“The uninterrupted functioning of the land link between Artsakh and Armenia cannot be a subject of any negotiation or bargaining. The link connecting Artsakh with the outside world must be re-established without preconditions and immediately, and conditions must be created to ensure its continued uninterrupted operation.”
This is an excerpt from an international appeal by the Armenian people of Artsakh who gathered on December 25 in Renaissance Square in Stepanakert, the capital of the Republic of Artsakh.
Artsakh has been under complete blockade since December 12. More than 120,000 people, including about 30,000 children, have found themselves in a very difficult situation, completely deprived of free movement and many vital opportunities related to it.
The rally began with the Lord’s prayer, which was offered by Bishop Vrtanes Abrahamyan, leader of the Diocese of Artsakh.
Conveying the blessing of the Catholicos of Armenia to the rally participants, he said, “We send our appeal to the entire Christian world to rise above political motives and, motivated by Christian love, to address the issue of protecting the basic human rights of their brothers and sisters living in Artsakh, so that we too have the opportunity to celebrate the wonderful holiday of the holy Christmas in full and peaceful conditions.
Republic of Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan, former President Bako Sahakyan, National Assembly President Artur Tovmasyan and State Minister Ruben Vardanyan were present.
“I am proud and thankful that I am here with so many people,” shared Vardanyan. “I tell my friends that I am happy in my homeland, together with my people. We protect our dignity and our future. If we find meaning in fighting, if we can believe in our leaders, we are ready to face anything. I assure you that we are united. We have three options. First, sooner or later we submit, slowly integrate with Azerbaijan; secondly, we leave here; and thirdly, we fight. I will not leave here, and I will not submit to Azerbaijan’s conditions.”
Reserve army officer Armen Asryan, who lost his son in the 44-day war, said in his speech: “We have been under total siege for 14 days, but we are facing it with honor. We are bearing these hardships with honor in a manner befitting an Artsakh citizen. We know very well that under the name of these eco-activists, Azerbaijan wants to break our stubbornness, to bring us to our knees in order to achieve its goals, that is, to depopulate Artsakh. Now we have a priority goal: ensuring the existence of Artsakh.”
After the speeches, the people honored the martyrs with a moment of silence and a sea of fists in the air as a symbol of unity and solidarity.
The Weekly spoke with some of the citizens participating in the rally to understand what brought them to the Renaissance Square.
One of the participants of the multi-thousand demonstration was Sokrat Khanyan, a 93-year-old writer from Artsakh. Through the decades, he has overcome many difficulties. He believes Artsakh will overcome this obstacle even in conditions cut off from this world. “Artsakh has been an Armenian cradle for thousands of years together with historical Armenia, and the more we unite, the more our Armenianness will remain eternal,” he emphasized.
Another rally participant was 69-year-old Vera, a displaced woman from the village of Avetaranots, which was occupied by Azerbaijan during the 44-day war. She lives with her son and grandchildren in Stepanakert in a rented house. The world’s indifference toward the besieged Artsakh and also the desire to keep this small part of Artsakh brought her to Renaissance Square. “When I left our village with my grandchildren during the war, I rubbed my hands on the walls and doors of the house, bent down and kissed the floor. It is an indescribable pain. But we have also sacrificed many young lives. Even if I live as a forcibly displaced person, even without a house, on rent,” she shared, “I want to live in Artsakh. If I die, I want to die here. As long as there is peace, so that our grandchildren do not go through these inhuman deprivations, which we and our children went through,” she concluded with a sigh.
Loreta Abrahamyan is a high school history teacher. She considers this rally to be another example of pan-Artsakh uprising, as well as a request and appeal to the world not to allow Armenians with a strong will to be destroyed on their small piece of land. According to her, this is also a call to the diaspora Armenians, that Artsakh is trying to preserve Armenianness ontologically in these unspeakable deprivations. “Today, the presence of thousands of children here also gives us hope that tomorrow’s Artsakh will still be open,” said Abrahamyan.
This was the second rally organized by the people Artsakh. The people’s message is clear: Armenians are firm and dedicated in their pan-Armenian national struggle, and the opening of the “road of life” that connects Artsakh with the outside world through Armenia is critical.