Ruben Mangasaryan remembers victory. And boxes . . .
My father spent six years of his life in wars from Soviet-Finnish War to the end of World War II. Four of those years he spent in fascist concentration camps. When I was a child I often used to ask my father to tell me about the war. But he refused to tell me.
I was shooting the Karabakh War from start to finish. From 1989 to 1994 I was regularly visiting Karabakh. I was both in the rear and at the fire fronts, I was shooting both military operations and everyday life. I saw the war and only then I understood my father. It is very hard to recollect the war or rather it is not possible to forget it. It's not possible to forget the victory and losses, friends who died, bravery and patriotism.
After the capture of Shushi in May of 1992 together with my friend photographer Ashot Muradyan I flew to Karabakh by plane. It was the last flight, which returned to Yerevan. All seats were stripped from the cabin of the Yak-40 and a huge rubber container full of petrol was placed there. Boxes of shells were placed at the back of the cabin as well. Stepanakert airport was under fire by Azeris. Our plane made an incredible dive over the airport and we landed. We immediately heard the explosions of missiles fired by GRAD (multiple rocket launcher). However, they didn't hit the plane. Within several minutes the plane was unloaded and it got off the ground for the last time from Stepanakert airport. Next day GRAD missile s hit the plane...
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After shooting in Shushi we went to Martuni. Monte (Melkonian) was in charge there. Military advance of Azeris was expected in that direction. We spent couple of days in pits playing nardi under the fire of Azeri artillery. But there was no advance by Azeris. Monte told us, “you came here by plane but you will leave Karabakh by land!” In the morning Monte said, “Our troops captured Lisagor. You must immediately go towards Lachin, probably today the road will be unblocked.” We reached Stepanakert by autostop, then Shushi, Lisagor and in Lisagor we knew that fighting was going on in Lachin. Soon after we reached Lachin. The road connecting Karabakh with Armenia was open. We took some photographs in the city and then we climbed on to the roof of a military truck and went towards Goris. All the way to the Armenian border we were chortling with glee. It was victory. It was real unification of Karabakh with Armenia, “miatsum” (unification), the word, which people used to chant at demonstrations and dream for many years…
I saw the most furious fighting in January, 1994 in Mardakert. Every day dozens of people were killed and wounded. They were taken to Chldran, where military hospital, morgue and school were located in the center of the village... Caskets for killed people were made of military boxes of GRAD missiles. During the breaks between lessons children were collecting sticks for the school stove placed in the work room, where coffins were made. They visited hospital, where they could eat something and talk to wounded people. There I began taking photographs, which I called “military boxes”. During Karabakh War boxes of shells and missiles were used for making houses, windows, walls, floors but mainly they were used for making coffins. It was the absurdity of war – people make guns and shells, which kill other people and meanwhile boxes of shells and missiles are used for making coffins for the dead . . .
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