Story of a displaced woman, who has gone through the horrors of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: A displaced woman struggles between her past and present

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For Margarita Shurkova, displacement is not a novel experience.
Article 23 November 2021 Armenia Azerbaijan

This is the second time in her life she has had to bear the brunt of losing a home. From the death of loved ones to losing the home she built, the horrors of war have plagued the 44-year-old's life indiscriminately.

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

Margarita has experienced a lot of pain and suffering in her life due to conflict. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which sparked a cycle of violence in the early 1990s, kept inflicting hardship on the lives of civilians for decades. The latest escalation in the autumn of 2020 forced thousands of civilians to flee, including Margarita.

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

She recalls the day she had to leave her house, which she had been building for twelve years.

I took my pets and a few blankets with me.

The yard is filled with the squeak of newborn puppies. Margarita brought their mother from her hometown. "This dog is a dear friend of mine," she said. "She was so scared of the sounds of shelling. I didn't want to leave her behind."

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

"We've become nomads," Margarita said.

You start building a house, enjoying life and then everything falls apart. It's crazy to think you breathe in and accumulate everything and then it becomes more than you can handle.

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

Living in a ramshackle house, Margarita is trying to reconcile to her new life in the village of Aghavnavank, Armenia. "When we came to this house, it was falling apart and there was nothing in it," she said. "I had to clean it all up and turn it into an abode suitable for living. Every day is a struggle."

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

"I have always lived my life independently, doing whatever was necessary to stay afloat," she said. "From cleaning jobs to gardening to farming, I have done it all."

Today, she does no less. As a single mother to two girls, she wakes up with the dawn to take care of her cattle, bakes bread, and looks after her children.

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

Margarita is worried about the security and education of her daughters – 18-year-old Sona and eight-year-old Nelli. Sona and Nelli have missed several months of school because of the conflict.

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

The hostilities have had a huge psychological impact on the children, especially on Margarita's elder daughter. For a long time, Sona did not attend classes at her new school. "We had a tough time convincing her to start attending her lessons," said Vardush Nersisyan, the school principal.

She didn't want to speak to anyone – she had closed herself off from the world around her.

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

After spending the past year in Aghavnavank, Sona has slowly started adapting to the new environment. She has started making friends at school. But doing so was not easy: Sona still cherishes the memories of her beloved classmates from her hometown. Her face brightens up every time she speaks about them.

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

The books she managed to bring with her from her hometown now lay on the bookshelf as silent reminders of days gone by and friendships lost due to the war. "I had lived there since I was four. How can I forget the beauty of my hometown and the fun I had with my best friends?", Sona sighs in tears while looking at the photos and videos on her screen.

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

Nelli, Margo's youngest daughter, is growing up amidst the hardship. She turns everything into a game, carrying bottles of water to the kitchen, tending the rabbits, feeding the baby calves milk. She helps her mother with chores in her own playful manner. Margarita is not sure if Nelli realizes what has happened to her family. "Nelli keeps on saying that she wants to return home..." Margarita said.

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

According to Margarita, looking after the cattle has now come to replace Nelli's games with friends.

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

This little girl joins her mother on their daily evening walk to the forest to collect wood for winter. While Margarita swiftly collects a pile of dry branches, Nelli curiously observes the trees and the flowers and listens for every subtle movement of the wild. The bundle of firewood is ready. Margarita ties it with a rope and drags it all the way home, a few kilometers away.

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

Margarita hardly seems to have a moment to herself. "I need to do as much as I can," she said.

I am ready to do even more as I simply wish a better and safer future for my children. I wish they receive proper education and find good jobs to become independent. I wish they never have to witness a war ever again.

Areg BALAYAN/ICRC
Areg BALAYAN/ICRC

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