Vardan Tadevosyan: “I left my heart in Nagorno Karabakh”

CSI’s partner in Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh), Vardan Tadevosyan, who was minister of health and ran the CSI-supported Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre, fled the region along with the entire Armenian Christian population following Azerbaijan’s military offensive in September. In this interview he describes the trauma of leaving his homeland and sketches his plans for the future.

The rehabilitation team with Vardan Tadevosyan (back row, middle) and patients. the lady cox rehabilitation centre/fb

How are you?

I’m OK; trying to recover from the existing realities and start my life anew in the Republic of Armenia. I was always sure that we would not leave Artsakh but would continue to live there. But now that is impossible; maybe Azerbaijanis will live there, but not us.

How afraid were you that Azerbaijan would abduct you and imprison you in Baku as it did other former politicians from Nagorno Karabakh?

Of course, there was always the risk that I might be arrested as Artsakh’s minister of health. Besides, I have worked with [British parliamentarian and vocal Nagorno Karabakh supporter] Caroline Cox for almost 25 years, which was a further cause for concern that I would be arrested. However, having arrived at the border, I was more concerned about my patients and employees who were with me, that they would not face problems because of me and would arrive safely in Armenia.

Could you briefly describe your last days in Nagorno Karabakh, from the start of the Azerbaijani attack on September 19 until you arrived safely in Armenia?

This was a very tough time, especially the 3-4 days following the one-day war, when I was responsible for the wounded. There was no electricity and no internet connection, which made things very difficult. But the most terrible thing was when a gasoline depot exploded on September 25, resulting in a large number of dead and injured. It was a relief when we were able to transport the seriously injured to Armenia by helicopter and car. Then I could at least be sure that I was not leaving any seriously injured people behind when I left.

What was the most frightening moment during the exodus?

My biggest fear was that I would be arrested at the border. I also didn’t know what things would be checked, and our cars had Caroline Cox’s name on them, which also put me and my team’s safety at risk. The most worrying thing was how I could look the Azerbaijani border guards in the eye.

Whereabouts in Armenia do you live now?

I live in Yerevan with my family. When I arrived in Yerevan, it was the first time I had met my grandson, who was born a month ago. I hadn’t been in Yerevan for more than 10 months [owing to Azerbaijan’s nine-month blockade of Nagorno Karabakh].

Do you know what happened to the rehabilitation center in Stepanakert?

No, I don’t know. We left the doors open so that no one would break them down. And we turned off the lights and the water. We left the Centre in such a state that any specialist can enter and use it. I was the last one to leave the Centre. We left everything in perfect condition. We had spent 25 years building up the Centre, and now that it was fully developed, neither the patients nor my team could get to enjoy it. We had to leave. I left my heart there and hope very much that all the work I put in will bring benefit to people with disabilities in the future.

How many patients were there in the Centre on the day before the attack? Did all of them arrive safely in Armenia?

There were 22 inpatients, more than 30 outpatients and 50 employees at the Centre. On September 19, when they were having lunch, the attack began. Everyone panicked and went down to hide in the basement, without finishing their meal. Some ran to the schools to look for their children. The patients all arrived safely in Armenia, some in a better condition than others, and most of them settled in Yerevan.

Were you able to find out where they are living now?

Obviously, I don’t know the whereabouts of all of them, but we are in contact with all the patients who are highly dependent on us and our care. We have  resumed home visits, providing essential medical supplies that our patients need for life.

We have already visited 10 people, and in December we plan to visit up to 150 patients. In addition, specialists from the Rehabilitation Centre have been visiting the National Center for Burns for the past month to help treat the young men who were burned in the gas explosion in Artsakh. They have treated more than 60 people and will continue to do so because these boys will need rehabilitation treatment for many months to come.

Are there any specific plans to set up a new rehab center in Armenia? Where would this be built?

At the moment, I am working to establish a new rehabilitation center. We are working with architects to draw up a proposal.

We are looking for an area not far from Yerevan, about 5,000 square meters, and hope to have a garden where people will not only rest, but also engage in occupational therapy and gardening, as well as spend time with pets. That is, we plan not only a medical center, but an integration center.

What is your vision?

My vision is to have a center that will reunite all my specialists and be the center that we always dreamed of having. We should be able to help our compatriots especially who were displaced from Artsakh and who are in dire need. But the center would also serve citizens of Armenia. My teammates and I really want to work together again. I have worked with some of them for 25 years. Naturally we would very much like to restore what we put effort and energy into for so many years.

Do you have any hope that you will be able to return to Nagorno Karabakh one day?

There is always hope and it will not die out. We will always want to return to Artsakh to repair what is broken and live there. My loved ones and I are very hopeful that we will return one day. As I said, I left my heart there.

Here, it is a struggle for us to reinvent ourselves, and the more days pass, the more difficult it becomes. I hope to recover quickly and start building the new center because working together will inspire me and my colleagues. That is why we really hope that we will be able to continue the work that we were doing in Artsakh. Since I left Artsakh, I have spent every day in Armenia, but every night I’m in Artsakh in my thoughts. It is not easy to live with the memories.


The Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre

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