The greater New Britain, Connecticut community had a special opportunity to learn more about the crisis in Artsakh on November 29 at a forum hosted by South Church.
A large group of both the Armenian and non-Armenian communities attended the evening, which included a light dinner and refreshments and a revealing presentation.
Pastor Jane Rowe of South Church introduced the evening and the program. She expressed great pleasure in the large turnout and noted that a number of different faiths were represented at the affair. She introduced Rev. Fr. Haroutiun Sabounjian, pastor of the Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection in New Britain, who also expressed gratitude for the large turnout and further thanked Pastor Rowe for organizing the event.
Father Haroutiun introduced the main speaker, Sarah Stites, who spoke about the history of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, known to the Armenian people as Artsakh, and the current humanitarian crisis that has unfolded as a result.
Stites is affiliated with the Fund for Armenian Relief’s subsidiary youth-run organization called “Ayo!” and lives full-time in Armenia, working daily to support the 100,000 refugees who have been displaced from Artsakh to Armenia as a result of this crisis.
A gifted speaker, Stites described the cherished Armenian centuries-old roots in Artsakh, her personal experiences from her almost six years living in Armenia and poignant firsthand stories of individuals who have been displaced from their ancestral homeland.
While describing the disheartening stories of the battles and the suffering of the 100,000 displaced residents of Artsakh, Stites’ presentation was uplifting and one of hope for the unsolved problem still before us.
“In the years I’ve lived in Gyumri, I’ve witnessed the pandemic, the 2020 war, the Russia-Ukraine war, the blockade and most recently, the heart wrenching loss of Artsakh. At the same time, I have seen magnificent developments – construction projects, fast-paced growth in the IT sector, change in stereotypes, female empowerment and a lot of other reasons for hope in our small motherland,” Stites said. “Ayo!, at its core, is about saying ‘yes!’ It’s about optimism and hope. We invite the diaspora to be a help in the midst of heartache, to see the good and be a part of the change.”
The audience was fascinated with Stites’ presentation, and she provided opportunities for individual questions and comments to her.
Established in 2013 as a fundraising platform for Fund for Armenian Relief, Ayo! aims to unite Armenian people, and youth in particular, to create positive development in their society. Ayo! empowers them to initiate change by providing a vehicle with which they can raise money for local development projects. In the past decade, Ayo! donors have funded 80 low-budget, high-impact projects all across Armenia.
Donations are channeled to humanitarian and development projects, which cover a wide range of sectors, including education, healthcare, child protection and business and economic development.
While Ayo! focuses on sustainable development, it also responds to urgent needs in times of crisis. Currently it is mobilizing all its resources for Arstsakhis who have been forcibly displaced from their homeland. Ayo! donors have already raised more than $100,000 to buy bedding kits (pillows, sheets and blankets), space heaters and warm coats for displaced families, as well as urgently needed medicines for kids with chronic illness. Currently, the campaign is shifting to align with the holiday season. Donors have the opportunity to sponsor a Christmas wish for a displaced child.
Stites described a number of fundraising opportunities for individuals and organizations. Details can be found on the Ayo! website. Those wishing to learn more about Ayo! may contact Stites via Whatsapp at +17034006436.
As an additional bonus, Father Haroutiun delighted the audience by revealing that Stites would return to New Britain at the Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection, fittingly, on Armenian Christmas (January 6, 2024). She will share more about how and why she – a quarter Armenian – said Ayo! to Armenia so many years ago.