The war and Seda’s violated right of reproductive health

Four days after the start of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, Seda, in the 7th month of pregnancy, left Stepanakert with her two children on September 30 setting off to Armenia. On the way to Armenia, feeling bad she stopped in Lachin (Berdzor). Despite fears of premature birth and further complications, Seda gave birth to a healthy baby on November 21 at the hospital in Abovyan city, Armenia.

The international human rights law stipulates about the responsibility to respect, promote and protect women’s sexual and reproductive health.  At the time of armed conflict, the government should put all efforts to secure the rights of women to life and survival, right to health, freedom from torture, cruel and degrading treatment, right to use efficient protection mechanisms and others. The right to health entails adequate information on the reproductive health, accessibility of services, goods and conditions, affordability, acceptability and their quality for all women, i.e. without discrimination, violence and coercion. While considering the threats to women’s right to health at the time of conflict the according to the Convention on Elimination of All sorts of Discrimination Against Women the government has to secure conditions at least for the birth-aid, healthy pregnancy and healthy abortion. According to WHO the reproductive health is a fundamental right for the couples and families, it is them to decide the number of children, their age gap and planning pregnancy. The right to reproductive health for women is stipulated in Article 12 and 16 of the Convention on Elimination of All sorts of Discrimination Against Women, in Article 12 of the Treaty on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of Children, Article 25 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, Article 6 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in many other international provisions.    

32-year-old Seda is from the village of Gishi in Martuni region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Her husband, 36-year-old Kamo, is also from Gishi and is a friend of Seda’s brother. “We have known each other since childhood. It just happened so that I finished school and moved to Stepanakert to continue my studies at Artsakh State University. We had not seen each other for a long time, then we saw one another again, we got to know each other better. We got married in 2011 and settled in Stepanakert because of my husband’s work,” says Seda.

Seda graduated from Artsakh State University, Faculty of Chemistry and Biology. She has a master’s degree. Seda had been working since the years of studying for master’s degree, was a chemistry teacher in the secondary school of Nngu village in Martuni region, not far from Stepanakert. In Stepanakert, she lived in a rented private house with her husband and two children. On September 27, at the beginning of the war, Seda was at home with her children in Stepanakert, and her husband in Gishi wine yards.

“On the morning of September 27, we were sleeping. That day Stepanakert was shot with some type of weapon. The sound was so loud that it was impossible to confuse with any other sound (according to the Ministry of Defense of the NKR, artillery and unmanned aerial vehicles were used). I immediately realized that they had hit. I quickly dressed my children”, recalls Seda.

The private house they rented did not have a special shelter or basement to protect from the bombing. During the Four-Day War in April, she hid with her children in the homeowner’s basement. “At that time my second son was newborn, holding him I was carrying him to the basement. That time we went to the same basement again. It is a place covered with concrete, not a special shelter”, she says.

According to Seda, there are shelters in Stepanakert only in apartment buildings or schools. Shelters can rarely be found in detached houses. Besides Seda and her children, there were also the landlord’s grandchildren and neighbors of the yard in the landlord’s basement. “There were so many of us, we gathered, the place was full. The children did not understand what was happening. They wanted to go out. “We immediately got in touch with our relatives who worked in military, they said the situation is tense, we should stay in the basements,” she says.

Seda could not get in touch with her husband for several hours, and then they talked. The husband warned that Azerbaijan was carrying out a large-scale attack and that she should stay in the basement with children. “When it calmed down a little, I went up to our house, made tea, took it to the basement for the old grandma that was there. The air alarm was constantly on. It was announced that whenever hearing an air alarm, go to the shelter”, – tells Seda and continues: “Then we somehow got used to those sounds”.

Some of those gathered in the basement, including the old grandma, for whom Seda often made tea, moved to Yerevan two days after the start of the war. Several women, whose sons were at the front line, stayed in Stepanakert with Seda and her sister. “We left the basement, we were staying at home with the children, as soon as the air alarm was on, we were moving to the basement. My middle-aged son was sleeping during the day. When the air alarm was on, I wanted to move him, but I was not allowed to hold him. Somehow we went down to the basement, where it was cold. Heating, there were no other facilities. We stayed there until September 30. It seems short, but long were the days”, says Seda.

She tells that from the first day of the war, men were called from the military commissariat, enlisted, and sent to positions. Seda’s husband told her to stay in Stepanakert. “Our village is close to the border and we did not expect that Stepanakert would be hit more than the villages. “It was very unusual for us, they were constantly hitting the very populated part of the city,” says Seda.

On September 30, Seda’s brother-in-law suggested moving to Armenia. Seda did not want to leave but was persuaded. “They said, ‘Go, it is only a couple of days, you will come.’ I have health problems. In the case of both of my children, I gave birth prematurely, one in the 7th month and the other in the 8th,” says Seda, adding that she does not believe she survived the first days of the war.

Seda’s husband’s relatives brought Seda with children and her sister to the Mazi Bridge, from where the elderly, women, and children were transported to Armenia by buses. Seda was able to take personal documents and several pairs of clothes for children. 

“When we reached Lisagor, we passed Shushi, it was already dark. In the rumbling bus, I was not feeling well at all. I told the driver I was not well and asked him to send me back to Stepanakert. He said it is not possible. Then he added that he is a father of four children, if necessary, he will support in delivery of my child,” Seda recalls with a smile.

However, Seda could not continue the road. She got in touch with her friend, whose brother came from Lachin (Berdzor) and met their bus. In Berdzor, Seda was taken to hospital, where she was received by obstetrician-gynecologist Silva Nurbekyan. “The doctor said I did the right thing by not continuing the way. That night I stayed in Berdzor, the next day I came to Abovyan with Dr. Armine in her car, ” she says. 

On October 1, Seda was already in Abovyan with the children. “My two sons and I reached Abovyan, and the air defense system worked here as well (Press Secretary of the Ministry of Defense of Armenia Shushan Stepanyan stated that an Azeri drone was destroyed by Air defense forces in Kotayk region). Here everyone was so scared, it was said they were shooting. “In Stepanakert, as soon as the alarm was on, they said, “go, go to the basement”. We got used to it,'” she says.

On the first days, Seda lived with her children in a relative’s house as she thought the hostilities would be short-lived. “A month after our arrival, when we saw that the war was dragging on for a long time, we moved to Mrgashat village, to a relative’s house.” The grandson of my husband’s cousin was killed. My husband came to Yerevan for one day to bury our soldier in Yerablur, and then he came back and moved us to a rented house,” mentions Seda.

After moving to Armenia, Seda was registered at the maternity hospital in Abovyan and was always under the supervision of doctors. However, because of the Covid-19, she was urged to stay and be treated at home. “At first I had pains, when I started taking the medicine, I gradually recovered,” tells the woman.

After the end of the war, Seda’s husband moved the items of their house from Stepanakert that hadn’t been damaged. A bomb exploded near the rented house. The house was damaged. “There are traces of glass on our bed,” says Seda.

On November 21, the woman went to the hospital accompanied by her husband. “They said there might be a cesarean section. But there were no complications, my daughter was born naturally. “My daughter endured until the end of the war,” says Seda.

After the end of the 44-day Nagorno-Karabakh war, Seda wants to return to Stepanakert, but there are several problems. “In Stepanakert, the house where we stayed, doesn’t exist anymore, all the houses have already been given to the homeless. There are no conditions yet, I cannot return with my 20-day-old baby,” says Seda.

Seda still does not believe that under the constant sound of an alarm and bombardment, she with her eight and five-year-old children, in the 7th month of pregnancy, managed not to get depressed. “Now I look back over the last two months, how I stayed there for four days, how I set off two days, how I changed three houses in Armenia and stayed with my children. I realized that an Armenian woman is a really strong woman. It’s really strong that we can go through all this, and this is how our children see us, how their parents can handle so much alone, and that power is passed on to them, as we have such strong soldiers,” says Seda excitedly.    


Interview by Alina Nahapetyan

 Photos by Agape Grigoryan