WASHINGTON — One year after the 2020 Karabakh (Artsakh) War, there is only one international NGO with a presence in what is left of the historic territory of Artsakh: the landmine clearance organization HALO (Hazardous Area Life-support Organization) Trust, which is at work removing cluster munitions in the region.
HALO Trust is a registered British charity with an American affiliate nonprofit. Founded in 1988, originally to remove landmines in Afghanistan, the organization was propelled to international prominence in the 1990s by Princess Diana’s visit to a minefield in Angola and her espousal of the humanitarian issue. In fact, for its work, the group won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.
On November 4, HALO held a webinar to discuss their latest efforts in the Karabakh region, update their supporters, and issue a call to action. HALO’s US Executive Director, Chris Whatley, moderated the call from Washington DC. Dr. Christina Maranci of Tufts University gave a brief presentation on Artsakh history, and Miles Hawthorn, HALO’s program manager for Nagorno Karabakh stationed in Yerevan, gave an overview and update of the work that has been done in clearing Artsakh of hazardous explosives.
A Broader Picture
The webinar began with Dr. Maranci’s presentation on several beautiful and architecturally/historically important sites in the region. Maranci pointed out the buildings and monuments at Amaras, Gandzasar, Tsitsernavank, Dadivank and elsewhere. Amaras, which houses the 4th-century tomb of St. Grigoris (grandson of Gregory the Illuminator), is unique from an art historical perspective as one of the few early Christian churches built with the door to the East, a feature it shares with the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Tsitsernavank, a remarkable survival of a beautiful 4th-5th century basilica, has the odd addition of a second floor gallery directly above the apse (altar area). The lengthy Armenian inscriptions on the outside walls of Dadivank, and the sheer beauty of Gandzasar also drew attention. Maranci stressed time and again that proper study of these sites is impossible without going to them in person, and the layperson can easily see why.
Whatley, in turn, in an effort to put the Karabakh issue in context for his largely American audience, stressed the historic importance and cultural value of the region that these monuments attest to. Touching on all angles of the issue, he stressed that helping Karabakh’s people was reflective of American values, and that donors have included not only members of the Armenian Diaspora, but Americans of all backgrounds.