Non-Profit Kooyrigs Inspires Young Diasporans to Aid Artsakh

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By Maggie Ovian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN – On Sunday, September 27, on an ordinary sunny day, Yerevan woke up to news of attacks on the border between Artsakh and Azerbaijan. If you weren’t aware of the news, it might have seemed like any other Sunday. But if you were, you would notice the young men and women nervously checking their phones, either for news that they had been called to serve or to find out that their friends had. You would notice the makeshift donation collections that had appeared on every corner from Republic Square to the Cascade promenade. You’d notice the university students buzzing around, filling boxes with medicine, clothing, and diapers to be sent in the many trucks going to Artsakh daily. And you would notice that in the corner of your cell phone, mobile providers sent out the unifying message #HAGHTELUENQ, or “We will win,” emblazoned on screens throughout the country for the past forty-four days.

Kooyrigs, with the help of dozens of volunteers, packs food to be sent weekly to soldiers fighting on the southern border.

What has happened in Yerevan over the past six weeks can only be described as mobilization. Every person seems to be doing what they can, from the older women selling jingalov hats on the street to the repatriate community enlisting and going to Artsakh to fight. Everyone has been doing their part to ensure that Armenia does, in fact, win. Kooyrigs, or “Sisters,” an Armenian feminist platform that began on Instagram but has grown into a prominent non-profit, is no exception. Within twenty-four hours of the start of the war, Kooyrigs had launched its aid and relief program Looys, or “light” in Armenian.

It began as a straightforward initiative to raise funds for the war effort in the form of humanitarian aid to be hand-delivered by the four in-country team members. Founder Karine Eurdekian had reached out to the Women’s Support Center, a Yerevan-based non-profit that primarily serves victims of domestic abuse, to create a collaborative effort to provide direct aid to those affected by the war in Artsakh. Looys has been headed by both Karine, based in New York, and Country Director Mariam Avagyan, based in Yerevan, along with a team located both in Yerevan and around the US.

At first, Kooyrigs’ approach was to fulfill requests made by the Ministry of Health and the Stepanakert and Goris hospitals. However, as the number of displaced families coming into Armenia from Artsakh drastically rose, Kooyrigs shifted its focus to providing food and medicine to these families, most living in shared apartments or hotels that have opened their doors. Due to a strong network throughout the country, Kooyrigs is able to source food directly from farms, and medicine from a local family-owned pharmacy, thus also contributing to the local economy, an important aspect of the Looys initiative. The on-the-ground team hand-delivers these resources to the families throughout Armenia and Artsakh, documenting the entire process along the way.

Making a delivery in Vayk, Vayots Dzor

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Transparency is always at the forefront for Kooyrigs, which publishes receipts of its spending online. Videos, photos, and interviews are also shared quickly to donors via Instagram, the organization’s primary platform and means of communication.

Kooyrigs, which began as an Instagram platform in 2018 with the mission to fight for women’s rights in Armenia, has a unique fundraising advantage in its widespread reach throughout the international diaspora. Over the past two years, Kooyrigs has established itself as a tool and gathering space that connects young female and female-identifying Armenians with both their culture and other Armenians living in the diaspora. With eye-catching graphics and witty punchlines, Kooyrigs creates content that resonates with the millennial and Gen-Z generations and sparks pride in traditions, current events, and even collective grievances. Its many initiatives to aid Armenian communities around the world have led the organization to file for non-profit registration in both Armenia and the United States, both of which are still pending due to delays related to COVID.

When the war began in late September, Kooyrigs already had an established Instagram audience of fourteen thousand followers, most located in the US, but with a significant presence around the world. Since then, its influence and following has exploded. Looys quickly became a prominent recipient of funds due to its immediate announcement and easy donation process. Kooyrigs has been able to capitalize on the viral nature of social media to reach not only young people in the diaspora but their non-Armenian friends, therefore creating more buy-in and encouraging everyone to care about and participate in the daily events in Armenia and Artsakh.

Fortunately, young people are not strangers to caring about and acting in solidarity with causes that don’t necessarily affect them. This is a generation that does not hesitate to open their wallets and give, often in micro donations, to a conflict happening on the other side of the world in the name of human rights. Also to Kooyrigs’ advantage is the fact that it’s both easier than ever to transfer small amounts of cash to causes, and it is seen as social capital to be politically active on social media channels.

The result of these factors was huge: Kooyrigs raised over $140,000 in a matter of weeks, and the fundraising efforts are going strong. Individual followers have undertaken their own fundraisers: selling everything from art prints and jewelry to services like yoga classes and Armenian coffee cup readings, and funneling their proceeds to the Looys initiative. The effort to help is both collective and far-reaching.

Kooyrigs has already had a direct impact on the lives of many families that have had to flee their homes in pursuit of safety, but its goals are not short-term. The outlook of the conflict suggests that Artsakhtsis will be displaced for the foreseeable future, and Kooyrigs’ efforts reflect that reality. By directly sourcing items like food and medicine, the organization is able to cut down costs and, therefore, help more people. As the war rages on with no end in sight, it is critical that organizations like Kooyrigs orient themselves towards long-term relief. The constant work done by dedicated individuals will not relent any time soon.

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