The military WILIS (a Russian-made SUV) rushes through the borderline dusty road followed by a trail of endless cloud. There is the line of contact between Karabakh and Azeri armed forces on the one side of the road, while on the other side there are the Armenian military positions.
The white cross, mosaic made of stones and the writing “I have the honor’’, located near the trenches stands out amid the burnt soil resembling a desert sand. There are numerous similar chapels, crosses and corners of worship [in the military positions]. They say, their number has increased after the 2016 April War.
32-year-old lieutenant-colonel Nver Nersisyan, who participated in the fierce battles on the northern front during the April war says, that ‘if a soldier lights a candle and prays for his family in the military position, don’t expect him to retreat’. He believes it is his cross which he received during baptism that saved him.
There are around 8 churches and chapels in the defense regions of Karabakh. There are 15 diacons who serve in the military units of Karabakh Defense Army. They even perform baptism here.
Gurgen Melkonyan, a 23-year-old soldier from Yerevan, says that the connection between the church and the soldier deepens in the army.
“While in your civic life you could rely on friends or relatives, you are on your own here. I think the church and the religion assist in the process of becoming more self-reliant.”
There are dogs besides the soldiers, who carry their military duty too. You can see this scene in almost every military position.
It is a tradition to leave your cross in the chapel of the military position once you finish your service. The soldiers say that these crosses saved the ones who wore them not once.
Gagik Avanesyan, 19, is from Avetaranots village of Karabakh and is not baptised. The cross he wears is a present from his brother. They served together for 6 months, and now his brother has finished the service for more than half a year. “When I was going to a military position for the first time, my brother gave me this cross, telling me to never take it off and it would save me”, remembers Gagik Avanesyan.
The dim light shining through the tiny window of the resting room of the soldiers fall on the rifles, the chess board with a small wooden, hand-made church on it.
The chapel of the tank regiment number N of Karabakh Defense Army was opened in 2018. Diacon Hayk Harutyunyan says that the chapes was made of anything that just could be found, so it’s not a coincidence that the candle-holders are empty cases of tank shells.
On Sundays soldiers have more spare time to attend a church for prayer.
In one of the workshop of number N tank regiment there is a trumpet laying in it’s half-open case on the table. There is also a gipsum statuette of the holy Godmother drying on the other table. 19-year-old Leonid Chuguryan is the trumpet-player of the orchestra. He carves gypsum statuettes during his spare time. He learnt the craft from one of the soldiers who already finished his service.
This angel statuette located in the church yard in a different regiment is carved by a father of one of officers. They say that it’s carved of a very tough type of marble. The author didn’t know where to erect it, and decided to put it here after seeing a dream.
Diacon Norayr says that aside from liturgy all the other church holidays are celebrated here. There is also a spiritual corner inside the regiment, made possible due to the efforts of the soldiers themselves; they brought literature and etc.
For 25-year-old Paylak Ozmanyan, an ethnic Yazidi from Armavir region of Armenia, there is only one god, while each has his name for him. “We, yazidis, worship the sun. Though we attend churches here, we light a candle and pray whichever language we feel like, either Armenian or Kurmanji”.
Every soldier has a bible, or a prayer book in his tiny drawer. Sometimes they also read bible amid other books during their spare time.
Photo was taken in 2016
The religiousness is more outlined on the line of contact. The soldiers themselves explain that it related to the higher risk of danger. Every new-comer brings his piece of belief, in a form of a cross, an icon, a small hand-made church or a bible.