By John M. Evans,
Former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia (2004-06)
We Americans are understandably focused on the multiple and interlocking tragedies that have taken place in the last month from Louisiana to Minnesota and most notably in Dallas. But half a world away a human tragedy of a different sort has been unfolding in the unrecognized Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which in Soviet times enjoyed an autonomous status, but, as the USSR was collapsing, voted for independence and fought a terrible war with post-Soviet Azerbaijan that claimed some 30,000 dead on both sides. A fragile cease-fire was signed in 1994 under Russian sponsorship, but the “frozen” conflict has in recent years seen more violations of the Line of Contact, and more victims.
The “four-day war” initiated by Azerbaijan on April 2, 2016 (no close observer of the conflict lays the blame anywhere else) was the largest escalation of military conflict between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh since the cease-fire was signed in 1994. Over ninety Armenians were killed, and more than 120, including civilians and children, were wounded. As the Armenian Ambassador to the United States said to me, on a per capita basis, this was equivalent to the U.S. losing 10,000 of its citizens. Thousands of people from the affected villages, mostly children, women and the elderly, were evacuated to the comparative safety of Stepanakert or neighboring communities, or to Armenia proper. I visited Karabakh in late June with Dr. Garo Armen of the Children of Armenia Fund in order to help him determine what COAF might do to ease the suffering of civilians that resulted from the fighting.
The Azerbaijani shelling, much of which was unleashed after the initial attack had already faltered, was most destructive to the border communities of Talish, Madaghis, Mardakert, Hadrout and Martuni. Talish has been entirely abandoned because of the risk of shelling; in fact, further shelling did occur there on June 30 when Azeri soldiers attacked three farmers in the fields. Many families, some of them grieving over their losses, are now internally displaced, still terrified from what they experienced and fearful of the future. Five hotels in Stepanakert were commandeered to house families and individuals who had no other place to go.
Immediately after the cessation of hostilities, the Yerevan office of the Children of Armenia Fund deployed two teams to Karabakh to assess the situation and, in some cases, to provide immediate assistance. The local authorities had attempted to mobilize limited resources to address the most pressing needs, and NGOs and some governmental structures from Armenia also joined in the effort to assist; however, what COAF discovered was that, while some of the emergency needs of the IDPs were partially met, psychological support for the affected people was sorely needed and there was no local capacity to address this issue.
While some efforts were made to address the needs of soldiers with psychosomatic conditions, the majority of the IDPs in the five hotels and elsewhere exhibited signs of trauma, behaving as “ghetto groups,” lost between a terrifying past and an uncertain future, closed inside their shells and praying for God’s help. Children who were enrolled to attend nearby schools feared to venture out to “life-threatening places where shooting and shelling cause death and injuries.” Images of the elderly Talish couple whose ears were cut off by the attackers, of the Yezidi soldier who was decapitated, and of other soldiers tortured and/or mutilated have not helped calm these people down. Some of the atrocities committed by the Azeris clearly were in the category of war crimes and played on the Armenians’ well-founded fear of genocide.
While we Americans have much to do to “fix our own country”, one of the responsibilities of great-power status is to prevent the world from becoming a jungle. Together with Russia and France, the United States has been attempting to mediate the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute through the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In my view and that of many others, it is high time for the Karabakh authorities, unrecognized as they may be under international law, to be brought into the peace process. The Armenians of Karabakh, or, as they call it, Artsakh, are there to stay and deserve to live in peace in their towns, cities and mountains.
John Evans was recalled from his post as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia in 2006 for publicly breaking with the Bush Administration over the Armenian Genocide. He recently published Truth Held Hostage: America and the Armenian Genocide–What Then? What Now? London: Gomidas Institute, 2016.
This article originally appeared in the California Courier and is reproduced with the expressed written consent of the author.
By Taleen Babayan
FLArmenians Guest Contributor
ASBURY PARK, NJ – Following the Armenian tradition of friendship, camaraderie and music, hundreds of Armenians will gather in the historically rich Asbury Park for the fifth annual “Return to Asbury,” scheduled for August 5-7, 2016.
Following their grandparents and great-grandparents footsteps when summer weekends were spent on the beach in the 1950s and 1960s, a new generation of Armenians has emerged who will socialize on the beach, dance to traditional Armenian kef music and participate in tavloo and volleyball games.
Cocktails at the beachfront Watermark will kick off the weekend, followed by a day of fun and games on the 7th Avenue beach. The highlight of “Return to Asbury” will feature a joyous “kef” on Saturday night at the newly built hotel The Asbury, featuring talented musicians of a new Armenian generation, including Yerakouyn Band and Steven Vosbikian.
Yerakouyn, a trio of Armenian-Americans from Northern New Jersey who play Armenian folk music, consists of Shant Massoyan (guitar, vocal), Raffi Massoyan (oud, drums) and Raffi Rachdouni (keyboard).
They will be joined on stage by Steven Vosbikian (clarinet, zurna, vocals), Vicken Makouchian (keyboard) and Markos Shahbazyan (drums, dhol).
Vosbikian himself is a descendent of the Vosbikian Band, who played kef music at Asbury Park in the mid 20th century and continues his family’s tradition – all in the name of a good cause.
“The money we raise from Return to Asbury will allow for us to have shvis and dhols created for students here in local Armenian schools,” said Vosbikian, who will give music lessons in person to the students. “The instruments will be handmade in Armenia and will contribute towards continuing the Armenian musical tradition here in the U.S. for the next generations.”
“Return to Asbury is an event created by Armenians, for Armenians,” said Arsine Kaloustian, former Return to Asbury chairwoman and Florida Chair of the Armenian Assembly of America. “All are welcome to recapture the magic that our parents and grandparents felt in those hot summers many decades ago. This event is truly timeless, where strangers can become friends within minutes.”
In fact, a participant was so inspired by the event that he himself stepped up to chair this year’s event.
“This event is like none other in our community,” said Alan Minoyan. “And it’s important that we preserve important social and cultural events such as these so our heritage doesn’t fade away.”
“Return to Asbury” will take place from August 5-7, 2015, with the main affair taking place on August 6 at 8 pm. For tickets and more information, please visit return2asbury.eventbrite.com. Have a story or photo to share from the past? Please submit them at email@example.com.
All proceeds for the event will benefit Armenian music education, specifically to buy Armenian school children musical instruments and keep the “kef” going well into the future.
This article originally appeared in the Armenian Weekly and is republished with the expressed written consent of the author.