Sofia Ivanidi and her daughter Eva live in Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh, and they, like thousands of other civilians, found themselves in the heart of a new war in the region. Third and fourth generation of Pontian Greeks are among the few inhabitants of Artsakh of Greek descent who have remained, mainly in the village of Mehmana, formerly called “the Greek village”.
Sofia Ivanidi was born in Yuri, Armenia in 1974.
Her father was a Greek from Artsakh and her mother was Armenian. Her grandfather was from a Greek mother and a Greek father from Pontus, who first went to Georgia during the Greek Genocide, and from Georgia moved to Armenia.
Gradually, her grandfather’s relatives began to come and settle in Artsakh where there were gold mines and consequently work for everyone.
They settled in the village of Mehmana and then other Greeks from Pontus started going there as they learned that there are gold mines in the area and there is work.
Thus a large Greek community was created that came to have its own school, church and to keep the customs and traditions of Pontus.
The Pontic dialect was heard for years in the mountains of the southern Caucasus.
Now there are few inhabitants of Greek origin left in the village and what reminds us that hundreds of Greek families passed through this place is the Greek cemetery.
The first war in 1993 was the first time when the Greek state facilitated the expatriates of the Caucasus to leave the places where they lived for decades, as at that time at least, three serious conflicts were in progress in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, and in Artsakh.
The then Greek government with operation “Chrysomallo Deras” safely transported hundreds of expatriates to Greece.
For Sofia Ivanidis, the ongoing war is not something new.
“I woke up that morning from the noise. We immediately realized that they were bombs, it was something we expected,” she said. “I realized very quickly that a war had started, of course the relevant announcements were made very quickly. There was no panic because this is not the first time we have experienced something similar.”
“I have lived through the war of 1992-93 and I know how it is,” Sofia explained.
“My daughter Eva was very scared, because it was her first time. She was not born in the first war, and in 2016, when we had similar events, she was in Yerevan where she was studying,” she continued.
“From the first moment, the male population in Artsakh rushed to its units and to the front. Women, the elderly and those unable to carry a weapon were left behind,” she recounted from the first days of the war that began on September 27.
“When the bombing started, in the morning, we realized that we had to do something in the rear to help the front. We formed groups and went to help with the supply of food and water,” Sofia said.
She then explained how they stayed in the capital of Artsakh, Stepanakert, “for about 10 days but then, when the type of bombing changed, with rockets and cluster bombs, we packed up what we could and left.”
“I saw that my daughter Eva could not stand the pressure and out of fear she started to have some psychosomatic symptoms. That’s why I decided to leave,” she said. “The men who are capable of fighting have all stayed in Artsakh and there are street checks that only allow women to cross the border.”
To date, some 70,000 Nagorno-Karabakh residents have fled and found accommodation, mostly in Yerevan, near Goris, near the border, or in other cities, which accounts for about 40% of the population.
“My body and my mind are in my place every day. I can leave at any time and come back. If my daughter wants to stay in Yerevan, she can stay, but I will go back because I know I will be useful there,” said Sofia.
When asked by CNN Greece what is it like to live in an area of the world that is not recognized and always has the fear of war?
“We are not the only ones living in a country that is not recognized. I feel that we live in our homeland. That gives us strength,” she answered.