23 February 2021
From the very first days of the conflict between the Republic of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Armenian diaspora from all over the world united in an extraordinary wave of solidarity to support the people of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. For the young generations in France, this momentum prompted their desire to go to Armenia and contribute directly to helping those in need, by bringing them comfort, moral support and emergency humanitarian aid.
Distributing food boxes, hygiene bags and school kits for the displaced families of Artsakh
Frrom 14 November to 8 December, around twenty volunteers, mostly alumni of the AGBU « Arménie, terre de vie » programme, flew to Yerevan to carry out several missions in close collaboration with the AGBU team in Armenia. In preparation for the trip, the volunteers raised a total of 30.000€ through crowdfunding, in addition to the 20.000 € donated by AGBU France in support for their initiative.
Their mission consisted, in part, in the preparation of food boxes and hygiene bags for the displaced families of Artsakh. The food boxes contained non-perishable goods but also fresh products such as chicken, butter and cheese purchased from different farms in the Tavush region, in coordination with the Armenian Fund of France.
In total, more than 600 boxes, for a total value of 30.000 euros, were prepared and distributed by the volunteers to different families from Artsakh, in the municipalities of Goris, Nor Geghi, Kasakh and Gavar. With them, the volunteers also brought more than thirty suitcases of clothing for the displaced populations. Almost 700 kilos of clothing were distributed in Goris, Gavar and Yerevan.
With the funds raised, the volunteers also prepared complete school kits for children as well as care and beauty kits for women and men. The team of volunteers also decided to support several families in need, facing housing difficulties, with a grant of 300€ which allowed them to live in a hotel for two additional months before planning their return to Artsakh.
Witnessing the impact of the war in Artsakh
In addition to these humanitarian aid missions, the volunteers travelled to the monastery of Dadivank, in the region of Kelbadjar, for the last mass held by Father Hovhannès Hovhannisyan before this prominent Armenian symbol came under the control of Azerbaijan. On the road, they saw houses, schools and power stations set on fire. “When you see these images, you realise the drama of the war. And we feel terribly powerless…”, says Célia Tassin, a volunteer on the trip. On the way back to Yerevan, the volunteers visited the military cemetary of Yerablur to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers.
In Yerevan, the volunteers also met with the wounded of the chemical attacks by Azerbaijan still in treatment at the hospital due to the disastrous and long-lasting effects of white phosphorus. “We want to tell them that we support them and tell the world not to forget them. Our duty is to inform the international community of the terrible consequences of the use of banned chemical weapons,” explains one of the volunteers, Laura Bal.
The volunteers left Armenia with the objective to return as soon as possible and to continue to raise funds in France to be able to finance long-term reintegration projects for the families resettling in Artsakh. “We need to build a solid project that will have an impact on these families over the coming months and years. We need to invest financially, on a regular basis, to help rebuild this country, and help these people return to the land of their ancestors,” explains Arnaud Bal, volunteer on the mission.
In 2021, the “Arménie, Terre de Vie” summer programme intends to set up its next edition in Artsakh, with the hope of providing concrete help to the populations hard hit by this tragedy.
Giving the children of Artsakh their smile back
Following this first mission of French volunteers to Armenia and Artsakh after the war, five members of the sport committee of AGBU Paris decided to organise a second trip to the region during the end of the year holiday season. Prior to their trip, they raised more than 45,000 euros in donations to support the children of displaced families of Artsakh and “to give them back their smile”.
From the very first days of the war, women and children had to leave their homes in emergency to flee the attacks of a rare intensity on the civilian population. As a result, the vast majority of children were out of school, cut off from both their homes and their communities.
Led by Sam Najarian, president of the Sport Committee of AGBU Paris, in coordination with Herminé Duzian, Youth & Sport programmes director for AGBU France, the volunteers spent three days in Artsakh, distributing toys, candies and warm clothes to more than 4000 children in the schools of Stepanakert, Martuni, Martaket, Askeran, Ayguestan and Noragyurh. They also provided financial assistance to more than 70 displaced families in Armenia.
“It is essential to make a donation to humanitarian organisations, but volunteer missions in the field allow us to really get a sense of the crisis that the families on the ground are going through,” explained Sam Najarian. “We are already thinking of going back to continue the work we have started and continue our support to the families of Artsakh, he added.
Providing moral, financial and material support to the civilian population
After the success of the first two volunteer missions carried out by AGBU Paris and its Sports Committee, several volunteers from AGBU Valence, in southeast France, expressed the wish to go to Armenia in order to provide, in their turn, moral, financial and material support to the most affected displaced families. In January, 11 volunteers from Valence flew to Armenia for this mission. With the funds raised in France prior to their departure, they purchased 400 electric heaters and 250 duvets, sheets and pillows which they distributed, along with 400 food boxes, to the families in need.
During this three-day distribution, the volunteers collected poignant testimonies from victims still coping with post-war trauma. “We have to imagine that these people had a normal life before the violence and the war. Providing them with our help was a duty for our group of volunteers. Beyond the material, food and financial aid, our presence in Artsakh has provided invaluable moral support to the civilian population who felt abandoned during and after the conflict. I can only encourage volunteers from the diaspora to respond to the call for volunteers launched by AGBU France,” reports Kevin Markarian, president of AGBU Valence.
The group visited School number 10 in Stepanakert, part of which was destroyed during the war. They brought children games as gifts (balls, skipping ropes and chess sets) to the pupils who are trying to return to as normal a life as possible on the school benches. The volunteers also offered drawings made by the pupils of the two Armenian schools in Valence, Tavitian and Kevork Arabian schools.
The strength of war-affected families
Of these four days spent in Artsakh, the contact with the population is what most impressed the volunteers. Their resilience and courage left no doubt that a better future is possible for the people of Artsakh and Armenia. “The welcome we received despite the conditions in the country has more than touched us and above all has shown us their strength. Despite their modesty, we felt the distress and uncertainty in the resolution of this conflict, but also their determination to stay on their land”, concluded Gayané Kaskassian, President of the YP Valence.