AGBU organizes on-the-ground relief for Armenian evacuees from Artsakh

Armenian youth from Artsakh enjoying a full course warm meal in the Vayots Dzor region of Armenia

Over the past week, tens of thousands of Armenians finally concluded a long and arduous trip out of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) to begin another journey in Armenia. That road begins in the town of Goris in the southern region of Armenia, where many of the forcibly displaced, for the first time in nearly a year, were served a fresh, warm, nutritionally balanced meal—compliments of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), working with international NGO, World Central Kitchen (WCK). Since then, AGBU has prepared and distributed over 10,000 meals per day, with the demand increasing exponentially. 

As soon as the WCK team arrived on the scene on September 29, they immediately joined forces with friend and kindred spirit Aline Kamakian, a prominent Lebanese-Armenian restauranteur and lifelong member of the AGBU global network, the world’s largest Armenian nonprofit organization with deep experience in humanitarian relief dating even prior to the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Collaborating with WCK, AGBU is ready to tackle this humanitarian crisis of historic proportions. 

“With an influx of over 100,000 displaced people entering in a matter of days, AGBU is ready to provide for people who have suffered through a nine-month blockade of vital supplies, as part of the ethnic cleansing campaign of Armenians by Azerbaijan,” stated AGBU President Berge Setrakian. “Working with World Central Kitchen and our friend Aline Kamakian once again is a critical partnership of resources, know-how and reach.” 

Kamakian and WCK had collaborated and cooperated before, in the aftermath of the 2020 Beirut Blast. That was when Kamakian found herself on the front lines of humanitarian relief, feeding hundreds of disaster victims for weeks and months on end. Working with the WCK team in person gave Kamakian and AGBU the opportunity to learn from this experienced group what is entailed in solving massive food insecurity in a disaster zone. Now the team is back in action to bring comfort and hope to ever-growing numbers of forcibly displaced Armenians.  

Last week, within hours of the first reports of those seeking refuge in Armenia from Artsakh, Kamakian was in Armenia working with the local AGBU office and its volunteers in the Syunik region near the Azerbaijani border. In short order, they set up a command post in Goris with nearby hubs in Sisian and Ishkhanasar. Another location was then established in the historical Vayots Dzor (Vayk) region, where many forcibly displaced are headed in the next leg of their journey to recovery. More hubs in Ararat, Massis and Yerevan were up and running, as those forced to leave Artsakh have spread out to the north, east and western regions of Armenia. Back in Goris, distribution is now focused on local hotels, hospitals and schools, as well as private residences where the refugees are sheltering. This aid has spread to seven regions and counting. 

In all cases, hot meals are prepared in local restaurant spaces, using locally sourced ingredients and recipes. In a full-circle AGBU moment, some local restaurant owners happened to be alumni of the AGBU EmpowerHer Initiative, which offers support to Armenia’s women entrepreneurs.  

“Many of these evacuees, including the very sick and ailing, had to pack up in a hurry only to face standstill traffic for hours upon hours to cross the border to safety in Armenia proper. This only added to the trauma of the situation,” explained Kamakian. “The shock to the body, mind and spirit is something we have seen before, when victims of disaster and catastrophe are in no condition to fend for themselves. That’s where a balanced warm meal made with fresh ingredients—with lots of dignity and compassion added to the mix—may be the first sign of hope for them. It gives them the physical and moral strength to begin a new and uncertain chapter in their lives.” 

AGBU has made it possible for WCK and Kamakian to waste no time setting up the logistics of this immense effort, providing them with the resources, volunteers and anything else she needs to ensure that her fellow Armenians have a chance to rebuild their shattered lives. With the support and generosity of WCK, she is confident that this vital aspect of humanitarian relief will make an important difference in this very difficult transition period. 

Setrakian went on to say, “We appreciate that WCK immediately recognized the tragic dimensions of this crisis and is able to provide free meals for an extended period to evacuees, including those in hospitals in desperate need of emergency care. We also owe our thanks to Aline Kamakian for her take-charge spirit and professional skill set that enable her to organize such an urgent and multifaceted undertaking. Her presence here in Armenia during this critical time is both reassuring and inspiring for all.”

Donations to the humanitarian effort for Armenians forcibly displaced from Artsakh can be made to AGBU Global Relief Fund.

The Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) is the world’s largest non-profit organization devoted to upholding the Armenian heritage through educational, cultural and humanitarian programs. Each year, AGBU is committed to making a difference in the lives of 500,000 people across Armenia, Artsakh and the Armenian diaspora. Since 1906, AGBU has remained true to one overarching goal: to create a foundation for the prosperity of all Armenians.