‘From the People to the People’: ARS Emergency Relief Efforts in NKR

An Interview with ARS Central Executive Board Chair Caroline Chamavonian

On the morning of April 6, the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) Chapter in the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic (NKR/Artsakh) received the first vanload of essential supplies—including food, medicine, bottled water, socks, blankets, clothes, candles, and flashlights—that were shipped from the ARS offices in Yerevan.

ARS Artsakh members organizing the supplies on April 7 (Photo: ARS CEB)
ARS Artsakh members organizing the supplies on April 7 (Photo: ARS CEB)

The supplies were then divided into 210 parcels and distributed to wounded soldiers, civilians, and their families at the military hospital in Stepanakert, the capital of the NKR. The ARS is responding to the needs of Artsakh’s population, following the wide-scale Azerbaijani attack along the NKR Line of Contact (LoC) that was launched overnight on April 1-2.

More supplies arrived today. They will be distributed tomorrow to soldiers on the front line, as well as civilians. Families who have been evacuated from their homes have appealed to the ARS office in Stepanakert for assistance, and ARS Artsakh members have been collecting whatever supplies they can gather to alleviate the hardship of families.

Some of the supplies ready to be delivered to NKR servicemen and civilians (Photo: ARS CEB)
Some of the supplies ready to be delivered to NKR servicemen and civilians (Photo: ARS CEB)

Following the instructions of the NKR Education Ministry, schools and kindergartens are beginning to reopen, including the eight ARS Soseh Kindergartens, though student numbers have been relatively low. ARS members in Armenia have also visited the military hospital in Yerevan to distribute care packages to wounded soldiers who were transported there from the NKR Line of Contact. The ARS Central Executive Board (CEB) has initiated a fund drive to meet the needs of Artsakh’s population; local chapters have followed suit, and members and supporters are coming forward with their financial contributions to make these humanitarian aid efforts possible.

The Armenian Weekly reached out to ARS CEB Chair Caroline Chamavonian to learn more about the ARS emergency response in Artsakh. Below is the interview in its entirety.

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Nanore Barsoumian—Please discuss the ARS’s current efforts in the NKR.

ARS Armenia members loading supplies in the first van headed to Stepanakert (Photo: ARS CEB)
ARS Armenia members loading supplies in the first van headed to Stepanakert (Photo: ARS CEB)

Caroline Chamavonian—Since April 2, when we first heard the news of the attacks on the border villages of Artsakh, our Central Office staff, as well as board members, have been in touch with ARS Armenia’s regional executive, as well as the ARS Artsakh Chapter, to find out about the situation and the immediate needs.

Globally, all ARS regional and chapter executives reached out to us, expressing their total commitment and support. Without delay, they initiated fundraising events in their communities and, as you saw on social media, ARS Armenia has reached out to its regional membership and the public, collecting much-needed supplies for the injured—both military personnel and civilians residing in villages adjacent to the armed conflict zone. They prepared boxes of food, medicine, clothing, and hygiene supplies to be distributed to those who are recovering in the hospitals, as well as to others who are in need of essentials. The packages included sweets, socks, clothing, flashlights, candles, and warm blankets. These supplies were transported to Stepanakert for distribution.

ARS members in Armenia visiting the military hospital in Yerevan to distribute care packages to wounded soldiers (Photo: ARS CEB)
ARS members in Armenia visiting the military hospital in Yerevan to distribute care packages to wounded soldiers (Photo: ARS CEB)

 

N.B.—Tell us about the reports from your local ARS members in the NKR. How are they describing the situation?

C.C.—ARS CEB member Alesya Bejanyan of Armenia has been regularly communicating with Artsakh Chapter executive members in Stepanakert, assuring them that the CEB stands by them and will provide all necessary supplies, as the need arises.

The ARS CEB office in Artsakh has been providing us with updates of the situation. The ARS Soseh Kindergartens were temporarily closed due to safety concerns. ARS Artsakh Chapter executive members have been visiting the local Stepanakert hospital to find out what the immediate needs are of the civilians and soldiers. They will also distribute the available supplies.

 

ARS Artsakh members dividing up the supplies (Photo: ARS CEB)
ARS Artsakh members dividing up the supplies (Photo: ARS CEB)

N.B.—How are you trying to mobilize ARS supporters? How has the response been so far?

C.C.—We are utilizing social media. We issued a press release and sent circulars to our regions and chapters to inform our members and supporters about the “ARS support for Artsakh” fundraising effort. We started to raise funds through crowd-funding (see https://fundly.com/ars-support-for-artsakh). We are pleased with the response so far, and we thank our supporters for their donations. It’s greatly appreciated.

Individuals can donate by visiting our website (www.ars1910.org). Our network of regional offices and chapters in 26 countries are all coordinating their efforts to raise the needed funds. Donors can also mail their donation to ARS CEB Office, 80 Bigelow Ave. Suite #300, Watertown, MA 02472. The checks should be made payable to “ARS Inc.,” with a memo for “ARS Support for Artsakh Fund.” And, of course, they can always donate to their local ARS chapters.

ARS Artsakh members hard at work in their office (Photo: ARS CEB)
ARS Artsakh members hard at work in their office (Photo: ARS CEB)

N.B.—You have a core base of members and network in Artsakh that has made your rapid response possible. Please discuss the overall activities of the ARS chapter in the NKR in recent years.

C.C.—The ARS Artsakh Chapter has around 150 members. They maintain a very good relationship with the authorities and the population, providing financial assistance to families of newborns in the border villages, for example. They also prepare hot home-made meals for the troops during peace time and deliver them to the bases on the border.

We have eight ARS Soseh Kindergartens operating in Artsakh, with 350 pupils and 75 staff members. The first kindergarten was opened in Stepanakert in 1998. Due to the aging structure of the building, the ARS decided to rebuild the kindergarten. The building was demolished and a new state-of-the-art kindergarten is under construction. We are currently raising funds to finish rebuilding and to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the future generations in Artsakh. It is imperative to continue the construction of the building in order to provide a safe environment to our children in Artsakh. I urge our members and supporters to help raise funds to complete the rebuilding of the kindergarten-community center complex, which is very important for the people of Artsakh. And I invite you all to the opening ceremony slated for 2017.

For more information, your readers can always contact the ARS CEB office at (617) 926-5892 or by e-mail at secretary@ars1910.org.

Boxes of supplies at the ARS ARtsakh headquarters (Photo: ARS CEB)
Boxes of supplies at the ARS ARtsakh headquarters (Photo: ARS CEB)
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Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian was the editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2014 to 2016. She served as assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2010 to 2014. Her writings focus on human rights, politics, poverty, and environmental and gender issues. She has reported from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabagh, Javakhk, and Turkey. She earned her B.A. degree in political science and English from the University of Massachusetts (Boston), where she is currently continuing her graduate studies. Email Nanore Barsoumian at writenanore@gmail.com, or follow her on Twitter (@NanoreB).

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