The late Princess Diana and her son, Prince Harry, in Angola

HALO Trust Working on Clearing Artsakh of All Mines by 2020

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BOSTON — The iconic images of the late Princess Diana walking on a mine field cleared by the HALO Trust in Angola 20 years ago shocked people around the world and put the issue of land mines on the global political map.

While that country has been cleared of mines, Karabakh (Artsakh) and its surrounding lands are still plagued by landmines. The work is now continuing as part of the Safe Steps for the People of Karabakh, destined to clear the area of landmines by the year 2020.

Lending his support is the patron of the UK-based organization, Prince Harry, son of the late princess. The royal, who has continued his mother’s legacy by backing a plan to rid the world of landmines by 2025, gave a powerful speech at Kensington Palace recently to mark International Mine Awareness Day.

“Twenty years ago, in the last months of her life, my mother campaigned to draw attention to the horrific and indiscriminate impact of landmines,” he said during the reception on behalf of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and The HALO Trust.

Local supporters are led by Raffi and Nina Festekjian. Recently, the Festekjians were among those who had been invited to London for a reception, where they met with Prince Harry.

In a note, Nina Festekjian said, “Raffi and I met Prince Harry earlier this month, at an event hosted by The HALO Trust in London at Kensington Palace, where he gave a stirring speech that called on the international community to achieve the global goal of a Landmine Free 2025. Clearing Artsakh of minefields is a key milestone toward that goal as it is one of the deadliest places for landmine accidents in the world.  More importantly, it answers the call to save Armenian lives and reinstate livelihoods by making this beautiful land viable again. To that end, we have secured a donor that is willing to double every donation we get, up to $4 million, to clear all the minefields in Artsakh — if we can raise matching funds to get it done.”

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In a recent interview, Raffi Festekjian that for him the HALO Trust is not only an organization that does a good job in fulfilling its mission, but it also contributes to the economy of Artsakh by creating jobs.

He likened the idea of clearing Artsakh of landmines to tidying up.

“Karabakh is a region we are claiming as ours. If we don’t clean it, how can we occupy what we call our house?” he said.

Festekjian said he was encouraged by the changes in Artsakh. “I’ve been there many times. It is a completely different feeling.”

In addition, he said that if the mines are cleared, it can “attract more people.”

As of now, he said, “the HALO Trust is one of the largest employers of Karabakh.”

Currently, 210 people work for HALO in Artsakh and that figure is expected to double if the fundraising goal is met.

“It is a win-win across the board,” he said.

Furthermore, many of those employed there by HALO are women, many either widows or daughters of widows, without a source of income as the men in the family often emigrate to Russia for work.

He added the idea of violence really affected him deeply after the serious injury of his uncle in Lebanon, when he lost a leg. He said that his uncle had been only 45, married with a family. “I saw first-hand what it does to a family,” he said. “It transformed his life.”

Andrew Moore, HALO Trust’s Director of Development, and the former regional director for Europe, is spearheading the fundraising.

He said the organization receives a good deal of funding from the US government’s Agency for International Development (USAID) and now has also found a donor who will match all donations.

The organization still seeks to raise $3 million to clear Karabakh.

Ideally, he said, the organization will raise $1 million in 2018 and 2019. “If we do it sooner, great. But we need it to complete demining by 2020,” Moore said.

Aside from private receptions, fundraising will take place in Glendale and New York, with sales of photos by Scout Tufenkjian.

He praised the reception HALO’s work has gotten in Karabakh. “We get a universally positive reaction at every level. We get excellent support from the government,” he said. “Karabakh is a small place and there is a huge amount of work everywhere.”

He added, “People are very aware of the work done there. We make a universal impact there.”

He also praised Prince Harry.  “He is someone who picked up his mother’s passion for the cause. He is a remarkably charismatic person. He spoke with eloquence and passion and many got tears in their eyes. He has the ability to move people.”

“We are transforming lives through employment of Armenian people. The employment we provide is not just for feeding families. It is a huge investment in the economy,” Moore said.

One out of every 100 families there has been affected by either deaths or injuries from landmines, Festekjian noted.

Festekjian also praised Scout Tufenkjian, the noted photojournalist, whose photographs will be sold to raise funds for the HALO Trust.

“Scout has been a very good supporter of HALO. Her help has been instrumental,” he said.

He also had words of praise for Prince Harry. “He is now getting to be more mature. He spoke about his goal of a mine free world by 2025. He was very emotion about his mother. He helps us increase awareness. This is not only an Artsakh problem but a problem around the world.”

“He is a very humble guy. Very real, straight forward,” Festekjian said.

Artsakh, he said, “is a nice place to live. We need to make more of an effort to convince people to live there.”

While much of it remains unspoiled, there is a need to decrease poverty. “It is a good place for people to raise a family,” he said.

“We need to make more of an effort to convince people that it is a nice place to live and empower them to build their own schools and to create,” he said.

Festekjian is the executive chairman and managing partner of Empyrean, a risk assessment firm for banks, and NuArca, an Internet analytical and marketing company, both based in Woburn. He holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. HE has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the American University of Beirut.

He came to the US in 1985 to attend graduate school and moved to Boston in 1987.

He and his wife recently co-founded anoush’ella, an eastern Mediterranean restaurant in Boston.

Festekjian is also working with Dr. Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan in the Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST), a subsidiary of IDeA Foundation

As for that minefield where Princess Diana walked a short time before her untimely passing, Moore said, “It is a thriving suburb now. You would not believe it was literally a death trap.”

For more information about the HALO Trust, visit www.HALOtrust.org.

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