When they were forced to flee their house in Martakert in Artsakh, Onik Arakelyan, 78, and his wife Amalya Nalbandyan, 73, hid in the forest for days before they could make it to Stepanakert, and later to Yerevan.
They have now found refuge at VOAH, where they have been since early October. It is also where Onik was able to access much-needed medical care and treatment for his arthritis.
“It’s a nice place, but we want our home back,” said Amalya as she drew a deep breath before adding that the situation has been especially difficult due to COVID-19.
The two were born and raised in Martakert. During the Soviet period, Onik was a competitive runner and received many awards for different Olympic Championships within the USSR. After graduating from Yerevan State Institute of Physical Culture in the early 1970s, he returned to Martakert and started working as a teacher in a local school. There, he met Amalya, who was working as the school’s event organizer. They have three children.
The couple is no stranger to being uprooted, however.
“This is the third time we’ve had to leave our home. We took nothing except for our documents. When the Nagorno-Karabakh War of 1988 started we had to hide in the forest in our pajamas,” said Onik. “When we came back to our house it was in ruins—no doors, no windows, and we had been robbed of everything.”
They had to start over. Then, in 2016, they faced the same situation. They had to flee, only to return to find their house had been robbed again.
Through VOAH, FAR has helped them to find a stable and comforting place to temporarily call home through the tough winter months.
“My son serves in the intelligence service in Stepanakert and he told us that the house was badly damaged, but it can be repaired,” said Amalya. Currently, he is trying to make the arrangements for the repairs so his parents can return as soon as possible.
Onik said that they left their relatives, their neighbors, and friends in Martakert and have not heard a single word from them. “My pomegranate trees must have matured. Who has collected them? Or have they just rotted? We don't know.”