Tag: Armenia

09 Nov 2020

Humans of Artsakh: Aida M.

Aida M, a seventeen-year-old girl, is an 11th grader at Vitali Jhangiryan High School in Stepanakert, Artsakh. On the morning of September 27, 2020, at approximately 7:15 am, Aida was speaking to her father and the two were discussing sports as she was getting ready to begin her school assignments, when suddenly they heard the noise of bombing. The first hour of the bombing she was unable to contact or speak with her mother, as she had been in a gym during the attack. Once her mother returned, they went to the shelters seeking safety from the bombing. She felt safer there, although the electricity was inconsistent. The bombing in her neighborhood was constant. Her neighbor had been injured and was hospitalized. The windows and balconies of her family’s apartment were destroyed and the houses in front theirs had completely disappeared. She states “I can’t remember exactly how many times we heard sirens warning of bombs. It was very often.”  She never saw the full extent of damage to her hometown, as the next day her parents decided to send Aida and her siblings to Yerevan for safety.

Aida, along with her brother Aren (16) and her sister Sophia (19) are staying in a family home in the Yerevan while her parents remain in Stepanakert. Her sister, Sophia has been very frightened since she was sleeping when the bombing noise began and it terrified her. While in Yerevan Aida has been volunteering her time to help any way. Sadly, Aida’s grandfather had passed away a few days after the war began and her family arrived in Yerevan to organize his funeral, after which her parents went back home to Stepanakert. Aida is worried for her parents. Her father had been driving in their hometown when a bomb exploded nearby, and although they lost the family car, thankfully her father survived. When Aida speaks to her parents, they tell her that everything will be okay. Aida wants nothing more than to go back home, stating, “I miss my room, I miss my home, I miss my school, I miss my Artsakh.” Aida is ambitious and has many goals she wants to accomplish. She says, “my only dream is peace. But I also want to become a good lawyer and maybe I’ll be able to show the world the REAL JUSTICE and really protect human’s rights.”

Photographs depict the first day of the attacks, in front of her family’s apartment and her family’s car

 

07 Nov 2020

Humans of Artsakh: Narine J.

Entry 2

I am doing okay, as the days pass quite fast, busy, and packed. I don’t seem to lack anything I need. I am staying in Armenia for another month, and then I will decide what my next step will be. 

Looking in the faces of the people in Armenia, you cannot help but notice the emotions of sadness, fear, deep concern, sense of being alone, helplessness, and also a strong sense of ‘we have got to win,’ there being no other option, and we have got to defend ourselves, because there is no other option. There is a tornado in people’s minds, including mine, which is actively being fueled by the pull of the news and social media exposure, to the point where I have made it a point to stay away as much as possible, so that I can use my energy more constructively, and not allow it to leak. 

Today, I think, every individual is winning if they can cultivate and maintain a tranquil mind, amidst the chaos – while they do what they need and can do – because if we lose that, we lose everything. I am also coming across people in Armenia, here and there, who are giving in to misinterpretations of the spiritual principle of “non-violence” or “non-harm” to condemn war for both parties, thus making the unforgivable error of viewing self-defense as an act of violence. Of course, I would always suggest those people to wave their flag of peace and non-violence not from their homes, but to take it right to the front-line and wave it in front of the enemy soldiers, and then see what happens. Also, I would ask them, “what would you do if it was your mother, your father and brother, being slaughtered in front of your eyes? Would you go to the perpetrator and wave a flag of peace OR grab the nearest tool or weapon to defend them?

I can see Masis from my window, Masis is so grounded and calm, yet it has seen countless atrocities and injustice over the centuries… This too shall pass, Masis thinks…

People talk so much, governments too, yet there is no substantial ACTION coming from them. We have to rely on ourselves, as a collective. 

I cherish instances of hope where I come across someone who is not afraid to name things as they are, who has morals and can speak the truth unafraid, without being “politically correct” or selling their mother to money. In therapy there is a wonderful saying that goes: “Trust the behavior, not the words!”

This is all that came to mind now. 

05 Nov 2020

Humans of Artsakh: Narine J.

Entry 1

I am safe and well. waking up three days a week at night to do my classes on zoom, and then somewhat recovering from sleepiness during the day. Also, my meditation teacher and I have been reaching out to those interested in meditation and we were pleasantly surprised to find people who are genuinely interested; especially now, people are searching for healthy and sustainable ways to deal with their pain, and the external turmoil we are exposed to. My teacher and I are working on translating key content and literature on meditation from English into Armenian, making this process even more meaningful and effective. 

It happened so that my meditation teacher, who is also a licensed psychotherapist from CA, started seeing clients here, and we have already had a number of people from Artsakh who are now in Yerevan, come for sessions! Every time they leave the session I can see the difference… It’s as if I am in training, learning from my mentor/teacher, as I continue my MA remotely to officially start working as a psychotherapist (MFT) once I graduate in May.

29 Oct 2020

Humans of Artsakh: Hasmik Grigoyan

On October 5, 2020, Hasmik Grigoyan, a sixty-two year old woman, fled Stepanakert with her five grandchildren, leaving behind the rest of her family, including two sons, a daughter, and their spouses, as well as her own husband. She had not heard from them for the last two days. “Most of the time, they don’t call but when they message ‘haghtelu enk,’ [Armenian for we are going to win], I figure they are O.K” she says.  Her two sons and son in law are in the military, serving on the front lines. “Don’t ask anyone what their husband does, they are all fighters” she says.  She states she’s never seen anything like this, her house, which they built less than thirty years ago, is leveled to the ground. 

Mrs. Hasmik symbolizes the strong love that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh have for their homeland. She states that within thirty minutes of the ceasefire, she will return home. Adding “although here, I am staying with my relatives, I was born in Nagorno-Karabakh and I am going to die on my land.”

She was one of the few optimists in the group of women who had come to receive assistance from Orran. Orran, meaning “haven” in Armenian, is a humanitarian organization established and run by Armine Hovanissian and her husband Raffi Hovanisian. Many women and children, like Mrs. Hasmik and her grandchildren, sought refuge at Orran. Orran’s initial mission of supporting local at risk youth with food, shelter, and education, quickly expanded to include emergency assistance for the vulnerable displaced families fleeing their homes in Artsakh for safety in Yerevan. When Susanna, an Orran team member said “lokh lava linelu,”[‘all will be good’ in the dialect of Nagorno-Karabakh]. Mrs. Hasmik started crying, saying, “it is the first time that it is not the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, but the people of Armenia who are saying lokh lava linelu.”

The children were running around happy and got happier when Orran’s staff asked them to choose among some toys. The boys grabbed the water guns and said this is how we are going to defend our homeland. As Mrs. Hasmik was ready to leave, she received a phone call that her husband’s nephew was just killed. Mrs. Hasmik was shattered.

(photos are of two of Hasmik’s five grandchildren)

 

 

25 Oct 2020

Orran: Lending Emergency Humanitarian Aid for Thousands Displaced by War

On a Mission

Having seen many children begging on the streets of Armenia, suffering from the lack of infrastructure during the infancy of the country’s independence from the Soviet Union, including no electricity or running water, Armine Hovannisian and her husband Raffi Hovannisian established an organization in 2000 to lend a helping hand. Orran, meaning “haven” in Armenian, began with a single center with 16 children, but within six months, it grew to embrace more than 26 at-risk elderly and 40 socially vulnerable children, some of whom were orphans.

Orran built clean and comfortable facilities for the children to feel welcome. The mission was to provide a daily hot meal, academic assistance, medical and psychological assistance, social services, vocational training, and cultural enrichment. Orran’s goal was to divert vulnerable children from the streets and engage them in academic, cultural, and extra-curricular activities. Various trades were taught to develop vulnerable children’s interests and talents toward a working career, including, theater, drama, woodshop, and pottery. Orran not only helped families in crisis, but also fought the concept of beggar children as the principal breadwinners of their families. The lonely and needy elderly were also cared for to prevent the spread of destitution and begging among Armenia’s children and elderly. Orran’s small project had grown from 16 children in 2000 to supporting approximately 400 people in Vanadzor and Yerevan before the current war.

On September 27, 2020, Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, started an outright attack on Artsakh. Days after the initial attack it became clear that this attack was different from the region’s conflict of the early 1990’s. This time Azerbaijan is directly targeting cities and civilian homes with sophisticated weapons provided by Turkey, forcing the strong people of Artsakh to flee abruptly, with no belongings or documentation, from the constant bombardment of their homes and head to Yerevan for safety. At the time of this interview, a rough estimate of approximately 60,000 displaced people had been accounted for. Mothers with their children were arriving to the city, giving rise to a very urgent need to supply food, clothing and shelter.

Orran knew its mission must expand to provide nutritious meals and snacks for the displaced children as well as continuing to assist the local at risk children of Yerevan. After Orran made an announcement for families, hundreds of children arrived at the centers. In the first week of the war, Orran provided 200 meals to children, with approximately 400 meals anticipated in the upcoming week. Hundreds of food meal packages became needed to provide daily assistance to the displaced families.

Armine notes, a displaced young mother who had been given a vacant apartment to use as temporary shelter, had resorted to taking off the drapes to wrap her babies in for warmth through the night as there had been no blankets in the empty apartment. It became clear that it was of utmost urgency that Orran’s next project was to provide warm winter clothing, shoes, and blankets to the families as the cold winter season nears.

Many who fled their homes, not only left their belongings behind, but also left their fathers, husbands, and brothers fighting on the frontlines. They arrived in Yerevan in a state of fear and anxiety. A commonplace sight is worried women who cannot stop crying to speak full coherent sentences to Orran’s staff and children who are so traumatized by the bombing of their homes that they cannot sleep with the sound of thunderstorms, thinking they are bombs. Psychological assistance has been also requested to assist the women and children in dealing with this trauma. 

The future of these families is uncertain. They do not know what will happen, if and when they will be able to go back to their homes or whether they even have homes to go back to. The families of Artsakh are strong willed and hopeful, stating that the minute a ceasefire is reached, they will be returning home as soon as possible. The unfortunate reality, however, is that even when a ceasefire is achieved, there are unexploded bombs all over Artsakh, a further obstacle in the way of families returning back home immediately.

Orran is currently a haven for thousands of the most vulnerable people. The needs of people are growing and Orran’s original mission is expanding. In order to remain a refuge for the families, Orran is currently seeking donations to be able to extend the support, provide more food, more shelter, clothing and provide assistance in the upcoming cold winter. With increased funding Orran will be able to provide 800 meals and necessities to the families in need. Those interested in becoming donors may make monetary donations online by going to the website or by sending a check to Orran, each of whom will receive a personal letter of gratitude from Armine herself.  Furthermore, subscribing to the Orran mailing list ensures being updated with reports and photographs of the humanitarian projects underway.

 

Armine Hovannisian – ORRAN

“What is happening in Armenia now is very much reflective of genocidal stories. We grew up hearing of and reading stories of the genocide. We always wondered how the world stayed quiet. Now, in this contemporary and modern world it is unbelievable what is happening. I am glad that we, as a community, are coming together and putting forth strong efforts to help, but we can do more. More than ever this is the time to do it.”

 

Armine Hovannisian’s Story:

Armine Hovannisian was born in Armenia, and moved with her family to the United States as a young child. She holds a B.A. in Diplomacy and World Affairs from Occidental College, and a Juris Doctorate degree from University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law. She was a practicing civil litigator in Los Angeles prior to moving to Armenia with her husband and their children. Before assuming her current post as Executive Director of Junior Achievement of Armenia, Mrs. Hovannisian was the Director of Project Hope. Armine and her husband Raffi Hovannisian are the parents of five children. Mrs. Hovannisian currently serves as the Chairman of the Orran Board of Directors and looks over the daily operations at the centers.

 

 

How to contribute to Orran:

Established in 2000 in Los Angeles, California, is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, youth service organization. Visit http://www.orran.am/ for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

23 Oct 2020

Humans of Artsakh: Rima

 
War is not merely about facts and figures. It is about real people with unfinished stories and broken memories.
 
“We could not do anything in that underground basement except wait and pray,” begins Rima Makarovna Gasparyan in the Artsakh dialect during our tele-interview. She, her son Vladimir Gasparyan and his wife Valentina, her niece Susanna Sargsyan and her son little Arman, waited in the basement the entire night until the sounds of bombings stopped in Hadrout. On September 27, 2020 at around 7:00 am, Rima woke up to the sounds of shelling. “At first when I heard the blasts, I thought it was our boys conducting a military exercise, as they often do,” she says. (The Gasparyans live near the southern border of Artsakh.) She did not even have time to comprehend the reality of the situation before Vladimir hurried them into the basement, which served as a temporary bomb shelter for the building residents. He then rushed to bring Susanna and little Arman. He managed to reach them just in time before their home was destroyed.
 
This experience evoked in each family member, painful, unwelcome memories of war, displacement, and pogroms. Each of them have been affected in one way or another by persecution and anti-Armenian sentiment. Susanna escaped from the Sumgait pogroms in 1988. Vladimir fought in the first Artsakh war from 1989 to 1994. Rima, the remaining matriarch, having witnessed her relatives, friends, and students perish, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Rima is a retired Russian Literature teacher and former high school principal of Hadrout. “Haven’t they had enough bloodshed? How much more do they need?” she asks and pauses as if expecting an answer from me.
 
They awoke the next morning to find their home in ruins. Vladimir transported his family, (along with their neighbor and her young son who were left homeless) to Yerevan. He then returned to Hadrout in search of others to bring to safety. Rima’s nephews Makar Muradyan, tank commander David Muradyan, as well as David’s eighteen-year-old son Mikhail remained in Artsakh to serve in the army.
 
“I pray that the enemy’s hearts soften…that God rids them of the hatred they harbor against us,” Rima says with a sigh. On October 20, 2020, Mikhail was killed. As I write this article, Mikhail’s funeral procession is taking place. David will bury his only son at Yerablur Pantheon, the military cemetery in Yerevan.
 
This is not just a regional issue, but a direct attempt to erase the Armenian people and the Armenian identity. Our collective identity is intricately connected to every mountain, to every stream, to every tree in Artsakh. We should not have to validate our existence. Let us embrace the Artsakhian mentality of stubborn resilience. “God is with us. We will be victorious, you will see. We will return to our homes soon enough,” Rima says confidently.
 
(written by Rima’s granddaughter Aida Bagdasaryan)
22 Oct 2020

Humans of Artsakh: Narine’s Diaries Entry 5 & 6

Entry 5 

I just learned of the death of a friend’s 18-year-old brother in Hadrut. I went to visit his mother and sister to pay my respects. His mother hasn’t accepted the reality that her son has been killed. She hopes her only son is still alive. She speaks of him, telling me how much they were connected to one another. While on duty, her son was frequently calling her, even asking her to talk with him a little longer. She tells me how he made her flee to the city recently, so he wouldn’t be anxious about her safety while he was off defending the homeland with his friends.

While visiting his mother, my friends and I…we couldn’t cry. I wish I could cry. But I wasn’t able to shed a single tear to show my grief. I just blankly stared into her eyes while speaking with her so, she could feel that I really sympathized.

Today, his body will arrive to his beloved mother. Which means, tomorrow we, the women, will bury him. I say the women, because all the men are fighting terrorism on the frontline of our homeland.

Please, remember him in your prayers. His name was Michael. 

 

Entry 6

The day my husband told me that I had to evacuate with the children I didn’t take it seriously. Why should I leave when my entire life has been devoted to living in Artsakh? Yet now, when our homeland was facing this existential crisis and defending it was crucial, all of a sudden it was not a matter up for discussion? I felt like I was an unofficial soldier and since the war had started I had no other choice but to stay and defend my homeland. 

While contemplating leaving our homeland, our neighbor, a professor of Russian language and literature, had been keeping us positive in the early days of the war with his talented storytelling, even though his own son had been drafted in the war. As the war continued, he began insisting that it was no longer safe for the children to stay in Artsakh.

We started preparing to leave our home. The other women and I were convincing ourselves that leaving was our duty because by evacuating we were protecting our men. We all had an unspoken understanding that if something were to happen to any one of us it would be unjustifiable to occupy a wounded soldier’s hospital bed, use the limited supply of medicine, or occupy the attention of the heroic doctors who had spent many sleepless nights at the hospital. So, we hesitantly took our children and left our homes for the sake of our men on the frontlines.

On the journey to Armenia, the nature was fantastically beautiful the entire way, with the playful colors of autumn and the forests covered with a creeping veil of mist. I took my camera out, with one kid leaning against my shoulder and another one with his head on my leg, and managed to start clicking the shutter button randomly. I tried to capture and store all of the natural beauty before my eyes – not only in my camera, but also in my mind and heart to take it with me wherever we may end up going. I was staring at the gorgeous and majestic mountains, a plume of smoke at a remote distance, and thinking how this peaceful fragile scenery could be interrupted so abruptly. As I was getting lost in my thoughts, I heard my friend ask – “Are you saying a farewell, Nar?”  

I looked back at the mountains standing strong and still. Suddenly, I had a flashback of the war in 1991, when I was a 6-year-old girl and was running with my siblings to find asylum in these mountainous villages of Artsakh. “We are our mountains, we will be here forever.” I replied.

We arrived in Yerevan. A regular life here seemed like a completely different dimension. My life in Artsakh was beginning to feel like it was so far away, a distant dream, as if it had never been reality. 

22 Oct 2020

Canadian-Armenian repat, Haik Kazarian, has initiated a fundraiser in order to help displaced families from Artsakh

He has raised more than $25,000 CAD with donations coming from Armenians and non-Armenians alike living all over the world. Haik has been documenting this project in detail on his social media. Haik is also collaborating with the ADFA (A Demand For Action) and has also founded a non-governmental organization, all in his courageous efforts to provide food and clothing to the displaced families from Artsakh.”
22 Oct 2020

Humans of Artsakh: The War Diaries by Narine Entry 4

The day passed in vague expectations. President Arayik Harutyunyan addressed us on-air stating the outbreak of unleashed war by Azerbaijan and declaring mobilization. Young men left to fight and the older ones remained to wait for their turn. We began to live a new reality. Peaceful life went underground in basements and bunkers with playing children, mothers singing lullabies to calm down their newborns, and so on. At the end of the day, while carrying a heavy table down those steps again, this time to make a bed for the kids, I said to my friend that I felt dumbstruck and I couldn’t accept the reality that it was happening to us again. “The same is with me” -she replied – ” as if I am in a capsule”. When our mission of providing living conditions was complete, we put a yoga mat on the floor, covered it with two blankets, and laid down head-to-toe together. In order not to breathe the dusty air we put respiratory masks on, then look at each other and burst out laughing. “We wish some international media covered the situation right here to show the world how we follow COVID-19 guidelines even in a state of war” – we said. To be honest I had never slept that well before. When I woke up a stray cat I used to feed every morning before going to work was staring at me closely wondering what I was doing laying in its territory. I smiled … never could imagine a scenario like this. I fed the cat as usual. Then I noticed Lilit, a mother of three boys, two of whom were in the army. She was rocking back and forth and murmuring. You know we have a saying in the Artsakh dialect, ”crying begets crying”. We believe that’s why we cling to life every time when there’s nothing left but to cry. I ask if anything happened. She looked at me with eyes full of horror and hope. She said that they had published a list of the names of perished soldiers. She was afraid to read it in fear that she might find her sons’ names on the list. I was petrified. I couldn’t find encouraging words, just tapped her shoulder, walked past her trying to suppress tears…crying begets crying …