Spirit and Dignity

Conversation with the senior lecturer of the Department of Field Surgery of Military-Medical Faculty of Yerevan State Medical University after Mkhitar Heratsi, candidate of medical sciences, Lieutenant Colonel Kamo Shaboyan.
_Mr. Shaboyan, the symbolic image where a person is pictured with a sword in one hand and a pen in another has been familiar to us since ancient times. Even a sword and a cross can be put together but I cannot imagine a combination of a weapon and a surgical lancet. They say you have fought, as well as operated the wounded during the war, that is you have taken lives, as well as saved them.
_Have you ever seen the land, mixed with ashes of your ancestors, burning? Have you looked at the eyes of the soldier dying in the battle field? There is a great desire to live, a claim to revenge and an order to save the country in his eyes …When my weapon shot for the first time and I realized that somebody’s life was taken by that shot, something terrible went on in my soul (you cannot put it in words). I turned from a doctor into a fighter. I broke the Hippocratic Oath and became a soldier of the country with a new oath.
_On the most critical days of the war the Moscow TV released scenes showing an Armenian doctor operating Azeri captives, moreover two Turk women. That doctor was you. Honestly, the thing you did surprised me greatly. The enemy must die in the battle field; this is the law of the war. After recovering the two Turk women may have given birth to sons who can direct a weapon to our country, if necessary.
_The opponent is an enemy to me while he has a weapon in his hand. When he is unarmed and wounded, he is a patient like other patients and I cannot leave him helpless, I cannot look at human pain with indifference. I have operated on many captives. Some of them may have been wounded in the result of my shot. Now, if an Azeri needs a medical aid I will do my best to save his life.
_Not long ago the Azeri handed us the body of the young pastor who had got lost and appeared on their land…
_I am not Azeri, I am Armenian…
_And who is the Azeri? Who was he at war? And who is he now?
_I have communicated with the Azeri since my childhood. There were a lot of Azeri villages in Vardenis where I was born. My friend and me had gone to Kirovabad to take part in wrestling competition. A large group of local Azeri came up to us before competition and threatened saying if we didn’t lose the competition, we would not return to Vardenis from Kirovabad. This is an Azeri way to win – through meanness and threats as they are condemned to failure in an honest and open fighting. Indeed, we won in that competition and returned to Vardenis.
While serving in the Soviet army we were taken to participate in construction works of a military town. There were 3 Armenians and 17 Azeri. I was going to the worker piling up the bricks with four bricks in my hand when one of the Azeri soldiers (whose name was Abdullah) appeared on my way and said. «If I take four bricks you must take six because I have been serving for a longer time than you». Naturally, I resisted and seconds later the 17 Azeri soldiers attacked our group of three members. A few minutes later the Azeri group literally escaped from the «Battle field». The Armenian flies into a fury at the sight of blood but the Azeri is afraid of it. We hit one of Azeri soldiers to bleed and the others ran away. After that incident everything changed. Our small group of Armenians took «control» of the military unit.
It was the same at Artsakh war. Many decisive battles could result in another way if the Azeri did not escape. They got in panic and retreated leaving their weapon in the battle field. We won the Artsakh war with Azeri weapon. Once Monte was told that new Azeri tanks had appeared in the battle field. Monte got very happy as if those tanks had been brought to the battle field especially for us.
_You are telling it in a way I stop being afraid of war
_But I am afraid of war; I have lost some friends during Artsakh war. I have struggled to save the lives of the wounded but I have not been able to save my friends. I have seen grief, pain, loss and human distorted destinies. I have done 536 operations in one year in field conditions. And now I am afraid. I don’t want it to happen again.
_They say foreign doctors were astonished at the incredible surgeries made by Armenian doctors in the battle field. Which is the hardest operation you have done?
_I wouldn’t like to tell details and feel the terrible nightmare again. I had just graduated from the Medical Institute, I was young, inexperienced, but I surpassed myself, I had some supernatural power. I just remembered an incident. There was a woman, her name was Rosa. She was a sniper. The bullet stuck her heart and remained at the top of it. It was incredible, illogical. She survived because I wanted her to live very much, because I had inserted my heart, my soul and my life in that operation.
_The fate was favorable towards her.
I don’t believe in fate, only weak people can worship fate; I believe in a human, human power, kindness, love, will. I have often looked at the eyes of death. It doesn’t matter whether death has come to take you, your friend fighting with you or the patient in the surgery away… I believe in myself when I defeat the death. I believe in our nation when in an unequal battle for the sake of the native land it defeats the enemy exceeding both in human resources and in weapon.
_Mr. Shaboyan, we talked quiet a lot about the war. Will you tell a little about yourself? Where do you come from? What memories do you have from childhood?
_My ancestors are from Mush. I continue my grandfather Gyulab. He was a shoemaker. He was fair like soil and honest like light. He was working 24 hors a day (I have taken after him), he had golden hands. He was an extraordinary person. He used to look at the moon. «It is our master»,-he would say and talk to the moon. Once when he was absorbed in his thoughts, I heard him begging God for help «Let the state and authorities be successful». I asked «Grandfather, why do you ask for help for the state and authorities»? «I am thinking about our country. The powerful country can have thousands of friends, but the weak country can have thousands of enemies», – my shoemaker grandfather said.
Regarding my childhood…My toys were for the children of our district. I didn’t understand the difference between «my» and «your». My childhood was an unequal struggle for freedom…
_It didn’t sound a little gorgeous for childhood, did it?

_So far I have a strong aspiration for freedom. I hate the horizon that determines the space, I hate samplers and conditionality. My father wanted me to choose a profession he preferred. However, he couldn’t convince me. While serving in the Soviet army I learned a nurse’s work. As nobody had advised me to become a doctor, after being demobilized I entered the Medical Institute. Then I loved my profession. Surgery is a real profession for a man. There are some common features for the surgeons and they are conditioned by professional specification. The surgeons are brave, drastic, accurate, responsible and pragmatic. They are used to winning because every operation is a sort of battle.
_And which is your weapon?
_My weapon is the determination, sense of responsibility, will and faith. I have been teaching field surgery for 11 years at the Military-Medical faculty of Yerevan State Medical University. Besides professional skills (first of all) I teach them the moral codex of the surgeon. The spirit is important in any military profession. For the military surgeon the spirit as well as professional dignity is important. Azerbaijan spends a lot of money to strengthen its army, but the soldier’s spirit does not rise, the soldier’s image does not change. The most powerful weapon and military equipment don’t inspire courage and self-confidence because the symptom of failure is very persistent. Our army would not develop in such a simple way, would not become strong so quickly if there was not the Artsakh war. It seemed that the war would suspend the development of our army because of economic reasons. However, the psychology of the winner destroyed all the obstacles and difficulties.
_Your infant son is holding a weapon, as well as wearing a military uniform in this photo. Is he going to become a military man?
_You touched my weak point. I don’t have a son, it is my daughter in the photo. But I must have a son. Let God decide if it is worth one more man like me to come into the world. If it is worth, my dream will come true. I will have a powerful boy and he will become a military man, by all means. I will tell my son about the war, the army, the soldier and our victory from his very childhood. I will tell him about my commanders Monte, Leonid Azgaldyan, Volodya Karapetyan, Jivan Abrahamyan and about Martakert’s Norik. I will tell him about the strong Armenian boys, who freed Artsakh, who are keeping our border at present, who are sitting at the student’s desk and studying military medicine. My son will express a desire to become a military man himself.
_Mr. Shaboyan, what concerns you today most of all?
_We don’t have the right to steal the glory of the heroes who have won at Artsakh war. At present, there are some people who have not even seen Artsakh, but have a fighter’s certificate and tell episodes of their «courage». We don’t have the right to turn our values into a subject of buying and selling. We don’t have the right to violate our pride.
…The image of the doctor has been crumbled and it hurts me. We must find again the solemnity of the destiny we have ever had (we all know how to do it). And let these words sound as a wish on the day of the medical servant.