My route often passes through Isakov Avenue. I see the area of Yerablur continuing to expand. The cemetery is running out of space with the new graves extending towards the avenue.

A feeling of uncertainty is roaming in the city after war in search of an emotional refuge.

Yerablur is that very refuge for the parents of the fallen soldiers.

In a daily ritual, they “call on” their children, talk to them, drink coffee with them, talk about their dreams, and leave sweets on the tombstones. They write letters to their sons and cherish the last objects found after their death. These relics connect the soldiers with their parents. They speak of the last moment of life that halted between past and present.

The photograph found in the soldier’s breast pocket after the 2020 war – depicting his father, mother and himself – which I am holding in my hand takes on a new meaning.

I am cautious lest the burnt image be broken into pieces. I take a picture of it. There is the smiling family “looking” at me, and in the bottom center of the photograph there is a hole from the shrapnel…

(In 1997, I was serving in the army. A friend’s family – I used to live with while in Moscow – had sent me a letter. I could smell a familiar scent from the paper. Time and again I would smell it, and it was different from the smell of Horadiz heat, soil and sweat. I was inhaling the scent to recall myself prior to the army service.)

I was wondering what the soldier was thinking about under siege and bombing, sitting in a trench when he took this photo out of his pocket…
The soldier’s last text message to his mother.

“My day started with the blue of the sky. My son sent me my portion of blue…

…Your sister went to school… You were to take her there… You wanted to come for the vacations to fulfill your duty as a brother and make your dream come true. Alas!

Today I will not talk about my emotions. It is hard, but I have to.

Let today be a day of an extraordinary and cosmic communication of a sister and brother, and let Mher protect us. Let Anahit’s white balloons released to the sky reach you, our smiley boy․․․”

Mother’s letter to his fallen son (fragment)

Brothers Artur and Arsen from the city of Martuni died on the same day, in different locations. Their bodies were found in 2021.
An inscription on the fallen soldier’s cigarette box reads: “One thousand reasons to love you”. Inscriptions on cigarettes read: “Reasons to love”.
A gift to the soldier from his girlfriend
An unexploded bomb in the cemetery of Ivanian village..
Memorial corner of a fallen soldier in Stepanakert.
The flag that was handed to parents with the body of the fallen soldier.
After the 44-day war, people set their homes on fire on the territories to be handed over to Azerbaijan.
One of the soldier’s favorite things he used to keep during his service.

My dear Gev, my inexplicable and incurable love,

I am writing a letter to you, my son, from earth to heaven. You know how much I miss you. I miss your smile, your gaze, and the feeling of happiness you gave to our family…

Sadly the distance separated us. You left for heaven, leaving me in this reckless world.

My dear Gev, I feel your presence and your immense love for me in this inexplicable agony, expectation and void. I try to be strong for you… I live to keep you alive, my sweet angel, my Gev…”

You and your new friends who left their dreams unfulfilled are the bright lights that shine on earth from your new ‘home’.

You know, my son, when the stars come out at night, I spot you there. I ask you questions and wait for an answer… I know one day you will see from above the homeland you dreamt about… Eventually, the day will come when we meet. I will embrace you with my longing heart and sorrowful soul, and tell you how long I have been waiting for this meeting․․․ And we will live together in your ‘new home’ in the blue sky…

From your missing, loving, mourning mother Tamara

Mother’s letter to his fallen son (fragment)

A childhood photo of the soldier’s girlfriend found in his wallet.
Portrait of the fallen soldier commissioned by his father.
Soldier’s childhood photograph.

Hello my dear Dav, my king… You know how much I miss you, my brave son. I miss the days you would call me and ask, “What’s up, mom?” And my heart would melt and I would shower you with my love and say, “My boy, let me say hello to you…”

You know I was waiting for you so long. I was dreaming that you would open the door, come in and throw yourself into my tormented arms… I didn’t live up to that moment. Instead I feel pain, anguish and helplessness… Eternal longing…

Dav, my precious son, from the day your are gone, your mother no longer exists.

You were my strength and my weakness… Now you keep me alive and give strength through your immortal soul… My day starts and ends with thoughts of you. I am trying to ‘live’ you… You are more than ever present, my strong boy. Your actions and words live through your mother… As long as I live, you will live…

To my bright son Davit Zakaryan form his forever loving and longing mother…

Mother’s letter to his fallen son (fragment)

New shoes for a soldier he was to wear after returning from deployment
It is common to see soldiers’ service photos in the families of the deceased.
The soldier kept a drawing he made in his wallet.
The first New Year in Yerablur Military Pantheon after the war.
Personal belongings of the deceased.

Hello my Mish,

My son, I decided to write a letter to you.

You know how much I miss you. I kiss your photos every day. I have been waiting for your call for more than seven months of silence…

Sometimes it seems to me that you will enter the house and hug me. I will feel your breath, we will chat about our regular topics…

My Mish, lots of things have changed here, and lots of things are still the same…

Gor goes to the kindergarten. He learns new things day by day and everybody is happy with him.

Your sister tries to console me. She talks to me, makes jokes and is always by my side.

My Misha, where is your promised call…? I don’t get it, you don’t call me.

Your friends came over the vacation, then went back… Why didn’t you come? I am cross with you… I am cross with God… How can I not feel hurt when God took the most precious from me – my first-born son, my universe…?

Oh, my boy, sometimes I think if you could only flee, hide, but be with me today. But then I realize you couldn’t do that. A man like you would never hide from the enemy. He would save his friend’s life at the expense of his own… Forgive me my boy for everything, forgive me if one day I go insane…

Your loving, longing and desperate mother…

Mother’s letter to his fallen son (fragment)

Positions. The soldiers carry out engineering works in the background.
I feared that it would be hard to approach the parents of the deceased. I thought they would be reluctant to speak about their loss or answer questions I was concerned about, such as how did they deal with anguish and their sons’ absence?

Most of the parents I met at Yerablur would approach me first and talk about their sons. It seemed that speaking out would turn absence into presence. Impossibility to be close to the fallen son was replaced with the act of talking about him.

The parents seem to be drifting in grief unconsciously, in an intangible undeniable reality.

Before starting our conversation, I am thinking how I should control the distance between the parent and myself. Questions disappear when the fallen soldier’s mother sits in front of me and ‘continues’. We have never talked before, but she ‘continues’ as if she was talking before my appearance, and now she carries on the conversation and I simply ‘join’ her.

It often seems to me memory is the primary space that has occupied the psyche, where the past no longer exists. The division of time has turned everything into ‘before’ and ‘after’. Grief is so dear to heart here, while I am a stranger drifting between an unfinished dialogue of a mother and son, where meanings are never lost.

Time is frozen here, and war is trapped in the present.