Growing up in the Shadow of War

By Gaiane Khachatrian

The recent devastating events in Nagorno-Karabakh shook all Armenians living in every corner of the world. This was not the first time that the nation witnessed such horrific acts of violence, and it certainly brought back some emotional memories for many who lived through the atrocities of war in the past.

In every conflict, it is the most vulnerable members of society who suffer the most. For children, war threatens the security of a stable home, puts families at risk, and disrupts education, crushing dreams and opportunities. How do you erase the harsh history and integrate the “dark” experiences you have had into the reality of your daily life?

Here is the heartbreaking story of an inspiring Armenian woman, a steadfast supporter of the AIWA – SF affiliate, and a very special person I am proud to call a dear friend. Looking back at her own childhood, she realized that her experiences were very different from what one would consider normal at the age of eleven.

War has a different meaning for me. It is beyond pictures and videos that the media continually feeds us with. I lived through war and lost friends and neighbors that were part of my life. I was only eleven when the war started between Azerbaijan and Armenia over a territorial dispute in the early 1990s. My family was residing in the region of Tavush, the northern part of Armenia, bordering Azerbajian.

It was not easy at the age of eleven to clearly comprehend why one day we could have a normal life, go to school, follow our daily activities, and the next day our lives would change forever… Your nights are spent in bunkers, your math skills are developed based on counting the bombs by the sound, your father leaves the house at night and you don’t know whether you will ever see him again, and the entire winter is spent with the apartment windows covered in plastic, because replacing the glasses would make no sense. They could shatter any moment from the continued bombings.

I will never forget the day when my mother, who was the Attorney General of the region at the time, and my father, Head of the Military, came home for lunch one day. That was one of the happiest days for me and my two brothers, because my parents were rarely home during the day. They had serious responsibilities to carry out at the time of war. Having the opportunity to sit down together and have lunch as a family was an event to celebrate!

I had to make a quick trip to the nearby store to buy bread. My brothers were playing outside – it was a beautiful sunny day. Seconds passed, as I left the store holding the bread with a smile on my face, when I heard the most excruciating noise. Fire started coming up behind our five-store-building. I stood for a minute dumbfounded, and then started running as fast as I could. When I approached the building, most of the residents were outside, but several were already dead, including some of our friends, children between ages 8-12. There were survived neighbors who lost their arms and legs, and were immediately transported to the hospital on my father’s military service car. We were instructed to go back to the bunkers not to see the body parts scattered all over the area. My uncle was there to help the victims. He was traumatized for the rest of his life.

That same day my parents took us to my uncle’s house, which was at a different part of the town, and the likelihood of the bombs hitting the area was less. We drove in my father’s car, the same car that transported our injured neighbors to the hospital. Sitting on blood-soaked seats may sound disturbing, but at some point you become emotionally numb. You realize that your life has changed forever. You will never be the same…

As the situation became more and more intense, many parents chose to send their children to Yerevan, or other regions in the country, where they would be safe. Our family could not leave. My father would need to have the permission of the General Head of Military. Had we left, it would imply that things were getting out of control, and it would create panic in the town. The general thinking in the community was that, if the Alaverdyan family was still around, then the situation could not be extreme. We stayed, and we survived…

Years passed, and my father was diagnosed with stage III lung cancer. There was no hope for him to survive this time… We lost him on April 28, 2012. He was 60. I miss him every day…”


I truly cherish the friendship I formed with Astine, and am inspired daily by her outlook on life.  She has deep gratitude for everything, things we often take for granted.

In the wake of the current crisis in Armenia, our hearts ache as we think of those who are experiencing this conflict first hand – soldiers, victims, children, families – all who will forever have the imprint of these horrific experiences in their heart, spirit, and mind.

Armenians have always been, and will continue to be survivors. We may be a tiny country, a small population, I am reminded by William Saroyan’s famous words “I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost….Go ahead, destroy Armenia….See if you can do it…..” They have tried and they are trying today, but just like Astine, we will rise strongly.

••• About Astine Alaverdyan •••
no borderAstine was born and raised in Armenia. She received her Bachelor of Law Degree from the Yerevan State University (YSU) in Armenia, and worked at the Supreme Court of Armenia upon graduating from the university. In 2007 she was accepted to UC Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law, and earned her LLM degree with concentration on Securities and Corporate Law. She currently lives in the Bay Area and serves as a Corporate Counsel at PDF Solutions, Inc. On Father’s Day in 2012, Astine honored his father’s memory and wrote an article about him, which was published at the San Francisco Examiner. Here is the link to the article: http://www.examiner.com/article/my-dad-was-a-combat-veteran-and-a-hero-life


To learn more about AIWA, please visit www.aiwainternational.org.  To get involved with the AIWA SF affiliate, please visit www.aiwasanfrancisco.com or send an email to aiwasanfrancisco@gmail.com.


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