Every morning, Armenians in the diaspora brace themselves for new developments from the frontlines of Artsakh. Each day, we wake up to heart-shattering news: ceasefires broken, churches and homes reduced to rubble, children and families left hungry and vulnerable. The pain, the fear and the anger that we are feeling are all palpable. In the diaspora, the pain is so difficult to bear that many of us are experiencing sleepless nights, crying spells, anxiety and terrible heartbreak.
But for our family abroad, the suffering has magnified to a level that the diaspora cannot comprehend. Civilians are dying left and right, funerals are held several times a day, and the risk of genocide looms dangerously over our homeland. Our soldiers need food and water, hospitals need medication and medical supplies, and families desperately need basic household essentials. Armenians are living in life and death circumstances.
“People keep telling me to turn my phone off and go for a walk,” said Mariam Avagyan, “but I can’t turn this off. I may get a call about an urgent need at any moment, and every time I walk I see funerals and the names of young boys who died on the front lines.” Avagyan is the in-country director for Kooyrigs, an organization that started two years ago as a feminist Instagram page and has grown rapidly to be one of the main organizations providing essential aid to Artsakh.
On September 28, 2020—the day after Azerbaijan’s attacks on the Republic of Artsakh—Kooyrigs launched its very own grassroots humanitarian campaign, Looys. Looys, or “light,” has been faithfully delivering emergency aid to the people of Artsakh since the war broke out more than a month ago. It’s a collaborative effort between Kooyrigs and the Women’s Support Center, bringing generations of Armenian women together to defend their homeland. With the help of Maro Matosian, director of the Women’s Support Center and a prominent human rights defender in Armenia, Kooyrigs has been in contact with the governments of Armenia and Artsakh, as well as the main hospital in Stepanakert, making sure to coordinate their initiatives as part of the larger war effort.
Kooyrigs began as a diaspora organization, but it is committed to listening to the voices of people in Armenia and doing everything possible to support the local economy and culture. As part of this, Kooyrigs’ supply chain promotes Armenia’s local economy, buying directly from farms, businesses and pharmacies in rural Armenia to ensure a quick delivery of essential needs.
“I remember how the 1990s were economically, and I am terrified that the same thing will happen again,” says Avagyan, “That’s why we’ve created a pipeline that not only supports the soldiers, but supports the economy. This is not just donations—we have planned every step, and we follow through on everything, starting from purchasing from a farmer all the way to the front line, and we document everything.”
Kooyrigs team members have received permission to travel to Artsakh, where civilian access is prohibited, due to their importance in the war effort. Travel to Artsakh is dangerous right now. The team has to take special precautions to avoid Azeri drones, which have targeted civilians within the territory of Armenia as well as Artsakh. They have also been trained on safety protocols and experienced multiple close calls. On October 28, when the Azerbaijani army bombed the Stepanakert Maternity Hospital, the Kooyrigs team had just finished delivering aid five minutes before the attack. The hospital, as well as the fresh supplies, was destroyed.
No matter the circumstances, Kooyrigs are working to respond to immediate needs on the ground and distribute aid where it is most needed. They hand-deliver food, water, medication, clothing, diapers, formula, sanitary products and household essentials to families affected by the war. Feeling all the hurt that corruption has caused Armenia and aware of the distrust it has created in the diaspora, Kooyrigs always prioritizes transparency. Team members not only deliver the aid directly to soldiers and civilians in Artsakh, but also document their efforts, showing exactly where donations are going. Updates are posted regularly on the Kooyrigs Instagram page, building the trust between Kooyrigs on the ground and their community in Armenia and throughout the diaspora.
This Armenia-diaspora connection is what has allowed Kooyrigs to gather the resources to carry out essential initiatives including feeding more than 800 soldiers, providing aid kits to refugees around Armenia and buying boots for troops on the front lines. Kooyrigs is an entirely grassroots organization and has been funded thus far through the donations of individuals and businesses supporting its loyal community. When the initiative started, founder Karine Eurdekian put out a fundraising call, and the community rallied. Through individual donations, art sales, a live lit fundraiser, yoga classes, and all sorts of other events, Kooyrigs has been able to support the soldiers and civilians on the front lines defending our homeland. It goes to show the power of our global nation and individual action: one art piece sold could provide the medicine that saves the lives of multiple soldiers.
Our Kooyrigs are risking their lives to aid those suffering due to the war, working in and out of Artsakh to ensure that our people are safe. To continue doing this critical aid work, we need your support. This conflict cannot be solved without providing Artsakh with the essential needs it requires. We invite you to learn more as we work to ensure the livelihoods of Armenians abroad. Your support during this urgent time may save more lives than you know.