AZATAMUT, Armenia—Azatamut is a town in the Tavush province of northeast Armenia near the border with Azerbaijan where the entire area has been victim to indiscriminate and sniper fire from Azerbaijan. Even under such hostile conditions the spirit of this community of over 3,500 residents could not be broken, and, under the leadership of it recently elected mayor, continues to thrive.
The ARF Western USA Central Committee and its Homeland Initiatives Committee heard of the difficult situation and the remarkable work of Mayor Vahagn Alaverdyan and his dedicated team, and decided to help the community and support their continuing redevelopment efforts.
The community center is the first structure seen as you enter Azatamut, located behind the large sign indicating the town’s name, and houses the renovated facilities sponsored by the ARF Western U.S. Homeland Initiatives committee.
“Through these types of efforts we can make an actual difference to improve the quality of life of those who remain in Armenia, especially in key areas near the hostile border with Azerbaijan,” said ARF CC Organizational Representative Garo R. Madenlian. “We have a number of plans throughout Armenia that we’ve coordinated with the ARF Supreme Body of Armenia and welcome sponsors to help complete important infrastructure development projects such as water supply pipelines bringing water to the people and renovating other community centers in villages,” he added.
The Azatamut town hall renovations are almost complete, which will allow local government to host functions, and town residents to hold events, celebrations such as engagements, weddings, and baptisms, or even sad occasions such as funerals and memorials – all essential components of a growing community.
The library has been in need of repair for some time and, with the renovations having recently been completed, the local municipality is now organizing the current catalogue of books and working on securing additional material for the residents. The library is open to adults, children, and teens, and the reopening has been highly anticipated by the community.
The sports auditorium is completely renovated and regularly used with a plethora of martial arts classes for children and adults, among other activities. The auditorium has new mats across the floor to protect from falls, weights and punching bags for exercise, and can serve the young population of the region.
“It is with great excitement that we take on these projects, and have an even greater sense of fulfillment upon its completion as we do our part to help our brothers and sisters in the homeland survive and thrive,” said Homeland Initiatives Committee Chairwoman Patil Derderian. “We encourage everyone to contribute to this important aspect of nation building one village at a time,” she added.
The renovations included the soccer club hall, as Azatamut recently restarted their soccer program with teams successfully participating in regional tournaments. The Azatamut community loves the sport, just as they enjoy reading, martial arts, playing chess, and, of course, honoring those that fought for their survival – as they regularly hold memorials honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the homeland.
In September and October of 2018, the community in Azatamut held their own protests and demonstrations, blocked roads and entrances to schools with teachers, parents, and students. They organized a walkout protesting then Mayor Jora Mardirossian of the Republican Party. Azatamut even held a vote of no confidence. Eventually, the mayor resigned under the threat of investigation including a full audit. Soon after, in late November 2018, Vahagn Alaverdyan of the ARF and a member of the town council, who was leading the protests, became the provisional Mayor until elections.
Provisional Mayor Alaverdyan immediately instituted reforms and programs to help the community. A few weeks after taking office, they secured uniforms and clothing items for the schools in coordination with Armenian Relief Society’s chapter in Ijevan.
He and his team renovated the cultural center and auditorium, reestablished electricity, repaired street lights as well as the roof of the theater, and held the New Year celebration in its auditorium, which had remained empty for years. They even instituted a program where the town would provide materials and residents would work together to complete repairs to roofs of homes, buildings, and sewer lines.
By January of this year, the school for the arts reopened with music and dance classes and held a dance performance for the community in the theater’s auditorium. The Azatamut soccer club, which had been shut down for years, reopened and started organizing teams, which successfully entered regional tournaments; and finally, Hovhaness Tumanyan’s 150th anniversary was celebrated in the cultural center and in local schools with musical and theatrical performances by the students, and a well-attended round table discussion about Tumanyan’s book, “Kikor.”
Provisional Mayor Alaverdyan announced, “Schools are a priority for both education and culture!” During the next few months they established an open and transparent process to enroll in schools including kindergarten, and secured free public transportation for students from remote areas to local elementary schools and those residents who go to Ijevan every day to continue their studies – which was made possible by a partnership with the Dioceses of Tavush of the Armenian Apostolic Church and Bishop Bagrat Galstyan.
In addition, linens were donated to the schools, a new playground for the kindergarten was donated by Focus On Children Now, and Laser Art Décor passed out gifts to elementary students.
Mayor Alaverdyan also initiated programs to protect the environment and reinforced the importance of being active participants in the process. They started a going green campaign, organized a community wide tree planting campaign, and numerous “Keep Our Town Clean” campaigns, where he led the community-wide effort to pick up trash throughout the area. He also held an efficient energy forum and discussed the use of solar energy. Finally, Free Citizen park was established where tree planting ceremonies took place, tree planting events were held in and around the kindergarten, and lastly, a Children’s Art contest was held at the cultural center, titled “Keep our community clean.”
The cultural center hosted Yerevan State University Armenian language and literature Department’s chair, who discussed genealogy, family histories, and tracing roots with students and community members.
The community and students regularly visited the monument dedicated to Azatamut’s fallen soldiers and held a victory day celebration in the Cultural Center auditorium. They implemented a program introducing the community’s heroes of Artsakh’s liberation, where students would meet azadamardig’s family members and friends and hear first-hand accounts of their lives.
Earlier this year, the Mayor started the process of having Azatamut designated as a city, in pace of its current status as a town (hamaynk), because it meets the criteria and has over twenty 5-story residential buildings with a population of over 3,500. This will allow for additional funding and resources from the state.
Of course, Vahgan Alaverdyan was elected Mayor of Azatamut in May. He ran unopposed, as he had truly rallied the community and delivered on his promises for the community. Since then, they have continued with renovations improving the infrastructure, and have focused on further developing the arts and culture while reinforcing the important role of education and sports.
Like Azatamut’s official Facebook page to stay current on activities and projects in the area, and follow Mayor Alaverdyan as they continue to take remarkable strides.
All Armenians are encouraged to engage and invest in Homeland Initiatives that will positively impact the lives of our brothers and sisters in our homeland. Just as we helped the community of Azatamut we are prepared to partner with all community members willing to assist on our current list of over 10 projects in villages and towns in Armenia, or wishing to make such proposals to take on together. For more information, please send an [email protected]