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Yerevan’s Christmas Fireworks Ignite Trauma in Displaced Artsakh Armenians

Mary Asatryan traumatized by the sounds of fireworks in Yerevan
photo: Mary Asatryan | @mary8black

Today, Armenia's capital, Yerevan, marked the start of the holiday season by illuminating its primary Christmas tree. The festive lighting, accompanied by fireworks and live performances, attracted local officials, citizens, and tourists. However, the celebratory fireworks had a distressing impact on over 100,000 forcibly displaced Armenians from Artsakh, reportedly exacerbating their trauma associated with the September ethnic cleansing.

Among those affected is Mary Asatryan, assistant to the Human Rights Defender of Artsakh, a diasporan repatriate to Artsakh, and forcibly displaced in September, who shared her experience with The Armenian Report:

Mary articulated the significant distress felt by those displaced from Artsakh, citing the triggering effect of loud noises like fireworks on their sensitive and painful memories. She emphasized the lasting impact of the conflict, which not only resulted in the loss of homes and lives but also left emotional scars. The fireworks, resembling sounds of explosions, ignited panic and renewed trauma among the affected population.

“The fireworks, and generally any loud noise, adversely affect the forcibly displaced people from Artsakh, as they trigger their most sensitive and painful memories and hinder their smooth recovery. Moreover, it hurts the feelings of people, who have just three months ago lost not only lost their entire lives, homes and property, but also some lost their loved ones to the war of 19 September and the deadly explosion at the gasoline station on 25 September.

Almost every person from Artsakh that I know is now suffering from PTSD to some extent, even without being officially diagnosed with it. This becomes obvious, when you just look at how these people react to noises, including myself. And here we speak about some 150,000 people, who comprise more than 10% of the entire population of Armenia. So, we have no other option but to be inclusive and take into account their feelings too, as they are equal members to our society. 

So, the issue is that people are extremely sensitive to any kind of loud noises right now, especially the ones which remind them of the bombing and shelling, the memory of which is too fresh yet. It is too early to speak about the recovery of people at this stage. One should understand that people have experienced four wars in their life, coupled with almost a year-long blockade and complete isolation from the world. For example, I can't stay outside during the traffic hours, I get anxious in crowded places, and I constantly want to find a calm and quiet place instead. Loud noises affect me, not even speaking about noises similar to explosion. Fireworks have a very similar sound to shelling, especially if they happen uninterruptedly for several minutes. It is simply impossible to distinguish their sound from the sound of the explosion, if one doesn't see or know that it's a firework,” wrote Mary to The Armenian Report.

She recounted her own recent experience, describing how the loud noises caused a panic attack, reminiscent of the conflict's traumatic events. The distressing effect was intensified by the coincidence that marked exactly three months since the tragic events.

“So, this happened to me today, when I was sitting in a room with the lights off, trying to take some rest in silence. I was home alone. Once I started to hear those horrible sounds, I got scared and I thought that the war started again. I thought it was an air attack of Azerbaijan on Yerevan or somewhere near the capital, as the sound could be heard all around. So, I got my first panic attack after 19 September, all the same symptoms - tremor, cold, nervous tic, rapid heart pulse, which eventually didn't let me sleep tonight. I didn't know that there was a big celebration planned in the city center of Yerevan with fireworks involved. The sounds were of the exact same nature as the shelling of Artsakh by Azerbaijan on September 19-20, which I experienced for 24 hours non-stop. I ran to the window to see from which side they shell, and that was the moment I realized it was a firework show. To be honest, it hit me even harder, because this was organized by the government of Armenia and, apparently, a lot of people showed up to that event. For me, it was the symbol of the collective ignorance and indifference to the suffering of our compatriots from Artsakh, who live side by side with us. Besides, as the Armenian tradition has it, the mourning of people who pass away normally take one year, and at least during this period it is not recommended to organize big festivities. Especially if such a devastating national tragedy happens to our country - the war and occupation of Artsakh, it is simply disrespectful towards both the living and the dead to host such large-scale and noisy celebrations.

All my friends from Artsakh would text and check on each other during the entire evening, making sure that everybody was alright. But in fact, nobody was alright tonight. It triggered the worst memories of all of us. The trauma is too fresh yet, and today, by a cruel twist of fate, marked exactly three months since the tragic events. After all, people deserve and need some time for their recovery and mourning, and we must respect their feelings as a society. This is why many feel neglected and abandoned by the government of Armenia, because people of Artsakh expect not only financial assistance, but, most importantly, psychological support and understanding,” Mary continued.

Mary highlighted the need for understanding, compassion, and respect toward the feelings and pain of those affected, urging societal support and psychological assistance, beyond financial aid, for the people of Artsakh.

“I just want each and every Armenian to realize what their brothers and sisters from Artsakh are still going through, what they are feeling, what they are struggling with. We must be more attentive towards them, more compassionate and conscious, especially when interacting directly with people from Artsakh. All their feelings are valid and no one has the moral right to step over them. We have only one Homeland, where we have equal right to live safely and peacefully here, so we must respect each other, including each other's pain and grieving, in order to build a healthy society,” concluded Mary.

This testimony sheds light on the ongoing emotional struggles faced by forcibly displaced Armenians from Artsakh, emphasizing the necessity for empathy and solidarity within Armenian society.


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