A family receiving their hives and bee colonies, flanked by Anahit Kosakyan (in red at left) and Gayané Muratyan, TCA representative in Armenia at right

Tekeyan Cultural Association Helps Berdzor Refugees Earn Incomes and Live in Armenia: TCA Sustainable Assistance Program

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WATERTOWN – The Tekeyan Cultural Association of the USA and Canada (TCA) supported the development of the strategic Kashatagh (Lachin) corridor and made significant investments in the region. The TCA supported the Berdzor Tekeyan school in the principal town of the corridor and during the past six years undertook the responsibility of considerable renovations, while the TCA Sponsor a Teacher program supported its teachers and staff financially.

Classroom after classroom, the school’s dilapidated facilities were renovated and the school of 20 students grew to became the attraction of the region. Around it assembled an active community of new settlers. The renovations included 17 classrooms, the reception hall, the roof, drinking water connection, and, most recently, new bathrooms on each of the four floors. The Tekeyan school became the talk of the town and its enrollment grew to be over 220 students.

The 44-day Artsakh war arrived at the end of last year. The unforeseen scenario of vacating the school became a reality. The town of Berdzor and its neighboring regions (Kashatagh) fell into enemy hands. All of a sudden, its residents, students and teachers were forced to become refugees scattered all around Artsakh and Armenia. They lost everything and their living conditions became less than desirable.

The Tekeyan Berdzor school itself was turned into barracks for Armenian soldiers during the war, and afterwards it had to be evacuated. Not only have its alumni and staff been turned forcibly into refugees, but of those alumni who served as soldiers, five were killed and five became disabled, three of whom are seriously handicapped.

A Way to Help

The good news is that once more Tekeyan is engaged in making their lives better, so that the Berdzor refugees remain in Armenia and become part of the nation-building process. This time, help will be provided through investments and not through donations. The creation of a sustainable economy is the aim of this TCA undertaking.

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Through small contributions / mass funding we started by creating income-generating opportunities for the displaced families. Tekeyan of Armenia in association with a local reputable Syunik NGO will make investments in agriculture or beekeeping to create income or comforts for their beneficiaries. The recipients get assistance on the condition that, after a waiting period of two years, they pay back on an annual basis the equivalent in produced goods of 10% of the amount of assistance they have received.

After some seed money from the TCA was provided, a fundraising drive was initiated. The response is positive and we have started receiving funds to be allocated to the designated investment scheme. As noted, these funds will serve the following objectives: 1) To alleviate the hardship of these forcefully displaced families and give them the opportunity to earn a living; 2) In two years, to receive a 10% annual return from the beneficiaries in the form of goods which in turn will be redirected to schools or other needy institutions.

The project was coordinated and implemented by Arto Manoukian of Montreal, a TCA board member, monitored by the TCA’s Armenia representative, Gayané Muratyan, with the assistance of Anahit Kosakyan, the last principal of the Berdzor Tekeyan school. This group was introduced to the Syunik NGO by another dedicated Armenian, Tony Halepli of Montreal.

As the Syunik NGO is based in Vayots Dzor province, TCA decided to begin its project in that same province and benefit from the proven experience of this NGO. Honey production was the first form of assistance.

The beehives

While donations were coming, we did not sit idle. We have recruited multi-children refugee families from Berdzor (Artsakh) who were installed in Vayots Dzor. Another initial requirement from these families were their experience in beekeeping. We have found twelve such families. Syunik NGO interviewed each one of them to see if they qualify. That evaluation process was important, because of the fact that without experience the bees die and our assistance becomes wasted. Syunik NGO qualified eight out of the available twelve families.

We then signed a contractual agreement between Tekeyan and Syunik, a bank transfer was concluded, and the initial eight families received five new hives and five bee colonies each. With the portable wooden hives come services offered by Syunik for them to succeed. These include tools, training, monitoring, follow-ups, extraction equipment, and even marketing the honey. This follow-up is for the long run, to make these families economically sustainable. Once proven successful, they will get more hives, until till they fly on their own.

During a training session

As these families are obliged to give us back 10% of their production, this will allow us to help new families, multiplying the effect of the largess of our initial donors.

The First Beneficiaries

One of the most difficult tasks of the program was the choice of beneficiaries. One of the most important preconditions is that the beneficiary will not emigrate from Armenia, but will adopt beekeeping as his business.

Anahit Kosakyan (in red at left), Vahé Sayatyan, a handicapped refugee veteran, and Gayané Muratyan, TCA representative in Armenia

Vahe Sayadyan is one of the first beneficiaries of the program. He was wounded in Mekhakavan (Jabrayil) during the 2020 Artsakh war, and now is handicapped. In his family which was in economically distress, there were children, but the Tekeyan program gave him a way to earn his livelihood again in Malishka village.

The other initial beneficiaries include Narek Aleksanyan in Bardzruni village, Tatevik Hovhannisyan in Herher village, Hayk Ghambaryan in Yeghegnadzor city, Garik Aloyan in Vayk city, Anush Kocharyan in Malishka village, Levon Karapetyan in Taratumb village, and Murad Palanjyan in Malishka village.

Moving a beehive

The Next Steps

We have more funds available, but we are going one step at a time. We simply do not have the luxury to waste money. We will try to make the most out of what our donors give. The bee season has ended, so our next assistance will go through other such initiatives, alleviating the livelihood of the Berdzor refugees. TCA is once more extending a helping hand one family at a time.

We thank all participants and encourage others to open their hearts and make tax-deductible donations. Any amount serves the purpose. Extend your helping hand to these multi-children war-torn families. In the United States, please send your checks made out to the Tekeyan Cultural Association with the memo “Berdzor Project” to 755 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown, MA 02472, or use our online link https://givebutter.com/NLWnPU.

For more information, contact Arto Manoukian at manoukb@yahoo.com and tel. (514) 824-5300, or the North American Tekeyan headquarters via tcadirector@aol.com or (617) 924-4455.

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