“Artsakh Outreach” project second phase has kicked off.
Today we are in the Gugarats Diocese, in Vanadzor. The Diocesan Social affairs department head Hripsime Mirzoyan is summing up the results of Phase One of the “Artsakh Outreach” project, initiated by the blessings of the Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin II. She says that around 50 refugee families from Artsakh, currently residing in Vanadzor and adjacent areas, have received food packages and housekeeping supplies up to now.
“We have packed and prepared the food boxes till late night and hand delivered those to the beneficiary families. Overall, to make it clear, from the day one of the 44-day war in Artsakh all the priests in the Diocese have offered their support and care to the families of those who participated in the war as well as provided psychological support to thousands of refugees flowing in the city from Artsakh. We also had a number of priests who volunteered to the frontline”, Hripsime starts telling me.
According to her, late Primate of Gugarats Diocese Archbishop Sebouh Chouldjian had many sleepless nights true to his sense of religious mission and leadership. “He was next to everyone at all times”, Hripsime recalls, “without any rest… He even applied to the authorities to get permission to go to the frontline, but unfortunately did not manage to because of his illness…”
The new Primate Bishop Hovnan Hakobyan continues with same sense of mission and great care of all social endeavours. “The children who received gifts as part of this project, also received Hovnan Srbazan’s blessings. He keeps all needy and vulnerable families under his watch”, Hripsime says.
The Phase Two of the “Artsakh Outreach” project in Gugarats Diocese will touch 82 families and the deliveries already have begun. Around 900 children from Vanadzor and adjacent towns and villages in the families of those who fought in the recent war, as well as from refugee families, have received small Christmas gifts that included sweets, toys and a Bible.
After this introduction we visit the Bagiyants family – beneficiaries of this humanitarian project.
“I told him to take us away, at least the children, but he urged us to be like the rest”
The Bagiyants family from Charektar (Shahumyan region of Artsakh) came to Vanadzor from Stepanakert. The live here with the hope to return one day.
We are met by 39-year old Vergine. She is a mother of eight.
“Friends call me Valya”, Vergine tells me. She invites her daughter and son to join us in the room.
Albert Bagiyants, Vergine’s husband, fell like a hero in the war. Like in any such family, there is a corner in the room composed with photos and other personal items of the fallen hero. Valya goes on to tell me their story.
They are from Shahumyan region, Charektar village, but in the last four years lived in Stepanakert where they had their jobs. Their elder daughter studied in Artsakh State University and son decided to drop the school and get some vocational training. They rented a place in Stepanakert, but had two houses in Charektar: one donated by the government with the birth of sixth child, and the other one inherited from the in-laws. Valya says that it was too late when they were told that Charektar would not be yielded to Azerbaijan – by then nearly all houses in the village had been set on fire by the locals, not to be left to the Azeris. Valya’s family now is planning to return, when their houses are somehow renovated. She is not afraid of the adversary: “Whatever happens, let it be. We shall not let our houses be taken away… Maybe we eventually return to our living in Stepanakert before our homes are renovated, because our children are missing Artsakh…”
One of Valya’s sons is still in the army. He participated in the war, as a driver. Her husband was on contract service, was killed on September 30 in Karvachar. Valya starts crying: “He used a craftsman, a construction worker. He did whatever there was just to feed our family, so that we didn’t need anything”.
Albert was home when the war erupted, was just back from the frontline. Hearing the news, he dressed up quickly, went for a quick walk in the city. Then returned home, said his commander called and they had to go. “I told him to take us away, at least the children, but he urged us to be like the rest” and stay in the city. Then his other soldier-son urged them to leave the city: “Mom, this is not like the 2016 April war, take the kids and leave, we don’t know what will happen. Your stay here doesn’t help us”, – son told Valya.
At this point 9-year old Erik steps in. He starts telling about his new friends in Vanadzor, but also tells he is missing Artsakh.
“We are here temporarily. When the fighting ends, we will return home. When the war started, I was in the yard playing. Then we came here”, the 9-year old recalls. He tells us that he loves studying, that he loves English and sports. “I do sports, I will become a champ”, he promises.
Valya remembers that few years ago Erik dreamed of becoming a spy. When the elder brother told him that he will be exempt from the army due to the law, Erik would revolt and add: “No, when I grow up, I am going to serve in the army, voluntarily”.
We continue our introduction with other children too. Very lively family, with bright children.
Valya was given this space free, without any rent. The landlord homeowner they were from Artsakh and told them to stay as long as they wanted. The landlord, Valya says, paid the utilities for a few months, and now the charity organisations started helping them. She mentions the “Artsakh Outreach” project by the Mother See and adds that soon they would receive the second batch of monthly food supplies. For this visit, Hripsime brought only the presents for the kids. Next time in a week they will receive the food and housekeeping supplies, which are already carefully packed and ready to go.
Prepared by Zaruhi Dilanyan
February 15, 2021.