Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte, center, at an ArmenPress press conference speaking about the census with representatives of the Armenian Association of Social Workers

By Cristopher Patvakanian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

WESTBROOK, Maine – Long before the 2020 Artsakh war, Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte was a staunch advocate and leader for the rights of Artsakh Armenians. Having escaped Baku in 1989 and becoming a refugee at the age of 11, she is all too familiar with how traumatic it is to be a survivor of ethnic cleansing and a refugee without a home.

Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte, founder of the 501c3 non-profit the Anna Astvatsaturian Foundation

After publishing her book titled Nowhere, a Story of Exile, based on the diaries she kept as a refugee from Baku, Anna began her advocacy on various pro-Armenia and Artsakh policies. Simultaneously, she completed humanitarian projects to support the communities of both Artsakh and Armenia, eventually formalizing her efforts by establishing the Anna Astvatsaturian Foundation. Created in the spring of 2020, the foundation is a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to humanitarian cultural and educational efforts in Armenia, Artsakh and the diaspora. When the war began, it concentrated on providing first aid to Artsakh but has since shifted its focus towards conducting a full population survey to document the needs and property losses for the entire Artsakh Republic.

Astvatsaturian Turcotte’s reason for starting the census project was prompted by her personal experience as a refugee. She explained that as a Baku Armenian “none of our losses, whether physical or psychological trauma, and property loss, was ever recorded by anyone… the government of Armenia should know that. Now all that information is lost.”

The foundation launched the project with the assistance of Armenia’s Association of Social Workers, and the work has been underway since the end of the war. The final results of the 50-page survey will provide critically needed data for the government, NGOs, human rights organizations, and international institutions to develop post-war programming for Artsakh based on data.

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Astvatsaturian Turcotte elaborated that when the 2020 war began and the Artsakh refugees were fleeing into Armenia, she asked the government of Armenia and Artsakh if their losses were being recorded. In her own words, “it was mind boggling that it wasn’t being done, with the history of mass atrocities we have survived – data is our power, and it wasn’t being collected.” Once the war ended, however, the government was still not collecting that information.

That’s when Astvatsaturian Turcotte stepped in. Rather than waiting for the already overwhelmed ministries to prioritize the issue, she found it so important that her Foundation took on the daunting task of doing a census to record the many losses Armenians from Artsakh faced.

Conducting the Census

Conducting a survey in the post-war conditions was not an easy endeavor. The biggest obstacle was getting the people of Artsakh to being open for interviews. After the war, many interviewees were not only distrustful of the government, but also traumatized to the point of not wanting to share their stories.

Of course, this was happening in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite that setback, the Association of Social Workers still conducted all interviews in person according to professional norms, undertaking numerous precautions not to spread the coronavirus.

Another critical issue was and remains the funding. “We are about $15,000 away from the total fundraising goal to wrap up this project and the diaspora is very exhausted by fundraisers after the war, and understandably not trusting of the efforts,” Astvatsaturian Turcotte disclosed. However, “once they find out what the Foundation is doing, they are eager to help. We are still fundraising and depend on our donors to finish the initiative.”

The foundation aims to survey the entire population of Artsakh, even accounting for those who refused to do the complete survey interview. According to Astvatsaturian Turcotte, beyond the last Soviet census (1989) and a few sample surveys done by NGOs, her foundation’s survey is the newest and most complete – covering medical, psychological, financial and property impact of the war, as well as family information, ages, education etc. The survey includes those living in Armenia and Artsakh, but not Artsakh’s refugees in other countries.

Ultimately, Astvatsaturian Turcotte believes there are three areas for which the census data will be crucial. The first is immediate, short-term assistance, as Artsakh is currently being rebuilt. The second is to allow the victims of war crimes and international organizations to use the information during legal proceedings and final assessments of the crimes’ impact. Finally, for the long term, this data will serve as a historic record.

“Comprehensive data is one thing the victims of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, the Baku and Sumgait pogroms didn’t have. We still wonder to this day how much was truly lost,” Astvatsaturian Turcotte elaborated. “We’re very good at keeping our losses alive in creative ways through telling our personal stories or advocacy, but not in an empirical way, and with this census we can capture those data points for future research.”

The Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte Foundation encourages all types of organizations interested in using the data to apply for access, both Armenian and non-Armenian. Given that their collection of data followed a strict protocol of processes, vetting, recruiting, and training of interviewers, it can be considered reliable for many purposes. All applicants will be vetted and provided with information at a statistical level to prevent exposing confidential data and protect the sensitive information of families in Artsakh. For details on the application and how you can support the foundation’s efforts, please see its website,

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