BY ANYA AGOPIAN
Dear Ambassadors Heffern and Warlick,
As an Armenian-American, I have been closely following the recent spike in violence between Armenia/ Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. This morning I was troubled to read the travel advisory from US Embassy in Armenia, where our government warns citizens not to travel to border areas of the Tavush province and the anemic statement from the OSCE Minsk Group calling for “action to defuse tensions.” Rather than condemning attacks on Armenia, the U.S. government chooses to tell Americans to stay away. Rather than clearly condemning continual Azeri aggression, our government chooses to perpetuate the perception of a balanced approach. These statements unfortunately ignore the realities on the ground and it’s time for a firm stance to preserve peace.
I have spent the last month volunteering with the AYF Youth Corps program, organizing summer camps for kids in several villages in Armenia and NKR. For the last week our group of 25 was in Baghanis, a small town in Tavush on the Armenian-Azeri border and before that the group spent two weeks in Martuni, NKR. Our young volunteers come to these places to interact with local youth, and to actually get a firsthand understanding of the realities they face.
Although our time was short in Baghanis, we got a glimpse into the daily life of a border town. We spent our days at the camp with the children of the village, where we got a real sense of how these children live and feel about their town and nation. Every day they showed up with smiles on their faces, eager to learn and participate in the daily activities. In conversation, the children speak about constant gunshots heard the night before and how frightened they were, while at the same time, they talk about their plans for the future, which include becoming doctors, lawyers or businesspeople. They yearn to become active citizens to strengthen their hometown and their homeland. They have plans to live a peaceful and productive life in their own country. There is no ill will or hate in these children’s hearts. There is fear that they might be driven out of their homes, yet they have hope that when they grow up they will be able to live their lives and achieve their goals just like any other child. To get a real sense of the children in this village that you now warn us not to travel to, read this blog.
In Martuni, there was a similar sense of fear and hope among the children and the people of the town. They spoke to us about how they worried about being attacked and yet how they were so proud to call that land their home. The children would tell us about their fear that war would break out, yet every day they would show up with nothing but excitement and determination in their eyes—to learn, to play and to live. They all have one common hope for the future: to have peaceful and productive lives in their homeland.
We come here to teach and play games but we learn much more important lessons about resilience in the face of adversity and the power of hope. The people here are strong and they are the owners of their present and future. They are not interested in resumption of war; they are interested in education, economic growth and stability. They have dreams and aspirations to build their country, not tear down another. They have visions of peaceful coexistence, not of perpetual hate.
Ambassadors, I implore you to visit the regions that you so coldly refer to as “a security situation,” and interact with the people there. Ignore the politicians and speak to the youth. Speak to those who will serve in the Armed Forces; speak to those who will grow up to be NKR’s leaders; and you will find they have nothing but ambition for the future. They harbor no hate for any enemy, rather only love for their people. They are not a “conflict,” they are a nation that is forging its democratic and peaceful path.
The new generation of Armenia and NKR does not, and will not know Azerbaijani rule. The new generation of Armenia and NKR also do not want war, but stand ready to protect their borders from any threat. Finally, the new generation of Armenian-Americans stand proudly with the peoples in Armenia and NKR to support their independence, security, self-determination and prosperous development. It is my hope that my government takes a clear stand demanding an end to aggression, supporting lasting peace for the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Anya Agopian is in Armenia as a group leader for the 2014 AYF Youth Corps program. For the past 20 years, AYF Youth Corps has organized groups of young Armenians to visit and work in Armenia in order to connect with their homeland.