Personal Note: This was a difficult story to write for several reasons. Initially, I wanted to be able to express my thoughts about Artsakh and the the war against the Armenians in this region – struggling to find the right words that would properly convey my thoughts. Then, the unspeakable happened – a trilateral agreement was signed on November 10th, effectively ending the war, giving land to Azerbaijan and leaving Armenians throughout the world confused, angry, and sad. The following is my attempt to convey my emotion and pride for Artsakh.
A few years after the loss of my mother (in 1993), my father had decided it was time we take a trip to Armenia. It was something he casually talked to me about, but we hadn’t taken any action to make the trip. In 1997, we took my first (and still my only trip) to Armenia. My father and I went with my uncle (my dad’s brother-in-law) and a good friend of the family. As you would expect me to say, it was a trip I will never forget. To this day, I feel fortunate to have made the pilgrimage with my father and happy that my older brothers were able to go in subsequent trips with our father. This initial voyage, marked the first of several my father would take over the next twenty years.
For me, the trip was breathtaking and as a tourist going from the United States, I felt nothing but passion, love and excitement to be with Armenians and experience the historic and religious buildings and statues. The food, music, and culture was everywhere and we couldn’t get enough of it. I came home with eight rolls of film to develop and still treasure those photos to this day. As a matter of fact, the cover of an album I produced, Echo of the Mountains, has a backdrop photo of Mt. Ararat that I took on this trip.
However enjoyable the trip, my father was very interested in traveling into Nagorno-Karabagh while we stayed in Yerevan on this trip. I’ll be honest, I was not thrilled with that idea at that time as it had only been a few short years since the last conflict was under a cease fire and I was concerned for his safety. Nevertheless, he wanted to go for a day – and he did.
Nagorno-Karabakh, is land that has been inhabited by Armenians for centuries, even though it was legally given to the Azeri government by Stalin during the 1920s. Close to 150,000 Armenians have lived on these lands. Much can be found online about the history of these lands and I encourage you to research and learn more.
Not only was I concerned about safety of travel for my father into Artsakh (which is also referred to as Nagorno-Karabagh), but the actual travel into this area was not an easy trip to take due to lack of infrastructure, ravages of war, and the earthquake of 1988. The borders were heavily guarded and access needed Armenia’s permission.
My father wanted to learn more about the Armenians there and what he could do to be supportive once he returned home. He had no fear n traveling to Artsakh and was able to get the proper clearances to travel. I did not travel with him on this one day trip, something I regret to this day.
A day later, he returned. He was a different man. You could see the pride he had for the Armenians of Artsakh and it was clear to him what he wanted and needed to do for him. My father had always been philanthropic within the Armenian community. Whether it was supporting Armenian needs in Lebanon or the United States, he was a quiet man that did the work because he felt the responsibility of doing so, not for any amount of spotlight. He was a proud Armenian and it would take me much time to describe all of the efforts he had taken over the next several years to support the country.
Suffice it to say, he was welcomed each and every time he went to Artsakh. He never went for enjoyment – he went to work and see what were the needs of the people and upon returning home, his efforts would surround what he could do for the country. He raised funds, helped establish mangabardez (kindergarten) schools.
When he traveled to Artsakh, he made sure to take pictures and videos in order to share those with not only other benefactors, but he wanted to show the positive effect the schools. He was in love with all those children he met and evidence still exists on YouTube. Each time he came home, we would look at the photos and videos together.
Check out some of the videos my father took:
I have a prized possession that my father gave me from one of his later trips to Artsakh. I had always wanted to have a kanun from Armenia. Something from the homeland that would remind me of our vast culture and history. I’ll never forget picking up my dad at the airport on this particular trip. He had his luggage and wrapped with plastic wrapping film was a kanun case. I wish I had a photo of this because when I saw how he brought it back, I laughed and said to him “Dad, there is no way this instrument survived the trip if that’s how you brought it back!” Remarkably – not even a scratch on it. In general, it is easy to find folk instruments in Armenia, but the quality can vary. My father didn’t just go to a street vendor to obtain, he worked through his connections and to my surprise, was able to find a great quality kanun in Artsakh, from an actual musician. Its beautiful and remind me of my father and homeland. Indeed, a prized instrument I will have and pass down to my children.
Armenians engaged in a 45 day war with the Azerbaijani Turks once again. This time with the assistance of the Republic of Turkey. Peaceful Armenians, their ancestral lands attacked – soldiers defending those lands – civilians killed – history attempting to be erased again by the hands of the Turkish government. So much more can be said.
My father passed away in 2017. It is so sad to think that his efforts to help create these mangabardez schools may have been destroyed in this recent aggression against the Armenians in Artsakh. All of the humanitarian work he did – was it for nothing? Senseless death. Armenians only want peace. Why does a world ignore us? When will Armenians be left alone?
So many questions. No answers. Just deep sadness with our hearts are full of emotion for our brothers and sisters in Artsakh.
I wish to continue to remember Artsakh as a strong country filled with Armenians that never give up and fight for freedom. We have spent lifetimes of anguish, massacre and devastation. We are all too familiar with this type of struggle. Perhaps one day our prayers will be answered.
News articles and OpEds to learn more about Artsakh:
(these articles are only a few that have been published since the war begin. I tried to include factual articles as much that is reported does not tell the full story or convey the same emotion Armenians feel worldwide)
Pashinian Says Truce With Azerbaijan Still Not A Solution To Karabakh Problem
The Beating Heart of Artsakh: A Photo Essay
Nagorno-Karabakh: Ethnic Armenians prepare to give up homes
Armenians bid ‘painful’ farewell to monastery ceded in peace deal
Music from/about Armenia & Artsakh:
(These are recordings that I produced in the early 2000s of some of the best musicians preserving Armenian music.)
Echo of the Mountains
We are all sad and in a stupor after the surprise cease fire signing. Your fathers investment in Artsakh must make the sadness even greater to bear and it seems very evident from this heartfelt post.🇦🇲❤️💪
Thank you Jerry!
Ara – This is a very fine article you have written. I’m sure I speak for millions of Armenian all around the world when I say that we hope and pray and collectively do SOMETHING that will make your words serve as a great and warm remembrance and NOT a memorial. We should not have to beg the free world to support our cause because our cause is just, noble and holy. May God help us.
I also want to mention that your dad and my Uncle Onnig Boghikian shared great respect and friendship for each other. For several years, Onnig spent considerable time helping the locals any way he could in one of the towns in Artsakh. He loved doing it. He would come home and raise whatever funds he could from friends and family. May God bless the souls of Armen and Onnig and all the brave soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice and all the civilians who have perished at the hand of the enemy.
Thank you Jack for the kind words and your added comments. Yes, my dad did respect Onnig and for the work he did and they worked together to help make a better Artsakh. Not sure that we will see the likes of those kinds of devoted workers again.
A sad but needed to be written article, Ara. The Mangabardez schools (kindergartens) that our father initiated with the Armenian Relief Society throughout Artsakh, and BTW there were dozens of them, were needed back in the 1990s because after the initial conflict where the Azeris tried to run every Armenian out of Nagorno-Karabagh (Artsakh). Hundreds of young children were left fatherless or orphans and there was a need to feed, clothe, and educate these children. This was accomplished over the next decades.
Ara, I would say that what our father did was not all for nothing because those children now are in their twenties, maybe thirties, and they either started their own family, went on to further their education, or maybe entered the military in Artsakh. I am sure a large percentage of them have better lives because of their experience from the Mangabardez schools.
Unfortunately, nothing is forever. So the question is what are the next steps for Armenians? What are the new challenges that we now have? How do we go forward? Armenians have been around for thousands of years and we will survive this new tragedy as well.
Well said Keri!!