On May 21, 2018, I embarked on the Armenian Heritage Tour for an unforgettable and fulfilling two-week journey to Armenia and Artsakh. It was a deeply emotional trip, including the celebration of Independence Day on May 28.
Our tour guide was Ungerouhi Maro Asatoorian assisted by Sahakanoush (a lovely Hayasdantsi). Both of them did a superb job .
I must confess that I was and still am worried and apprehensive about expressing my innermost feelings about the trip. A lot has been written about Armenia and Yerevan; the beauty, the vibrancy, the impressive sky-high monuments, centuries old churches and monasteries, the number of museums, Mount Ararat visible from many vistas, the serenity of Lake Sevan. All true. And I hope I am not misunderstood.
For me personally, the visit to Artsakh and Stepanakert was the most emotion-stirring feeling I had. I felt more at home. My heart was pounding and my eyes were filled with tears most of the time. My whole body was shaking at the Memorial Monument to the soldiers of Artsakh. It was heart-wrenching visiting the cemetery. The number of young Armenians who sacrificed their lives was staggering; two to three brothers from the same family—a father and a son, all buried next to each other. I cannot imagine the pain of the parents or the widows.
I had the urge to hug everyone I met. I wish we had spent more time in Artsakh.
Our brothers and sisters in Artsakh are warmer, friendlier, more welcoming, unpretentious, and admirably courageous. They live close to the Line of Contact, under constant threat and danger of Azeri hostility and aggression and yet their determination to stay free can clearly be seen in their eyes. It really makes you proud and gives hope.
On April 14, 2017 the ACAA Florida Agoump in Boca Raton had the privilege and pleasure to have H.E. Robert Avetisyan, Permanent Representative of Artsakh to the United States and Canada visit us and give us a lecture on the situation in Artsakh.
I am very happy to say that I kept in touch with him. With the recent developments in Armenia and the stalemate on finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict, I thought of asking him directly the issues and questions on my mind.
Avetisyan’s answers were honest, pragmatic and exuded confidence and hope. Artsakh needs all the help and support that the Armenian nation can give. When you are in Armenia, be sure to visit Artsakh. Until then, you can support all the ANCA actions as they relate to the safety and development of Artsakh.
Vart Adjemian: Has there been any change in PM Nikol Pashinyan’s government position with respect to the resolution of the conflict and the right to self-determination?
Robert Avetisyan: Recognition of Artsakh’s self determination remains the key for lasting resolution of the Karabakh-Azerbaijan conflict. On various occasions, this position has been reiterated by authorities in Armenia.
V.A.: Has there been any progress by the OSCE-Minsk group in reaching a peaceful resolution? Will the representative of NKR participate in these discussions?
R.A.: Up until 1988, Azerbaijan was conducting negotiations directly with the officials of Artsakh. The Ceasefire agreement in 1994 and other major documents that regulate important initiatives were cosigned by Azerbaijan, NKR and Armenia. Since 1998, Baku refuses to talk directly to Artsakh, and it is unrealistic to expect any breakthrough in the current distorted format. The OSCE mediators also stress the importance of inclusive negotiations with restored participation of Artsakh.
Unfortunately, Azerbaijan’s reluctance to accept reality and restore negotiations with the Republic of Artsakh, as well as Baku’s attempts to delay internationally supported confidence-building measures between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, leave no hope for tangible progress in the negotiations.
V.A.: What is the situation at the Line of Contact? Azeris continue to violate and Armenian soldiers continue to be killed…
R.A.: Azerbaijani leadership refuses to withdraw snipers from the line of contact, and implement other measures to decrease tension along the Artsakh-Azerbaijan border, in particular initiatives suggested in the US Congressional document known as “Royce-Engel peace proposals.” From time to time, Baku continues to initiate various types of deadly violations of the ceasefire regime, which lead to painful retaliation. At the same time, the continued military development allows Artsakh’s Defense Army to control the situation along the Line of Contact and prevent any serious attempts by Azeri attackers.
V.A. : Any improvement in the economic situation in Artsakh?
R.A.: Since the day of proclamation in 1991, the Republic of Artsakh has been moving towards a better state administration, a free market economy and an active civil society. Sovereignty and independence of Artsakh were democratically solved in 1991, are irreversible facts, and out of the question. While international negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the remaining issues with Azerbaijan are still underway, today Artsakh continues to follow the chosen path and develop as a state, striving to provide all the rights and benefits for the population. Economic prosperity of population is among the key goals for our government. Along with the humanitarian aspect of providing better lives for its people, and promoting a larger population, a stronger economy for us also means a stronger military, and, eventually a safer homeland.
As of 2018, economic development in Artsakh maintains positive trends. In the first quarter of 2018 saw 16.4 percent GDP growth. We realize that a sustainable economic growth implies a comprehensive and diversified development of all its spheres. At the same time, we in Artsakh try to capitalize on the realms that offer comparative advantage.
Among significant achievements is the energy sphere, as we have almost reached the level of self-sufficiency. Energy security is among the crucial components for any nation. It has an effect on both basic household life and overall economic development.
Tourism and information technologies continue to remain in the center of attention. In 2017, there was a 60.8 percent growth in the tourism sector compared to the previous year, and the number of citizenship countries of tourists to Artsakh increased by 15.
Tourism—an important branch of any economy—promotes local businesses and services (hotels, restaurants, tour services, etc.) as well as it allows Artsakh to become known to tens of thousands from around the globe, which has certain political implications.
The IT sphere, in its turn, is a sphere that has an advantage, for it cannot be restricted or undermined by geographic location, political environment or any other factor. It helps Artsakh to stay connected to the world, and can become an important economic factor for our republic by providing local specialists with opportunities to cooperate with international IT and related companies. TUMO center in Stepanakert provides self-learning opportunities in web design, animation, graphic design, 3D modeling, robotics and other contemporary disciplines to more than 1,000 kids a year.
The Government of Artsakh gives a special importance to the restoration of the Republic’s agricultural potential. State policy and special agencies have been formed to promote agriculture, and create conditions that would attract people into the sector. Among the traditional spheres of Artsakh’s economy, agriculture will continue to remain the essential component of the Republic’s development. Various programs are currently underway, including Armenia Fund’s joint project of digging deep-water wells, and installation of irrigation systems, which are called to increase profitability and provide multiplier effect on agriculture.
Today the world sees that Artsakh did not fail its test to independence. Its authorities are democratically-elected, economy is developing, the Artsakh Defense Army is a strong guarantor of security for its people. We build our lives, continue to develop, protect our rights and liberties, meet demand that led to Artsakh’s liberation movement—the first truly democratic movement in the then Soviet area. At the same, we realize that when the time comes, and it becomes impossible for the international community to disregard the fact that Artsakh is a sovereign and independent republic, Artsakh will need to appear before the world as a viable state, developing economy, strong army and a vibrant democracy.