Karabakh Funding Boost

Impoverished southern district gets big Californian cash injection.

Karabakh Funding Boost

Impoverished southern district gets big Californian cash injection.

The proceeds of a telethon in the United States are to be spent on trying to reverse the dismal fortunes of a poor war-ravaged district of Nagorny Karabakh.

The Hadrut region in the south of the unrecognised republic is due to receive 14 million US dollars raised last month at the Los Angeles event organised by the diaspora donor organisation the Hayastan Foundation.

The region has 12,000 inhabitants. The head of the local administration Valery Gevorkian said that amongst the main problems facing the district were its worn-out water system, poor roads, lack of communications, insufficient housing and lack of medical facilities. All this, say experts, is hurting the economy and driving people away.

The houses in the small village of Tsakuri are old and humble. Falling snow made the roads virtually impassable and our Niva jeep moved over the rough ground with difficulty. But the main problem that the locals complain about is not the roads, but water.

Villager Armen Grigorian said that a foreign organisation had installed an enormous water-tank and pipes in the village several years ago, but that there was still not enough water to go around.

“In summer the water flows for two hours a day, there is only a thin stream in our houses and we manage to collect just a couple of buckets for basic needs. We also have problems with transporting our agricultural produce to suppliers, which of course does not encourage farming. And this is in a place where a man has to work until he is an old man, because you can’t survive on a pension,” he said.

In the neighbouring village, Grigory Firumian said he had little to complain about.

“We don’t live badly - if someone works hard and is industrious by nature, he prospers. Life in the village goes by at its own pace. Soon construction will end on the North-South highway that passes through our village and we will be able to get to the district centre much quicker than now,” he said.

Firumian has two sons serving in the army, alongside his son-in-law and their pay helps supplement the family income.

He also says the village badly needs water and hopes the telethon will help provide it. “Of course it would be good to complete the construction of the school that was begun in the last century but I repeat the most urgent problems of our village at the moment is our water supply,” said Firumian.

These are common problems in the remoter parts of the South Caucasus. But the people of Hadrut are lucky in that their ethnic kin have come to their aid. Of the 14 million dollars collected, half has been earmarked for a drinking water system, repair of hospitals and the building of a new bridge at Tsakuri.

Villages in Hadrut have already benefited from diaspora grants, with money flowing in from California and from the Union of Armenian Doctors of France, which has subsidised the building of a medical and social centre in the village of Norashen. In the same village, the Los Angeles and Sydney branches of the Armenian General Benevolent Union have funded a school for eighty pupils.

“This is a strategic programme because this village is right on the border, it has an interesting history and you can build a model village here,” said Arkady Gukasian, president of the republic of Nagorny Karabakh at the opening ceremony of the school.

“We should implement programmes like this in the whole republic because we have two goals - for Karabakhis to live in Karabakh and for villagers to live in villages. Our best traditions are preserved in the villages.”

The more remote village of Khtaberd suffers from more serious problems. “You can travel in summer, but in winter it’s practically impossible,” said local resident Araik Baghdasarian. “We have just one jeep which serves as an ambulance, but if a person gets sick in winter then the situation is hopeless. Telephone communication with the regional centre is very poor and there’s no question of contact with the capital.”

Baghdasarian said young people had nothing to do and infrastructure was falling apart. “We need to build houses, roads and schools,” he said.

The local administration said that as a result of the Karabakh conflict between 1988 and 1992, 200 Armenian refugees had resettled in Hadrut from various Azerbaijani towns and villages. It also tries to help families of those killed in the conflict or ones with many children. In the village of Mets Tager, local resident Julietta Altunian gave birth to her tenth child and was awarded with a bank account containing five thousand dollars.

“If we use the funds raised in Los Angeles rationally and competently we will be able to restore the places in the region that most vitally need it and make it prosper,” said one villager, cautiously hoping for the future.

Ashot Beglarian is a freelance journalist and IWPR contributor in Nagorny Karabakh.

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