At least 90,000 people are living in temporary shelters in Armenia.
Armenia Fund is hearing from those displaced from their homes in Artsakh because of the 44-day war, which began on September 27th and ended on November 9th. Initial reports indicate that some 90,000 were first to relocate to Armenia before others had to evacuate their indigenous lands to find safety and shelter in Armenia.
“Among our displaced Armenians are those who left with only the clothing on their backs, and who now face an uncertain immediate future,” said Maria Mehranian, President of Armenia Fund. “This is the situation we’re talking about when we talk about the humanitarian crisis Armenia Fund donors are addressing right now.”
On social media, many are asking where are the displaced people going to live? How will they pay for housing? How will they buy groceries when they have left their farms and jobs and have no income? Will their children be able to continue their education? How will they buy clothing that many didn’t have a chance to pack before they were forced out from the war zone?
DONARA FROM KARIN TAK
Donara Arushanyan is one of the tens of thousands who have no home to return to. Hers was destroyed during an attack on Karin Tak, below the mountain-top plateau where Shushi is located.
She is sheltering with eight other family members in a one bedroom apartment in the town of Jermuk in Armenia. But the loss of her home isn’t her toughest and most painful.
Donara’s son Mxitar and two other relatives were killed during the attack on Karin Tak. Her husband died during the Liberation War in the 1990s, when their town was being shelled, fired upon with machine guns and burning car tires were being rolled down the hill from Shushi.
“Our village was surrounded, and we escaped with great difficulty,” said Donora’s surviving son, Syran. “I lost my brother in the battle. We lost so many men as we escaped. It wasn’t possible to keep our village. We need food and clothing now. We need money because we don’t have a home. Everything that we had, we’ve lost.”
LIKA FROM STEPANAKERT
26-year-old journalist Anzhelika “Lika” Zakaryan is among those who were forced to evacuate their homes in Stepanakert last week. Her family of six, including her parents, grandfather and two siblings are in a rented room in Yerevan for the rest of November.
“I still don’t know what we will do in the future,” Anzhelika said. “We lost our past and can’t find our way to the future. People are displaced and homeless. Women with their children, without husbands, alone in another city, where you know no one and nothing. We are living through hell. No place to live. No place to go. No home.”
Uncertainty and a desperate need for help is the situation for Lika’s and Donara’s family and the families of the tens of thousands like her spread out throughout Armenia – from Goris in the south to Gyumri to the north.
“I think the diaspora can help people settle somewhere like in Yerevan or somewhere else,” said Lika. “Help people to create a new life, because people lost their lives.”
ARMINE FROM ABOVYAN
Armenians on the ground are also doing what they can. Abovyan resident Armine Avanesyan’s parents are from Artsakh and her entire immediate family, her uncle’s entire family and all their relatives from Artsakh are now staying with her.
“Our entire extended family is living in the extremely close confines of our house, including my uncle’s family,” said Armine. “The situation with displaced families is so great in Armenia that we are not even able to think about social distancing or the dangers and threat from the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t have the luxury to think about the coronavirus.”
Armine says her family members all want to return to their cities and towns, but their villages and towns are under Azerbaijani control. Living in their homes again, she says, would take nothing short of a miracle.
“The most serious issue right now is the issue of finding housing for all of our family members,” said Armine. “The people of Artsakh are hardworking people, but finding jobs for everyone is another near impossibility. They just need any kind of work so that they can generate an income and feed their families.”
SURVIVAL THROUGH UNITY
The stories of the Arushanyans, Zakaryans and Avenesyans are only three out of some 150,000 similar stories of loss and struggle the people of Artsakh are experiencing today. It’s estimated it takes about $20,000 to sustain each family for a year, and that $3 billion is needed to take care of the displaced population over the next year.
“It is in these moments when we show the world who we are as a nation,” said Maria Mehranian. “We unite. We come to the aid of our brothers and sisters. We take care of one another. This is our strength as people, as survivors, as Armenians.”