The Providence, Rhode Island Armenian community came “Together for Artsakh” last Saturday, November 18, for an unforgettable evening of collective generosity highlighted by the exceptional musical stylings of vocalist Tro Krikorian and guitarist Ara Dabandjian. By the end of the night, almost $40,000 was raised, thanks to the continuous donations throughout the event and an anonymous donor who pledged to match funds up to $10,000.
Organized and underwritten by the Providence Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Kristapor Gomideh and its family of organizations, including the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), Hamazkayin and Homenetmen, the evening featured dinner by Sonia’s Near East Market & Deli and desserts made by the local ARS Ani and Arax chapter members.
The Providence Homenetmen Scouts brought everyone to their feet as they marched into the hall at Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church with drums and cymbals, carrying the flags of the United States, the state of Rhode Island, Armenia, Artsakh and the ARF. Providence “Varantian” AYF Senior member Rosdom Mkrtschjan sang the American and Armenian national anthems to open the evening, followed by an emotional rendition of the Artsakh national anthem, in which he was joined by fellow AYF Junior and Senior members. Rev. Fr. Shnork Souin of Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church and Rev. Fr. Kapriel Nazarian of Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church offered the opening prayers.
Providence AYF and ARF member, Nareg Mkrtschjan, who also serves as chair of the AYF-YOARF Eastern Region Central Executive, served as emcee for the evening. “Your dedication goes beyond words…In times of crisis, our diasporan community of organizations serve as a reminder that we will never stop fighting for our cause,” Mkrtschjan said, noting the capacity crowd of more than 170 community members. He went on to stress that the goal of the evening was “to raise as much money as possibly for our Artsakhtsis.” Throughout the event, Artsakh flags were placed at the front of the stage, indicating the progress of fundraising efforts, with the intent to fill the stage – a goal that was reached well before the end of the night.
ARF Providence Kristapor Gomideh chair Hrag Arakelian took the opportunity to thank the sister organizations for coming together for Artsakh. “It’s an honor to be Armenian,” he said, “but it also comes with responsibilities.” Arakelian stressed that all the funds raised from the event will be delivered to the ARS of Eastern USA to assist ARS members on the ground who are already aiding the displaced families of Artsakh. This ensures that the funds will go directly to the “120,000 people who were ethnically cleansed from Artsakh – they escaped a massacre – and all they have is the clothes on their back,” he said, reinforcing the goal to help Artsakhtsis to stay in Armenia, and thereby strengthen Armenia.
“What’s magnificent about the Providence community is that when the church does an Artsakh event, everybody supports it. When the ARF does an Artsakh event, everybody supports it,” Arakelian said. “Whether it’s ARS, AYF, whoever does it, we show up, because Providence works together. We know that there’s strength in numbers and in community.”
ARF Bureau member Khajag Mgrdichian and former ARS Central Executive Board member Taline Mkrtschjan served as keynote speakers for the event.
Mgrdichian acknowledged the grief felt by everyone in the room over the loss of Artsakh, underscoring that “Artsakh, liberated with the blood of our heroes, is in the hands of the enemy.” He said that Armenians cannot accept the defeat of today or allow grief to become eternal by losing the will to fight and reverse the losses. The so-called peace deals being forced upon the Armenian people can only be achieved under one condition, “if they are in preparation for the next war, because no Armenian who abides by a national ideology can be reconciled with the loss of Artsakh or with the solution that they are trying to impose on us today.”
Mgrdichian noted two phenomena in Armenian politics. First, Armenia has become a site for geopolitical competition between international actors, namely the West, Russia, Iran and China. Second, in Armenia there is a fight to eradicate national ideologies.
“These leaders have ruined our relations with our allies, without the possibility or capability to create new allies in the West,” Mgrdichian said in reference to Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan’s administration. “Unfortunately, Armenia’s foreign policy, having lost its compass, does not have any clear direction. The evils and dangers of this have fallen on Artsakh, and probably tomorrow we will say on Armenia.”
Mgrdichian concluded his remarks by outlining six principles that every Armenian must strive to fight for: all legal and international means must be used to free the Artsakh leadership imprisoned in Baku; the depopulation of Artsakh must clearly be called an act of genocide and presented to international actors as a genocide; every effort must be made to keep Armenians’ right of return to Artsakh alive; the humanitarian needs of the displaced people of Artsakh in Armenia must be met; the institutions of the Republic of Artsakh must be preserved, including its government structures, whose members are now in Armenia; and finally, Armenians can only return to Artsakh if international security guarantees are offered to create an environment where Armenians can live safely in their homes.
Mkrtschjan likewise addressed Armenians’ collective grief in her remarks, as well as the important work of the ARS. “Today, I stand before you with a heavy heart as we reflect on the recent attacks on Artsakh and the dire consequences faced by our fellow Artsakh families. In times of crisis, it is essential to recognize the resilience of our people and the indispensable role played by organizations such as the Armenian Relief Society,” she said.
The ARS acted swiftly to meet the immediate needs of the forcibly displaced Armenians of Artsakh. Working together with ARF, Homenetmen and AYF members, the organization compiled 1,000 boxes of supplies to distribute to those in need. Thus far, the ARS has distributed more than five tons of essential goods to the Artsakhtsis, Mkrtschjan noted.
While its members were springing into action and gathering goods for the displaced people of Artsakh, the organization was holding its 73rd international convention. With Artsakh as its focus and true to the ARS mission, since its inception in 1910, of being “with the people, for the people,” within a span of 30 minutes, the regions and observers who were present at the convention pledged over $440,000 to jumpstart the fundraising initiatives for Artsakh.
Mkrtschjan said that in the short-term, securing housing and employment are the priorities. In the long-term, “the ARS, in collaboration with the sister organizations, is planning for the integration of the families into daily life in Armenia, focusing on education, healthcare, social services and mental health support,” she said. She encouraged everyone to be generous with their financial support so these programs can be fulfilled.
“With every donation, we offer a future for a young orphan whose father sacrificed his life for our homeland. With every donation, we can save a family from hunger and despair,” Mkrtschjan said. “Through our collective efforts, we can provide some dignity to these families who have lost their loved ones, their homes, their jobs, their memories, but most importantly, they have lost their homeland, our beloved Artsakh.”
As the line of Artsakh flags continued to grow, the musical duo of Krikorian and Dabandjian took the stage. Krikorian began singing folk and patriotic music at a young age, collaborating with many seasoned artists and musicians, including the exceptionally skilled Dabandjian, who is a well-known member of the Element Band. Krikorian explained that the duo’s idea was to arrange acoustic versions of the songs, deftly done by Dabandjian, with the aim of appealing to the younger generation.
Based on the overwhelming response of the audience, they have succeeded in spanning the generations with the arrangements. They captivated the crowd from the very beginning with the first song, “Lerner Hayreni,” which holds a special place in Krikorian’s heart as he has sung it as a lullaby for his children, right up until the end with their renditions of the revolutionary songs as the flags waved – a fitting end to a successful and memorable evening.