By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
I read the heartbreaking experience of an Armenian soldier who was wounded in the recent Artsakh War and repeatedly denied medical treatment in Armenia. This is so shameful. The Armenian government should see to it that young men, who risked their lives to defend the homeland, have their wounds treated without any bureaucratic hassles and rude refusals.
Simon Hovhannisian, a soldier wounded in the 2020 Artsakh War, wrote an open letter in Armenian, published by Hetq (an investigative journal in Armenia) on April 3, 2021, describing how he was turned away from numerous medical facilities when he sought treatment. Regrettably, his nightmarish experience is not unique. Many other wounded soldiers have faced similar inexcusable difficulties when seeking treatment.
Hovhannisian wrote that on October 3, 2021 he went to the military center in Yerevan and volunteered to fight in the war. On Oct. 25, having received the proper authorization, he was transferred to the Mardakert military unit in Artsakh and served on the frontline from Oct. 27 to November 18.
On Nov. 10, shortly before the ceasefire, he was hit by missile shrapnel. During the next eight days, he tried to contact military officials seeking medical assistance for him and other soldiers. Facing indifference, he tried on his own to go to the military regiment. On the way, he encountered an ambulance and convinced the driver to take him and two others to a medical facility to get help. They were referred to the temporary hospital in Drmbon village, where he was told that he suffered a contusion. However, since there was nothing they could do for him, they suggested that he go to Yerevan.
Hovhannisian finally arrived in Yerevan after paying 45,000 drams (around $90) from his own pocket. He went to the military unit there, explained his situation, presented the documents and sought assistance to be admitted to a hospital. The military unit told him: “You are no longer registered with us. It is not our job. Go to the Military Commissariat.” The Commissariat in turn told him: “You are no longer in the service. You have to go to a civilian clinic.”
At the civilian clinic, he was told: “We do not have the appropriate specialist for your ailment. The ear, nose and throat specialist will return from his vacation in a month. Come back, he will check you. We don’t even know where else to refer you to.”
At the Commissariat, he was told: “My boy, I am already telling you for the second time, you are not on our list. Go to a civilian hospital.”
At the privately-owned Asdghig hospital, he was told: “You need to be seen by several specialists. If you need the state to cover your medical bills, then bring a document that you have government insurance. We will then serve you.”
He then went to the Kanaz hospital where he was told: “Your document from the Commissariat is old. Go get a new document, so we can give you fresh papers.”
At the Commissariat he was told: “Come back in two days to pick up your new document.” When he went back, the hospital told him: “You are already discharged from the military. We can’t give you such a document and can’t examine you.”
Tired of the run-around, the wounded soldier went to the Nayiri private hospital. After the examination, he learned that he had a contusion, loss of hearing, and concussion.
He paid for the medicines and the examination. He then found out that he was eligible for several government programs that could have offered him free medicines and medical care. He was also told that he could have applied for free military care for the handicapped.
So he applied to the Ministry of Social Services which promptly rejected his application. They said: “You are not on the list of the Defense Ministry.” He then phoned the Ministry of Social Services, explaining his problem. He was told to call another phone number. After two days of no one answering the hotline, he was given a third phone number. He called that number the whole day. Finally, in the evening, someone answered, and rudely said: “Why are you calling me? I do not deal with such matters.”
He called back the hotline. They told him: “Call the Defense Ministry.” No one answered there. He called the Defense Ministry’s Treatment Center. No answer. He sent an email. Again, no answer!
He then called the Military Commissariat. They told him: “Brother, why haven’t we received your papers from Artsakh until now confirming where you were?” He told them his whole story all over again. They replied: “We will inquire and call you.” They never called back!
He called again the Defense Ministry’s Treatment Center. He was told: “Give us the hospital’s medical evaluation, so we can add you on our list.” He responded that he could not provide that document since the hospital had refused to treat him. They told him to go to the Military Commissariat. He applied there one last time and asked for their assistance. He was told: “We have received no papers, all questions remain unanswered. If you want to solve your problem, go to Mardakert, pick up your documents and come back.”
The wounded soldier then wrote a letter to Antranig Kocharian, Chairman of the Parliament’s Defense and Security Committee, explaining his whole story. He received two ‘absurd’ phone calls saying: “Why did you write a letter? What is the problem?” He told them his story. They told him: “We need you medical evaluation.” He said he did not have it because they did not treat him. They told him: “We will call you,” but he never heard from them again.
The wounded soldier ended his sad saga with the following powerful words: “Now what? What’s next? Where are you, officials? Wake up! It has been more than six months. There are thousands of other soldiers like me…. Whichever office you go to, sitting with legs crossed, they are drinking coffee, writing posts on social media, saying how patriotic we are, and expressing their regret: ‘Sorry boys, you died for us.’ How did it happen that you got blinded in the last day of the war and you don’t give a damn about anyone’s pain and problems? You are suggesting that this wounded soldier go to Mardakert and bring back documents. In addition to psychological and security problems, I ask you, don’t you see the degree of your cynicism? Are you telling the same things to the parents and relatives of lost soldiers or a badly handicapped volunteer with no documents? Please solve not only my problem, but those of all of us without any delay. Otherwise, we are the ones that will send you to hell and I hope that the public is with us on this issue.”
This is very shameful. I am surprised that not a single Armenian official has apologized to this wounded soldier and others like him and arrange for their immediate medical care. Otherwise, when the next war happens, no young man will volunteer or want to serve in the army. Regardless of any partisan political issues, these wounded soldiers are the sons of our nation and they deserve the utmost care. They paid their dues to the homeland and now it’s the Armenian government’s turn to take care of them.