Helsinki Citizens' Assembly-Vanadzor

Dandelions in eternal storms. Documentary on Armenian resilience. Karine BIZARD

February 9, 2024

Activities | News

PRESENTATION OF THE PORTFOLIO AND NOTE OF INTENT

 

To be born a dandelion and to endure a constant storm is to be fragile, swept by the storm, scattered all over the earth and still be reborn. Dandelion is the easiest weed to get rid of. But it is also the one that grows back the easiest because it is impossible to destroy its small seeds.

 

Since the Armenian genocide and the attempted physical annihilation of Armenian Christians in the Ottoman Empire, despite the successive wars in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenians have never stopped getting back up and living.

 

I started this project in the summer of 2023, before the fall of Nagorno- Karabakh last September. I went to meet the Armenians, bruised by the violent 44-day war in September 2020 during which an entire section of youth disappeared. Indeed, all young people aged 18 to 21 who were doing their two-year military service were called to fight in an unequal war and with non- existent war experience. Armenia lost thousands of children and every person I met lamented the loss of a son, a brother, a father, or a friend. Then I returned to this country after the exodus of nearly 110,000 refugees and I saw an Armenia hurt again by the misfortune of these brothers.

 

This project highlights Armenian resilience and resistance, loneliness, loss, death, hope and belief through the unique human trajectories behind the numbers.

 

I thus tell with sad gentleness these families of deceased soldiers, whose faith is so strong that the dead seem to be among us forever. I tell the story of these families of missing soldiers, completely unable to mourn until they have been given tangible proof of the death of their child. But I also tell of the hope and strength of young soldiers who try to overcome the trauma of war, through art or flowers. Finally, I tell the story of these refugees from Arstsakh who lost everything in a few hours, from their home, to their homeland, to their life in short and who must consider a future.

 

Why Armenia when I am not Armenian?

I would simply say that I have loved Armenia for a long time and that it is a subject that I wanted to talk about at a time when eyes are focused more on Ukraine and the Gaza Strip.

 

I make these words of Sylvain TESSON my own: “The destiny of Armenia does not concern Armenia alone. If we consider it as an extension, a shadow projected from Europe on the threshold of the steppe, a sliver of ourselves stuck in the Orient, then it is we ourselves who are struck by its torments.”

 

These eye-level photographs aim to highlight the specificity of a people through their moving stories of humanity.

 

My perspective is unique because it is nourished by my past in the mysteries of the defense of litigants, my knowledge of human beings and my habit of recounting with empathy the extraordinary destinies of ordinary men and women.

 

I have entirely self-financed this work and I hope, thanks to your support, to be able to continue to carry the voices of those who are not heard, or too little.

 

[caption id="attachment_20604" align="alignnone" width="760"] Gyumri, Armenia, 2023 July 19. Tigran fought as a tanker for 3 days during the 4 Day War in April 2016. He died at the age of 19. For Kora, 49yo her mother, Tigran is everything everywhere. Tigran's parents created an entire room dedicated to the memory of their son.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20606" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 october 17, Goris, Armenia. Karen and his two sons Artur and Narek come from Martakert, a town established on the right bank of Tartar, between two mountains, 40 km north of Stepanakert in Nagorno Karabakh. On September 19, the city began to be bombarded. As internet and telephone connection being interrupted, it was impossible for the father to communicate with his two sons, one of whom was working outside the city and the other had been a soldier for two months on the front. Being impossible to leave the city without his sons, the father decided to find them before leaving on an exodus to Armenia.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20607" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 July 15, Yerablur Cemetery, Erevan, Armenia. View of the heroes cemetery and all the flags flying to the wind at sunset.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20608" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 July 19 Gyumri, Armenia. Time for a release of doves, “Make a wish for a few drams”[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20609" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 july 19, Ashotsk, Armenia. Street scene taken from a car. A cross hangs from the rearview mirror. A stork flies away from its nest. On the wall a portrait of Shavarsh Krissian: “I will stay awake so you can sleep peacefully”.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20610" align="alignnone" width="759"] 2023 July 18, Gyumri, Armenia. Artush Miqayelian, 26 yo, fought as a conscript soldier during the 44-day war in Artsakh, sep 2020. He had to suffer the loss of many young men like himself. A way to come back to life was through the Gyumri Drama Theater, of which he is director. He is taking part as an actor with his brother, Arsen, in "Rain Bird" performance, playing a very autobiographical role.
Based on the best-seller book “Birdy” by William Wharton, the performance, directed Tatevik Melkonian , features two opposites young people returning from war : a vulnerable and sensitive Bird close on himself, who just wants to raise canaries and fly, and his wayward friend El, no longer capable of being carefree and cheerful. It’s a beautiful story about fate of people trying to overcome horrors of war.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20612" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 October 18. Goris, Armenia. An Armenian man who lives in modest conditions but provides as a lot of armenians all the help he can to the refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20613" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 jJuly 17, Armavir, Armenia. Gurgen, 19, died during the 44-day war in 2020. His blue bedroom beside parents one remained intact. His absence is immeasurable.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20614" align="alignnone" width="762"] 2023 July 20, Gyumri, Armenia. A painting representing an Armenian monastery on the walls of an abandoned cell in a disused prison.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20615" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 July 18, Gyumri, Armenia. When David 26yo left for the war, his son Vahan was only 11 months old and Armine, his wife 23yo, was already a few months pregnant with their second child, a little girl, Anush. The last time he called was October 10, 2020. After that, she didn't hear from him anymore. On November 15, 2020, members of her family saw a video on social media and recognized David's body among the corpses. She was due to give birth soon so no one told her. After the birth, she saw the video. David's body was not returned to her until a year later. Armine created a montage on Photoshop by adding the two children around David. But the children don't understand that the photo is not real. They think they've actually been at their dad's side. For Armine, it is difficult to overcome the loss of David. At first there were a lot of photos of him all over the house, and it was hard for her to put up with it. She also kept just this corner so that the children could remember their father whom they never knew. But as they are still very small and have neither the concept of time nor that of death and definitive disappearance, they are also disturbed by this presence. For example, Vahan used to give his water bottle to his father's photo because he thought he must be thirsty. They also went to their father's grave, Armine was crying and Vahan was tapping his father's grave saying that he was the reason for his mother's sadness.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20618" align="alignnone" width="761"] Gyumri, Armenia, 2023 July 19. Tigran fought as a tanker for 3 days during the 4 Day War in April 2016. He died at the age of 19. For Kora, 49yo her mother, Tigran is everything everywhere. Tigran's parents created an entire room dedicated to the memory of their son. His mother, Kora, 49yo is holding her granddaughter, small Kora.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20619" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 October 23. Erevan, Armenia. This photo is a metaphor for Mother Armenia, calm and quiet while her sons defend her. Mother Armenia is a monumental statue holding a sword and overlooking Yerevan. She symbolises peace through strength and represent the power of motherhood and the "Armenian motherland" for armenians people. Janna, 25 years old, is graduated from Yerevan Law Faculty. Every evening from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. with her twin sister she comes to train on the heights of the capital at the heart of the VOMA «Voxj Mnalu Arvest» - the art of survival, a paramilitary group which trains civilians for the possibility of war. Volunteer instructors teach the art of surviving in times of conflict. She says she is ready to defend her country if it is attacked by Azerbaijan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20620" align="alignnone" width="770"] 2023 October 20. October 20, 2023. Gor's grandmother holds in her hands the portrait of her grandson, who died at age 19 on the 13th day of the 44-day war in 2020. He had 3 months left before completing his mandatory military service . He died in a drone attack.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20621" align="alignnone" width="761"] Gyumri, Armenia, 15/10/23. Karlen died in the 44 Day War at the age of 20 while Manvel was on another front. He was not immediately aware of his death, but received a sign from his eldest in a dream, reassuring him that he would survive. Shortly after this "visit" Manvel was seriously injured in the stomach and miraculously saved by the position of his arm which slowed the bullet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20622" align="alignnone" width="759"] 2023 October 16. Gyumri, Armenia. “I am always waiting for wonders to happen, and inside the Holy Saviour's Church, i felt hope and peace”. Karine is a literature teacher from Stepanakert. Her parents were also teachers. She took care of them until their death because her mother was ill at a very young age. Karine was not lucky enough to have her own family. Today she arrived alone in Armenia after a long trip from Stepanakert, to Goris and Gyumri. She had nowhere to go so as she has often seen things about Gyumri on television, she decided to go to Gyumri. She is grateful to have been able to get here. Most of the important writers and great poets came from Gyumri according to her. She walked around the city and enjoyed the parks, museums and especially the churches of Gyumri. For her who did not have children, she experienced the last war as a tragedy and was overwhelmed to see all these young men die for her country. She said "I cried for two months".[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20623" align="alignnone" width="762"] 2023 July 20, Gyumri, Armenia. The branch of a tree grows in the ruins of a cell in the disused Gyumri prison.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20624" align="alignnone" width="773"] July 19, 2023, Ashotsk, Armenia. Karo was a young sergeant 23yo during the 44 Day War and served in the Nagorno-Karabakh border troops for 5 years. He was injured on 2020 October 19, with numerous fractures and deep white phosphorus burns. His body and mainly his back are 80% burned, he lost phalanges and an ear. It has been exploited many times over the months...s... Karo always loved trees and flowers and always took care of the garden at his house. After the war and his long convalescence, he built a greenhouse and came back to life thanks to plants. "I will never forget that day... I saw that my friends were burning and I couldn't do anything. I was burning myself. Out of 22, only three of us survived: me, our driver Samvel and my friend Arman. Arman's shoulder was crushed. Samvel also had very bad burns. He tried to pull me out of the burning car, but he couldn't. I made an effort and got myself thrown out. With his burned hands, Samvel took off my uniform from my clothes, took me away from the burning car, which could explode at any moment. " In the background of the painting, all the graves of his friends.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20625" align="alignnone" width="759"] 2023 October 17, Goris, Armenia. There is a village in Nagorno Karabagh called Astghavan, which means "The village of stars" where you can find small pebbles in the natural shape of stars. Legend says that stars fell from the sky and turned into stones. At the time when their houses were being bombed by the Aziris, this family put dozens of small star-shaped pebbles in a small glass yogurt pot to take a little of their land with them.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20626" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 October 16. Goris, Armenia. Susambar tells me that there is a Russian proverb that says “hope dies last.” She lives with the hope of this idea. She was born in Shushi at the time of the Soviet Union, when this city was in Azerbaijan. After the 2020 war, she lost her house and moved to Stepanakert, hoping to return to Shushi, but she lost her house a second time. Susambar wants to stay here in Goris because it is close to the border with Nagorno-Karabakh and she always hopes to return to Shushi to find her family photos and to return to the graves of loved ones. On the wall of the hotel room she graciously occupies, there is a drawing of a dandelion. His memories were blown to the four winds...[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20627" align="alignnone" width="771"] 2023 october 16, Gyumri, Armenia. Silva 50 yo arrived in Goris, then Gyumri in this disused hospital. She doesn't have any family in Armenia. She is divorced and her daughter lives in Russia wih her small girl. She lost her first house during 2020 war in Martakert. She moved to Stepanakert and found new house and a job in a shop. While the residents of Stepanakert had to leave, all the stores were opened and people were invited to take what they could take. Silva brought a kettle so she could make coffee and a curtain that she found beautiful: "There was no way I was going to leave this curtain to the aziris."[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20628" align="alignnone" width="761"] July 19, 2023, Gyumri, Armenia. Tigran fought as a tanker for 3 days during the 4-Day War in April 2016. He died at the age of 19. Every year, on his birthday, a family member shakes the walnut tree in front of the house, next to Tigran's memorial and the walnuts, his favorite fruit, are distributed to continue to keep him alive in hearts. His father's hands filled with nuts from the last harvest on the anniversary of Tigrane's birth.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20629" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 October 20, Vanadzor, Armenia. Anna, 45 yo, holds in her hands the photo of her son, Gevorg, who disappeared in 2020 during the 44-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh. He was only 20 years old and served as a conscript soldier in the Syunik region. He called his mother on October 3, 2020 and did not tell her that he would be taken to war so as not to worry her. It was the last call. In Gevorg's case, there is no DNA test matching the parents, therefore giving the greatest hope that he might be alive somewhere. But he is not on the hostage list. For two of the guys who fought with him, body parts or bones were found. So Gevorg is officialy on the long list of missing soldiers.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20630" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 october 21, Vanadzor, Armenia. This couple had 4 boys. On September 28, 2020, the mother, 53 years old, learned that the youngest of her sons, aged 18 and serving for only a month, was injured in the stomach, hospitalized in Stepanakert, in serious condition. He is today now seriously disabled. On September 29, she spoke to her second son, Gor, aged 19, on the phone and did not want to talk to him about his little brother, especially since Gor was called to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh. That was the last time she heard him. The parents pleaded in vain with the ministry not to send Gor to the war because the younger son was seriously injured. But on October 3 they learned of Gor's death after a drone attack.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20631" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 October 13, Surenavan, Armenia. "We must remember in order to live". Roma's father poses in front of his house. Heg holds in his right hand the photo of his 19-year-old son who was serving in his first year of mandatory military service and in his left hand the numerous medals he won in boxing competitions. The last time they spoke to Roma was September 26, 2020. He was serving in his first year of mandatory military service. He disappeared at 19 yo. On September 27, a tank fired and some of Roma's comrades were killed, others fled in different directions. Bodies or body parts were found, but nothing was found relating to Roma. The parents have no details about what happened to their son. It is very difficult to live because it is impossible to mourn Roma. He's not officially dead, so there's still hope that he'll come home one day.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20633" align="alignnone" width="767"] 2023 October 18. Goris, armenia. Refugee woman from Nagorno Karabagh. She is 68 yo and the mother of 4 kids and 7 grandchildrens.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20634" align="alignnone" width="758"] 2023 October 16. Zvartnots, Armenia. Cathedral of Echmiatsin[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20635" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 july 15, Candles in Gherard Monastery[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20636" align="alignnone" width="762"] 2023 July 15, Yerevan, Armenie. A mother cleans her son's grave photography. He died at 19yo during the 44-day war in 2020 ans is burried with others soldiers at the Yerablur Cemetery wich overlooks the city.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20637" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 July 18, Gyumri, Armenia. When David 26yo left for the war, his son Vahan was only 11 months old and Armine, his wife 23yo, was already a few months pregnant with their second child, a little girl, Anush. The last time he called was October 10, 2020. After that, she didn't hear from him anymore. On November 15, 2020, members of her family saw a video on social media and recognized David's body among the corpses. She was due to give birth soon so no one told her. After the birth, she saw the video. David's body was not returned to her until a year later. Armine created a montage on Photoshop by adding the two children around David. But the children don't understand that the photo is not real. They think they've actually been at their dad's side. For Armine, it is difficult to overcome the loss of David. At first there were a lot of photos of him all over the house, and it was hard for her to put up with it. She also kept just this corner so that the children could remember their father whom they never knew. But as they are still very small and have neither the concept of time nor that of death and definitive disappearance, they are also disturbed by this presence. For example, Vahan used to give his water bottle to his father's photo because he thought he must be thirsty. They also went to their father's grave, Armine was crying and Vahan was tapping his father's grave saying that he was the reason for his mother's sadness.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20638" align="alignnone" width="764"] 2023 October 18. Goris, Armenia. The Great Mother seated to the left of the image is Armenian and lives with her disabled daughter. She welcomed her other daughter and her two grandsons, refugees from Stepanakert, into her modest house. The three of them left Nagorno Karabaqh with only the clothes they wore, leaving their entire lives behind.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20639" align="alignnone" width="762"] 2023 October 23. Erevan, Armenia. Toma, 25 years old, graduated from Yerevan Law Faculty. Every evening from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. with her twin sister she comes to train on the heights of the capital at the heart of the VOMA paramilitary group which trains civilians for the possibility of war. Volunteer instructors teach the art of surviving in times of conflict. She says she is ready to defend her country if it is attacked by Azerbaijan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20640" align="alignnone" width="759"] 2023 october 23, Armavir, Armenia. Gurgen, 19, died during the 44-day war in 2020. It's a tradition for young conscript soldiers, when military service or war comes to an end, to have a love note embroidered on their stripes, in place of their blood informations, for the day they return home to their families in full uniform.
After Gurgen's death, Anna, his mother, received his belongings. On her stripes was a message: "Dear Mom, I'm coming home soon".[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20641" align="alignnone" width="761"] Montagne d'armenie[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20642" align="alignnone" width="761"] 2023 October 21, Vanadzor, Armenia. Gor, 19 years old, died on the 13th day of the 44-day war. He had 3 months left before finishing his mandatory military service. He died after a drone attack. Gor's coffin was closed due to the young man's severe injuries. His mother was not able to see him one last time. She kept the war helmet he was wearing at the time of his death, because it is the only thing she has left of him.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_20643" align="alignnone" width="770"] 2023 october 23. Yerablur cemetery, Eravan, Armenie. In Martouni, in southern Karabakh, the Azeris killed mayor Aznavour Saghyan, named in homage to the Franco-Armenian singer. He was 34 years old.
Her sister says that in 2020, during the 44-day war, luckily God had not shown them the way to Yérablur, the cemetery of heroes. But in September 2023, God only seemed to show this path. Before leaving Martouni, Aznavour's family dug a hole in the family vault near the young mayor's father. After recovering his body and keeping it for 10 days, they took the road for several days without stopping to the Yerablur cemetery, where their dear Aznavour now rests.[/caption]

 

 

 

 

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