After the war of 2020, as Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) struggled with an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative launched an emergency aid program to help the locals. Today, support is given by the Aurora for Artsakh program to five top-priority directions – urgent humanitarian aid, healthcare, infrastructure restoration, social development, and education, culture and sports. The people of Artsakh are on their way to recover, and this is how Aurora is assisting them.
Providing Urgent Aid
In the first phase of the Aurora for Artsakh program, it helped implement numerous humanitarian projects designed to provide immediate support to the children and adults directly affected by the war in Artsakh. Most of them were forced to flee their homes, often leaving all of their possessions behind, and were placed in temporary or permanent shelters. With winter fast approaching, the first and foremost task was to make sure the refugees had folding beds and bedding, heaters, food, and warm clothes, as well as other essentials, including medicine.
Among the IDPs were several pregnant women, exhausted and in acute need of medical help and counselling, which was promptly provided by the Prolife NGO. “It was too difficult to go through the war and to lose everything you have built for years. And when my daughter asks me every day when we are going back home to Karabakh, believe me, it’s way too hard. The meetings with the psychologist can be helpful to overcome the pain,” says Metaksya Abrahamyan, who was already a mother of two and pregnant with her third child when the war broke out.
Healing the Traumatized
Protecting healthcare in conflict and giving the most vulnerable groups access to the high-quality services they require can be very challenging. Several Armenian-based and international organizations have joined forces to make sure the people of Artsakh got proper healthcare during and after the conflict. To that end, a mobile clinic was set up to tend to the wounded, vital medication was distributed among the elderly, and soldiers with disabilities received rehabilitation. A significant number of doctors have moved out of the country after the war, which presented an additional challenge. The Artsakh Ministry of Health, supported by Aurora, is currently promoting bringing more healthcare specialists from Armenia and abroad to the region and encouraging them to share their expertise with the local personnel.
The Traveling Doctors of Armenia NGO has been working on establishing a properly supervised transportation service for the patients with disabilities to shuttle them between their check-ups in Yerevan and their homes in Artsakh and elsewhere. “With Armenia’s health services overstretched, TDA aims to offer the necessary service to the people in need of regular medical attention who would otherwise struggle to reach it. We are grateful to Aurora for supporting the project,” says Dr. Armine Barkhudaryan, Founder of Travelling Doctors of Armenia.
Fixing the Damage
During the war, populated areas in Artsakh were repeatedly targeted and shelled with heavy weaponry, putting the civilians at risk and damaging or even destroying numerous buildings. Once the ceasefire was established, the restoration of the infrastructure, especially hospitals, schools, and kindergartens, became one of the top priorities for the projects, institutions, and organizations supported by Aurora, among them the Stepanakert City Administration and the Artsakh Ministry of Urban Planning.
The younger generation, having endured the hardships caused by the war with the same spirit and resilience as their parents and grandparents, can’t wait to take part in this inspiring yet daunting enterprise. 10-year-old Slavik Seyranyan from the Arakel village of the Hadrut District, Artsakh, plans to become an architect to help restore his homeland to its proper glory. “Much has been destroyed in Artsakh; someone should rebuild it all,” he says. For the time being, he makes his dream house on a table, out of wooden blocks.
One of the communities that welcomed the displaced Armenians from Artsakh was the village of Nerkin Khndzoresk in Syunik region (Armenia). Ten families eventually decided to stay there for a long time, which presented the challenge of their integration and employment. To address that, the Near East Foundation decided to open the Power of Bread bakery with funding from Aurora. The bakery employs five people from Artsakh and three local people from vulnerable families and has provided free or discounted bread to the residents in need. “The Power of Bread is the only bakery in the community, so its residents, a total of 230 people, save time and money on traveling to neighboring communities to buy bread or baked goods. The bakery also serves as a supplier for a local school and kindergarten,” explains Arpine Baghdoyan, Director of NEF Armenia. In addition, some of the local and international organizations that visited the bakery have decided to fund more initiatives that would further support the bakery’s work.
Boosting the Economy
The conflict has dealt a hard blow to Artsakh’s economy, uprooted thousands of people, and deprived many of them of a stable source of income. Today, strategic solutions are needed on the ground, and Aurora brings long-term social development back to the agenda by funding the projects that boost economy and assist micro and small enterprises in the region. Among them are entrepreneurial and vocational trainings for the youth, support for the local brands and creation of the new job opportunities for the IDPs.
Naira Ohanyan from Hadrut is Chief Specialist for Local Self-Governance in the Artsakh Government Operational Headquarters of Artsakh in the Republic of Armenia. She also knits incredibly beautiful coverlets for the Nakhshoon Hadrut brand launched by the Hadrut De-Occupation NGO. “People come to us with their problems and concerns. We need to listen to them, to understand, advise, give them the right solution. Let’s say, it’s not an easy job… Maybe that’s why when I was offered to join the team of Nakhshoon Hadrut, I agreed without thinking twice. Of course, I immediately told them that it’ll be my first time knitting patterns. I looked it up online, saw how it was done and learnt that. Now, I know how to do it,” says Naira with pride.
Investing in the Future
The Aurora Dialogues discussion titled “Partnership for Artsakh” was held in UWC Dilijan on May 2, 2021, and followed by another event in Artsakh on September 11, 2021. Aurora brought together the partners of the Aurora for Artsakh program, local and Diaspora organizations, foundations, government agencies and mass media representatives to figure out the best solutions for healthcare, economic development, education and culture and social issues and review the new proposals for the Aurora for Artsakh program aimed at ensuring long-term development in the region.
Above all, the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative remains committed to preserving and promoting Armenian presence in the region in the long term. To that end, it brings international humanitarian leaders like Mirza Dinnayi and Bernard Kouchner to Armenia and Artsakh, exploring new opportunities to help the local population and to support Artsakh’s international standing. Aurora also supports several projects that facilitate the psychological and physical rehabilitation of the children affected by the war, help young people study culinary arts and drama, and form sports teams to strengthen the spirit of the local kids.
In December 2020, set on bringing joy to the children affected by the war, Margarita Vardanyan and Diana Petrosyan launched the Christmas Miracle for Artsakh project and teamed up with Aurora to give a perfect holiday gift to 5,500 local children. Displaced kids from across Artsakh were asked to write Christmas letters to Santa, which the team then read and used donations to make all of the children’s Christmas wishes come true.
Nelly Marutyan works with the children of Artsakh who have settled in Goris, where a joint project called Lead with Empathy (LwE) is implemented in collaboration with the Refugees United Soccer Academy (iACT) and the GOALS ARMENIA. “I don’t think everyone playing football today will choose it as their vocation in future. But for now, these girls and boys who have already witnessed the horrors and hardships of war in their young age simply need it. Exercising helps relieve stress, makes a person more organized, helps develop team-oriented mindset and motivates. My main goal is to give children moments of happiness through sport. I want to see them smiling, growing up healthy and happy,” says Nelly.
In the last to date stage of the Aurora for Artsakh program, 2021 Aurora Prize Laureate Julienne Lusenge has selected 14 projects, seven of which are implemented with the Prize funds to alleviate the needs of the local population. With the Aurora Co-Founders’ matching contribution, Aurora has allocated $500,000 to the projects in Artsakh in this stage.
The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative continues to expand the Aurora for Artsakh program and has opened a new office in Stepanakert, Artsakh to streamline its local humanitarian activities and strengthen its presence in the region. Since the launch of the humanitarian program for Artsakh, Aurora has already directed more than $2,200,000 to support 94 projects in Artsakh, implemented by 65 local and international partners, and helped 131,000 people in the region.
In order to make a difference and join Aurora’s vision of a better future for Artsakh, please support the Aurora for Artsakh program by making a donation here.