In Togh, the first village that saw fighting during the Artsakh War, Armenia Fund created an art school for children of the village and ten others that are nearby.
It’s hard to know if art was on anyone’s mind. The segregated school with the Azerbaijanis on one side and the Armenians on another foreshadowed the impending separation of the peoples. Then, when the first shot of the Artsakh War rang out, it was in Togh.
The village was the initial front line during the brutal war and the residents were the first Armenians forced to fight against government-supported Azerbaijani militias. The villagers fought valiantly – against people whom they had lived with but who were now attacking them – and held off the enemy until volunteers from Stepanakert armed with antiquated hunting rifles arrived to defend against the Azerbaijani aggressors.
If art was on anyone’s mind, it was likely only to lend a modicum of peace to the environment of violence. It would have been hard to dream then, with bullets whizzing by and the future uncertain, that life could ever be normal again – or good, even.
Upon handily winning the war, the Armenians began to rebuild. Armenia Fund, driven by its humanitarian mission, immediately began working to reestablish integral services and infrastructure in Armenia, including Artsakh. In Togh, the priority was to ensure that the local children were able to attend school in an environment safe and appropriate for educational purposes.
Built in 1978, the existing school had progressively deteriorated, exacerbated by the fighting in the village during the war. Before Armenia Fund arrived with a thorough renovation project, the school was on its last legs.
The fully renovated facility now boasts 20 classrooms, a gym, and administrative offices. And, in a place where the winters are cold and sometimes harsh, a heating system was installed to allow the school to remain open during the winter months. Currently 108 students attend the school.
It was in a wing of the school not yet renovated where a group of artists and musicians chose to establish a school for the arts. Led by Susanna Balayan, an active member of the Artsakh community, the group chose Togh as the center for their work, encouraged by the village’s historical significance as the capital of an Armenian kingdom and as the place where the Artsakh War started.
Despite inadequate provisions when they started working there, it was the excitement of the children that pushed the traveling team of artists to make do with the conditions. They spent days and sometimes weeks in the village teaching their trades to the bright-eyed students.
Familiar with Togh and the school because of the reconstruction project, Armenia Fund saw the need for a better facility where art education can continue to take place. It thus undertook a full-scale renovation of the wing where the artists and musicians were teaching the kids and turned it into a modern art school. It is in this new space where students are able to receive instruction in dancing, theater, painting, clay, and music, including singing, piano, violin, and folk instruments.
The building was not only constructed to the exacting specifications of any Armenia Fund project but it was also outfitted with the equipment necessary to run an art school. Also built were living quarters for the teachers who stay for long periods but who are unable to commute from home.
With added support from the government of Artsakh, the art school, open to students outside of the village, is able to bus children from the nearby villages, as well. In all, 130 students attend the art school from Togh and the nearby region.
In the spirit of the Medici of the Renaissance and the United States National Endowment for the Arts today, Armenia Fund believes in the power of art to transform lives and transcend the commonplace, helping develop the skills of those so inclined while engendering a new generation of admirers. With art on their minds and a part of their lives, the world awaits the masterpieces from the budding artists of Togh.