Graphic Credit to Alek Surenian & Karine Eurdekian

Graphic Credit to Alek Surenian & Karine Eurdekian

 

FEMALE FEDAYEEN: WOMEN IN THE ARTSAKH WAR

by: Araxie Cass

At the start of the 1994 Artsakh War, village militias gathered their homemade guns and began to form an army. As chaos encroached the region, Karine Danielyan was one of the first women who decided she would be a fighting force. Full of ambition, she arrived at the recruiting center. It was here that she was told she was not welcome to join the army.

“You’re a woman; we don’t need you here,” the commander said. “Go home and bring us a son.”

Karine was furious.

“I’m human--what’s the difference? Is this only the men’s homeland and not ours? I am the man in my family.”

“All right,” replied the commander incredulously. “I’m going to take apart this Kalashnikov [AK-47], if you can put it back together in under a minute I’ll let you go to training.”

It only took Karine fifty seconds to stand in front of him with a fully functioning Kalashnikov. Humiliated, the commander was forced to let her join. Initially the only female, she worked diligently to earn respect. She performed her duties as a soldier, just as all the men had- while also going above and beyond her line of duty to prove her presence was valid. One day, she had just come back from a three-day break when her commander approached her with some news.

    “I have a surprise for you,” he said.

    “What?” she answered.

Just then, a car pulled up. Four women stepped out of the vehicle. They had all been accepted to join the army.

As the war continued, more women began to join the army as soldiers, snipers, communications workers, and medics. A group of women from Stepanakert joined the force in Shushi and fought alongside the male soldiers as they moved through Artsakh’s forbidding mountains. In the historic liberation of Shushi, the women were there as the tanks came over impossibly perilous mountain routes. These women fought in Karin Tak, Berdadzor, and all other battles of the war.

Karine (left) and her mother (right) pictured in their home.     Photo credit to Kristin Anahit Cass

Karine (left) and her mother (right) pictured in their home.

Photo credit to Kristin Anahit Cass

I broke the wall. The men said they didn’t need us there, but when we were there they fought stronger.

“I broke the wall,” Karine says, looking back. “The men said they didn’t need us there, but when we were there they fought stronger. They trusted us so much. Once when we were washing our hats in the river we told them that the water was hot and they actually believed us! They would never say it to us but I overheard some of the men saying ‘I’m glad our girls are here.’”

Karine was wounded twice during her service. Her second injury was near detrimental. She was hit by a shell- injuring her head, hand, leg, and thigh. She was sent to a hospital in Yerevan, where she remained unconscious for seventeen days. Medical professionals said she had a low chance of survival, but Karine’s mother recognized her daughters strength. Though hospital staff would ask her to leave, she diligently sat by Karine’s side for months. Day after day, she treated her wounds with Artsakh honey. She nursed Karine until she was well again.

Karine’s mother believes that the power of love is what allowed her to heal. Though the people of Artsakh have struggled through many heartaches, they never neglect the strength of human connection.

“I am happy that our children are growing up without fear, speaking Armenian, thinking of peace in Armenia, and that most of our soldiers finish their service and return to their parents,” Karine says.

Today, Karine continues to live in Shushi with her mother in a Soviet-era apartment building that bears its war scars just as she does. She continues to tell the stories of herself and the other Female Fedayeen, whose names often go unrecognized in documentaries and war memorials.

 

 

Kooyrigs would like to express a very special thanks to Kristin Anahit Cass for her contributions to this article.

For similar content, explore Kristin’s photography site & project The New Freedom Fighters: Women and Nonviolent Resistance