A Troubled Home

Anush Babajanyan

2017 - 2020

A disputed land in the South of Caucasus, the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has been a conflict zone for decades. A ceasefire, announced in 1994, after a six year war, is violated on the border between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan every day.

Local authorities create incentives for its ethnically Armenian population to grow. The support encourages large families, and one of the benefits offered is a house that a family receives after the fifth or sixth child is born.

But as the families grow it becomes difficult for parents to provide proper and sufficient care for the children. This story follows the realities of a few families in different social and financial situations, all of whom however struggle to support their children. The overall economic hardship in the land affects the living conditions of the children, their development, the food they are or are not able to receive. For many it becomes the norm, and then there is always the joy and playfulness of the children.

Nagorno-Karabakh is quite militarized. Growing the population and having children connects with the idea of protecting the land. Sons are valued greatly in Nagorno-Karabakh, celebrations around maternity wards when boys are born are some of the symbols. At the same time, some of the families I photographed had no fathers. In Charektar village, Alisa, eldest daughter of a single mother of eight Epraqsya, told us she wanted to serve in the armed forces. I told her about the military academy and female cadets in the capital Stepanakert, but Alisa said she would rather stay and work.

Children like the adults in Nagorno-Karabakh know well what a struggle feels like, even if they may not be able to put a name to it.

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  • Woman hangs laundry in Alashan village, Nagorno Karabakh, on February 6, 2017. After the Nagorno Karabakh four-day war, several families from the Talish frontline village were temporarily settled in the Alashan village. Some suffer from stress and fear because of the state of conflict, especially after April 2, 2016, when the four-day war began.

  • Anjelika Ayaryan, 10, stands under a tree as her friend Tatevik picks berries in Shushi, Nagorno Karabakh, on June 3, 2017. Anjelika is one of the seven Ayaryan children. She lives and studies in Shushi together with her two sisters. The rest of their family lives in Martakert.

  • The six children of Varduhi Chobanyan, 31, pose for a portrait in Nor Erkej village, Nagorno Karabakh, on July 15, 2017. The children's family lived in bad conditions, with not enough beds and often not enough food. A new house was being built for them nearby.

  • Harutyun Chobanyan, 13, hugs his baby brother Levon, 3-months-old, on February 29, 2020. Children of Varduhi Chobanyan, 34, Harutyun, Levon and their five sisters live in Nor Erkej village in Nagorno Karabakh.

  • Haykanush Yakubova, 37, pregnant with her eight child, waits for an ultrasound in the Stepanakert maternity hospital, on February 25, 2020. Yakubova is ill with flu and has been transferred to Stepanakert maternity hospital after caring for two of her ill children at another hospital. Yakubova is ethnically Assyrian and lives in Berqadzor village in Nagorno Karabakh.

  • New-born boy in the maternity hospital of Nagorno Karabakh capital Stepanakert, on August 19, 2017.

  • Baby Milena, born 1.5 kg, is seen in a couveuse (incubator) in the Stepanakert maternity hospital in Nagorno Karabakh on February 25, 2020. Milena is her family's fifth child.

  • Elina Hambarzumyan 26, kisses her newly born twin daughters Nana and Yana, in the Stepanakert maternity hospital, Nagorno Karabakh, on August 19, 2017.

  • Araksya Grigoryan, 43, (left) a single mother of seven, poses for a portrait with her children in their house in Martakert, Nagorno Karabakh, on February 5, 2017. Araksya's elder son, Sasun, is back home for a break from his military service. The family received the house from the Nagorno Karabakh government after Araksya gave birth to her fifth child. Araksya says that part of the reason she gave birth to many children are the financial needs of the family.

  • One of the seven children of Araksya Grigoryan, 43, wipes his face in the living room of his house in Martakert, on February 5, 2017. Araksya and her children live in a house built for them by the Nagorno Karabakh government a few years ago.

  • Horses stand on a pasture next to a road in Kovsakan / Zangilan, Nagorno Karabakh, on March 26, 2017.

  • Liana Babayan, 42, holds her 8 months old child Movses, in the kitchen of their house in Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh, on May 21, 2018. Liana has 10 children, nine of them are in the picture, and the oldest son is away serving in the Armenian army. The family has lived in the three story house provided by the government, for five years. The family lives on around $320 per month, which is the sum of benefits children receive and support from donors.

  • Children during a mathematics class at the Shosh village school, Nagorno Karabakh, on February 27, 2020.

  • The flag of Nagorno Karabakh is seen in the hallway of the Shekher village school, on February 28, 2020.

  • Children in Mets Tagher village play and run around an airplane that belonged to a WWII Marshal from this village, on February 28, 2020.

  • Epraqsya Kandunts, 34, poses for a portrait together with her seven children, in Charektar village, Nagorno Karabakh, on July 15, 2017.

  • The family of Varduhi Chobanyan, 31, and her children in Nor Erkedj village, Nagorno Karabakh, on July 15, 2017. Nor Erkedj village in Nagorno Karabakh is three hours away from the capital Stepanakert with little opportunity for work. The monthly benefits received for each child are sometimes the main income supporting families.

  • Alisa Kandunts, 17, (left), her mother Epraqsya Kandunts, 37, and brother Samvel Kandunts, 12, return home after buying a bag of flour and bread, on February 29, 2020. This bag that costs $26 will last the family about one month. Single mother of eight Epraqsya received $1000 from a private funder this year, along with many large families in Nagorno Karabakh, and was able to pay back her debts.

  • View of the Mets Tagher village in Nagorno Karabakh, on February 27, 2020.