NKR Leadership Makes Boston Visit Ahead of Thanksgiving Day Telethon


By Alin K. Gregorian
Mirror-Spectator Staff

WATERTOWN, Mass. — The prime minister of Karabagh, Ara Harutunian, and his entourage, including the charismatic Primate of Karabagh, Archbishop Pargev Mardirossian, Karabagh’s representative to the US Robert Avetisyan and policy advisor David Babayan, made a local stop at the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center. The visit was one of several around the country that the group was making in advance of the annual Armenia Fund Telethon, which was scheduled to be broadcast on Thanksgiving Day.

Armenian Fund USA Chairman Raffi Festekjian showed a short film on the group’s focal point for its fundraising this year, which is the city of Shushi.

Shushi, a former capital of Armenia and one of the largest cities in the Caucasus in the 19th century, has been in ruins since the war for independence. It is going to receive increased support from the government of Karabagh also, which, according to Harutunian, is going to relocate the Ministry of Justice, as well as the Ministry of Culture and the Artsakh branch of the Armenian Agricultural University to the city in the upcoming years.

Festekjian opened the program by noting that the global economic difficulties have made life especially difficult for the rural residents of Armenia and Karabagh.

“The best way to provide a long-term solution is to make them fundamentally independent,” he said. As part of that independence, Karabagh needs improved infrastructure, including water, power lines and healthcare facilities. The next step, he said, is to develop the region’s businesses through training and micro financing.

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Mardirossian, speaking English fluently, said: “Seventeen years ago, our brothers and sisters gave their lives for Artsakh. It is time to come together and rebuild our historic capital.”

He suggested that if Shushi remained in its current dilapidated state, some outside the community could question the Armenians’ desire to hold onto the city.

“It is time to restore our symbol,” he said, reciting the names of some prominent Armenians who hail from there, including Boghos Nubar Pasha and Muratsan.
“In the 19th century, it was the biggest city in the Caucasus. Now we just have 3,000 Armenians in Shushi,” he said.

Harutunian, who has been premier since 2007 and was on his first-ever visit to the US,  thanked Armenia Fund and Festekjian. While acknowledging the problems of the republic, he noted that many advances had been made since the end of the war, including the construction of modern highways and provision of healthcare for the citizens, as well as renovated schools and community centers.

He spoke about the pounding that Shushi received during the war, when it became the base for the retreating Azerbaijani forces. As it is perched high up in the mountains, Shushi gave the Azeris the vantage point they needed to attack the Armenian forces based in the capital Stepanakert, which is located down the mountain. Thus, Armenian forces had to make the difficult decision to attack Shushi in order to regain it from the Azeris, a strategy that worked yet left the city in the shambles it has remained in since.

Harutunian related that the liberation of the city occurred on May 7 and 8, 1992. “Every soldier who participated in the liberation of Shushi felt proud to partake in this historic mission,” he said. “There is a saying in Armenian that the person who controls Shushi is the person who controls Karabagh. This mission is the equivalent of reconquering and liberating Shushi in 1992.”

The mellow atmosphere of the event disappeared for a while, as the issue of the protocols between Turkey and Armenia, and also the negotiations over the settlement of the fate of Karabagh, created some tense moments.  One audience member in particular insisted that Karabagh would be lost to Armenians.
A calm yet forceful Mardirossian replied, “In 1992 I came here and I said victory would be ours, in the face of grave inequality in strength. Did I lie? No. Don’t doubt [the future of Karabagh]. It is ours and will stay ours.”

Harutunian related some history of Karabagh. He noted, “We are not waiting for anyone’s permission to keep the lands we have. No one allowed us to take Lachin, Kelbajar or the rest, but we took them anyway.”

He added, “After the liberation of Khojaly, Turkish troops came very close to the Armenian border and while Artsakh was liberated settlement by settlement, the Turks announced they were going to intervene and attack Armenia. But those threats could not get the Artsakh army to stop; instead it motivated them. Not only Turkey exerted pressure, but the global powers always pushed us to give back those territories.”

He complained about the leadership of Armenia then, led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, suggesting that they stopped helping the effort in Karabagh by not giving them food or weapons, and that in 1993, asked the Artsakh leadership to give back regions to Azerbaijan. “We still went on to take Aghdam, Fizuli and Jibril,” said Harutunian. “Support from the diaspora at that crucial time, however, did not stop. Let me thank you once again for it. I am telling you this so that you know there is no pressure that can force us to give back and retreat from our past. The only way Artsakh would cease to be Artsakh is when the last Artsakhtsi dies in Artsakh.”

After the meeting, the Karabagh delegation was hosted by the Knights of Vartan Ararat Lodge at Sheraton Commander Hotel in Cambridge, where more than 100 members gathered to greet them. Sbarabed (commander) Nelson Stepanian gave a welcoming speech. At the end, Avak Sbarabed (grand commander) of Knights of Vartan, Haig Deranian, spoke.

For more information on the campaign or Armenia Fund USA, visit www.armeniafundusa.org.

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