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Liberation of Shushi: The Turning Point of the “Wedding in the Mountains”

On May 8, 27 years ago in Karabakh, the city of Shushi was liberated as a result of an assault. Some call the operation “liberation of Shushi”, others - “capture”. But for those residents of Stepanakert and other settlements who lived in basements because of the constant shelling from Shushi, the label doesn’t matter. What matters is that people - for the first time in many months went out to get some fresh air and saw the sun.

May 8 in the history of the Karabakh war will perhaps be remembered as a turning point – with that day marking the start of the operation called “wedding in the mountains”, which changed not only the course of the Karabakh war, but also the mentality of Armenians who realized that it was possible to win against all odds...

Shushi liberation day is usually celebrated on May 9, but this date is rather symbolic. In fact, plans for taking Shushi had been developed earlier. As Lieutenant-General Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan, (the legendary Comandos) head of the operation “wedding in the mountains” said in his interviews 7 years ago, "the assault was set for May 5, but the unexpected snow delayed the assault until May 8. So, in any case, it had been announced, but the case was deferred because of the shortage of weapons. On April 24, 28, 29 and May 4 there were several imitations of the assault. Different dates of the assault were circulated to mislead the enemy also with false maneuvers to divert attention and prevent them from figuring out the main direction of assault. Weak strikes were made in all directions, and after April 27, the enemy, believing the false information about the deadlines, launched an offensive, putting us in a very difficult position on April 29 and 30. When the real assault began, the enemy fell into a state of panic from the suddenness and force of the strike and was already incapacitated. They faced fighters who were ready to self-sacrifice. Shushi is unapproachable when it is defended by its masters not the invaders. According to military laws it is impregnable, but 20 years ago, people who went into the assault consciously  sacrificed themselves. I want to stress that that the key players of the assault were the volunteers who already had military experience and who consciously sacrificed themselves. It is impossible to retell all the details of that maneuver, and therefore I will only mention that the surprise, 4 directions of impact, 10-15 km each, and a broad front of attack (over 45 km) helped us. The actions of the Armenian side had led the enemy into a state of panic. As a result of the imitation of offensive operations the enemy decided that the Armenian side was seeking to seize Janhasan, Kesalar. The Azerbaijanis knew our capabilities and had quite a competent plan for the defense of Shushi. After the capture of Krkzhan, when we were strengthened in the direction of Kesalar - Janhasan, the key to the liberation of Shushi was already in our hands. On May 8, the operation called "Wedding in the Mountains" began, which ended at dawn on May 9 "...

Today, to many such a calm talk about the capture of a whole city — even an impregnable one, may seem ominous. To many but not to those who know, remember everything that happened in Karabakh on those terrible days. If for some people Shushi is just a city today, then it was one of the most important Azerbaijani sites for the shelling of Armenian settlements. Thousands of Stepanakert residents could not go up to their apartments from the basements, because the city was fired from Shushi - day and night. And if today many people would perceive it as just words, then God forbid anyone in reality to experience what it is like to live in basements without power, heat, food, without the hope that it will ever end. Therefore for many, the day of taking Shushi became the day of liberation. It does not matter that there was no glass left in Stepanakert (after so many bombings). What matters is that many have the feeling that there is life in the world without bombs and even without war...

Many rejoiced. But not all. As Comandos recollects, "while celebrating we shot in the air, I was anxious for three days in a row that a counter-offensive could happen and we would lose the victory for which we paid such a high price. I felt the taste of victory, but the anxiety was obsessive, it faded out all the emotions about the victorious assault. There was the pain of loss, we lost many close people…"

Of course, the war did not end there. Many more young people died without playing their weddings. Vazgen Sargsyan did not marry, because of which, by the way, the Shushi operation was called "Wedding in the Mountains" (when Comandos and Samvel Babayan, who were responsible for taking Shushi from different directions, presented the plan of opeations to Vazgen Sargsyan several days before, the latter said that was impossible, and in response to the statements, promised that after taking Shushi he would definitely get married.) The war went on for another two years – till the truce on May 12, 1994. However, Shushi became a turning point in the Karabakh war. And indeed, after Shushi, the end of the war became tangible ....  

But the war is not over. Shushi today needs to be built up. Vacant apartments and houses should be settled. We must breathe into the city the life it deserves. It is necessary that officials and celebrities visit Shushi not only on holidays. It is necessary that the joy Shushi liberation gave us, settles in the houses of the residents of this city. They deserve it. And they will deserve it - because the war is not over yet...

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