were more involved with military technology.
However, Adam didn’t want to continue working with technical work and decided to go serve on the front lines instead.
On the night of April 1-2 when Azerbaijan launched their large-scale attack, Adam was serving in a border guard battalion. During these attacks, Adam and the group of 8 that he was leading were outnumbered and were trying to defend their positions from Azeri soldiers for about 4-5 hours. Unfortunately, they were unable to keep their positions and Adam was killed as a result on April 2.
Adam was 19 years old (born August, 1996).
Adam’s father mentioned that Adam’s brother Mushegh became exempt from military service after Adam’s death since he was the only son remaining.
On April 10, Adam, who was a Sergeant, was awarded the “Military Merit” Medal by Decree of the Artsakh President Bako Sahakyan and on April 13 he was buried at the Yerablur Military Pantheon.
A couple of weeks after our visit, Adam was also awarded by the Republic of Armenia State medal of “Valor” by decree of the Armenian President Serge Sarkissian.
After Robert Abajyan, he also became the 25th “Hero of Artsakh” awardee.
It should be noted that prior to Robert Abajyan and Adam Sahakyan receiving the “Hero of Artsakh” award, the award was last given to Armenian military commander and ARF member Shahen Meghrian.
All the information that I mentioned about Adam’s life, his interests, his studies, and his military career was told during our visit by members of his family. I made an effort to record down everything I was able to.
As one could tell, Adam’s father and brother didn’t hesitate. They wanted me to learn about the type of individual Adam was. They wanted me to learn about the type of soldiers that were defending our front lines every day. And they wanted me to know that Adam has left behind a legacy that will not be forgotten and will serve to inspire generations to come.
Towards the end of my visit, the ARS member called on me to read the letter that was sent by the AYF to Adam’s family. Initially thinking that I would just hand the letter, I took it out of the envelope and began to read.
With my whole body trembling and my eyes tearing up, I proceeded to read this heartfelt letter that sincerely expressed condolences and honored Adam’s family for raising a strong, patriotic, and devoted young man. As overwhelming as it was, our visit was nearing its end.
The mother barely spoke to us. From her brief statements, she explained that Mushegh’s resemblance to Adam was a constant reminder of her son’s positive memories but also of the pain of loss.
The visit also concluded with Mushegh showing us a slide show of photos in the family’s computer of Adam from his childhood to the present day.
I was humbled, exhausted, disturbed, and proud. As someone who has extensively studied history, and specifically Armenian history, learning about these type of national heroes was nothing new. From the Artsakh War in the 1990s, to the battles of independence for the First Republic of Armenia, to the Khanasor expedition, and to many older periods, we remember our heroes and carry their legacy from generation to generation.
From my first visit, I realized I had entered the home of an Armenian hero comparable to all our past heroes.
May 18, 2016, my first visit was complete and over a 100 were left…