Haykuhi Minasyan, head of the Support to Wounded Soldiers NGO, Tatevik Sargsyan (in orange t-shirt), COO of the Aznavour Foundation

Beyond First Aid: The Aznavour Foundation’s Grant to Wounded Soldiers Program

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By Cristopher Patvakanian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN — The Aznavour Foundation has always been committed to supporting a stronger Armenia, during times of both peace and strife. The legendary chanson singer Charles Aznavour was a champion of efforts to provide humanitarian aid dating back to the 1988 earthquake, when he led a worldwide fundraiser and created the renowned Pour toi Arménie song to help the victims from Spitak. As such, it comes as no surprise that the Aznavour Foundation created programming to assist with the humanitarian crisis during and following the 2020 Artsakh war.

During the most urgent period of the war, direct aid and short-term support was a priority for the foundation, as it collected and transported over 175 tons of humanitarian aid to Armenia and Artsakh. Chief of Operations at the Aznavour Foundation Tatevik Sargsyan explained that after the immediate crisis, the organization recognized the important reality that, as she posed it, if “we really want to help those deprived of basic livelihood means, we need to ask ourselves ‘How will they carry on once our mission is over? Have we created a strong enough base for their long-term prosperity?’”

Veterans at their contract signing ceremony for grants from the Aznavour Foundation

This led to the creation of the Grants to Wounded Soldiers program. The project aims to help volunteers who were injured or/and disabled during military service or/and hostilities through a grant to create their own businesses. This program is a collaboration with the Support to Wounded Soldiers NGO, which supports not only the physical and mental rehabilitation of gravely wounded soldiers but provides all types of available support to war veterans. In addition to a grant of 5,000 Euros, the initiative includes professional consulting, training throughout the implementation of the business idea, and monitoring of the business.

“This supervision measure allows us to make sure that the grantee is supported not only during actual groundwork, but also the operation stage. This is crucial for the sustainability of any entrepreneurial idea, since the first year is usually the most challenging for any new business,” Sargsyan added.

Tatevik Sargsyan, Chief Operating Officer of the Aznavour Foundation, with one of the grant recipients

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Sargsyan noted that the foundation realized the social and economic rehabilitation of Armenian veterans was as important as their physical and mental well-being. She said that “through months of cooperation, we realized that by the end of their rehabilitation cycle many young men become extremely anxious about their future and the future of their families. For many, war led to various disabilities, which did not permit them to go back to the work they used to perform before the war.” Furthermore, while in rehabilitation, many young men shared their hopes, dreams, and vision for their future post-recovery. “Basically, the veterans themselves inspired this project and nudged us in the right direction!”, Sargsyan explained.

Grant specialists from the Aznavour Foundation, in partnership with the Support to Wounded Soldiers NGO, are directly involved in the consultations with soldiers interested in the initiative. Both guide veterans through the application process and provide further support in all steps of project implementation. Furthermore, external business consultants are involved, depending on the specificities of a given project, to help shape the idea and secure long-term sustainability.

Leo Baghdasaryan, one of the veterans who has already received a grant from the Aznavour Foundation

The call for applications was open for approximately a month and resulted in the submission of over 400 applications. Sargsyan said she believes this exemplifies the “true potential of the initiative” and showcases the young men’s desire to take back control of their lives after the war.

So far, seven grants have been awarded, while several more will be provided in the future. However, the call for applications is closed and there is a substantial waiting list of high-quality projects eligible for financing. To secure financing for the remaining applications, the Aznavour Foundation has partnered up with fundraising platform AYO! to give agency to those who seek to contribute to this initiative. The stories of beneficiaries are available on their website, www.weareayo.org, where donors can contribute directly.

One of the grant receipts was 20-year-old Leo Baghdasaryan. Originally born in Stepanakert, Artsakh, Leo moved to Yerevan at the age 10, and dreams of becoming a well-known composer. In his own words, Leo says that “Music is the only thing through which I can express myself.”

When the war began, he was already serving in the military for his mandatory service, and on the second day of the war was moved to the frontline near Hadrut. Later he was moved to Martuni, where he was wounded on November 4. He received injuries to his hand from shrapnel.

After treatment, Leo was able to get back to music again and even composed a song, 44, which is dedicated to the Artsakh war and its martyrs. With the grant, Leo plans to pursue a musical education and establish his own recording studio in the future.

Among the other business ideas proposed, the most popular category was agriculture, with ideas ranging from bee farming to smart greenhouse initiatives. Three agricultural projects have already been funded and many more are in the waiting list.

Other projects that the Aznavour Foundation has financed include the creation of a photo atelier, the manufacturing of laces and braids, and a woodworking shop. Sargsyan noted that they “welcome all ideas and believe that this approach allows us to inspire war veterans to pursue entrepreneurial ideas in all fields and spheres.”

The projects currently funded will be implemented in four different regions of Armenia and include three urban and four rural locations (including border settlements). The Aznavour Foundation hopes that with future projects they will be able to further extend coverage to more towns and villages in both Armenia and Artsakh.

Given the clear demand and importance of the program, Sargsyan stated that “once the current projects are fully financed and ongoing, we consider launching the second call for applications.” The new businesses have only been in operation for periods of times ranging from two to six months, but the foundation expects to record the first tangible results in the near future.

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