Sweet as honey, salty as tears: starting a better life from scratch. Inna Sargsyan / DAPHNE 

In a small bakery located on the first floor of a high-rise building, everything is as it should be: the roll, the flour, the stoves. Nothing is missing here, still, Inna feels uneasy. Her old house is on her mind, but the house is in the hands of the Turks now. 

The soft dough rises on the oven and solidifies: it resembles Inna’s will, which toughens with each punch.

“I’m upset, but not with people, I’m upset at the fate. I don’t care about what I lost: my house, my shop, my business… Others lost the dearest they had to the war – their children. Why should I cry about my loss? About a house built with stones? We can start anew, create everything from scratch. But people are gone, people… How can I look into the eyes of the children, who lost their fathers? How can I look into the eyes of young women that have become widows?” says Inna. She fled to Yerevan from Hadrut only managing to take a few things with her – the red German mixer – a gift from her son, the photos of her children and two of her recipe books. 

They would never sit down at the table without guests in their big house in Hadrut, she reminisces. The doors of their house were always open for everyone. They had guests from all over the world, and they welcomed everyone with an open heart and a sumptuous table. Inna’s grocery store was the first building everyone saw when entering Hadrut. The store became the last one they closed down during the war.

Hadrut was one of the largest regions in the southeast of Artsakh with an area of 1900 square kilometers, and was never inhabited by Azerbaijanis in its entire history. With a population of over 15,000, Hadrut was one of the most economically developed and most popular tourist destinations in Artsakh. As a result of a trilateral ceasefire agreement signed on November 9, 2020, Hadrut, together with its 43 settlements, came under the control of Azerbaijan.

“When the war broke out, we sent the children to Yerevan, and my husband and I remained in Hadrut. I stayed in the city for 10 more days and left only when I realized that it was impossible to go on. We never closed the grocery for a day. There were two bakeries in the city that baked bread and delivered it to our grocery store, the only open shop in Hadrut where we stopped selling anything else. We laid a big table inside with bread, canned food brought from home, and groceries from the store. I would not let anyone leave until they had eaten enough. Now I think of those who died. They came to do grocery shopping almost every day before the war. One of them used to tell me about his family, another one was upset and opened his heart, the other called from the positions, asking to find a house to rent for his family… It is heartbreaking to think that these boys are gone. My only consolation now is the thought that they had enough to eat as long as I stayed in Hadrut. Who knows, maybe the last thing they ate was the dinner I made,” says Inna.

On September 27, she took an order for gata (traditional Armenian pastry). She prepared the dough in the evening to start baking in the morning. When the war broke out that day, the kneaded dough remained untouched. In the middle of the month, they would usually give products on credit. In early October, they failed to collect the debts for the previous month — 10 million drams. 

Now Inna lives in Yerevan, but she still remembers what she left in each drawer of her shop, she thinks of the fruit in her garden that ripened and there was no one to pick them. Sometimes, when busy with work, Inna looks for the things she had at home on the half-empty shelves of the new bakery.

“Whenever I go shopping here, I always lay eyes on what I had in Hadrut — the same roll, the same knife… Then I think to myself, ‘damn it, what am I doing?’ A few days ago, my husband entered a random shop, the seller approached him and asked if he was from Hadrut. When my husband nodded, the boy told him that on the last day in our shop in Hadrut, my husband had given him a pack of cigarettes,” says Inna.

As she speaks, she mixes chopped walnuts, sugar, a little flour in a separate bowl and prepares the sweet filling of her famous pakhlava. She covers the dough with a cloth brought from Hadrut. It is Inna’s pakhlava that helps make a living for an entire family today. She does not think about returning to Hadrut: she has already seen the enemy occupy her house on social networks. But, all the same, she confesses that on the last day, when leaving the house, she left the doors open, hoping to come back one day.

“It’s hard now, very hard. We have to start our lives from scratch for the second time. But there are people who have lost a lot more. I’m not afraid of starting from zero, because that’s another starting point. We have always started all over again. I will do that this time too, of that I’m sure. I will build here the best of our house left in Hadrut. I will throw wedding parties for my children, when they get married. What’s most important: we are together, alive and healthy. Everything else is possible if you work. And we will work. They managed to take away our houses, our homeland, our past… But we must not let them take away our inner light,” says Inna.

  • Story by՝ Sona Martirosyan
  • Video՝ Action Studio
  • Producer՝ Emma Grigoryan

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