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Senior Sergeant Hovhannes Antonyan, who graduated with honors from the North Atlantic Alliance’s “Combat Medic” course, is as confident as Narek. This was an unprecedented war in nature, the unification of our nation in supporting the fighters.
– Do you know what force the support of our people was during the war? How did we feel everyone’s care and warmth? It was indescribable… I was on vacation, there was an accident. It was the day of my grandmother’s funeral when my friends called. “It is number 1.” I asked, “Are we going?” They did not know yet. I said, as soon as you know, tell me, I will join you. A little later Mheryan called. “We’re going”: As soon as I remembered, I put it in my “alarm” bag, shaved and left. In 20 minutes the boys and I moved to Ishkhanadzor. Why am I telling this? I want to express our great gratitude to our people. We had what we forgot to take with us when we got there. And most importantly, we felt the warmth with which they made it all. We did not feel the need for anything: food, warm clothes, even sweets, cigarettes, everything, everything. I remembered a funny incident. One day after leaving, I came back tired, took the cigarette in my hand, and read on it. “Come back so we can get married” and a phone number was written: I am married, I have three daughters, the eldest is twelve years old, the youngest is two and a half. I laughed.
– What is the source of this powerful will, when your relatives, wife, three daughters are waiting for you at home, and you have to save the lives of others several times a day, the danger of death in front of your eyes?
– First of all, you know that what you do, you do for the future of your children, so that they live in peace and have a Homeland. There are many nations in the world today that do not have a state. The Assyrians, our Yezidi brothers, for whom Armenia is a second homeland. By the way, our Yezidis fought very, very well, very strong. How did our boys, our young soldiers, understand all this? I do not remember a single case when our wounded soldiers, aged 18 or 19, were moaning in pain. There was a case when I removed a very deep shard from the body, and not a single mask. I ask, “Did they inject painkillers?” He says, “No!” I wonder. “How are you coping?” In the summer, we said goodbye to the same guys from the central team. We looked at everyone as children… And on the battlefield they were the strongest, bravest, most mature men.
… The most difficult were our feelings when the opportunities to transport the wounded were limited, and when we got there, we saw that there were more wounded. We have to make a choice. During the training, of course, we learned to prioritize how to “sort” the wounded, but in reality everything is much more difficult. Calculate the probability of being saved, save a person’s life. This is one of the most important principles in medicine. It is possible that the wounded person will live without a limb or limbs in the future, but at that moment you should only think about saving his life. We did not comply with this rule. We tried to do the impossible to “live” and save our limbs. Another important principle of combat therapy is to take care of your own life. One platoon is included in one platoon. In fact, before each exit we were well aware that we might not return. There are areas during combat operations where a medic should not enter but we always crossed those zones. To say that we were not afraid would be a lie, but when you realize the potential of your work, the fear becomes secondary.
“Narek, we used to go out a lot together,” Hovhannes looks at his fighting friend with pity. He also remembers the “Gates of Hell”. We moved without pain relief. There was no time. We did not bring back everyone with comforts, but we took everyone to a safe place.
… We had a few minutes of free time, our Mher Mheryan was holding a shovel and digging a hole in the back of the tent. I was a little humorous about security. I took off my clothes before going to bed, I was just lying down. If I am going to die, at least as a human being, I will die calmly. Mher was digging a hole, and I was circling around, picking on him. “Are you digging our hole?” He answered mysteriously. “You will see, one day it will be needed.” He finished the job, and the very next day, when artillery fire was fired at us, we all jumped into the pit. … Our poor Mheryan Mher had no place left…
In the first days we were not familiar with the place at all. During the day, when we were going to the exit, we were still able to orient ourselves to some extent, but in the darkness of the night… One night they called and said that we should be with the head of the corps medical service near the village of Havslu. He was driving the car. In the dark, sometimes we turned on the lights for a moment. “One hundred meters to the right, one hundred meters to the left, we see you, go ahead…”, the contactors were guiding us. We went in the direction they said and found the soldier we were looking for. The enemy had hit the cannon, the soldier was left under it. Somehow we brought him out. He could not feel his legs. Fortunately, the injury was not very serious.
One day Mheryan and I went to the border guard. We were in two cars. There were many wounded. Standing stunned, we looked at who to take and who to leave. We often came from quite a distance. In this case, we had to make a decision based on the probability of living according to the injured. This is the most difficult decision. One of the wounded died that day on the way. No such thing has happened before… You start blaming yourself. Well, everything was right, why did it happen… But… as they say, not everything is in our hands…
Our doctors did an incredible, fabulous job. Each of them is an extraordinary human being. We have a doctor, our resuscitator-anesthesiologist, Harutyun Sukiasyan, who even found a survivor among the “dead”, even if he felt a light heartbeat in the wounded man’s thumb, he resurrected him… It is not in vain that his name is Harutyun. He never gave up, never. He was saying. “Let no one come to replace me. I will stay here with you until the end.” And he stayed until the last day.
The boys go on: Harut is different, a rare doctor, a man. I had heard about him again, I wanted to do an interview, but he flatly refused. Well, there are those who tell about good deeds. Narek remembers: A wounded man was brought. The body was already frozen, no sign of life. The doors of Uaz were opened, Harut approached the wounded man, “one look, one touch on his body” was enough to record. “Brother, this is a cuckoo sick, what the heck?” And as soon as he started doing artificial heart massage in the car, he brought the wounded man back “from that world”. We took him to the hospital in a sitting position…
The engineer of our battalion, Ara Grigoryan, was doing a great job,” Narek continues. “He is a 40-year-old soldier, captain. Throughout the field hospital, any technical issues were resolved on their own. He was not tired. We used to say, “Ara Grigorich, okay, that’s enough, calm down a bit.” He answered modestly. “Do not call me Ara Grigorich. I’m your friend.” Our reverence for that superman is so great!
All our doctors were wonderful: Hambardzum, Karapet, others… In addition to doing their duty, they did the impossible…
There are no words about Daniel Maratich. Not only did he lead the medical staff brilliantly, but he treated every soldier, every wounded person like his own child, with inexhaustible love, one could say like a mother. He cleaned, washed the wounds with his hands, the dusty, dirty bodies: There is a lot to tell, many images of his human nature come to my mind at the moment, but you can not say everything… In a word, a rare doctor and man.
Sergeants Mher Mheryan and Edgar join the conversation.
“We were not the only medics there,” says Mher. “Military knowledge was often helpful. We were shooters, soldiers, officers. We always went to the exit with our weapons. We knew what to do if we had to. The Jrakan hospital was still there. We took patients from the medical center there. I was with our driver Levon that day. We had not yet reached the military unit when the enemy plane started bombing the area. We immediately got out of the car to avoid being targeted and lay down in a pit. What do I see soon after? Under those bombings, Lyovik came out of the hole, stood in the middle of the street and loaded his gun. He raised his weapon and waited. “What was he waiting for?” Mheryan laughs. “I shout, ‘Levon, run, what can you do with your gun?’ The plane made several rounds over our heads, but we went unnoticed. We managed to pick up the wounded and come back. Hey, we had drivers like that. Our 22-23-year-old Lyovik and Sergey came from the reserve. Each of their actions was heroic. Without much experience, they are strong people in spirit, very strong.
Mher is one of our wonderful medics who served in peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and went through the April Four-Day War, about whom I once wrote a story. Mher is in a hurry somewhere. We say goodbye to him, and Narek remembers another interesting incident.
– We brought a soldier to a field hospital. He was in a shock, he did not speak a word, he did not move. I talked to him, no reaction. In general, when we bring the wounded, we must remove their clothesl, if there was no way, we cut them, took off our uniforms, examined them from head to toe so as not to ignore any injuries. There were so many patients that day, we could not make it. I asked, “Are you hurt?” He looked at me vaguely. I started to take off the clothes and suddenly I saw a sweater with a Turkish label under the uniform. I immediately went to Mheryan. “Mher, come, look, who this is? Is what I see normal?” Mher saw, and he too became worried. The man started showing signs of involuntary anxiety. His pupils were largened. He was in shock, he could not speak, but he also understood that he was in a bad condition. I ask, “Are you Armenian?” He does not speak again. I takes his military book, the name is Armenian. Later, when he came out of shock, we learned that his brother had died right next to him….
“One night a young man came. He brought his wounded brother,” Hovik recalls. “I don’t know if they were volunteers or soldiers.” Unfortunately, his brother had already died. He clapped his hands on his knees and said, “I didn’t make it.” Leaving his brother’s body with us, he drove away to save the life of another wounded man.
The memories brought the boys back to the hardest feelings of those days.
“Until the end, even when we retreated, we always hoped that we would go back,” says Hovik. “Mher and I decided to have a house in Ishkhanadzor.” We asked Lusine, an outpatient doctor, “What do I need to live here?” She said: “Let’s wait for the end, you don’t need anything. You will come and live. ” We were very close to those places. We do not accept the loss…
Our doctor Lusine Sargsyan is an extraordinary person. Her husband is a military man, I think, a commander. She is a “strong girl”. She would find whater needed. She even brought a refrigerator and a washing machine to the hospital. Suddenly she came and asked. “Hey guys, aren’t you hungry?” We used to say, “Yes, it would be good.” Suddenly she came with barbecue and stew. We wondered, “Lusine, where did you get this?” “It’s not your business, eat, just be good.” Until the last moment, when news was already reaching that the enemy was in Ishkhanadzor, our hero Lusine was by our side.
Sergeant Edgar has been to peacekeeping missions three times in Afghanistan and once in Kosovo. He was one of the first in the training of therapists, he also has a trained psychologist.
“This time we were fighting an army of weird ‘robots,'” says Edgar. “They injected their drugs and came forward without pain.” There was a case when Ishkhanadzor was already under the control of the enemy, one of us passed under the nose of the Azerbaijanis, reached Kubatlu, they did not know that he was Armenian.
Our boys… I was in pain, but I was trying to lift their spirits. I even accompanied the seriously injured with humor and jokes. As soon as we brought it, we contacted them again about the new wounded. Every second was precious. The condition of the wounded could have worsened in minutes…
Our only concern often was that the stretcher handle would suddenly slip out of my hands. If we did not remind each other, we could go hungry for days without sleeping.
There have been many stories, we have gone through many hardships, but one case in particular impressed me, the only time I was really scared. The head of the medical service, Vardan Ghushyan, had called for the wounded to be brought from Havslu (the fiercest fighting was taking place there). He was going to drive the car. It was dangerous, he did not take the driver. The wounded were to be brought to the Ural. We reached the outskirts of Havslu, from where we were to be taken to the wounded by the Urals. We saw Ural, we stopped, Vardan and I got out of the car, I turned around to see our other car was standing. Our youngest newcomer was Manuk. I was surprised because I ordered them to wait in the rear about 15 km away. Our Manuk was braver than all of us. As a psychologist, I would never have guessed from his appearance how much courage there was in that boy. I asked angrily, “Who told you to come?” He answered. “Why is my life more important than yours? I’ll be where you are.” We took 11 wounded people out of Ural. The head of the medical service, Vardan, insisted that he would go further with my Ua” and enter Havslu. I tried to stop. “If they said the Urals would meet, what is the point of going further?” It was 50-100 meters to the danger zone, where the enemy could spot and hit the car from a height. But he was unshakable. He got in the UAZ and left. Manuk and I “sorted” the wounded. I immediately sent 5 seriously injured people with him. I zigzagged the other, relatively lightly wounded, and we started walking backwards. Soon the sound of a car approaching in the dark was heard. I understood from the voice that it was Ural. I tried to stop, but it did not stop. I had a surgical light on my head, I turned it on, he noticed it and stopped. I told the driver, “Take the injured to Ishkhanadzor hospital.” I stayed. I had to wait for the return of our Uazi, Vardan. Then I started walking to the back. I walked that way for 6 kilometers. There was still more than 40 km to Ishkhanadzor. I was not afraid that I might fall into the blockade, that I might be hit by a ball. But I was terrified that our people might suddenly hit me. When I said I was really scared, I meant that. It would be ridiculous to be killed from a friendly fire … After a while I noticed that they were giving a light signal from the front. They were our troops. I shouted, “I am from Ishkhanadzor hospital.” It was the detachment of our people from Gyumri. I explained that I was waiting for my UAZ. Finally, I noticed two small “bright eyes” approaching the road. He reached us. It was Vartan in the UAZ. He somehow got out from under the terrible shelling. One of the wounded was placed in the car, he did not have time to examine, had barely left the danger zone. He thought he would be dead. I opened the door, turned on the light, and suddenly a pair of eyes stared at me. “Wow, are you alive?” How happy we were! Another life was saved. We told the medical staff in Ishkhanadzor. “Soon, we brought a wounded general.” “What general? He is a young boy.” He was a general for us…
The boys are silent. There are so many memories. Which one to tell? During those 44 days they lived a whole stormy life…
Next, it is Manuk’s turn to tell his “story of fulfillment”, the youngest medic in the field hospital, the “little one of the house” …
To be continued
By KNAR TADEVOSYAN
Photos by AREG VARDANYAN and the personal archive of the medics