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Trust After Trauma. Therapies offering hope for Artsakh’s displaced moms and their children
Trust After Trauma. Therapies offering hope for Artsakh’s displaced moms and their children

Trust After Trauma

Therapies offering hope for Artsakh’s displaced moms and their children


The impact of war trauma, a silent yet pervasive consequence of armed conflict, extends far beyond the battlefield, infiltrating homes, communities, and generations with a lingering sense of terror and hopelessness. These assaults on the psyche indeed apply to the Armenians of Artsakh.

Over the past three decades, two major wars, conflict escalations, and a nine-month blockade culminated in the expulsion of over 100,000 adults, among them 30,000 children, who were compelled to seek refuge in Armenia, beginning a new journey to the unknown.

Such an excessive and prolonged period of distress and high anxiety has left the entire community with haunting memories that undermine their trust in humanity.

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Artsakh mothers from the February session learn about training and support opportunities provided by AGBU. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan

Artsakh mothers from the February session learn about training and support opportunities provided by AGBU. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan
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Artsakh mothers from the February session learn about training and support opportunities provided by AGBU. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan

Children are especially vulnerable, often turning to their parents for solace and protection. This puts the burden primarily on the mother to shield her children from her own anxieties, fears, and dark thoughts, thereby suppressing her own emotional struggles.

In response to these challenges AGBU Camp Nairi Family Circle provided an opportunity for children aged 6-14 and their mothers to engage in a weekend retreat focused on self-reflection with the aid of professional counseling services. These sessions, offered free of charge, are an extension of AGBU Camp Nairi, a summer sleepaway camp established in 2020 following the 44-day Artsakh war, aimed to help children who lost a family member in the war overcome the trauma of loss.

 Over six consecutive sessions held in the city of Tsaghkadzor, Armenia, the Camp welcomed approximately 700 mothers and over 1,200 children between February and June 2024. Camp counseling sessions run by therapists from well-known organizations in Armenia offered participants a glimmer of hope, guiding them towards healing through a variety of proven methods and strategies.

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Older children playing a game of chess. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan

Older children playing a game of chess. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan
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Older children playing a game of chess. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan

Addressing Childhood Traumas

The therapy sessions for children were tailored for four different age groups with the goal of activating their inner resources and enhancing their communication skills through sharing as well as group, art, and music therapies.

Child psychologist Ani Yengibaryan worked with Camp Nairi children, shed light on the emotional rollercoaster of affected children, underscoring the importance of their behavioral cues to render appropriate interventions. “Some would display hyperactivity, while others would withdraw from social interactions, spark conflicts, or remain silent, choosing to isolate themselves.”

Art therapy is a discipline that can lead to better understanding the subject’s emotional state. So when the Camp participants were instructed to illustrate anything dear to them on paper, images associated with Artsakh frequently appeared. The drawings commonly portrayed the child’s hometown or village, alongside significant landmarks such as the renowned Dedo Babo statue (We Are Our Mountains). “They can easily identify what they love, but often pause to consider what they do not. After a moment of reflection, they might hesitantly express, ‘Noises, ‘When they shell,’ or ‘Being in the shelter,”’ recounts clinical psychologist Gayane Khachatryan (National Center of Oncology after Fanarjian), adding that their thoughts, especially those aged 13-14, are often consumed by their trauma to the extent that they may inadvertently minimize others’ hardships with a rhetorical question, “Is there any greater difficulty than losing one’s land?”

These examples demonstrate how their trauma overshadows other aspects of themselves as children and students, casting them into the unwanted role of a disadvantaged kid. In response, specialists worked to restore their inner sense of “wholeness” and self-worth.

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In art therapy sessions, children often illustrated images related to Artsakh like the iconic “We Are Our Mountains” monument.

In art therapy sessions, children often illustrated images related to Artsakh like the iconic “We Are Our Mountains” monument.
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In art therapy sessions, children often illustrated images related to Artsakh like the iconic “We Are Our Mountains” monument. Photo Credit / Mediamax

Undoubtedly, such traumas can be correlated with other issues stemming from social stereotypes or narratives passed down to children. Older boys often experience a sense of guilt for not being able to protect the land. Psychologists assert that with certain techniques, they helped these boys release such feelings, providing them with space to think more realistically.

Another social stereotype addressed was the role of the psychologists themselves. In Armenia, psychological assistance is a relatively new experience, and this initiative also served as groundwork to expose people in need to its benefits. Khachatryan noted, “Initially, many children attended sessions merely out of politeness, stating that they are not ‘crazy’ and don’t need psychiatric treatment. However, after a small introductory exercise, they began to understand the differences between the two specialties and became more open.”

Overall, both mothers and specialists affirmed the crucial role of therapies for children. “My son is very naughty,” stated one mother. “I was afraid that we would be sent back because of his behavior, but since we arrived at the Camp, he has behaved very well and had a great time. He would approach me and show a thumbs up, letting me know how much he liked it there.”

Psychologists also highlighted several immediate positive outcomes from the sessions. “During art therapy we usually asked them what they would like to do with their drawings. Most of them would ignore or discard them, which suggested feelings of powerlessness. So, we displayed the left-behind drawings on the wall. Soon, the children started to revisit their art, some even taking them back to their rooms, revealing a shift in perception of their value,” notes Yengibaryan.

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In art therapy sessions, children often illustrated images related to Artsakh like the iconic “We Are Our Mountains” monument. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan

In art therapy sessions, children often illustrated images related to Artsakh like the iconic “We Are Our Mountains” monument. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan
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In art therapy sessions, children often illustrated images related to Artsakh like the iconic “We Are Our Mountains” monument. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan

Mothers’ Retreat

As agreed among most mothers of the February cohort, Armenian women, often known as good listeners in the family, occasionally overlook their own need to be heard and understood. One mother admitted, “This was the first time since the 44-day war that I took time for myself as a woman and considered my own needs, separate from the roles of a mother and wife.”

Another participant, originally from Stepanakert and now living in the Ararat region of Armenia, recounts how sharing stories made everyone feel a spiritual connection and helped release emotions. “It became evident that within their community, the intensity of pain varied, with some experiencing milder forms of suffering than others.”

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Artsakh mothers participate in a group art therapy session. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan

Artsakh mothers participate in a group art therapy session. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan
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Artsakh mothers participate in a group art therapy session. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan

Additionally, inner resource activation assisted moms in realizing their own strengths and abilities, thus giving them a confidence boost. As adult psychologist Ruzanna Mkrtchyan (The Armenian Spiritual Restoration Fund) notes, the resource activation session came as a discovery to many participants as they encountered for the first time the inner power they never knew existed.

This was the first time since the 44-day war that I took time for myself as a woman and considered my own needs, separate from the roles of a mother and wife.

While the sessions for mothers were primarily intended as a retreat rather than intensive psychological therapy, both participants and therapists emphasized the necessity of a more profound exploration of their traumas through additional one-on-one sessions to facilitate their healing. Mariam Safaryan from Stepanakert underscored this, stating, “Many parents have problems communicating with their children after the displacement, feeling trapped in how to address their own emotions without negatively affecting their children. Due to the lack of time, we could only focus on ourselves, and it seems that I lacked that component. However, from the perspectives of self-awareness, self-reflection, and increasing our self-esteem, the sessions were genuinely appreciated by the women in our community.”

Truly, a mere weekend of therapy falls far short in addressing the deep-seated traumas of a displaced community and the journey to overcoming their challenges is long and arduous. Yet, sometimes all it takes to move forward is a little spark to reignite that inner drive. It appears that AGBU Camp Nairi was a critical first step.

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Mothers from the January cohort at the traditional headband preparation workshop—part of therapeutic sessions. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan

Mothers from the January cohort at the traditional headband preparation workshop—part of therapeutic sessions. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan
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Mothers from the January cohort at the traditional headband preparation workshop—part of therapeutic sessions. Photo Credit / Ruben Otyan

Originally published in the June 2024 ​issue of AGBU Magazine. end character

About the AGBU Magazine

AGBU Magazine is one of the most widely circulated English language Armenian magazines in the world, available in print and digital format. Each issue delivers insights and perspective on subjects and themes relating to the Armenian world, accompanied by original photography, exclusive high-profile interviews, fun facts and more.