Sign pointing the way to the Martuni Vocational School entrance

Restoring Artsakh’s Vocational School Is a Pan-Armenian Project: Video Report


MARTUNI, Artsakh — Several diaspora organizations have combined efforts to renovate the vocational school in the town of Martuni in Artsakh. The Knights of Vartan, together with the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund, Genesis Armenia, Armenia Tools4Schools, the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Church in the United States, Sahman NGO, Armenian Educational Foundation, Armenian Tree Project, and the government of the Artsakh Republic (Republic of Nagorno Karabakh) provided funding to re-build the facilities. The site has been bombed in two wars, from the early 1990s to 2020, and the buildings were severely damaged. The school is the largest educational facility in the province with approximately 110 students trained in seven vocational departments, including in welding, wood working, sewing, and the culinary arts. The students live in the town itself and surrounding border villages.

Principal Artak Sargsyan

“In the 1990s, the local headquarters of Artsakh’s Defense Forces was located here in our school. Commander Monte Melkonian’s office was in this room, which is my office now,” said Artak Sargsyan, the director of the vocational school. The reconstruction of the building facilities has been in process for two years now and was ongoing in front of our eyes while we toured the area.

The Genesis Armenia foundation, led by Yerevan-based reporter and activist Abraham Gasparyan, supplied new sewing machines for the tailoring department. Its purpose is two-fold – its equipment can be used both for teaching purposes and for manufacturing. Gayane Matevosyan, the department coordinator, noted that the employment provided helps the local residents recover from post-traumatic stress related from the 44-day war and living on the border next to Azerbaijani army.

“I have no doubts that in future our products will be recognized not only in Martuni and the Republic of Artsakh, but well beyond,” said Gayane.

During the 2020 aggression, in unsuccessful assaults to capture the area, the Azerbaijani-Turkish forces dropped more bombs and shelled Martuni more than the capital Stepanakert. The lab and several buildings were severely damaged, and their school-buses were blown up. After hostilities were over, the US-based Knights of Vartan organization and Armenia Tools4Schools pitched in to rebuild.

When classes resumed in January 2021, there were no buses to transport the students from the villages. “It would take two hours for the parents to drive groups of students to the school. After the Knights of Vartan’s Jake Bournazian provided new school buses, the transit time decreased to 40 minutes,” noted Artak. The organization also purchased a used car for the school to teach the students how to drive.

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After the October 2020 war, the school had no buses, no fence, no gates, no kitchen, no working appliances, and no lab. In less than two years, the Knights funded the purchasing of equipment for all the departments and provided materials for constructing the improvements to the common areas of the school grounds. One of the benefits of helping a vocational school is that the students themselves can work on renovation, practicing their skills on the site. Karen Grigoryan, the supply manager, pointed to the whitened walls and updated floor saying the work was done by young learners. “And our female students supply the cold drinks for the workers,” added the director.

After returning to the US, I met Jake Bournazian, the Knights of Vartan representative, who works as a lawyer in the Washington area. “So far we have paid zero dollars for the labor,” he noted. “The school administration takes care of everything. The teachers are expert skilled tradesmen, and work with the students and other local villagers. The school manages its own construction team, handles its own equipment and material purchases, and works quickly on its own project schedules.”

This is the second consecutive year that the Knights and Armenia Tools4schools provided tools relevant to each vocational department to all graduates. The young chefs got mixers, the tailors got irons, and so on. “Having the equipment to start a successful career once the student graduate is essential,” said Jake. In 2021, the Western Prelacy participated and supplied equipment for the drivers’ department. The school got help from Hayastan All Armenian Fund and the Artsakh government pitched in as well. The authorities supplied the welding machines. Manager Grigoryan showed the outdated junk that would be recycled soon. The new machines were standing packed on the side.

“The key is the trust. We report back to the sponsors about any single dram we receive. They see that after the funds arrive, we start working and show the results,” said director Artak Sargsyan. “They are very transparent exceeding our expectations on the speed and efficiency,” Jake added on this subject.

People in Martuni were cheered up as they felt they were not left alone. Now the vocational school needs a new tractor and some more building materials for finishing up the constructions. “We want to teach our students to work with the tractors. We need to educate agricultural professionals,” said Artak at the conclusion of our meeting.

The principal refuses to renovate his office

I noticed that the principal, however, never renovated his own office while construction was occurring throughout the facility. Everything there looks like it has been decades ago. The historical background of his office-room and perhaps the scarcity of resources must be the reason. The recovering Martuni school stands as a reminder of the perseverance and determination of the locals to survive and remain on their indigenous land.

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