Arka, one of the children forced to evacuate from Artsakh

Karabakh Refugees Find Food and Shelter in Goris Hotels

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GORIS, Armenia – In the wake of renewed hostilities in Artsakh, scores of refugees have taken flight across the border into Armenia to escape the fighting. Predominantly women and children, these refugees come principally from communities such as Martuni, Berdashen, and Mghanz, all of which lie close to Artsakh’s border with Azerbaijan. Most of these families have been forced to leave quickly, leaving behind their homes and many of their belongings. In addition, these families had to flee Artsakh without their fathers and adult male relatives that have stayed in Artsakh to fight.

Refugees replace the clientele at the Mirhav Hotel’s café (Courtesy of Loucine Sahakyan)

Some of these displaced families have found refuge in cities such as Goris. In anticipation of a refugee influx, Goris’ municipal government prepared to accommodate people from Artsakh. Hotels were instructed to prepare their facilities to receive incoming families, and arrangements were made so that Goris residents could easily donate food, clothing, and other necessities to families from Artsakh. Local efforts, including food drives, and donation drives to purchase clothing and other goods are being undertaken.

Shahen Zetuntchian, the proprietor of Goris’ Mirhav Hotel, was one of the hoteliers charged with hosting and providing for incoming refugees. Zetuntchian is a hayrenadarts, a member of the diaspora who has returned to Armenia. “The evacuees [from Artsakh] are under mental and physical stress, which they have lived with for years. So, they need a lot of help and solidarity,” explained Zetuntchian. “Artsakh is part of Armenian history, and it is necessary for us to push for the recognition of that fact,” he added.

Zetuntchian recognized the important role played by hotels in housing refugees. However, he stressed that housing evacuees in hotels is only a temporary solution: “Many children here are in a bad situation. They have endured shock and emotional stress, and they will require more care and support than a hotel can provide.” This was a sentiment shared by Gayane Martirosyan, the hotel’s manager, who added: “We also have a concern that if we have a problem [in Goris], how will we evacuate people from here?”

Zetuntchian also pointed to the long-term challenges of keeping everyone adequately fed but expressed his appreciation that the “people of Goris and neighboring villages have been very helpful, bringing clothes, food, and other necessities.” The hotelier also pointed to the good work done by the local government to organize donations and accommodations for refugees. Martirosyan agreed that the local government had been quite active but opined that the national government needed to do more to match government efforts at the local level.

When asked about how members of the diaspora could help Armenia and Artsakh during this trying time, Zetuntchian replied: “The war permeates all walks of life, including the diaspora. I would ask [the diaspora] to send money to humanitarian causes. More should be done to make it easier for members of the diaspora to donate directly to the development of schools and housing in specific cities.”

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“We are a poor land and we need all the help we can get,” said Zetuntchian.

Refugees replace the clientele at the Mirhav Hotel’s café (Courtesy of Loucine Sahakyan)

A Refugee’s Account

Among the evacuees sheltering in the Mirhav Hotel was Inna Gevorgyan, a 43-year-old housewife from Martuni. Gevorgyan was forced to flee with her two underage children, while her son, son-in-law, and husband all stayed behind to defend Artsakh. Gevorgyan was visibly shaken and upset, and was reluctant to be interviewed, stating: “Why should I be interviewed? The world does not care about us. They didn’t care in the 1990s and they don’t care now. We have always been on our own in this fight.” Gevorgyan pointed to another evacuee whose house blew up before her eyes. This woman, along with several other refugees in Goris, declined to be interviewed.

Gevorgyan’s house was destroyed in the fighting during the 1990s, but she and her husband worked hard to rebuild their lives. However, the hardships of war returned with cruel swiftness in the wake of the latest attack, as Gevorgyan’s house was destroyed again, hit by shellfire whilst her husband worked in the yard.

Miraculously, nobody was harmed in this incident, but it became clear that the family was being uprooted again by conflict. Gevorgyan was able to flee with the help of a relative, who put her, her children, and twenty-three other evacuees in his car. “We left with no shoes and no proper clothes. Just what we had on at the time,” said Gevorgyan, who was still dressed in her slippers and a bathroom robe. Gevorgyan expressed her gratitude for the people of Goris, saying, “They have given us food and a good place to stay, and we are very thankful and grateful.” When asked what the one thing was that would help her in this trying time, Gevorgyan simply said “peace.”

“We should pray for our army and for us to endure and end this stupid war. God is our supporter,” she exclaimed.

The clothes collected in a donation drive at the Mirhav Hotel.

 

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