Monday, 22 July

Disabled Veterans Like Us Are Considered Third Class Citizens

The year was 1989, during the Soviet era.

The authorities began to organize us into combat detachments which gradually grew into an army. There was the "Pan-Armenian National Movement", "Arabo" and the "Armenian Liberation Army". I volunteered and was placed into the Armenian Liberation Army - so recollects former freedom fighter Khachatur Khachatryan.

This soldier who served from Shahumyan and Madaghis all the way to Djabrayil relates how, till the ceasefire in 1994, they would capture more and more territory and then fall back to organize a new offensive in a different direction.

When asked if he feels glad to have participated in the war he answers, "Of course. I saw how those people over there lived and how they were forced to flee their homes. You know, it's difficult to put into words what those people went through; you needed to see it to understand. In 1992, when Shahumyan fell, you should have seen how the inhabitants escaped to Noragyugh. The school in Noragyugh served as our base, but that's where the people were sent to find shelter. When you look back on the war you still feel a certain dread and ask yourself ; Did I really walk through all those corpses? Shells explode above your head and there are days when you go without eating..It was hard for the soldiers new to the war, but merely routine for those who had seen battle. The veterans would always help the new soldiers if they faltered in all the confusion; we gave them some backbone. On the frontlines we were all equals who supported one another. There was no such thing as 'your or mine'."

As to the calls not to make any concessions during the negotiations process the former soldier comments that, "There should be no concessions. But even if that's the case will we be able to hold on to those territories? The areas we liberated are huge. Those who declare, 'We will not return these lands', must validate their statements with actual deeds. Otherwise it's all just empty talk and sooner or later you'll be giving away half ofArmeniaitself."

And what if the war suddenly breaks out again, I ask. "You know, we say we won't go this time but what happens then? Should we just let them in and wait till they reach our doorstep? We're doing alot of work behind the scenes, we just don't talk about it very much.

Khachik, who just turned forty-six, points to the scars on his jaw, arms, and feet where mine fragments still remain embedded under the skin. "They were able to remove seven or eight pieces but even I don't know how many are left in my body because any attempt to remove them would do more harm than good. I also received bullet wounds on my arms and legs and suffered a concussion.

The authorities have all but ignored this man who qualifies as a "fully" disabled person. Khachatryan believes that his opinion about those in power doesn't matter much. "I'm a nobody so who cares if I say they're either good or bad. If it suits them then the authorities remember those who fought, both the living and the dead. Regardless, now and then we meet and fondly remember our departed comrades. And those of us still alive have a host of medical and financial issues to contend with. While the commanders of theMalatyaregiment provide a modicum of assistance to those who fought under them, it's the government that should be doing this work and not the soldiewrs who fought the war.Wasn't the war waged in the interests of the Armenian nation? Back then they'd tell us - OK boys, go fight and don't worry about a thing because we'll look out for you. It turns out what they really meant to say was - First go and die, then we'll love you .

The Khachatryans have four children, two of which are still minors. The family lives on the assistance provided by theMalatyaregiment, the Armenian Liberation Army organization,Paros, and the diasabilty pension they receive. The All-Armenia Fund also provides help in the form of financial assistance to minors of disabled veterans.

The family celebrated Easter with food gifted by theMalatyagroup. Otherwise, they've been forced to borrow money to put food on the table.

"If you're classified as a fully disabled person you're told that you cannot work anywhere. Basically, you become a third-class citizen. But I really like to work. I could become a night security guard. They don't openly insult you but you feel the heart deep in your soul." A visibly agitated Khachik asks, "What's wrong with I really good for nothing? During the war there were always others to rely on...But once you've been injured it's a totally different story. Don't we have the right to work, to improve our lives just a bit? At the very least we should be respected for volunteering to defend the homeland during its time of need."

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