#SahmanStrong Tavush
United for #SahmanStrong

July 2020

On the evening of 12th of July, breaking news started coming out from Tavush. An Azerbaijani attack on one of our military posts has been stopped. The enemy suffered losses and injured, luckily that first night, we had mild injuries within our forces. For the coming days, a wide scale operations started where artillery, Israeli made combat drones and special forces were used both to target the military and the border villages which are located very near to the line of contact. 

On the eve of the 14th, the Azerbeijani side asked for a ceasefire to remove the bodies of their dead soldiers from the line of contact. In parallel, the local authorities along with several NGOs working with the population moved to Tavush to map the damages and start the reconstruction work so families can go back to their normal routine.

In 3 days, we suffered 5 military casualties and around 20 injured. Luckily we had only 1 civilian injured who recovered in a week. After the initial assessment, around 45 houses were partially or completely damaged. 
Tavush #SahmanStrong
An overview of Berd city in Tavush which was recently targeted by azerbeijani combat drones

I drove up to Tavush early in the morning and our first stop was Aygebar which had suffered heavy shelling just 2 days before. The village was quiet, as the children (main action makers) were sent to nearby villages for their own safety. The village guards along with the mayor are positioned together and on alert. This conflict left no trust in Azerbeijani ceasefire. The Mayor Mukuch, an old friend, welcomes me. His family has a long history in conflicts. They had moved from Yerzinka in Western Armenia (current Turkey) to Eastern Armenia after the genocide and decided to settle in Aygebar. People in Aygebar were calm. Needless to say it wasn't their first time and of course, it wont be the last one. Every generation has to see such aggression. After all that’s the price they pay for living on the border.
#SahmanStrong Tavush

A house completely destroyed in Chinari. Luckily the family had left it before the artillery shelling

We discuss the urgent requirements with him. He doesn’t ask for food or aid or money, the priorities are house renovation and bunker construction. The local school was damaged and Yerevan municipality had volunteered to renovate it. The local kindergarten was built several years ago by Paros Foundation and it was damaged by the heavy artillery. The foundation quickly announced their committment to reconstruct the kindergarten.  

I promised to visit again soon with specific projects after discussing with the local authorities.

The next stop was Berd to meet a good old friend, an amazing clergyman, Ter Aram. Born in Chinari Ter Aram has been serving the region for ages. Every family and every soldier knows him. He presented the situation, mentioning about the possibilities for operations to restart and stated,that locals together with our army are ready for it. Thankfully,no civilian casualties. Next was Berd hospital which is the only hospital in the region and has been working 24/7 for the past week to treat the injured, both military and civilians. In 2017, Arar Foundation had donated a fully furnished reanimation vehicle to serve the region. I am told the vehicle was always on the move and saved several lives while transporting them to the hospital or Ijevan. 
#SahmanStrong Tavush

An underground bunker built by Pahapan Foundation for one of the schools of a border village in Tavush. It was recently used to protect the nearby population.

Next was Chinari where the most damage was done as it was close to the site of the action. The downtown was busy with guards and journalists from Yerevan. The mayor Samvel, who has been living most of his life on the border and lost a hand during the war, never shows any depression or frustration. Full of unlimited energy and a great smile. We had a very successful project with him for several years. Sahman NGO built 5 greenhouses run by 5 families to cater the needs of the village. He proudly showed me how the five became 9 and are increasing. We visit the house of Aghasyan family which was totally destroyed by the Azerbeijani shelling. Till that moment, 3 organizations have showed interest to built a new house. Khachik, the head of the family, had started building already. A couple of houses away, they show me an unexploded 122mm shell laying down on grass. 

People here know that peace has a price and they appreciate that price. All soldiers wherever they show up are treated as heroes. The Armed forces again proved that they are the guarantor of peace in the region.  
sahmanstrong #Tavush

A 122mm shell found by in one of the gardens of Chinari. Luckily it never exploded and none of the children playing in the nearby area were hurt.

It’s already evening and we head back to Ijevan taking the beautiful mountainous road of Itsaqar – Gantsaqar which is the 2nd road connecting Berd to Ijevan. Tavush Governor had a briefing to the media after which we would meet him along with Tavush Bishop Bagrat Srbazan. 

Needless to say that the whole day I was getting calls from Yerevan on how to support. People were ready to donate and volunteer for any useful work in the border villages. 

I have been in Armenia already 10 years and it was the first time I witness a full coordination between the Governorate, the Church and the NGOs. All this thanks to Mr. Hayk Chobanyan – a young man who was appointed as the Governor just a year back and a friend who was always active in projects related to Tavush. 

Mr. Chobanyan informs that the damage survey is almost done and it’s his decision that all houses are going to be reconstructed by public funds, so that all of them keep the same standards. In 2 days, the government approved his plans and provided the required funds. As text is published, the reconstruction process has started.

We discussed in details the protection of the civil population as Pahapan Foundation has an experience in building shelters, safe rooms and protection walls in the border villages. I presented him my findings and he agreed the need for underground bunkers in the border villages as Azerbeijan used heavy artillery to bomb civilian neighborhoods.  We agreed to start the fundraising for that purpose and coordinate all the work with his team who have mapped the damages on ground. 

A full day with great people was over and now time to go back and plan to support these people who endured all this aggression on behalf of all Armenia. I remember a message by my friends Vartan and Hrach who wanted to support the people in any way possible. 

So we started a fundraising initiative along with Pahapan Foundation to build an underground bunker in the village of Aygebar. Birthright Armenia was kind enough to allow us use their paypal account for US donors. BR has been a leading organization in supporting volunteering in Armenia. Repat Armenia has created the platform and the campaign has started.

After 15 days from the ceasefire, the border is almost quiet and people are back to their normal life. Reconstruction has started and children have returned to their villages. 

It was a difficult moment and it passed but the war is not over yet. This can happen again and will happen again and we need to be ready the next time as we were ready this time. As for our people, they will be more protected then before.

George Tabakian
All photos are taken by the author.
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