Sassounian: Planting a Tree… On First-Ever Visit to Artsakh

It may surprise some to learn that I had not been to Artsakh (Karabagh) until last week.

Of course, I always wanted to go to Artsakh, but not as a mere tourist. I wanted to visit Artsakh on a special occasion, one that finally came on March 31. As senior vice president of the Lincy Foundation, I participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a newly built school in Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh. Funded mostly by the Lincy Foundation and partially by the government of Artsakh, the project was successfully implemented by Save the Children.

The grand opening of the school was attended by government officials led by President of Artsakh Bako Sahakyan and other dignitaries. The new school will accommodate 350 students. It was a great day of celebration for the people of Stepanakert, as parents and students expressed their joy and gratitude for this state-of-the-art facility.

Beyond the high quality of construction, what impressed me most was Artsakh’s self-sufficiency. All supplies and materials, including school desks and cabinets, were produced in Artsakh, providing employment and income to the local population. Nothing imported from Turkey!

During my brief stay in Artsakh, I had the opportunity to see some of the ancient cathedrals and majestic mountains of the region, which visitors often compare with the beauty of Switzerland. I met the leaders of the fledgling republic who are doing their utmost to provide prosperity for their 150,000 citizens, as well as protection from periodic Azeri attacks.

The people of Artsakh are comforted, knowing that they are not alone. Millions of Armenians around the world support their struggle for survival against all odds in this secluded ancient land.

I had no difficulty relating to the local people, as my grandparents hail from Zeytoun, in Cilicia, a mountainous region, not unlike Artsakh, with a warrior population that successfully fought for five centuries against constant attacks by the powerful Ottoman Army. Zeytoun was known as the “eagles’ nest,” an apt name for Artsakh.

It was clear from my conversations with leaders and people of Artsakh that they would never accept to live under Azerbaijan’s yoke again. The young generation was born and raised in a free Artsakh. It is out of the question for them to be under Azeri occupation. The older generation, which spilled blood to gain Artsakh’s precious freedom, will never again accept any form of foreign domination.

While the heroic Artsakh people have paid the ultimate price for their independence—sacrificing their lives—they only ask the rest of us to contribute funds, time, and energy to support their just cause.

It was a great honor for me to be asked by Prof. Gourgen Melikian, the dean of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Yerevan State University and a devoted Artsakh volunteer, to plant a walnut tree near the village of Berzor, in the Lachin Corridor, linking Armenia with Artsakh.

Melikian had made all the arrangements for the planting ceremony. He had the walnut tree seedling, a shovel, a watering pot, and an appropriate recitation for the occasion. I noticed that there were many other young trees nearby, indicating Melikian’s determination not to let any visitor pass through the Lachin Corridor without planting a tree.

The most touching moment of the ceremony arrived when Melikian, holding a glass of red wine in his hand, recited a moving Armenian poem about tree planting written by Leon Zaven Surmelian in 1924. Here is my rough translation of that beautiful poem:

Bless this tender tree, O Lord; I plant it here
In crumbling black soil, where my forebears lie
As their mighty progeny, master of this land anew,
I grow under the sun, with their name on my lips.
This grand tree shall extend its arms and soul,
Embracing my forebears’ immortal fiery breath;
O Lord, let this lonesome, graceful tree be a prayer,
And a cuddling object for young lovers.
The olden history of these memorable lands
Brings tears to my eyes. Glory and death aplenty
In my ancient land, whose fierce progeny I am,
With bountiful thoughts, and soothing dreams.
This tree I planted, as a cross for my departed ones.

While listening to this inspiring poem, I made a vow to return often to this cherished land, to water my tree and defend the ground upon which it stands. May this walnut tree grow mighty with deep roots, and bear fruit for generations to come!

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. I am glad you have finally visited the place that put Armenians back on the international map and rekindled the flame of our proud forefathers in our hearts. We Armenians (especially here in the diaspora) desperately need more “Artsakh” and less “Genocide” in our lives. I hope now you can get past your irrational opposition to the authorities in Yerevan as a result of the political process going on between Yerevan and Ankara…

  2. Armenians need to hear more about the Armenian Genocide, Artsakh, human rights and what we are legally entitled to as a consequence of the genocide in the form of reparations and land restitution. Logical opposition to the ottoman enslaved defeatists in Yerevan is the only  response to pathetic turncoats that shamefully put out the “flame of our proud forefathers in our hearts…”

  3. The first commenter should be concerned about when he/she will sober up…
    The traitorous authorities in Yerevan need a crash course in negotiations and a refresher course on Turkish history. Other than that, a few months in a Turkish jail cell wouldn’t hurt either…

  4. Actually the last few months have shown those Armenians opposed to the Protocols that official Yerevan knows what its doing, and that turkey is in a bind.  Serj has given two great speeches already, and I hope that that has at least shown many who thought he was a sell out that he most certainly is not!

    Irate, and realist, I’m willing to bet that both of you are the types who think giving millions of dollars to politicians in DC to get the AG bill passed is a winning solution, instead of investing that money in Armenia.  Am I wrong?

  5. Hold the press…surreptitious Serjik has supposedly “given two great speeches” and his clandestine attempts at selling out our cause, history, and land is forgotten because of the stalled diplomatic footering about of arch enemy Turkey. Hilarious…
    Official Yerevan doesn’t have a clue what its doing in playing Russian roulette. Giving up our claim to Western Armenian lands, allowing the Turks to even consider meddling into the issue of Artsakh on behalf of Azerbaijan and backtracking on a signed protocol regarding our history AFTER the signing only shows the diplomatic naivety and illustrious hubris of Yerevan cronies with little semblance of diplomacy let alone an understanding of legal repercussions.
    I’m willing to bet that you, AR are one of those Yerevan sympathizers on the take desperately trying to convince the rest of us Armenians how to accept concessions with a smile and relinquish more of rights without a whimper in exchange for chump change and half smiles from corrupt curmudgeons in Brussels and DC. Am I wrong?
    Where’s the evidence supporting your claim that anybody is “giving millions of dollars to politicians in DC to get the AG bill passed”?
    I wouldn’t consider you “wrong” per say AR, just misguided or misguiding. Neither of which is constructive nor terribly convincing.

  6. After reading this article, I could not help but swell up with tears in my eyes… It was very emotional.. especially the poem…

    One govt would be out of his right mind to think that justice and truth can be bought with money.. I see glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel but our govt is not even close to where it needs to be……

    even though alot of money is spent on the politicians in DC,  we still need these people.. i would love to see our wealthy individuals spending money in ARmenia.. without our wealthy Armenians, a regular citizen can’t do much.. I would love to help Armenia.. and i do with very little money i have.. i wish i can do more.. that is why gathering up the powers of our wealthy individuals who can afford spending their money to better some aspects of our Armenia, then people who have little or nothing can use their time and other resource to add to the help.. our combined efforts will go along way..

    We are only strong if we work as one body…


  7. Mr. Harut Sassounian, please post a few photographs regarding your visit to Artsakh. You should publish an article regarding shifting policy of Serge Sargsyan.


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