Journal Highlights: Roads I Have Traveled ... Excerpt # 5 Nagorno-Karabakh, 1998

(continued): Nagorno-Karabakh: August, 1998: The archbishop is a strong man whom I judged to be in his late fifties. His slightly graying beard somewhat hid a classic squared jaw and chiseled features. He stood with strength and dignity, but his soft eyes revealed his kindness and gentleness of spirit. He knew some English, but he spoke to us through an interpreter. 

Our meeting with the archbishop was so meaningful to me that I asked if I could have my photo taken with the archbishop and Baroness Cox. Along with Zori, they had fought an impossible war and were not defeated. “The war showed many miracles. As with the miracles in the Old Testament, victory was not just because of the people of Karabakh; it was because of the Lord.” To illustrate his point, he told me the account of a battle during the war that took place close by in a village referred to as “Under the Rock.” 

A small group of thirty Karabakhi soldiers were dispatched to guard the village from a sneak attack. A battalion of at least three hundred Turkish and Azerbaijani soldiers surrounded the village and prepared for their offensive to completely destroy the village and all the men, women and children there. The day was completely clear and sunny. The group of Karabakhi soldiers realized they needed thirty minutes at least to get all the women and children out of the village before the deadly attack of the enemy. They prayed that God would somehow grant them the thirty minutes necessary. Out of nowhere in the sky came a bright-white vapor cloud. The fog was so dense that they couldn’t see in front of them. The cloud of fog passed between the villagers and the enemy and stopped for thirty minutes. When the women and children were safely out and away, the cloud passed on and evaporated. 

In the ensuing battle, which lasted the rest of the day, only thirteen Karabakhi soldiers were killed. The Karabakhi soldiers had won. Over half of the Azerbaijani forces lay dead, and many more were wounded. “That was a miracle,” insisted the archbishop. 

Tuesday, August 18

Our next stop was Stepanakert’s general hospital. The schedule was tight enough that we didn’t even have time for a lunch break. The thing I observed that both the children’s hospital and the general hospital need most is a total replacement of the buildings. Both hospitals had taken fifteen to twenty direct missile hits and a lot of mortar hits. The ceilings and walls still have not been repaired, and it isn’t unusual to find holes and bomb fragments in the wooden hallways. 

Next, we rushed to assess the maternity hospital where Dr. Arthur Marutian and his administration staff welcomed us. The maternity hospital received quite a number of direct and indirect missile and mortar hits during the fighting. Quite frankly, the building isn’t worth trying to salvage. The outside walls are collapsing, and the inside of the building sustained structural damage. On our tour of the facilities, I discovered that the hospital has been completely without water for the past four days. I kept asking myself how they can run a hospital without regular access to fresh water and electricity. 

Dr. Marutian responded very positively when I suggested that they think about altering the old Soviet style and philosophy of health care. As we walked down the dark corridors of the hospital, I told him about the many hundreds of hospitals I had visited throughout the old Soviet Union. 

“I am very aware,” I told the doctor, “of the idea of total central control of the health-care system by the Soviet government. Their idea was to place each specialty in a separate hospital location. Then they could more easily control the movements and procedures of everyone, because no one had an opportunity to communicate with anyone else.” He nodded his head in agreement. “The hospitals I have visited so far in Stepanakert have all needed everything. I am guessing that the other ones we will be visiting also need everything. But Project C.U.R.E. can’t fully equip five or six separate hospitals here in the city. It would be my suggestion that you abandon separate hospitals and combine all the medical specialties in one new hospital building with separate departments for the specialties. By so doing, you here at the maternity hospital would have access to a fully equipped, modern operating room, radiology department, and diagnostics laboratory.” 

To my surprise, Dr. Marutian really jumped at the idea and said there were others in Stepanakert who were in agreement about needing to dump the old Soviet system of medical care. To underscore the maternity hospital’s dire need for new equipment, the doctor took me into the main delivery room. There he walked to the metal delivery table and lifted up the pad that covered the tabletop. The entire end of the table where the delivery procedures took place was completely rusted out.

 “This is not just unsanitary with all this rust,” he said, “but if the end of the table drops off during one of my deliveries, we will all be in great trouble.” 

I told Dr. Marutian that before we leave Karabakh, Dr. Anthony Peel, the surgeon from England, and I will be meeting with the prime minister and making recommendations for Stepanakert’s health-care system. I told Dr. Marutian that since he is one of the doctors who would be willing to break away from the old Soviet health system concepts, I would like to be able to call on him or at least use his name to support our recommendations. He smiled broadly and gave me a “thumbs up.” I knew that somehow we were going to hit a homerun!

Next Week: No Caravan to Yerevan, Lord let me fly by chopper. 

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

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