Red Cross found Liova in Azerbaijan and delivered
a Polaroid photo to his family. On it Liova
wrote: "From the immortal man. To remember."
It has been eight years since a cease fire
was declared between Azerbaijan and Armenia over
the conflict in Karabakh.
Periodically there are still agreements reached
for releasing Prisoners of War, and with each
release a little more is learned about the awful
subtleties of neighbors at war.
Like with other war survivors, time passes
and old soldiers talk. This is a story of men
who met on opposite ends of a gun. Their families
never met, but were oddly joined by desperate
schemes to save their sons.
The defense of Martakert (1992) was one of the
most significant episodes in the Karabakh War
(1991-95), when both Armenia and Azerbaijan sustained
heavy casualties during battles.
In addition to numerous casualties, among the
900 Armenians who are still listed as Missing
In Action, many were from the battles of Martakert.
Some Prisoners of War have been returned, thanks
mostly to efforts of the International Red Cross.
Still, to this day relatives are looking for sons
and husbands from those fights.
Since 1991, more than 600 citizens of Armenia
have been delivered from captivity with the help
of international organizations as well as private
Fifty year old Liova Harutyunyan is among the
lucky whose families were re-united. But the reunion
did not come easy . . .
On June 2, 1992, Harutyunyan left his home in
the village of Verin Artashat in the Ararat region.
He had recently married and had a three-month
"People used to ask me how could I leave
my young wife and new-born child and go to the
war," the veteran recalls. "My answer
was that there are many new-born babies in Karabakh
too and that they are helpless and here in Armenia
they are in safety."
Soon after he joined the voluntary detachment,
Harutyunyan was sent to fight in Maghavuz, a village
in the Martakert region. There, Harutyunyan got
pinned down by gunfire and was seriously wounded
in both legs and an arm.
"When I came to life three Azeries were
standing next to me," he recalls. "One
of them pointed his gun at me and told his friends
that it was better to kill me rather than take
me as a hostage, so they wouldn't be overloaded.
However, one of them didn't allow the others to
kill me and I was taken to a hospital."
Harutyunyan's leg injury became infected, swelled
and he was in great pain.
"I lost the hope that I would be able to
walk again," he says. "But one day an
Azeri doctor approached me in hospital and started
to treat my legs. I was surprised at first, but
later I realized that there were good people among
them as well. That doctor saved my life."
Several days later when Harutyunyan's condition
improved, the Azeri soldier who prevented his
killing came to the hospital and took Harutyunyan
to the Azeri's home.
It turned out that the Azeri soldier's family
had a son, Ilham, who was missing and suspected
taken by the Armenian side. The family decided
to hold Harutyunyan as a potential ransom for
For three years, Harutyunyan was held by the
Azeri family. He doesn't say much about that period,
but his 79-year old father, Marlen, remembers
the pain of not knowing his son's fate.
was held hostage by an Azeri family for about
three years, but Liova Harutyunyan says he
would go to war again.
"I was living in Tbilisi for a month,"
the father recalls. "I met numerous different
people including criminal leaders and people reputable
in the criminal world. One such person, an Azeri
from Marneuli, offered to find and bring my son
back for 10 million rubles (about $300,000).
"I was ready to do anything, but the Azeri
family keeping my son didn't agree to any offers,
saying that they would set Liova free only in
exchange for their child."
In 1992-1993, it was common practice for Armenian
families to keep Azeri hostages to exchange for
Armenian relatives held captive. The Harutyunyans
decided to become hostage caretakers in hopes
of exchanging for Liova.
Friends serving with Liova brought five hostages
from Shushi to Liova's parents' home.
"We were keeping them and continuing to
look for Ilham (the Azeri family's son),"
Marlen says. "I did everything to find him,
however, I couldn't."
Marlen found people in Martakert who knew the
soldier who'd taken Liova hostage. But those people
said the brother, Ilham, had been killed. Marlen
feared telling his son's captors such news.
The Harutyunyans exchanged two of their five
hostages for two Armenians (arranged privately
by people they didn't know). They continued to
keep the other three, hoping that one day their
son would be exchanged.
One day the Red Cross brought letters from Azerbaijan
to Armenian families, including one for the Harutyunyans.
"I know you kept five Azeries and you exchanged
two of them for Armenians," Liova wrote.
"They are very thankful. Don't hurt the others
and take good care of them. One of them is wounded.
Call a doctor to treat him as they call a doctor
to take care of me. Be patient until I'm exchanged
too. Continue to look for Ilham."
Liova's wife, 29-year-old Naira, says the family
took good care of the Azeri soldiers.
"We used to say let's take a good care of
them so that God would bring Liova back,"
says Naira. "I told them we wouldn't forget
you and if Liova comes back then we would keep
in touch with you."
After learning that the Red Cross had found Liova,
his family released the three hostages.
"I took them to Sadakhlo, where their relatives
met them," says Marlen.
By that time, Liova had been held captive for
two years, 10 months and 10 days. The Red Cross
negotiated his release on May 12, 1995, along
with 31 others.
Larisa Alaverdyan is president of the non governmental
agency, Against Legal Offences, which conducts
medical rehabilitation programs for former hostages
and POWs. She says men such as Liova need constant
"The experience shows that passing years
make mental problems of those people more complex,"
she says. "They must have a permanent place
where they would be able to go for help."
Liova Harutyunyan returned to his permanent place
in Verin Artashat. The number of his children
has increased to include Gor and Armine. Today
this family lives by cultivating their own land
plots and vine groves.
"If there is peace we will live somehow,"
Liova says. "And if there will be a war I
will again go to defend my homeland."