Humanitarian programs foster resilience in Artsakh’s ‘Zartir Lao!’ generation

ARS Soseh Kindergarten students all smiles for the camera

In the months since Azerbaijan’s unprovoked September 2020 attack on Artsakh, Armenian and non-Armenian humanitarian, non-governmental and religious organizations have been repurposing, establishing and promoting programs fueled by donor support to bring some security and safety to the upturned lives of Artsakh’s children.

According to War Child, over 200 million children live in “high-intensity conflict zones” where internal and external government military and private mercenary forces cause havoc for children “who suffer most from the effects of war, violence, genocide – and now COVID-19.”

In its November 9, 2020 report, “On the Children’s Rights Affected by the Azerbaijani Attacks against the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh),” Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Artsakh Artak Beglaryan detailed the ways Azerbaijan targeted Artsakh’s children in their homes, schools and on social media during the Second Artsakh War.

From the war’s first day on Sept. 27, 2020 when nine-year-old Victoria Gevorgyan was killed in her yard in Martuni by shelling, until the Nov. 9, 2020 purported “end” of the war, Artsakh’s children were targeted in their schools, in civilian shelters and on the road to Armenia in search of refuge. At the same time, social media posts emanating from Azerbaijan were spewing hate speech supporting the killing of Armenian babies, children, mothers and the elderly due to their ethnicity.

“It is evidently true that children are often the most vulnerable victims of armed conflicts,” the report began. “As a result, the fundamental rights of children, including their inherent right to life, right to be with family and community, right to health, right to the development of personality and right to be nurtured and protected, require special attention. These rights are being violated on a daily basis by Azerbaijan forces in Artsakh.”

Today, with Azerbaijan’s continued provocations and killings in Artsakh, its illegal incursions into Armenia and the periodic so-called “deliberations” occurring between Armenia and Azerbaijan designed and destined to result in the physical and psychological subjugation of Armenia and Artsakh, an additional way to understand today’s Armenia Alliance “Zartir, Lao!” exhortation can be found in the online pages of the Armenian Prelacy’s weekly Crossroads newsletter in letters written by child survivors of the 2020 Artsakh War to their Prelacy Orphan Sponsorship program donor.

Shining with resilience and resistance, these handwritten letters by young children, teenagers and surviving spouses on behalf of their babies and toddlers provide quiet evidence that enhanced financial stability and moral support provided by non-profit legacy and new programs allow otherwise challenged family units capacity to give enough attention and security to the war child survivor to ameliorate the trauma of war and terrorism and engender hope for today and courageous goal-setting for tomorrow.

“I have many dreams, but right now I only wish to live in peace and for all our soldiers to come home,” wrote 12-year-old Gor in a letter to his sponsor published in Crossroads’ June 17, 2021 issue.

“I promise to be a good student, to become a good person, to be useful for my family and my homeland, and to keep our borders intact,” second grader Yura wrote in her letter published in Crossroads’ August 12, 2021 issue.

“I have a big dream,” wrote sixth grader Ani in her letter, published in Crossroads’ Oct. 28, 2021 issue. “I want to be a programmer and create new weapons to obtain victory over our enemy and bring back the lands we lost.”

“I want to be a good student and become a good person to be useful to my country when I grow up,” wrote nine-year-old Ararat in his letter published in Crossroads’ Dec. 12, 2021 issue. “I want the years to go by fast to be able to go to the army and defend my country.”

Programs like the Armenian Relief Society’s (ARS) Children of Fallen Heroes (originally the Orphan Sponsorship program), and the Armenian Prelacy’s Orphan Sponsorship have been consistently delivering money and material goods to the children of Artsakh’s fallen soldiers for a generation.

The global ARS family of entities also came together during and after the 2020 Artsakh War to rally support for Artsakh refugees in Armenia, including allocating one-million dollars to provide a monthly stipend to hundreds of families for four months, and providing financial support to refugee teachers, administrators and support staff of Artsakh’s ARS Soseh kindergartens, medical and rehabilitation programs for disabled soldiers, and refugee center meal and other family financial support programs.

But while Armenian non-profits appeal to donors to give generously to programs aimed at child and family well-being and social and educational pursuits, less is said in promotional materials to directly connect the power of the purse to the immediate and longer-term positive impacts traumatized children experience when a family torn apart by war can rely on steady financial and moral support.

In their 2005 paper “Trauma, Proximity, and Developmental Psychology: The Effects of War and Terrorism on Children,” researchers Daniel S. Pine, Jane Costello and Ann Masten surveyed published research about the mental health of children exposed to war and terrorism. Their work found that “aspects of the child and the child’s ecology play a role” in how a child survives trauma.

“While exposure to traumatic events is very common during childhood, terrorism adds unique dimensions to traumatic exposure,” the researchers wrote. “For example, children may become targets of people who hate them for political rather than for personal reasons. Such events have the potential to increase children’s perceptions of the uncertainty and risk in the world and cause psychological harm, even if experienced only at second or third hand.”

War and “deliberate harm to a child’s community and of random harm to children and their families” not only traumatize the youngest citizens of a place targeted for violence but also “pose special challenges to the emotional balance of a community,” requiring “unique responses from communities and care providers.”

The researchers’ reviewed literature showed that “unique responses” to the experience of child war trauma and grief included the presence of “[c]alm and functional parents, teachers, and other adults” with capacity to comfort infants and young children, while older children and teens had “more extensive resources outside the family in the form of friends, teachers, and other people to go to for help, representing greater social capital.”

The researchers added that “[a]dults can act to buffer children, avoid worse situations, and ameliorate suffering,” to serve as “highly adaptable protective systems for children in their care.”

The personal reflections written by children sponsored by the Prelacy Orphan program and documented for all to see in the weekly Crossroads newsletter are examples of the positive influence mental health professionals and researchers say supported surviving spouses and other adults, teachers and wider community groups and philanthropic organizations can have on the surviving war child. The donor dollar that supports an ecosystem of resources for Artsakh’s children may not only soften war’s damaging effects on those children and future generations, but also directly challenge Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s open goal to demoralize and eventually dismantle Armenia and Artsakh.

Philanthropic organizations that promote the potential of these family support programs for child survivors of Artsakh’s Second War can have an additional way to reach donors who want to invest in giving another young person the wherewithal to hear the call “Zartir, Lao!,” as did orphan and second-year college student Ani in her letter published in Crossroads’ May 12, 2022 edition.

“I want everyone, starting with my generation, to realize the seriousness of the moment, gather their whole potential, be united, smart and move only forward. I hope that my country will be freed from enemies – external as well as internal.”

Georgi Bargamian

Georgi Bargamian

Georgi Bargamian is a former editor of the Armenian Weekly. After 10 years working in community journalism, she attended law school and is an attorney, but she remains committed to her first love journalism by writing for the Armenian Weekly and contributing occasionally to the Solutions Based Journalism Project.

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