Armenian EyeCare Project supports forcibly displaced refugees from Artsakh

Eye screenings for forcibly displaced Artsakh refugees performed in Armenia by AECP

As many know, the year 2023 began in total blockade for the Republic of Artsakh, with little-to-no food, healthcare and other basic rights available for the people living there. By September 2023, the whole of Artsakh was under fire, with deadly attacks launched against the entire population of ethnic Armenians living there. The heartbreaking result was a mass exodus of the hundreds of thousands of residents in the territory and the official dissolution of the Republic of Artsakh. In a matter of days, an estimated 100,490 Artsakh residents left their homes and took a long and difficult journey toward Armenia. 

Since this time, Armenians everywhere have made it a priority to help these forcibly displaced refugees from Artsakh. Armenia quickly created a humanitarian center to respond to emergency needs; volunteer organizations helped those in need with food, clothing, medicine, healthcare and the like; and individuals and groups donated what they could in support of these displaced Armenians. 

Another eye screening

From the first days of the Artsakh peoples’ displacement, the Armenian EyeCare Project (AECP), too, has actively supported our compatriots through services the organization provides. AECP has provided eye screenings, detailed eye examinations, treatment including laser procedures and eye surgery as well as the provision of prescription eyeglasses, all at no cost. Several prosthetic surgeries have also been performed for wounded soldiers. 

Because refugees have dispersed throughout the country since seeking refuge in Armenia, it’s important to have this eyecare available in all of AECP’s facilities in the country, including AECP’s Mobile Eye Hospital, Regional Eye Centers and Diagnostic Eye Clinics located in various regions throughout Armenia. 

Additionally, in cooperation with state institutions and social organizations, both AECP screening teams in Armenia, as well as volunteer physicians from the U.S. who have visited the country for AECP’s medical mission, have carried out eye screenings in temporary shelters for Artsakh refugees and provided them with additional care such as provision of eyeglasses or surgery.

AECP has also made it a point to send general screening teams to Ararat, the province with the largest number of forcibly displaced refugees from Artsakh, and to have the AECP Mobile Eye Hospital stationed there. According to government statistics, 12,000 of the 47,300 who utilize state-provided assistance lived in this region at the time of AECP’s service there. AECP worked extensively to serve both the local population and Artsakh refugees in Ararat before moving on to the Armavir province to continue its screening and treatment work.  

Since the mass displacement of Artsakh residents in September 2023: 

  • hundreds of refugees have undergone eye screenings at the AECP Mobile Eye Hospital and AECP Regional Eye Centers; 
  • over 30 refugees have received eye surgery at the Mobile Eye Hospital, some on both eyes; and
  • more than 150 pairs of eyeglasses have been provided to these individuals.

Below are stories from just a handful of the displaced refugees from Artsakh who AECP has been able to help. There is still much work to do, but like many other groups and organizations, AECP is committed to supporting these individuals who have experienced a great tragedy as best as it can.

The faces of Artsakh: Eduard and Edmilina Movsisyan

Eduard and Edmilina Movsisyan, 73 and 69 years old
Talin, Aragatsotn province

Eduard and Edmilina Movsisyan live in a tiny room in one of Yerevan’s hotels that now serves as a shelter to a group of people from Artsakh recently displaced from their motherland. Due to the forcible displacement of the Artsakh people in September 2023, the Movsisyan family lost their house in the Berdashen village of Artsakh. 

“It is extremely hard to start from the beginning, but I am thankful to God that we have only had material loss,” Edmilina said. “All three of my sons bravely fought in the war, were wounded but they returned home alive.” 

Eduard and Edmilina got acquainted with AECP in 2008 when the Mobile Eye Hospital visited Artsakh. Eduard received laser treatment at that time due to his diabetes. The treatment saved his sight. 

In 2020, during the 44-day war in Artsakh, the couple moved to Armenia and relocated to Talin. Upon getting screened, it was determined that both Eduard and Edmilina had cataracts. They both received surgery, and their sight has been restored. Eduard has also received further eye treatment this past year.

“This program helped us restore our vision,” Edmilina explained. “Though I will turn 70 next year, I want to work. I have already made an appointment with the manager of a nearby bakery, and after finally solving my vision problem, I hope they give me a chance.”

The faces of Artsakh: Arkadya Ayvazyan

Arkadya Ayvazyan, 68 years old
Metsamor, Armavir province

Arkadya is one of the many people who was forcefully displaced from Artsakh. His son and daughter fought on the battlefield during the recent war in their homeland. During Azerbaijan’s military aggression and the tragic events of September 2023, Arkadya and his family locked the doors of their Artsakh home and moved to Armenia. Currently, the Ayvazyan family rents an apartment in the Metsamor village of Armavir province. Their life has changed drastically. 

In Armenia, Arkadya learned that he has a cataract in his left eye. Arkadya cannot afford the much-needed cataract surgery as he is now unemployed. Fortunately, the local ophthalmologist referred Arkadya to the AECP’s Mobile Eye Hospital to be treated at no cost. 

After the successful surgery, Arkadya said, “I was so glad to receive this opportunity. Thanks to my restored vision I can now try to find a job and help my family solve our financial problems.”

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Julieta Shahbazyan, 87 years old
Aleksey Harutyunyan, 77 years old
Artashat, Ararat province 

Julieta’s extended family of eight used to live together in Stepanakert, the capital city of the Republic of Artsakh. Three children, their parents, grandparents and aunt all lived together, a happy family. The family included a schoolteacher and a forest ranger, and the grandparents helped around the house. They would spend their summers in a small home in the Aygestan village of Artsakh. 

But the Artsakh War provoked by Azerbaijan changed the trajectory of this entire family. They went from living a comfortable and content life to now having no jobs and living in very poor conditions. 

Longtime AECP volunteer physician Dr. Richard Hill helps screen an Artsakh refugee during AECP’s 2023 medical mission in Armenia

During AECP’s last medical mission in 2023, longtime AECP volunteer physician Dr. Richard Hill visited Artashat, a town in Armenia where many refugee families from Artsakh now live. Dr. Hill examined many patients with vision problems, including Julieta and Aleksey, the grandparents of this extended family. 

Julieta didn’t have any vision in one eye and very low vision—only one-percent—in her other eye. Aleksey had only light prescription in one eye and very high eye pressure in his other eye. Dr. Hill gave recommendations to Julieta and Aleksey and referred them both to the Mobile Eye Hospital for further treatment and surgery. 

Soon after, the detailed examination done in the Mobile Eye Hospital revealed a cataract in Julieta’s eye and a cataract and high pressure in Aleksey’s eyes. The surgeries for both Julieta and Aleksey were a success, restoring their vision and helping to combat the countless difficulties these recent turn of events have unloaded on them.

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles or press releases written and submitted by members of the community.

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