“Life is a struggle, that being by blood or by arms and no one comes out a winner. You win and you lose. That’s the law of life. Defeat is something that can always happen. The Roman Empire was defeated, the United States was defeated many times, but there were leaders who were able to correct their mistakes. It’s just a matter of how you can correct your mistakes after a defeat.”
This is how our conversation began with Hovig Esmerian, who returned from the village of Khramort where he was volunteering after the March 24 attacks by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces on a number of settlements in the zone controlled by the Russian peacekeeping forces.
Esmerian is a Syrian-Armenian businessman who moved to Artsakh with his wife Isabel and three children 10 years ago. When asked about his decision to move to the homeland, Esmerian says that every Armenian living in the Diaspora believes that one day he will return to the homeland. It’s a belief that’s been ingrained since childhood.
When the war broke out in Syria, Esmerian says his family did not hesitate and immediately moved to Artsakh. Esmerian believes more Diasporans need to move to Artsakh. He says he appreciates the warmth and simplicity of Artsakh’s Armenians. The land has also been favorable for gardening and agriculture.
Esmerian thinks that it is not only by singing and raising a glass that we can keep the memory of our martyrs, but also by work, not only by sending money, but also by building a family and a house. “If the souls of our martyrs see it, I am sure they will be happier if one family came and lived here than 100 Armenian families who left the homeland and live in Russia or a European country, because these people shed their blood. They gave their lives for that family to live here,” he said.
The family has established a 15-hectare garden in the village of Berkadzor in the region of Askeran, where dozens of species of fruit trees and plants grow. They had citrus orchards in Kovsakan, which is now occupied by Azerbaijan. Esmerian would rather not speak of those losses. “We have lost territories and brothers. We have lost most of the homeland,” says Esmerian. “If a person has lost a child or a relative, on the other hand, I cannot come and talk about my economic losses,” he added.
A few years ago, the Esmerians opened a restaurant in Stepanakert named Samra. When the Artsakh War broke out, the restaurant had to shut down. The Esmerians would later open their home to hungry reporters and soldiers looking for a warm meal. The family believed it was important for soldiers in particular to feel that the house they left behind was waiting for them. The food symbolizing the hearth was, of course, hot food, so soup became symbolic for the soldiers, journalists, volunteers and visitors to Samra. Seeing this, compatriots from Armenia and the Diaspora helped by sending supplies that were almost impossible to find in the city that was under attack. Sometimes, they sent so much food that they distributed it to residents hiding in underground shelters. Unfortunately, Samra is closed now, as its main customers were Diaspora Armenians and guests from abroad, who have been unable to come to Artsakh after the war due to the tightened visa protocols.
Speaking about the relations between the homeland and the Diaspora, Esmerian thinks that the main problem is that we are not honest with each other and that those of us who live in the homeland consider the Diaspora as a treasury. That is why we are ready to deceive, to change the reality so that they send that money, and many of our compatriots living in the Diaspora, who are really patriots, do not want to come and live here. Instead, they are called to come and fight.
In his opinion, that approach should be changed. If there are almost twice as many Armenians living in the Diaspora as in the homeland, they should be represented here with their human presence and scientific resources. There should be at least a Ministry of Diaspora in Artsakh, and that individual should be from the Diaspora. Diasporans should understand that the way to develop the homeland is by living in it. If the Diaspora gets involved in the reconstruction of Artsakh, Artsakh will be restored much sooner with its human presence and its scientific potential.
“We have more Armenian schools in Syria than in Stepanakert. We have more Armenian churches in Aleppo than in Artsakh,” said Esmerian. “We have more theaters in Aleppo than in Stepanakert. But what is the point of having eight theaters, 30 schools in a foreign country? Isn’t it better to have two and bring the rest of the money to build an ‘Aleppo–like’ district for the homeland, for example?”
Esmerian also addressed PM Nikol Pashinyan’s recent comments on “lowering the bar” on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh; he believes the Armenians of Artsakh are more determined to fight. Most of the Armenians of Artsakh do not believe in victory; rather, they stand strong and make it difficult for the enemy to advance. There cannot be a “dull and unhappy” part of the homeland. We are ready to fight for every piece of our land, and if the Armenians living in Armenia see that the people of Artsakh are not indifferent and that they are defending their land, they will join and that will inspire compatriots living in the Diaspora. “This is the reality, the guarantee of our struggle and our life is in this trinity, Armenia, the Diaspora and Artsakh,” says Esmerian.