As a schoolboy in Artsakh, Armen Khachaturyan dreamed of becoming an attorney. But an injury to his pinky when he was in eighth grade made him aspire for an altogether different calling. After the doctors succeeded in saving his finger, he decided to become a pediatric surgeon.

Khachaturyan would go on to turn his aspiration into reality, but his studies at the Yerevan State Medical University would coincide with some of the most difficult years in the recent history of Armenia and Artsakh.

“Life was hard, in not just Artsakh and Armenia’s Shirak Region, the site of the 1988 earthquake, but also Yerevan,” says Khachaturyan, now the Executive Director of the Stepanakert Republican Medical Center. “There was no electricity, and bread lines were all too common. We used to get up at 5 in the morning to go get bread. And we had to walk to and from college. There was no public transportation.”

The earthquake, the Karabakh movement, war, independence — Armen Khachaturyan learned to save lives not just in classrooms, but out there “in the field.” On the very day of the 1988 Spitak quake, he rushed to ground zero, together with classmates, to help victims of the disaster. In his fourth year at the university, when the Artsakh War started, he went to serve in the Fourth Company of the contingent that would eventually liberate Shushi. After the war, Khachaturyan finished his university studies and returned to Artsakh with a medical degree. Today, he couldn’t be happier that those horrible years belong in the past.

“Thank God, our people overcame all those tribulations with honor, and we all lived to see these beautiful days,” Dr. Khachaturyan says. “And now, I am delighted to be leading a hospital where I work side by side with my former university professors.”

In the fall of 2018, Dr. Khachaturyan was all the more delighted to work alongside a large team of volunteer doctors from the US, who had come to the Stepanakert Republican Medical Center as part of Armenia Fund’s first-ever medical mission to Artsakh. Organized and implemented jointly by Armenia Fund and Adventist health, the mission not only provided free medical care and prescriptions to the local populace, but, even more importantly, raised the technical and professional capacities of the Stepanakert Republican Medical Center to the next level.

During the week-long mission, the volunteer doctors from the US provided an extensive range of medical services to close to 1,040 patients from Stepanakert and other regions of Artsakh. The services included groundbreaking procedures such as total knee replacements; orthopedic, gastrointestinal (GI), brain-aneurism, ophthalmological, and cancer surgeries; as well as endoscopies, colonoscopies, cerebral angiographies, and dialysis treatments, with the key aim of training local doctors in the latest approaches and techniques pertaining to their fields of specialty. As significantly, Armenia Fund provided the Stepanakert hospital with a complete suite of state-of-the-art GI machinery for screenings and surgical procedures, as well as leading-edge ophthalmological and orthopedics equipment and implants, in addition to large quantities of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals.

“In the four years since the opening of our hospital, we’ve received assistance from various sources, but the Armenia Fund mission has been by far the largest undertaking,” Dr. Khachaturyan says. “Thanks to the volunteer specialists from the US, and for the first time in the history of Artsakh, my colleagues and I learned about and were able to jointly perform several advanced procedures including endoscopies, colonoscopies, and cerebral angiographies, as well as 16 total knee replacements.”

Dr. Khachaturyan is also happy to point out that the Stepanakert Republican Medical Center was built by the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund, and the adjacent Stepanakert Oncology Center was built by the Fonds Armenien de France. Although the latter facility, which will serve as a wing of the larger hospital, has not officially opened yet, it was utilized by the team of doctors from Adventist Health during the 2018 medical mission.

Dr. Khachaturyan confesses that his initial reaction was one of disbelief when he was informed of Armenia Fund’s plans for launching a medical mission to Stepanakert. But now, he says, he hopes that such missions will be organized on an ongoing basis, given the enormous importance of the availability of free medical services and state-of-the-art medical equipment for a people living in a war zone.

HELP US EXPAND OUR MEDICAL MISSIONS TO THE HOMELAND: With your generous support today, Armenia Fund will be able to expand the scope of its medical missions to Armenia and Artsakh, with the twin goals of elevating the technical and professional capabilities of medical centers, and providing high-quality care to economically vulnerable communities.

Photo Credit: Areg Balayan