From Coming to Terms with Wounds to Thriving:


From Coming to Terms with Wounds to Thriving:

Stories of Karabakh War Veterans

To physically and mentally empower amputees to live fulfilled lives – that is the goal of the Armenia-based NGO Oqni. The organization, which is committed to developing prosthetic technology in Armenia, was founded in 2021 by an interdisciplinary team of Diaspora Armenians.

Regional Post had the opportunity to meet and learn the stories of some Oqni patients – veterans of the First and Second Nagorno-Karabakh wars – who were interested in Oqni's 3D-printed customized prosthetic covers.

Text by: Anita Mihaeljana  
Photos: Patrick Slesiona 


“I didn't believe it at first,” Karen (55), a veteran of the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, admits that he marveled at the free prosthetic leg covers that Oqni provides. Karen lost part of his left leg in the mid-1990s when the bus he was in hit a mine in Shurnukh, a village between Goris and Kapan. “When something is given or done for the disabled, it is often asked in which war the injury was received. If in the previous war [First Nagorno-Karabakh War] then they refuse and say that it is for those who were injured in the last war [Second Nagorno-Karabakh War]. That’s why I didn't believe it at first,” Karen explains why he was surprised by the offer to receive free prosthesis cover.

When asked how difficult it was for him to get used to life with a prosthesis, Karen reveals that he also lost his wife in the 1990s, and then had to take care of two young daughters alone, so he had to adapt quickly. “I had to work, so I did my best to recover as quickly as possible,” he recalls. Working as a seller, he was able to provide a living for himself and his daughters. “My children dressed and ate ten times better than the children of people who did not have problems. I did everything I could,” he emphasizes.

After receiving an injury and losing his leg, Karen was not provided with proper rehabilitation. “There was no rehabilitation therapy. Then there was nothing like that. At that time, the state did not have the capacity to provide such therapy,” Karen remembers. Listening to music and conversations with himself helped him recover psychologically. “I put on some relaxing music, closed my eyes and talked to God. I talked to myself. I empowered myself. I told myself that I had to raise children, I had to do everything, and that life was not over.”

While Karen was trying to adjust physically and psychologically to life after the injury, he also had to face society's not very tolerant attitude towards people with disabilities. “After I had just been seriously injured and was walking with two crutches, a small child said to mother – look, there is an invalid. I was under a lot of stress. And the mother did not tell the child not to say that,” he recalls, admitting it hurt him. However, now, after the 44-day war, society's attitude towards wounded veterans has changed, Karen observes. “There is a completely different situation and attitude. People have changed,” he admits. 

Karen is married again, he has another child – a little daughter and his hobby is songwriting. "I give my children not only presents but songs as well on their birthdays," he says proudly, and is sure that if someone had helped him pursue music professionally, his songs would be heard everywhere. Karen is also convinced that if he had the opportunities that young wounded soldiers have now, he would be a millionaire, and then he would do charity work. “I would start by helping the wounded and the children. Children are our future, but the wounded must be supported so that they do not lose heart,” he explains. 

Karen encouraged his friend Arshak (49) to get Oqni covers for his prosthesis as well. Arshak participated in the First Nagorno-Karabakh War from 1992 to 1994. He was twenty years old when he was wounded in a mine explosion. “The explosion of the first mine threw me on the second mine. After that, rehabilitation lasted for a few months. I had several surgeries. One leg was amputated immediately. Doctors wanted to save the other leg, however, they did not succeed. After a couple of months I put on prostheses,” Arshak recalls. 

He says that when the doctors amputated the first leg, he did not feel that he was seriously wounded and that his life had stopped. “But when the second leg was amputated, it hurt. A man without both legs… I couldn't even imagine what awaited me,” he admits. “Good thing my friends helped and I quickly rehabilitated. I realized that life goes on.”

Now Arshak plays basketball and hockey. He is on the Armenian para-hockey team and wheelchair basketball team. “I’m fine now. I might even say better than everyone. Life is wonderful!”

From time to time, Arshak and his friends visit other amputees in the hospital. “We show ourselves as examples that life does not end, it goes on. It's just a leg, not a life,” he emphasizes, adding that the main thing is not to despair. 

Ruslan (20), a veteran of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, is also interested in Oqni prostheses covers. 

At the age of 18, Ruslan entered the mandatory military service in July 2020. The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War began in September 2020. He and other service members were encircled by Azerbaijani soldiers in October. He got out on December 20, forty days after the war had already ended. His lower limbs were frostbitten, so doctors had to amputate them. 

“There were like a hundred of us in the beginning, the whole battalion.Then we were ambushed by the Azerbaijanis. About 50 people got out of the ambush, and were still alive. Some of those 50 people fled in the chaos. Then there were 21 of us left. We were already in the encirclement. Days after that one of the soldiers, he was heavily injured in lower limbs and twenty of us remained,” Ruslan remembers. For a while all twenty survived together. “Then we had different ideas on how to escape, so we split up. But it was a friendly decision, we did not get into a conflict. We had different ideas about which direction to go and things like that,” Ruslan explains. 

The oldest soldier from the group of six, which included Ruslan, was only 23 years old. Looking for a way to escape, the soldiers spent the cold nights in different places. “For a while we slept in the attics of old houses. Then we slept in a cave. The last part of the story… We walked a lot, then we slept in the woods. We had sleeping bags, but they were meant for summer. They protect only at temperatures above zero,” he points out.

Ruslan emphasizes that after everything they've been through, he and the other guys are not just friends, but more like family. “One of the reasons we managed to survive is that we got along well. We had almost zero conflicts. Almost zero…”  he smiles. 

When Arthur (26) receives the cover for his prosthetic leg, he says that compared to the cover he previously ordered from a Russian company, the Oqni cover fits a bit tighter on the leg and holds on to the prosthesis more firmly, the grip is better. He praises both companies for making beautiful covers.

Arthur had been a professional dancer until he was wounded in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, which led to the doctors amputating part of his right leg. “A drone took the footage, gave the coordinates to the artillery, after which the artillery attacked us. I received shrapnel wounds. The projectile hit the mine about one to two meters away,” he recalls. Doctors tried to save Arthur's leg for 15 days. After the amputation, he spent two months in rehabilitation.  Arthur reveals that he still loves to dance, and sometimes it's hard for his mind to understand that he can't do some of the moves. 

He currently works in the IT field. When asked how difficult it was for him to accept the loss of his leg, Arthur says without a moment's hesitation that it was not difficult for him at all. “My view is that if there is a situation, it must be dealt with. Nothing can be changed anymore. You have to think about what to do with what you have, how to move forward,” he emphasizes, admitting that he refused the psychological help that was repeatedly offered, because he felt that he did not need it at all. “I thought that psychologists should not waste their time on me, they can help someone who needs it more. I felt inside that I really didn't need help. I had already come to terms with what happened to me,” Arthur explains. 

He has gone to the hospital to comfort other amputees who are having a harder time accepting their new reality. “What matters is what happens in the mind. Do not think that you are disabled, then you will not have problems, you will be able to run, swim or dance,” Arthur stresses. 

Join us on Telegram