Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan (Photo credit: Courtesy of Linda Ravul, AGBU)

Heroes of 30 Years Ago and Today Remembered

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By Taleen Babayan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

NEW YORK — The 30th anniversary of the birth of the Artsakh Movement was marked in an educational and artistic manner on Thursday, February 22, at AGBU’s New York City headquarters, featuring the meaningful portraits of Davit Hakobyan and special remarks by Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakayan, Permanent Representative of Armenia to the United Nations and Robert Avetisyan, Permanent Representative of Artsakh to the United States.

Artsakh Representative to the US Robert Avetisyan speaking to a guest before his remarks (Photo credit: Courtesy of Jesse Soursourian, AGBU)

Prior to the speaking portion of the evening, guests had the opportunity to walk around the gallery and view Hakobyan’s photographs, which depict the heroic soldiers against the backdrop of the mountainous and picturesque land of Artsakh, and converse with the photographer, who was present at the event. Hakobyan, the official photographer of Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan, donated the proceeds of his sold portraits to the AGBU Fund for Artsakh, which supports rebuilding efforts, educational initiatives and construction projects in the Republic since its 1994 ceasefire with Azerbaijan.

In his remarks, Mnatsakanyan profoundly thanked Hakobyan for his images, which send powerful messages to the rest of the world, and emphasized the importance of “spreading the word about Artsakh.”

Photographer Davit Hakobyan (Photo credit: Courtesy of Jesse Soursourian, AGBU)

“This exhibition is about those young boys of Armenia who are defending our homeland and that is the biggest message of our confidence and capabilities,” said Mnatsakanyan.

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Although Armenians as a Diaspora are “scattered all around the world,” Mnatsakanyan stressed that no Armenian is “indifferent” to their homeland.

“This is about all of us,” he continued. “Because if there is no Artsakh, then our entire identity is shattered.”

Mnatsakanyan expressed certainty in Armenia and Artsakh, despite its many setbacks and gave assurances for a bright future.

“This is a nation that has seen a lot of tragedy,” said Mnatsakanyan. “But this is a nation that has come out victorious because it stands very firm on its feet even in the face of obliteration.”

Recalling the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Azerbaijan and Artsakh between 1991 and 1994, and how almost 40 percent of land had once been lost to the Azeris, he noted that Armenians overcame these obstacles and “the people of Artsakh won.”

In response to the four-day war in April 2016 when Azerbaijan broke the 1994 ceasefire, Mnatsakanyan said that it proved Artsakh is always ready to defend itself.

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“I pay tribute to the 97 young boys we lost in those four days,” concluded Mnatsakanyan. “Those are not just statistics. They are 97 young men with names and families and loved ones. They have our respect and we bow our heads.”

Avetisyan gave a situational update on the current status of Artsakh, noting “although we are thousands of miles away from the front line we still feel responsibility.”

Providing a historical sketch of the Artsakh Movement, Avetisyan said the people of Artsakh attempted to assert their independence various times during the Soviet regime, but found a stronger voice during the tenure of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who endorsed the policies of Glasnost and Perestroika, which called for more openness and political reform. The first rally of the Artsakh movement took place on February 13, 1988 in Stepakanert, the republic’s capital and largest city.

Avetisyan remarked that Artsakh, which was placed under Azeri jurisdiction by Soviet leader Josef Stalin in the 1920s, legally appealed to the Soviet Union for reunification with Armenia through papers and without picking up arms.

“This started as a legitimate legal movement for unification to transfer from Azerbaijan to Armenia,” said Avetisyan. “But what started as a legal process became an armed military one.”

Azerbaijan’s response to this call for independence was to carry out pogroms targeting Armenians living in Azerbaijan, including in Sumgait, Baku and Kirovabad, from 1988 to 1991, with no international condemnation or response.

The fight for Artsakh’s sovereignty coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union and a national referendum for independence took place on December 10, 1991. The response, said Avetisyan, was “predictable and tragic.”

A full-scale war broke out from 1991 through 1994 and the Armenians in Artsakh faced a humanitarian crisis because of blockades and military offenses by Azerbaijan and its supporters, including hired mercenaries, which still didn’t lead to an Azeri victory.

“No matter how well you are armed, the motivation is a critical component and we always had advantage in that,” said Avetisyan. “You cannot buy that.”

A native of Stepanakert, Avetisyan elaborated on the violence he and his family witnessed during the war, seeking refuge in basements for months at a time.

With the creation of the Artsakh Defense Army in 1992 and vigilant determination, a ceasefire was signed in 1994, which ushered in a more peaceful period and rebuilding efforts to reconstruct the war-torn lands. Avetisyan credited much of the economic restoration and construction efforts to Diasporan organizations that helped “overcome an acute humanitarian crisis.”

Avetisyan said he was “proud of our democratic and economic development” elaborating on free and transparent elections in Artsakh and the welcoming of NGOs, diplomats and think tanks to share in dialogue and feedback.

Although Artsakh is detached from the world economy, it is achieving economic success, particularly in agriculture along with the development of its energy sphere, including hydro power stations. Avetisyan also touched on recognition of the republic from multiple US states, including California, Massachusetts and Michigan, among others.

“It is all in our hands,” said Avetisyan. “If we are weak, we will be digested. If we are strong, no one will dare to attack Artsakh or Armenia.”

“Artsakh is forever Armenian,” concluded Avetisyan. “We need to stick together and show we’re strong in order to make our voices heard.”

Reflecting on the event, Hakobyan said guests felt “inspired” and appreciated the opportunity to view the portraits.

“Through these photos I wish to portray our army, which was an important realization of the Artsakh Liberation Movement,” said Hakobyan. “I want to show the daily life and the wonderful people who serve in the army and the spirited atmosphere that prevails there.”

 

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