In the beginning of August 2022, the residents of the Aghavno/Zabukh village were given a few days to evacuate and find new homes for themselves. Lying along the Lachin Corridor, the road connecting Armenia to Nagorno Karabakh, the Aghavno village is supposed to be handed to Azerbaijan as soon as Azerbaijan completes the construction of a new road to bypass the village. Before the first Nagorno Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1990, the Aghavno village was populated by Azerbaijanis and known as Zabukh. After the war, the village ended up under Armenian control, settled by Armenians, and renamed Aghavno. The 2020 war in Nagorno Karabakh ended with a ceasefire agreement, which states that several territories will be handed over to Azerbaijan. Aghavno is one of them.   

Caucasus Edition author and film director, Merri Mkrtchyan, traveled to Aghavno to film the process of evacuating from the village from the perspective of children. 

I followed the process of the relocation for more than two weeks. I saw the village continuously being emptied as the locals were packing their homes and transporting their belongings. However, some were not able to take everything, so consequently people burned all the leftovers that they could not transport.

I spent most of the time with children and tried to understand their feelings about the situation. While being highly affected by the second Karabakh war, as some lost their parents and some witnessed bombs falling from the sky during the war itself, children in Aghavno were not very talkative. Nonetheless, there was something very bright in them, something truly strong and full of life. I tried to befriend them and talk to them in order to look at the present through the eyes of the new generation with which I built all my hopes.

The general attitude towards ‘newcomers’ to the village was not as welcoming, as the villagers were stressed and overwhelmed by the intensity of the events happening on the borderline. In the beginning, the presence of the Russian peacekeepers and the perpetual visits of the local police were stressful for me as well. I had to constantly hide my camera as the aggression towards those who were in the village to document the evacuation was steadily growing.

Luckily, after some time the locals started to trust and accept me. I myself started to adjust to a certain lifestyle without electricity and water, yet filled with endless tension, fear and hope. There was no sleep in Aghavno. Nights were dark and heavy. I saw more than 170 people looking at sky and feeling paranoia from the military crafts flying over the village every single night. I saw completely devastated people burning their houses, being both helpless and hopeless. I saw children living under the pressure of the reality they had to deal with. I experienced moments of apathy myself. There were days that I found myself unable to film those who were in such pain. I had moments of mixed emotions, when sometimes I wanted to run away and moments when I would realize that I am attached to these people and their stories, possibly forever.

The last day in Aghavno felt like an illusion. The families whose stories I had followed, the children with whom I spend my days and nights were all gone. The majority of the houses were empty and everything was calm. I looked at the beautiful mountains and hills; I looked at the Azerbaijani graves, behind which stood a huge cross that the locals were planning to remove. I remembered the old lady watering the flowers in her garden just before the last second of leaving the village and her home. I kept thinking about the famous words written on the board that lines the road linking Armenia to Karabakh: it says “Free Artsakh is greeting you”. I kept thinking about the ripe blackberries, the ones across the river Aghavno; I wondered who is possibly going to pick them.