I think that we all know that we, as a people, are in a pretty tough situation right now. Armenians in Artsakh are living day to day with Turks breathing down their necks, and Armenians in Armenia are quickly becoming separated from the grim situation of their eastern brothers and sisters. All the while, many Diasporan Armenians have mentally disconnected since the war. After all, the second step of grief is denial, and a lot of diasporans are stuck on that step.
I was too at one point. However, I broke out of my denial in December 2020 when I visited Artsakh for the first time since the war. This was a very important step for me to begin caring again. Many thought that I was ill-advised for leaving my cozy life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to go to a war-ravaged country and spend Christmas there instead of with my family. “You’re going to go and do what? What’s your plan? What organization are you going with?” To be honest, I needed to be pushed to do it; it’s not something that I would have done on my own. My cousin Razmig Makasdjian encouraged me to go first and plan later, and I am very glad he did. Now, I am going to encourage you to do the same. I promise you won’t regret it.
There is so much waiting for you there. Since the war, I’ve visited Artsakh four times. Razmig and I started a small crowdfunding campaign called @artsakhaidmission and have provided help to families in several villages as a part of this mission. Everywhere we visited, the people would entertain us for hours with food, drinks, stories and enlightening conversations. As we got to know them, it became apparent that the majority of Artsakhtsis we met felt hopeless, that the free independent Artsakh that we took for granted for the past 30 years is no more. The words “Kharabaghuh kerezman eh” or “huysuh prtsav” especially stung and stuck with me. Being both a Tashnagtsagan and an optimist (although one could argue those are one and the same), I believe that there is a path to victory, and I made it my mission to converse with everyone I met and convince them that there is still hope.
This is where I believe we, as a Diaspora, can help most during a visit to Artsakh, not by providing physical aid to people and their families (although I believe that helps marginally), but by inspiring them and convincing them that “sakh lav a linelu.”
Why? Because the Diaspora and locals are each other’s Yin and Yang – our strengths and weaknesses complement each other perfectly. For example, the children in Artsakh will trip, fall hard and get right back up and say, “Normala.” Diasporans kids won’t. Artsakhtsis are not afraid to get their hands dirty. They will walk into a chicken coop with flip flops, breathe in feathers and dust, get chicken dung between their toes, rinse it off with their water faucet and move along – “Normala.” Diasporans won’t – I know I won’t. Let’s not forget that they have lived through and fought three wars in the past 30 years. They get their hands dirty. Diasporans, on the other hand, have lived in first-world countries for decades. Many Diasporans know how to run businesses, local and federal governments, etc. In addition, Diasporans will complain if they don’t like something. A friend of mine from the Diaspora told me that locals won’t complain about anything. They won’t push their local leaders to change something, even if they don’t like it. Diasporans, on the other hand, are much more likely to have the uncomfortable conversations and push for change. I could go on and on with similar examples, but I think you get the point. Small lifestyle differences like this make a big difference when you need to build a country.
As an optimist, I look at these two ingredients and believe they are a winning formula.
Yet, despite this, I can count on one hand the number of Diasporans I know who moved to Artsakh after the 2020 war. Three out of seven million. It’s shameful. Our response is three. Our response is thousands and thousands of Armenians going to Armenia for the summer but staying in Yerevan for 90-percent of their trip – not even visiting Artsakh. Our response is going to the club every night in Yerevan. Our response is continuing to have barahanteses where we sing revolutionary songs until the wee hours of the morning after which our nationalism stops. The Turks are watching, and they couldn’t be more pleased.
To my fellow youth, I understand that moving to Artsakh is very hard to do, especially as many of us are developing successful careers. I am in the same position. We need to make sacrifices. At least take a month off and go to Artsakh. Visit, meet people and become more aware of the situation on the ground. Prepare yourself to move there in the near future.
To the older generation, as you approach retirement, think about this: you could go to Artsakh and live like oligarchs in nice apartments in Stepanakert and mansions in the countryside. A garden, a few animals and a few locals could work for you part time. I think it’s a no-brainer, except for the fact that your family and friends would be on the other side of the world. But, if they were all in the homeland already, you would go. We need five or 10 trailblazers to take the lead on this. From there, it will be a positive feedback loop.
Although my roots are in Kharpert, Erzinga and Sepastia, I feel more at home in Artsakh than I’ll probably ever feel in Western Armenia. And that’s only from a few trips that weren’t more than a few weeks each. If we keep going to Armenia and not even visiting Artsakh, we are doing a huge disservice to the people living there and to ourselves. I’m convinced that the only way to save Artsakh is for the Diaspora to move there, because if we live there, we will keep it. The ball is in our court. There are three steps: visit Artsakh, learn to love Artsakh and move to Artsakh.