Tuesday, October 27

In Stepanakert, the lamentations of mothers at the funeral of their sons killed in combat

Stepanakert (Azerbaijan) – “My son, how are you … My son, how are you …”: in the cemetery of Stepanakert, the face distorted by tears, the imploring voice, a mother sticks one last time his cheek against that of his son, surrounded by a flag of Nagorno Karabakh.

Tigran Petrossian was 26 years old. A police officer in that city, he joined the Armenian separatist forces at the start of the conflict with Azerbaijan at the end of September.

He was killed Thursday by a drone strike on the car that took him to Hadrout. He was going to relieve his comrades on the front line, to the southeast.

Serious faces, red eyes, about fifteen people, family, friends or brothers in arms in police or military uniform, came to attend the funeral on Saturday, in the part of the cemetery reserved for those killed in wars.

Only the mother’s vibrant lament tears the heavy silence.

A few men smoke cigarettes in the hot sun. No child is there. As soon as the conflict resumed on September 27, the majority of families left the capital of Nagorno Karabakh, which was regularly subjected to bombardments.

Azerbaijan is trying to recapture this region populated by Armenians which seceded 30 years ago, leading to a war that claimed the lives of 30,000 people. Along the front, clashes continued periodically after a ceasefire in 1994, but never resumed with such violence.

Sunday morning, a new truce came into effect. But both camps are already accusing each other of having raped her.

In the cemetery, in the center of Stepanakert, backhoe loaders had to make earthworks on two levels to accommodate the dead from the new fighting, below the square where more than a hundred soldiers killed during the first war are buried.

In this square with clean alleys planted with pines, the tombs are stone and imposing, engraved with portraits of the deceased. 1993 and 1994 are the most common years of death.

Sometimes, two graves are side by side, as for these two brothers, one killed in 1993 at 20, the other a year later at 19.

On the freshly landscaped dusty earthen terraces there are already twenty-five graves. A flat stone cross placed along a small rectangular pile of earth, or sometimes simple pebbles forming the cross for poor families.

– “The wrath of god” –

That morning, the funeral of another young fighter is also taking place. Only the father and two younger brothers of the deceased are present.

The planting is quick. The father, in a worn white parka, remains on his knees for several minutes, his shoulders and head resting on the top of the grave, his body shaking with sobs. His two sons are squatting back slightly, one hand over their eyes, or on their father’s shoulder.

Nearby, around the tomb of Tigran Petrossian, eight large wreaths of false red, yellow and white flowers are placed on tripods. A crucifix in his hand, dressed in a black cassock, the young priest Mesrop Khounoian, beard provided, makes a last prayer.

We pray that this will all end soon. But we also pray that the wrath of God will not be long in coming, and that the devil who has unleashed all this will be severely punished.

Clinging to the still open coffin, weeping in pain, the mother must almost be torn from it. It is moved away by relatives so that the cover is fixed before placing in the ground.

The family then arranges dozens of red carnations around the grave.

A few meters away, another mother and relatives came to pray at the tomb of her son, buried a few days earlier. Almost lying on the ground, the woman repeats the name of her child in tears. Her daughter, kneeling in front of her, is also crying.

Then the families take turns leaving. Silence returns. Only the dull and distant sound of explosions, on the forehead, is heard.


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