By Lucine Garibian
My name is Lucine (Lucy) Garibian. I’m Armenian-American woman born and raised in LA. At the end of 2020, I decided to spend 6 weeks in Armenia. 2020 was a difficult year for Armenians all over the world and it has somewhat improved because of the incredible efforts of womxn here in Armenia.
For those of you who don't know, from September 27, 2020 to November 10, 2020, there was a war between Artsakh/Armenia and Azerbaijan/Turkey. This war took place in the Nagorno Karabakh region in the Caucasus, or more commonly known in the Armenian community as Artsakh, which is an area predominantly inhabited by ethnic Armenians. This region has historically been a place of contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In September, Azerbaijani forces with great support from Turkey launched an attack in the Artsakh. This war lasted 6 weeks resulting in the death of thousands including civilians. If you want to read up more on the conflict and the history of the region, there are some sources at the end. But in the spirit of this magazine, the focus will be on the amazing womxn that I’ve met here taking charge of humanitarian efforts.
I’ll start from the beginning. Before I even arrived in Armenia on Feb 3, I met a woman named Mariam Avagyan on Instagram. She connected me with Kooyrigs, an organization that started in Armenia in 2018 to create a sense of belonging for all Armenians and elevate diverse Armenian voices. In 2020, Kooyrigs bravely shifted course to fundraise for humanitarian crises, starting with the Beirut blast and continuing on with displaced Artsakh refugees and pregnant women of Armenia and Artsakh. To this day, they are the only organization in Armenia that is delivering this aid specifically to pregnant women. This aid includes diapers, lotions, soaps, vitamins, and medications which they hand-deliver monthly to nearly 200 pregnant women and new mothers.
Another initiative I have worked closely with here has been Muradyan Art Gallery Initiative. This effort works out of an art gallery in Yerevan. All of the paintings have been removed from the wall, and the largest room has many women (mostly from Artsakh) sewing mattresses that are donated to families. The next room is where they pile clothing donations where people can come to pick them up. The office is the last room. When you open the door a cloud of cigarette smoke makes its exit, and At the head of the office sits Zaruhi Muradyan. She and her husband Hakob have coordinated multiple fundraising efforts. During the war, they would fundraise and deliver blankets for refugees and soldiers to sleep on. They raised funds for families to buy homes, deliver bags of food, trained soldiers in the Azerbaijani language and self-defense to just name a few.
Eyes on Artsakh is another nonprofit organization that a couple of friends of mine, Melanie Moradi and RP Zargarian, created since the start of the war. Their aim was to provide on the ground emergency supplies to displaced families and families of fallen and wounded soldiers. They buy supplies and food in bulk, pack boxes with a mix of dry food, and hand-deliver to each family. Currently, they are switching gears and providing monthly stipends for families of fallen and wounded soldiers.
I came to Armenia with this organization to deliver money to the affected families, who in return told me stories about their loved ones. In one family, a mother, Mery, talked about her son who went missing for 10 days. During those 10 days she found herself going “crazy,” she wasn’t able to do any of her daily routines. She couldn’t sleep or eat, completing any task was monumentally difficult. At the end of those 10 days she received word that her son died on the battlefield, and they were only able to recognize him from his chest tattoo. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for a family member to go missing, and hearing of sons that still missing even months after the ward ended seems torturous. Another family we visited had a fallen soldier in the family named Abraham. After spending 30 minutes tearfully telling us about their heroic son, they told us that they get some sense of hope and energy from visits from the diasporan Armenians. They feel seen and remembered. Gestures like these help organizations, like Eyes on Artsakh and Kooyrigs, to keep going through all the emotional burnout.
Most of the work that we do as volunteers fundraise, package and deliver boxes, organize, plan beneficial projects, and keep records. The work is different on a daily basis, and all the organizations have learned to be adaptable. Not every family needs the same aid, some need their utility bills to be paid, others need maternal medicines, while others need therapists.
The strength that the Armenian community exhibited in 2020 had a lot to do with everybody’s unique way of contributing to this effort. While the ultimate contribution was from the Armenians living in Armenia, supporting soldiers, and fighting themselves, the diaspora raised money and spread awareness. One incredible silver lining from all this is seeing the unification of the Armenian Diaspora, supporting each other no matter where we grew up and what circumstances we were raised in. I’m so thankful for the friends that I’ve made through this difficult time, all contributing with their unique strengths
Personally, what I want to see most is a change in the narrative around the Armenian culture. I know it’s so important to know about the Artsakh war, the injustices and crimes against humanity, as well as historical injustices and genocides. What I want to see is a rise in interest in our food, dance, culture, and history. We are a people marked by trauma but we express ourselves through our culture- it is our savior, our connection, and our sense of belonging.
Every single family that we visited offered us coffee and some snacks. Armenians have a strong sense of hospitality in our culture. No matter how little any family has, they are always willing to give you everything they can. The word “հյուրասիրություն” (hospitality) in Armenian directly translates to “love guests.” Every host will make you feel like you’re at your own grandma’s house, and that’s how I want Armenians to be remembered. I want everyone to feel the love that I’ve been so incredibly lucky to experience while I’ve been here.
Most of all, I have been so lucky to know these amazing womxn from all over the world. They’ve paused their whole lives and quit their jobs to come to this little, yet important, country in the Caucus to help in whatever way they can. What we need is hope that we can put our country back stronger than it was before. Invest in agriculture, in new and sustainable businesses, in technical schools, and in education. Thank you to Toastee Mag for giving me this opportunity to humanize us and put a spotlight on the strong and courageous womxn working on the ground.
If you want to learn more about how to make a contribution, here is a list of organizations and initiatives that I love, some that I have worked with:
Eyes on Artsakh (@eyesonartsakh on Instagram)
Muradyan Art Gallery InitiativeHidden Road Initiative (https://www.hiddenroadinitiative.org/)
Paros Foundation (https://parosfoundation.org/)
Artsakh Relocation Project (https://www.artsakhrelocation.org/)
Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) (https://www.coaf.org/en/)
Here are some sources where you can learn about the history of the conflict and the current situation:
Lucy created an Etsy shop called Plant Mom Macrame to sell her macrame crafts with all proceeds going to Kooyrigs. Follow her @plantmommacrame on Instagram.
Lucy also has a GoodFundMe campaign to raise funds for Artsakh refugees with Eyes on Artsakh. You can donate to her GoFundMe here.