Lilit's child in Kornidzor (photo Brandon Balayan)

Kooyrigs Send Aid to Refugees from Artsakh Facing Precarious Conditions in Syunik

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YEREVAN – On November 17, fighting that started on the previous day along the eastern border of the Syunik region in Armenia became relatively stable, according to a statement by the Armenian Ministry of Defense (MOD). The Armenian side had 6 soldiers killed, 13 captured and 24 missing, according to the Armenian MOD. The Azerbaijani side had 7 soldiers killed and 10 wounded yesterday, according to the Azerbaijani MOD. One aspect of yesterday’s attacks that goes unnoticed is the situation of displaced Armenians from Artsakh who live in Sisian, Ishkhanasar and Goris.

Sunrise in Ararat (photo Brandon Balayan)

Marguerita Doudaklian, the social worker and community manager for Kooyrigs NGO, led aid deliveries to the Syunik region for their Project Mayreeg initiative. She has been going on deliveries throughout Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh since last November. On November 16, she and her driver Hagop loaded boxes onto a large truck and delivered them to mothers in Syunik.

Hagop driving through the fog (photo Brandon Balayan)

All of the families she delivered items to on November 16 have been displaced from the neighboring Kashatagh region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Now, they face further displacement within sovereign Armenian territory because of Aliyev’s pseudo-historic irredentism directed towards the Syunik, or Zangezur, region of Armenia proper.

Shepherds in Syunik (photo Brandon Balayan)

Doudaklian’s first stop was Shaki village in Sisian, near where Azerbaijan launched its offensive. The first house she came to sheltered three families and a total of twelve people. A few months back the house had no windows or doors and had curtains in their place – causing their children to become sick. With winter approaching, they built new doors and windows that would properly insulate the house.

A displaced family in Sisian (photo Brandon Balayan)

When asked about the situation at the border, they conveyed that they were not sure in what condition the country would be, and mentioned that it’s more dangerous at the nearby village of Ishkhanasar, which was Doudaklian’s next stop.

While driving, Doudaklian started speaking with the driver Hagop, who revealed that his son fought in last year’s war and that he had made a promise to himself if fighting were to break out again: “My son fought in last year’s war, so I promised myself if anything were to happen this year I would go fight with him,” he said.

A displaced family in Ishkhanasar (photo Brandon Balayan)

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Hagop then took us to the beneficiary in Ishkhanasar, who has a total of eight children. They all live closest to the site of the attack at the Armenian border.

Marguerita Doudaklian unloading boxes of aid in Ishkhanasar (photo Brandon Balayan)

The villagers of Ishkanasar, Noravan and Aghitu could all hear the gunfire from their homes, said Human Rights Defender of Armenia Arman Tatoyan. These people escaped their homes in Karabakh, some leaving family memorabilia behind, to find refuge in Armenia – only to be met with further aggression and fear of displacement. Even escaping to Armenia proper cannot protect them from Azerbaijani gunfire, evidently. Doudaklian spoke intimately with the mothers about how they were feeling, and described their state as follows: “Terrified, helpless and powerless…having their bags ready – any minute they might hear the news that they have to leave Syunik.”

A displaced family in Goris (photo Brandon Balayan)

The next leg of the trip was to Goris and the neighboring village of Akner. On the way to Goris, fog began to drop and the road became significantly more dangerous. Visibility was low but Hagop was not hesitant in his driving.

Grandma with Emil in Akner (photo Brandon Balayan)

Akner is home to two beneficiaries. Liana is native to Goris, and Mariam is from Kashatagh. Every family we visited that day set its table. The tradition of hyurasirutyun, literally meaning loving of the guest, is not forgotten even amidst attacks by Azerbaijan.

Liana’s husband and father-in-law serve at nearby posts and she informed us that she heard bad news from the latter shortly before we came. “He said not too long ago they started firing at the border,” Liana declared.

As she was describing how they were living day by day in uncertainty, a truck full of soldiers with their Kalashnikovs raced up the mountain towards the gunfire and waved to them goodbye. It was only then that we checked reports and saw that Azerbaijan had launched an offensive about an hour ago.

Aznavur Ghulunts and child in Tegh (photo Brandon Balayan)

Doudaklian’s next destination was Tegh, the last village before one enters Nagorno Karabakh. We had trouble finding the house because of how dense the fog was. Since we were getting closer to the border, the fog was becoming denser, and night was falling, we could not stay at this family’s house.

Doudaklian was then off to her last stop, Kornidzor. The reality of the relationship with Azerbaijan became clearer at this house. “We are packed and always ready to go,” said Lilit, who lived there. Lilit’s husband went out to get firewood for the house, but she could not stay in contact with him because the signal was getting lost – causing Lilit to worry.

While on the way back to Yerevan, Doudaklian received a call from Liana, the beneficiary from Goris, who asked if we were safe. Doudaklian in turn asked if they received any updates and Liana’s response was grave. She said, “My husband and father-in-law came back home, quickly grabbed some warm clothes and left.” They went off to defend the border.

After hanging up, Doudaklian began to break down. “The hardest part was leaving our [mothers] behind, knowing their husbands are fighting on the borders and them not feeling safe,” Doudaklian said. In total, Doudaklian along with the driver Hagop delivered 32 boxes filled with food and hygienic products for mothers and their babies.

These stories of the border, and its volatile situation, are due to Azerbaijan’s attacks and encroachment since May of this year, and obviously because of last year’s war. Artsakh’s inhabitants left to seek refuge in Armenia, and now the attempt of Aliyev to create a Zangezur corridor by force is leaving these displaced families in a constant state of uncertainty and fear for their lives.

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