BY ARAXIE CASS
On November 10, as Armenians around the world were reeling in grief and shock from the news of the largest loss of Armenian indigenous land since 1915, Mariam Avagyan, In-Country Director of Kooyrigs, said in an open letter: “Armenians around the world, focus. Fundraise like your life depends on it. Because it does. Things may have taken a turn, but this fight for survival is far from being over. This is just the beginning of another marathon.”
Avagyan and the rest of the Kooyrigs team have been working nonstop since September 28, when Kooyrigs announced its Looys initiative to deliver essential aid to Artsakh. For the duration of the war, the Looys initiative focused on providing immediate aid to the front lines, hospitals, and displaced persons. Kooyrigs volunteers would scan the skies for a misty day, and take advantage of the weather to deliver food to soldiers fighting on the front lines and civilians living in bunkers.
“Our team members have all been trained in how to identify and hide from drones,” said Avagyan, “The delivery days are the most nerve-wracking ones because I have to make sure they are alive.”
Starting as a feminist Instagram page just two years ago, Kooyrigs has quickly grown to become one of the main organizations providing essential aid to Artsakh. During the war, the Looys initiative provided essential aid to soldiers on the front line, hospitals, and displaced persons. Since the agreement, they have doubled down on their efforts to provide food, essential supplies, and other services to Artsakhtsis displaced by the violence. Kooyrigs runs the initiative in collaboration with the Women’s Resource Center in Armenia, which has provided tactical support and volunteers on the ground. In addition, Kooyrigs is in contact with the governments and hospitals in Armenia and Artsakh, coordinating their efforts with the larger humanitarian effort and struggle for survival.
“I was a bit shocked during the war when the Armenian government asked us to take on the responsibility of feeding the soldiers,” said Avagyan. “It’s surreal that Kooyrigs is doing this, but we are all doing what we can.”
The Kooyrigs team does their work thoughtfully, and with extreme dedication. They work in conjunction with nutritionists, government ministries, and contacts on the ground to provide aid where it is most needed. Throughout and after the war, Kooyrigs team members and volunteers have been hand-delivering aid to soldiers and civilians, and documenting their efforts and the situation on the ground.
“Transparency is a priority for us,” said Kooyrigs founder Karine Eurdekian, “Especially given the issues of corruption that have existed in the past, we want to make sure our donors know exactly where their money is going.”
Kooyrigs verifies the receipt of every aid shipment and posts regular updates on their Instagram page, while at the same time making sure to maintain the secrecy of key details and information, and release information in a way that doesn’t reveal sensitive information or put anyone at risk. They also organize and oversee every part of the process, beginning with sourcing materials from local farmers and businesses, up until the aid is delivered.
“We have created a pipeline that not only supports the soldiers, but supports the local economy,” says Avagyan. She remembers the economic disaster of the 1990s, and sees echoes of those conditions in the way the current war is affecting the economy. Keeping this in mind, she and the other Kooyrigs team members use their expertise and networks to find local sources for all of Kooyrigs aid. So far, Kooyrigs has been able to support local farmers, guesthouses, bakeries, and pharmacies through purchases of essential aid.
Kooyrigs has taken on a huge task, and its team of young Armenians is proving their belief that no idea is too big. Their efforts have been made possible by a massive grassroots fundraising campaign in the diaspora, which has taken the form of individual donations, and fundraising sales by artists, musicians, teachers, restaurants and other businesses.
“I think it’s a testament to the community we have here,” Eurdekian said. “Even though we’re online, we have such a tight-knit community. We always love to boost the creators in our community, we’ve been so vulnerable in our articles and forums, and we always talk about the things that no one else will talk about.”
As Kooyrigs continues to create connections in Armenia and the diaspora, their essential aid efforts in Artsakh rely on your support. Find out more about the organization at kooyrigs.com and donate to their efforts here.