The “AYF Summer 2017” section of the Armenian Weekly’s Youth page will highlight the 2017 summer programs of the Armenian Youth Federation—Youth Organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (AYF-YOARF) Eastern United States.
A Village on the Borderline
By Nareg Mkrtschjan
2017 AYF-YOARF Summer Intern and AYF Providence “Varantian” Chapter Member
Of all of the experiences one may have on an Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Internship program, visiting Artsakh is probably the most rewarding and fulfilling.
Although going to Artsakh this summer was my third time there, I got the most from this trip, specifically because of our visit to Arajamugh, a model village established in 2004 by the Tufenkian Foundation. Its expansion is now being spearheaded by the Armenian Cultural Association of America (ACAA) Eastern U.S. Artsakh Fund.
When looking at the terrain and resources surrounding the village, one may ask what motivation there is behind building a permanent presence in this area.
Artsakh is a highly disputed region; in 1991, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabagh (NKR) formally declared independence from Azerbaijan after years of grueling war. In 1994, at the end of that war, a ceasefire was signed between Artsakh and Azerbaijan, with Russia as the mediating party. Now, NKR is a de facto republic controlled by the Armenians living there, but it’s still not officially recognized as an independent country. NKR—now the Republic of Artsakh—and Azerbaijan share a long border, and there have been ceasefire violations, particularly by the Azerbaijanis, usually resulting in casualties on both sides.
That brings us back to the point of why Arajamugh is such an important village. It is located very close to both the Iranian and the Azerbaijani borders, making it even more valuable in terms of defending the Artsakh border. The village was strategically placed near an Armenian military base, which provides security to the local population (not only Arajamugh). Besides its value in terms of location, the village provides opportunities to those who may otherwise not have any. Once a house is built there, the local authorities select families to live in the house. If the family lives there for 10 years, they are awarded both the house and the land that it’s on.
On our visit, we were able to visit one of the homes, and the interior of the house was amazing, considering the village is in a relatively isolated area with limited resources. The houses also had wire fences around them to clearly delineate each land plot and contain any livestock.
We met with our Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) ungers, Sebouh Hamakorzian and Raffi KIllian, members of the Artsakh Fund committee, who have been involved with the development and progress of the Arajamugh village for over two years. The interns planned to visit Arajamugh at the same time as those ARF ungers so that they could explain to us all the work they have done so far for the village, and their plans for future expansion. They pointed out recently installed electricity lines, and water pipes that provide fresh water to residents, both projects made possible by a donation from the AYF Eastern Region.
Arajamugh opened my eyes as to how simple the lives of its citizens are. We spent an entire day in the village. We visited the school that the children of Arajamugh and surrounding villages attend. The inside of the school was breathtaking, with classrooms that had amazing teaching materials, including maps, charts, computers, books, and more. I was honestly surprised as to how nice the school was, and was even more excited to find out that they are expanding the school to add four new classrooms. This means not only that the school is physically getting bigger but also that the number of children in the village is increasing, proving that people are choosing to stay and develop the village.
In the backyard of the school, there were several pomegranate trees. The Tufenkian Foundation had planted these trees, as well the 7-hectare orchard across the road, to provide the people of the village with gainful employment and a chance to build something beautiful. The 11 AYF interns helped to clear some of the weeds around the pomegranate trees, water all the trees, and clear the weeds on the front and side of the houses. The locals of the town were excited to have a helping hand and expressed gratitude that we came to visit and provide some assistance.
After helping with the gardening work, we met Tigran, a child from one of the families in the village. Unfortunately, most of the children in the village were not there because they were away at a summer camp. Although I was disappointed that we were not able to spend time with them, I was glad to hear that the children have a summer camp to attend. We had bought several bags of toys for the kids to play with, including Frisbees, balls, and water guns. We began to play with Tigran, and he instantly fell in love with the toys. As we played, I watched his smile grow bigger and bigger, and he slowly began to open up to us more and more as we spent time together.
My biggest takeaway from our trip to Arajamugh was that we helped light a fire in Tigran’s heart. I truly believe that whether we spent time with all the children in the village or just one, our trip was successful. The impact that we left on Tigran showed him that there really are people outside of Arajamugh who care about him, and I hope that he begins to expand his horizons and reaches out farther into all that the world has to offer. Although he may not understand it now, there are so many opportunities regardless of upbringing. My hope is that this one boy begins to think how he can change not only his life but also the life of others in Arajamugh and Artsakh for the better.
Tigran deserves to get the most out of his life, and he should have the opportunity to strive to accomplish his hopes and dreams in Artsakh and Armenia.
If you would like to help Tigran and others like him build a life in Arajamugh, please contribute to the village expansion project by going to https://acaainc.org/artsakh/.
The Armenian Weekly Editor Rupen Janbazian recently had the opportunity to sit down with Artsakh Fund committee members Raffi Killian, Antranig Kasbarian, and Sebouh Hamakorzian to learn more about the Arajamugh Village Expansion project’s progress and to discuss the importance of building a village on the border. Read the full interview here.