a few years' break Laura again started cooking
dolma, when one day her son said: "Mom, would
you make that meal with green leaf?"
After the earthquake she wasn't cooking dolma
for a long time, as it had been the favorite meal
of her 10-year old and 12-year old sons who died
under ruins. Artyom was born a year later...
The word "earthquake" for Laura is
the widely opened eyes of her son and his question:
"Mom, what is that?"
"I was going to send him to school, I had
already taken his coat to put it on my Artush
and then I heard a thunder-like sound and the
building shook. I understood it was an earthquake.
My Artushik was round-eyed with fear. I told him
not to be afraid, it was an earthquake and that
I would quickly lead them to the elevator. The
elevator was in our floor, my neighbor had just
gone up. I opened the door to go out when the
For the past 14 years and till now Laura feels
there is something she could still do to rescue
her children. And what she would have done, had
there been another earthquake. Whether she would
have managed to help her sons get into the elevator.
Especially at nights, when she goes to bed free
from everyday life, she again and again goes through
the whole scene of the earthquake.
"I opened the door for us to go out and the
building fell. I tried to wrap my sons with my
arms in order to hold them at least with my back,
but the ground slipped away. And when I came around
everything had disappeared."
Prior to the earthquake Laura saw a dream - pigeons
and horses in the sky, no fire, but white pigeons
were burning and falling down black. Her neighbor
explained the dream: the horse was a desire, pigeons
meant youth that would be broken in Karabakh.
The earthquake coincided with the movement in
Karabakh, to which they were connecting their
dreams. Four days later the earthquake took place.
"We had an iron door. The door had fallen
on something and a triangle had been formed, I
was stuck under the door. There was space in front,
there was no roof, only the sky. And I saw my
younger boy in front of me, I did not know what
had happened to my Grisha and knowing he was safe
I started looking for my Artush. I heard the voice
of Artush for some five minutes, then it disappeared
and the last thing I heard was: 'Mom, I can't
bear this anymore'."
Laura would not imagine that her children had
gone. She would participate in the secondary school
end of year party of her deceased son. When her
sons would reach the conscript age, she would
go to the commissariat, "I would think that
my children were among those. What a self-torture
Atanesyan teaches art history in Gyumri's Pedagogical
Institute and Merkurov Art School. Many years
ago she exempted two students from the lectures,
as she thought that if her two sons were not dead
they would have been like them.
"I was not able to look at them, I told
them not to come to my lectures if they wanted,
that I would not put absent and that they would
get their grade at the end." But later when
she got to know that one of the boys was born
in the same year and month with her elder son,
the opposite reaction arouse. "Unwillingly
I wanted to see him, I thought he was my child,
and thanks to him I began accepting children of
But her husband Vanya, who was a trainer of track
and field athletics at the Pedagogical Institute
and Sports School, left both places, as he couldn't
communicate with the children. He was not able
to recover from the shock and to return to his
Five years ago he left to work construction in
Moscow. Laura thinks that he chose that work with
an express purpose - to isolate himself and not
have any contact with children.
Husbands of her four friends also left for Russia
to work, as there were no jobs in Gyumri and they
did not find other ways to support their families.
(According to an official from the mayor's office,
seven out of 10 families in Gyumri are split -
that is, one or more members of the family is
working outside the country).
Laura thought that everyone was to blame for
the earthquake. She was angry with all. She blamed
even her husband for him not being at home to
rescue the children. Her husband was at school
at that time taking pupils out of the ruins. And
Laura blamed him for being able to rescue strange
children, but not his own.
She blamed even Mount Aragats.
"One day Aragats was in a fog. My Grishik
called me and said, 'Mama, come and look, Turks
took away Aragats.' 'Grishik jan, nobody took
away Aragats, there is just fog.' Later I would
look at it and say, 'I loved you so much, my children
loved you, too, why did you do so?'"
course, she managed to hide her anger that others
expressed more acutely, but the anger and envy
did not leave her. Why did the misfortune happen
to her? The anger has now passed, she has conformed
to that, and knows that nobody is to blame. It
was just a natural calamity. But the question
'why' still arises.
Every year as December 7 approached she became
tense waiting for that day to come. She did not
want to see people's faces. She got angry even
when her son born after the earthquake wanted
something. How could the child understand that
his mother suffered?
Now December does not arouse such acute feelings
anymore. Laura knows that tomorrow she, calm and
conformed with the past, must go to her sons'
grave to do her duty.
A few years after the earthquake Laura saw her
deceased son in her dream, "He told me, 'Mom,
my legs are cold, there is water.' A few days
passed and I saw him again, then I told my husband
that we had to dig the grave and if it is wet
we should change the place."
The husband and father dug into the grave and
found it half filled with water. He dug a new
grave, and when Laura saw that the new grave was
dry they reburied their sons.
"Now I ask myself why I made my husband
dig that pit. What I did was something inhuman."
When Laura's son Artyom was about to reach her
deceased children's age, she despaired and worried
that this son did not deserve the same fate. Now
that anxiety has gone, as Artyom is older than
her other sons when they died.
"I've lived whatever I should have lived:
everything dies when you lose children. If I hadn't
Artyom, my living would have had no sense."
Though they still live in a temporary small house
and nobody knows when they will get an apartment,
Laura's only care is her son.
"Now I want to manage to quickly do everything
that I haven't done for them. I am afraid I won't
have time to. I would think: is it useful for
my Artyom. If it is not I won't do that. I am
not interested in whatever doesn't relate to my
son in my life."
The earthquake is always present in Laura's dreams,
where she always tries to rescue her sons.
"I would wake up because of uneasiness and
would feel suffocating and with the sweat on my
forehead would understand that it wasn't an earthquake,
but just a dream. I would look and see that Artyom
is next to me, everything is in its place, nothing
is ruined and would slowly calm down."