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.
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.