SANTA MONICA–Nearly 130 people turned out for ARTsakh@Bergamot Station. The art and music benefit in support of the nonprofit organization Artsakh Development Group featured art and music by local Armenian artists and raised more than $17,000 to support projects underway in Artsakh, commonly known as Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR), including the completion of a feasibility study pioneered by architect Lilly Djaniants, who is working to develop cultural tourism sites and a large-scale culture and research center to be headquartered in Shushi, Artsakh.
Djaniants’ ambitious vision for the architectural and cultural development of Artsakh – which has the support of the prime ministers of both Armenia and NKR – has inspired ADG’s board to provide her with seed funding as she completes a strategic development plan that highlights opportunities for cultural, tourism and economic development, which includes the major cultural and research center in the heart of Artsakh. ADG is collaborating with this project as part of its larger mission to repopulate Artsakh and help spur economic development throughout the country as it recognizes that Artsakh represents 40 percent of Armenia’s land mass.
Robert Avetisyan, NKR’s representative in the United States, offered his support for the project. “I’m convinced that the organizers will be effective in presenting the potential and attractiveness of our country, as well as discussing the range of challenges our republic still faces, and the goals we’ve already met since restoring independence.
Several large donations will support this and other ADG projects. The Ignatius Foundation and Harry Najarian each contributed $5,000. Dr. Garo and Sylvie Tertzakian, and Sinan and Angel Sinanian each donated $1,000. In all, more than $17,000 was raised.
The plan includes small-scale projects for ecotourism opportunities at the Tak Jur hot springs in Karvajar, as well as the renovation of historic structures in Shushi. Ms. Djaniants is conducting a feasibility study for the development of a larger scale architectural centerpiece for the arts and academic research. While the larger project has a long-term 10-year goal, to guarantee its success, small scale development is necessary now to provide the needed kick starter to encourage entrepreneurial investment in Artsakh. Attracting a significant international population through this type of development will not only impact the local economy, but also inevitably bring awareness to the region and to the conflict, and establish Artsakh’s presence on a political map.
“ADG believes that in order to maintain this hard-fought and important piece of land, we need to populate it and boost its economy,” ADG President Taleen Tertzakian said. “How do we do that? We do it through education and development.”
Djaniants, who recently completed her master’s degree in architecture and urban design from Columbia University, has worked as an architect on site at the construction of the TUMO Center in Yerevan. She repatriated to Armenia after serving as a Birthright Armenia volunteer for two months in 2010. Ms. Djaniants was born in Baku and fled Azerbaijan shortly after the Sumgait massacres. Her family settled in Gyumri in 1988, just three days before the devastating Spitak earthquake. They eventually moved to a resettlement camp outside Echmiadzin until moving to the United States in 1992. Ms. Djaniants grew up in North Carolina but laid her professional foundations in New York City, where she worked on multimillion-dollar residential projects and the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. Ms. Djaniants first visited Artsakh in 2010 and said that was when she found her calling.
“As an architect, I could see the urban and infrastructural interventions that needed to take place,” she said. “And though the government is slowly developing Artsakh, it lacks a comprehensive, strategic development plan. I realized then (in 2010), the crucial impact development projects have on this small territory and the immense contribution I can make.”
In the three years since its founding, ADG has spearheaded educational initiatives to raise awareness about Artsakh’s geopolitical importance, has sponsored an election observation mission to the most recent presidential election in Nagorno Karabakh Republic, and is developing a memorandum of understanding with California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) to allow students there to study at the University of Artsakh for credit, while Artsakh students would be able to travel to California to complete coursework at CSUDH. To read more about ADG, go to www.adgus.org.