Servicemembers participate in certification process


YEREVAN, NOVEMBER 27, ARMENPRESS. The certification process of subgroup 1 of servicemen of highest and senior officer ranks was launched on November 27.

Minister of Defense Suren Papikyan and his deputy Arman Sargsyan attended the ceremony marking the launch of the tests.

“This is an indicator that everyone in the military is equal in fulfilling their mission. The commander and the soldier standing in the last line are equal in battle, they are brothers. This is important to me. Good luck to you all,” Papikyan told the troops.

After Nagorno-Karabakh: How Europeans can strengthen Armenia’s resilience

Nov 24 2023

The question of Nagorno-Karabakh is unlikely to be discussed any time soon after Azerbaijan took control of the region in September. Europeans should now diplomatically engage with all sides to prevent further escalation, while supporting Armenia’s domestic political stability and strengthening its defence capabilities

On 19 September, Azerbaijan retook the long disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia decided not to respond militarily, out of a lack of capabilities and an unwillingness to engage in another bloody war which they would eventually lose. After Azerbaijan’s months-long blockade, some 100,000 residents of the enclave fled to Armenia in just a few days. Many were housed by Armenians, largely avoiding an immediate refugee crisis. But other challenges may be looming for Armenia’s security if Azerbaijan decides to push further into its territory. To prevent such an escalation, the European Union should step up its diplomatic engagement while working more actively to strengthen Armenia’s societal resilience and defence capabilities.

For now, Armenians seem to blame Russia more than their government for what has happened. This is consistent with the rapid deterioration in Armenian-Russian relations since the 2020 war and the Moscow-brokered truce. The poor performance of the Russian ‘peacekeeping’ contingent stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh, along with Moscow’s reluctance to support its Armenian ally even after Azerbaijani incursions into its territory in 2021 and 2022, and finally the absence of any Russian reaction to the Azerbaijani offensive on 19 September, has left many Armenians doubting Russia’s security backing.

These security concerns are far from over. With Azerbaijan taking back full control of Nagorno-Karabakh, the 35-year conflict over the disputed territory has now de facto turned into an interstate conflict over the delimitation, or the establishing of the outer limits, of an international border. Increasing Azerbaijani rhetoric referring to southern Armenia as “western Azerbaijan” has fuelled Yerevan’s concerns about possible irredentist claims over the territory of Armenia itself. The issue of border delimitation has been touched upon in the ongoing peace negotiations between the two countries. But, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev regularly sends signals of his unwillingness to agree on anything in a Western-led negotiating format and has instead advocated for a settlement involving “regional actors” ie, Russia and Turkey.

Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Russia, in such a scenario, could team up in a regional format that excludes the EU and United States, in order to arm-twist Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan into concessions, including the establishment of a land ‘corridor’ – branded as the Zangezur corridor – through Armenia’s southernmost Syunik region. Here, Pashinyan’s hand would be weak and Armenia’s domestic stability under constant threat, possibly opening avenues for internal destabilisation and making the country more vulnerable to external meddling. Even without this negotiation format Armenia faces such threats. Shortly after Azerbaijani forces retook Nagorno-Karabakh, Pashinyan accused Russia of making “public calls for a change of power in Armenia, to overthrow the democratic government”.

Azerbaijan's current military positions at Armenia’s border and the tremendous disbalance of power between the two countries has raised the Armenian government’s fears of a possible invasion

However, Azerbaijan's current military positions at Armenia’s border and the tremendous disbalance of power between the two countries has also raised the Armenian government’s fears of a possible invasion. Azerbaijan took three weeks to build up and prepare the attack in Nagorno-Karabakh, as it enjoyed military support from Turkey and Israel. It could take approximately the same time to attack the Syunik region and Azerbaijan would probably prefer to do so before winter kicks in.[1]

Both scenarios could carry dramatic consequences for Armenia, not least because its fragile democracy would be endangered by domestic discontent as well as Russian pressure. But it would also be very damaging for the EU, which has engaged resources and political capital in its mediation efforts between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Its credibility would be significantly damaged if it were to let regional actors play with borders in its immediate neighbourhood, and would discredit its commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Furthermore, the establishment of a land corridor through the Syunik region poses significant risks for Europe, whether established through militarily means and fully controlled by Azerbaijan, or through negotiations and formally controlled by Russian forces. This would entail Turkey and Azerbaijan, possibly with Russia’s support, gaining de facto control over a corridor connecting the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, one of the key routes connecting Europe to Central Asia and China.

The EU should act to prevent such a scenario via addressing short, medium, and long-term concerns:

  1. Preventing further escalation
  • The first priority should be to deter an Azerbaijani attack on the territory of Armenia through high-level political engagement with the government in Yerevan. This would show that European leaders care for Armenia. But Europeans should also engage with Azerbaijan and Turkey. The consequences of a possible attack, including the prospect of restrictive measures, should be made clear to the Azerbaijani leadership.
  • Extending the mandate of the EU mission to Armenia (EUMA) to better trace ceasefire violations and providing it with technical means to exert a more thorough monitoring of the border may also be instrumental in preventing further escalation. The decision taken at the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 13 November to strengthen the EUMA to allow for more observers and patrols is a step in this direction.
  1. Strengthening defence capabilities
  • Armenian membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) should not be an excuse to not help it build up its defence capacity. Rather, the EU should be open to using the European Peace Facility to equip the Armenian armed forces. Delivering equipment will also require EU engagement with Georgia to provide a transport corridor.
  • And while most eyes are on military equipment, the EU is best suited to provide other kinds of assistance to strengthen Armenia’s defence capacity. Assistance to reform the administration (Ministry of Defence), logistics, military education, training, and operational and tactical planning and procedures need to be put in place to enable Armenia to make use of new equipment effectively.
  • Recently India has emerged as a new provider of hard security assistance to Armenia and in this role is less suspect to Moscow and Tehran than the West. Strategic consultations with the government in Delhi on supporting Armenia militarily should also form part of the European effort.
  • Reforming and re-equipping Armenia’s armed forces so they are able to withstand an Azerbaijani offensive will take several years, while to prepare an Azerbaijani offensive could take a few weeks. While Armenia remains highly vulnerable, Europe should exert diplomatic and economic pressure to keep the situation from escalating.
  1. Supporting a peace settlement
  • In parallel, the EU should step up mediation efforts, and use the fact that Nagorno-Karabakh is no longer part of the negotiation to reframe the discussion around the issue of borders. Mediation should aim for an agreement on the delimitation and opening of borders – including the border between Armenia and Turkey – in a way that provides security to all sides. This discussion will not be easy, but it could allow for technical solutions to problems that are currently framed in terms of sovereignty: primarily the question of a transit route through Armenian territory to connect Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan. As part of a future peace settlement the EU could offer technical support and possible investments to facilitate transit and connectivity in the wider region to incentivise the opening of borders.
  • Last but not least, the EU should work towards increasing Armenia’s societal resilience. In the short term, humanitarian support will be needed for Nagorno-Karabakh refugees. Their integration into Armenian society will be key to ensuring future domestic political stability in the medium and long term. Beyond this, the EU can also contribute to institutions and capacity building in the country, to make it less vulnerable to both domestic instability and external pressures.

Ultimately, the EU also needs to manage Armenia’s expectations and should refrain from making unachievable promises. By doing so, it risks exposing Armenia to greater threats not just from Azerbaijan, but also from Russia, in which case it will end up bearing responsibility for a potential worsening situation, hurting its credibility in the region. The EU cannot make Iran, Russia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan go away – nor will it completely replace them. But it can support Armenia in balancing their interests without having to make exorbitant sacrifices, and it can help avoid Armenia’s imbalanced dependency on one regional power that would leave it at its mercy.

[1] Authors’ interviews with diplomats and Armenian officials held under the Chatham House rule, Yerevan, Armenia, 10-12 October 2023.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

Genocide Education in the 21st Century: “Rebuilding the Ship While Sailing on the Water”

“Where Do We Go From Here? Genocide Education in the 21st Century” Symposium at Rowan University, New Jersey

TORONTO—On November 10, 2023, the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (A Division of the Zoryan Institute) and the Rowan Center for the Study of Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights, hosted the symposium, Where Do We Go From Here? Genocide Education in the 21st Century at Rowan University in New Jersey.

Over the past few years, the editors of Genocide Studies International (GSI), an academic journal owned, operated and sponsored by the Zoryan Institute and published by the University of Toronto Press (UTP), started questioning the effectiveness of genocide education today, given the prevalence of human rights abuses, the polarization of societies, and the global rise in hate-based violence, authoritarianism, and a general apathy from the international community. To address this question, the editors conceptualized a symposium to bring together leading scholars and educators of North America in the field of Genocide Studies to discuss the shortcomings of genocide education, what “good” genocide education means, and how we can begin to chart a path forward.

From l-r: Dr. Alex Alvarez, Dr. Arthur Anyaduba, Dr. Joyce Apsel, Dr. Deborah Dwork (front), Dr. Jim Waller, Dr. Jennifer Rich (front), Dr. Björn Krondorfer, Kate Simola, Megan Reid, Dr. Khatchig Mouradian and Dr. Henry Theriault

With the troubling times we face globally today, including the invasion of Ukraine, the blockade of the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor and dissolution of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), the Gaza conflict, the civil war in Libya and the mass killings in Darfur, just to name a few, the timing for this symposium could not have been any more poignant. The ability to be able to make sense of, understand and critically analyze the world around us has never been more crucial.

Quality education is at the center of this, and this symposium acted as a starting point to opening important discussions surrounding these issues in a closed, safe space with some of the leading voices in genocide education.

The primary objective of genocide education has been commonly perceived as a means of raising awareness about the heinous crime in order to mobilize masses to help prevent genocides and atrocities of the future. Yet, despite the efforts of scholars, educators and academic institutions like the Zoryan Institute, the famous saying of “never again” has proven to be an empty slogan.

“Learning about genocide doesn’t have a moral or political advantage, it rather helps us understand the world around us differently.”

Prof. Deborah Dwork, Director of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity at the Graduate Center at CUNY, opened the day’s discussion by situating the symposium and the conversation in a post-October 7 world. She highlighted the need to explore and perhaps redefine what the actual goals of genocide education are, noting that if the objective with this education thus far has been prevention, then education is clearly failing. Dr. Dwork commented: “Learning about genocide doesn’t have a moral or political advantage, it rather helps us understand the world around us differently.”

Dr. Joyce Apsel, Academic Board Member of the Zoryan Institute, Course Director of the Institute’s Genocide and Human Rights University Program (GHRUP), and Professor of Humanities in Liberal Studies at New York University, discussed the need for genocide education to be studied through a human rights lens, which she framed as “human rights” and “human rights wrongs.” Prof. Apsel also raised the need to avoid framing genocide as a singular event, but as a process that continues to impact societies long after the height of the violence ends.

Dr. Jim Waller, a faculty member of GHRUP and the Dodd Chair in Human Rights Practice at the University of Connecticut, cemented this notion by stating that the word “post-genocide” should be removed from the academic vocabulary, as there is no clear end date to the impacts of genocide.

Other key takeaways from the symposium included the importance of considering the positionality of the educator, the significance of introducing genocide education across various disciplines, and ways to garner empathy from students and make genocide education hit closer to home.

Prof. Jennifer Rich, Academic Board Member of the Zoryan Institute and co-editor of GSI, and the Director of the Masters of Arts in Holocaust and Genocide Education, was the lead coordinator and the moderator for the symposium. When asked about the key take-aways of the symposium, she said: “The rich exchange of ideas that took place at the symposium was an important, exciting first step. I am certain that there will be any number of followup conversations as we grapple with our core question of, ‘Where do we go from here?’”

Reflecting on the discussions had and the daunting task ahead of improving the future of genocide education, Dr. Adam Muller, co-editor of GSI and the Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies graduate programs at the University of Manitoba, quoted notable author Willard Van Orman Quine, stating that we are “rebuilding the ship while sailing on the water.” This quote seems to perfectly summarize the position we are in today, addressing present day turmoil while simultaneously needing to repair genocide education, or “the ship,” without being able to fully tear it down and start anew.

In reflecting on the symposium, the Zoryan Institute is currently confronting the following foundational questions for its own work: How do we effectively address major conflicts within classrooms and public forums while navigating the complexities of censorship and potential repercussions for open discourse? How has the failure of the international community to prevent human rights atrocities, and the indifference for these crimes, shaped how we approach genocide education going forward? How are we able to rebuild the ship, while keeping the boat afloat during turbulent waters?

From l-r: Dr. Henry Theriault, Dr. Deborah Dwork, Dr. Arthur Anyaduba, Dr. Joyce Apsel, Dr. Jennifer Rich, Dr. Jim Waller, Dr. Björn Krondorfer, Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

This symposium will act as the first of many discussions on this topic as we grapple with the big overarching questions that were left unanswered. While exploring these fundamental questions, and others raised during the symposium, the Institute questions whether it should redirect its objectives for its work from prevention, towards promoting equity, tolerance, understanding and reconciliation through education, scholarship and research.

All eight panelists will prepare academic papers to be featured in an upcoming special issue of GSI, which is expected to be released in Fall 2024.

Zoryan Institute and its subsidiary, the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, is a non-profit organization that serves the cause of scholarship and public awareness relating to issues of universal human rights, genocide, and diaspora-homeland relations. This is done through the systematic continued efforts of scholars and specialists using a comparative and multidisciplinary approach and in accordance with the highest academic standards.

Armenian Government OKs 1 Bn Drams Contract to Man On Trial for Defrauding Government

Nov 22 2023
  •   Published:

For the second time in the span of just a few months, the Armenian government has granted public service contracts worth billions of drams to a man presently on trial for defrauding that same government of millions.

Armenia approved a 5.9 billion drams contract to a company owned by Hakob Stepanyan, who is on trial for defrauding the government of hundreds of millions in 2019. (Photo: Credit Debit PRO, Flickr, License)The Armenian Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure has awarded Hakob Stepanyan’s company, Regionstroyservice LLC, a one billion dram (US$2.5 million) contract. This comes despite the fact that Stepanyan is currently on trial for embezzling 256 million drams ($640,000) from the ministry’s coffers in 2019, Hetq reported.

Regionstroyservice LLC provides public services such as painting road markings, installing street signs, and traffic light maintenance.

This marks the second time this year that Stepanyan’s  company has won lucrative city upkeep contracts, despite his current legal troubles.

In June of 2023, he made headlines for securing ministry contracts with the cities of Yerevan and Masis worth 938 million drams ($2.3 million).

He is accused of misconduct as the former director of another company, Ukrinvest LLC, where authorities say he used his station to commit fraud and embezzle 256 million drams from the government.

Back in 2018, Ukrinvest secured three traffic light installation contracts worth 1.59 billion drams ($3.9 million), across multiple municipalities, despite the fact that the company only had one employee on its payroll at the time.

Preliminary investigations into that case ended in 2021, when the Special Investigative Service, Armenia’s anti-corruption agency, subsequently recommended to federal prosecutors that an indictment be opened against Stepanyan and his co-defendants.

Investigators said in 2020 that, while the government has since recovered the money in question, Stepanyan may not leave the country until the court proceedings against him are resolved.

Blocking military aid to Azerbaijan is the right step, says U.S. presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy


YEREVAN, NOVEMBER 17, ARMENPRESS. U.S. presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has welcomed the Senate passage of the Armenian Protection Act of 2023 and said that blocking military aid to Azerbaijan is the right step.

“It’s shameful that US taxpayer [money] has been used to fund the persecution of Armenian Christians by Azerbaijan,” Ramaswamy said in a post on X. “I’m astounded that not a single presidential candidate has even acknowledged the atrocity. Blocking military aid to Azerbaijan is the right step.”

Asbares: Baku will Skip Planned Talks with Yerevan in Washington

Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington on May 4

Azerbaijan will not participate in a planned meeting of the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan scheduled for November 20 in Washington.

The Azerbaijani foreign ministry reacted angrily to a statement made by James O’Brien, the Assistant Secretary of State on Eurasian affairs, who signaled, during a Congressional hearing on Wednesday, that Washington’s ties with Baku have cooled since Azerbaijan’s attack on Artsakh in September.

“We’ve made clear that nothing will be normal with Azerbaijan after the events of September 19 until we see progress on the peace track. So we’ve canceled a number of high-level visits, condemned the action,” O’Brien said, adding that the State Department will not seek a waiver of Section 907 “until such time that we see improvement.”

Baku accused Washington of committing “mortal sins,” calling O’Brien’s statement “one-sided and biased,” as well as “counterproductive, baseless, and unacceptable,” and a blow to Azerbaijani-American relations.

In the strongly-worded statement, Baku also accused O’Brien, personally, and the entire U.S. diplomatic apparatus of ”ignoring the main issue that led to Azerbaijan’s actions,” referring to Azerbaijan’s attack on Artsakh in September.

Official Baku has taken a defensive tone toward the U.S. and Europe. It condemned France, last week, for supplying arms to Armenia, per an agreement signed between Paris and Yerevan last month.

Amid war and upheaval, Artsakh’s Armenian women have learned to create food from nothing

This article is the third in a series about the fall of Artsakh, its humanitarian consequences and relief efforts, based on Lillian Avedian’s on-the-ground reporting from Armenia in October 2023.

On her final day in Artsakh, when virtually its entire population had fled following a brutal attack by Azerbaijan, Kristin Balayan prepared a meal for the employees of her cafe. She ordered them to deliver some bread she had baked to the local hospital, and in their absence, she cooked in her cafe Tumanyan in Artsakh’s capital city Stepanakert for the last time. The meal had the somber, religious quality of the last supper, and the group offered toasts and broke bread as they prepared to leave behind their beloved cafe to an unknown fate. Balayan left the table settings from that final meal intact, in hopes that if Azerbaijani soldiers entered the cafe and saw a table filled with plates and food, they would not destroy it. 

Balayan was among the few to stay in Stepanakert until September 29, 10 days after Azerbaijan launched its full scale assault on Artsakh, or Nagorno-Karabakh, triggering the mass displacement of the region’s Armenians. She prepared free meals for those who remained. After nine months of a devastating blockade, food was scarce, so she got creative. Lacking flour, she baked lavash bread using bran, or “what we feed pigs,” as she disdainfully called it. People donated whatever food they had left in their pantries–“half a bottle of olive oil, some sugar, some noodles,” Balayan recounted–to her cafe before embarking on the long drive to Armenia.

Balayan’s story is representative of Artsakh’s Armenian women, who learned to stretch their resourcefulness as cooks to its limits under blockade. In times of crisis, the responsibility of adapting to new social and financial challenges in order to protect the health and wellbeing of the family often falls on women, who traditionally are the homemakers and family caretakers. They become problem solvers, crafting solutions with minimal material resources besides their own creativity and care. Following the fall of Artsakh to Azerbaijan and the refugee crisis, Armenian women have also adopted the roles of humanitarian aid workers, continuing to utilize their skills to feed and sustain their communities. 

From September 19-20, Azerbaijan launched an assault on Artsakh to capture the territory by force. The de facto Armenian authorities, which had governed the region since the first Artsakh war in the 1990s, were forced to agree to disband and disarm the Artsakh Defense Army. Within a week, about 100,000 people, virtually the region’s entire Armenian population, fled to Armenia. The attack followed a nine-month blockade imposed by Azerbaijan that deprived Artsakh of much of its food supply and basic goods. By the time of the attack, fresh produce, dry goods, fuel, medicine and hygiene products were almost nonexistent. Armenia now faces the humanitarian challenges of meeting the basic needs of the Artsakh refugees and securing long-term housing, employment and social services for the traumatized population.

Bread prepared from rice (Photo: Lillian Avedian)

Faced with the impossible task of feeding their families under a blockade, Artsakh’s women created solutions, crafting recipes with whatever fell into their hands. They made coffee, Armenians’ drink of choice that is always offered to guests, by grinding barley and combining it with salt. Each household developed its own recipe for baking bread, another staple of the Armenian diet, without flour. One woman, the 36-year-old mother of teenagers Ani and Babken, showed me a picture of a recipe she invented, combining rice with yeast and salt to mimic the consistency of bread. “It’s tiring and stressful, when your hands are empty, and your children are hungry and ask for food, wondering what I will give them,” she said. 

In the latter months of the blockade, when food and basic necessities were especially scarce, the government distributed vouchers for procuring bread. People stood in line for hours, sometimes well past midnight, to take a couple of pieces of bread home to their families. On extremely hot summer days, people, especially children and the elderly, frequently fainted while waiting in long lines. 

The mother of young children Agnessa and Sashka invented ersatz laundry detergent by baking bars of soap until they reached the consistency of jelly and combining them with salt. “We don’t know if our clothes were washed or not,” she chuckled. The young mother is full of jokes. She poked fun at the absurd, previously unimaginable steps her family was forced to adopt in order to survive. It appeared to me as her mechanism to cope with the unrelenting stress of the upheavals and uncertainty of the past year.

She filled my lap with vouchers, featuring brightly colored images of fruit, vegetables and dry foods. The government distributed the vouchers for people to obtain limited quantities of food from the state supply. She never got to use the vouchers, because there was no food left to procure with them. She kept the small, square pieces of paper, because her children enjoy playing with the vivid images. “This is vermicelli. This is rice,” she counted, laughing as she held up the vouchers one by one. “We would look at the vouchers and get full. That’s how we lived. We lived through photos. We lived by tricking ourselves.”

Just like their mother, Agnessa and Sashka were quick to smile. Sashka sprinted around the room, his laughter echoing off of the high ceilings. I wondered whether their mother’s humor and capacity for imagination had protected them from grasping the difficulties facing their family and absorbing stress and grief.

“We would look at the vouchers and get full. That’s how we lived. We lived through photos. We lived by tricking ourselves.”

I met the family at the shelter of the Goris Development Foundation, a nonprofit that empowers women to find work and engage in public life. The organization has turned a large room, reminiscent of a gym or a banquet hall, into a shelter for displaced people from Artsakh. I sat cross-legged on the floor, in the middle of a cluster of beds, where women gathered to sit and speak with me. Agnessa approached me every few minutes with a drawing made of colored pencils or a card game, asking to play. As I was leaving, she gave me three presents: a scribbled drawing, a pencil and a plastic Easter egg concealing a walnut. 

Ruzanna Torozyan, executive director of the foundation, warned that the displaced Armenians of Artsakh are struggling with severe health issues due to the lack of nutritious food during the blockade. This was exacerbated by limited access to doctors or medical services, since the resources of hospitals and medical institutions were depleted by the absence of medicine, supplies and fuel. She advised that medical experts should conduct research in the coming months to determine the health needs of the displaced population.

Several of the Armenians from Artsakh I met told me that Russian peacekeepers delivered food to Artsakh from Armenia during the blockade and sold it to the local population at higher prices. Following the end of the 2020 Artsakh War, a Russian peacekeeping contingent was deployed to Artsakh. During the blockade, peacekeepers sold a kilogram of sugar for 5,000 drams, about $12 USD, to the local Armenian population. Bottles of olive oil were sold between 5,000-10,000 drams each, up to $25 USD. A pack of cigarettes cost 15,000 drams, or $37 USD. Ani and Babken’s mom told me that a pack of cigarettes is usually sold for 120 drams. “The peacekeepers made good money,” she scoffed.

During periods of upheaval and uncertainty, women, who according to traditional social norms are looked to as the pillars of the family, draw on immense reserves of creativity and resourcefulness to keep their families alive. The women of Artsakh, in addition to the standard expectations of cooking, cleaning and running the household, carried the added burden and responsibility of learning to prepare food, while their home was under the grip of an unrelenting blockade on food and supplies. Their work multiplied, while their capacity for problem solving and invention was on full display. 

To keep her cafe running, Balayan relied on one of the rare foods in easy supply that grows abundantly in Artsakh – chickpeas. She made hummus the centerpiece of Tumanyan’s menu, which she blended without the costly olive oil. She mixed jam with bran to bake cookies without sugar or flour. “Throughout the blockade, our closest clients would knock on the door and enter. They called us mom and dad. We were like family,” Balayan recalled. 

Balayan’s qualifications are endless – in addition to establishing a cafe, she is also the founder of MilaGri, a foundation that supports children with special needs. She opened Tumanyan to use her skills as a home chef for her husband and two children to raise funds to launch a kindergarten. She also held sessions at Tumanyan for kids with special needs to connect with psychologists, speech therapists and rehabilitation services. 

Balayan carries her immense love and longing for her abandoned cafe. “Our most expensive loss is the soul we put into the cafe,” she reflected. She hopes to open a similar cafe in Yerevan, with the same layout – a lush yard with canopies for outdoor seating where she can host community events and educational services for children. Her loyal clients have been pressing her to open a new cafe. “They keep asking me, when are you going to make hummus again?” she shared with a laugh.

While she is still grieving Tumanyan, Balayan has drawn on her endless reserve of resourcefulness and resilience to commence work in Armenia. She has been working for the World Central Kitchen, an international organization that provides hot meals in the aftermath of humanitarian crises. When I met her at the World Central Kitchen operation at the Armenian General Benevolent Union headquarters in Yerevan, she had been working since six in the morning. “I can’t rest. If I don’t work, I’ll go crazy. A normal person would go crazy in these circumstances, so we’re not normal,” she said wryly. 

World Central Kitchen has recruited 18 women from Artsakh, including Balayan, to work for their operation to prepare and deliver hot food to displaced people from Artsakh living in Armenia. Globally renowned chef and restaurateur Aline Kamakian has been in Armenia since the end of September as one of the leaders of the operation. She and the women from Artsakh share a common bond – in the midst of chaos and destruction, they learned how to cook food with little means, and they used those skills in service of their communities.

Volunteers with World Central Kitchen (Photo: Lillian Avedian)

Kamakian’s Lebanon-based Armenian restaurant Mayrig was destroyed by the devastating Beirut blast in August 2020. She rapidly mobilized her staff to rebuild the beloved restaurant and prepare thousands of free hot meals for Beirut’s residents. “I cooked with the leftovers of Mayrig restaurant. With the wood that was broken, I made a fire. We didn’t have plates. We were in a situation where there was nothing,” Kamakian said. 

Whether cooking free meals after a disastrous explosion or mass displacement, or inventing recipes under blockade, Armenians have learned to cook with limited resources and immense creativity. Armenian women have been the centerpiece of this project, keeping their families and communities alive in their roles as home chefs, restaurateurs or aid workers.  

This theme is woven throughout Armenian history. Kamakian’s grandmother was eight years old when she left Musa Ler, the site of famed resistance against the genocidal Ottoman army in 1915. Exiled from her ancestral lands, she relied on her memories of the smells and tastes of the comfort dishes she grew up with to recreate the recipes of the traditional cuisine of Musa Ler. In Kamakian’s words: “We’ve become creators of food from nothing.”

Lillian Avedian is the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly. She reports on international women's rights, South Caucasus politics, and diasporic identity. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Democracy in Exile, and Girls on Key Press. She holds master's degrees in journalism and Near Eastern studies from New York University.

Armenian adventures: Must-do activities in the country

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Nov 12 2023

By Apurva P
Nov 12, 2023

Include these activities in your next Armenian visit

Tucked away in the South Caucasus, Armenia with a rich past offers breathtaking scenery and a dynamic culture that begs to be discovered.For those who are ready to go off the usual path, Armenia provides a wealth of experiences, even though it might not be the first place that springs to mind when planning a trip.Here are a few places to explore.


Go skiing at Tsaghkadzor

Nestled just a short drive from Armenia's capital, Yerevan, Tsaghkadzor stands as a captivating haven for ski enthusiasts.Renowned as a premier tourist destination for skiing and snowboarding, Tsaghkadzor boasts multiple well-equipped ski stations.There's a ski lift to transport enthusiasts between stations, while a scenic ropeway presents an unparalleled vantage point from the summit, adding a touch of awe to the overall experience.


Fly in the Wings of Tatev

At about 5750 meters, the Wings of Tatev is thought to be the world's longest reversible cableway. The entire trip across the Vorotan River valley takes around twelve amazing minutes.It's the most dramatic, quickest, and shortest path to the Tatev Monastery.Fly above the Vorotan Gorge and take in the breathtaking views from 320 meters above the ground when you ride the cableway.


Visit Old Khndzoresk cave village

Khndzoresk cave settlement is the largest network of natural and artificial caverns. It is perched on a hillside with a few churches and three schools nearby.This ancient settlement, carved into the soft volcanic rock, offers a glimpse into a way of life that dates back centuries.The village was inhabited until the mid-20th century and showcases the unique architecture of the region.


Climb the Cascade

See Yerevan's monument honoring the Soviet Union's victory in World War II by climbing the Cascade. As you ascend the 572 steps, you will be treated to stunning panoramic views of the city and the snow-capped peaks of Mount Ararat in the distance.The Cascade is composed of several levels joined by imposing staircases and embellished with modernist sculptures and fountains.

CSI calls for U.S. action to prevent a new Armenian Genocide

Nov 9 2023

Says it is not too late to combat the malign influence of Azerbaijan and Turkey

Having met with no challenge from the U.S., Azerbaijan and Turkey have now fixed their sights on the Republic of Armenia, whose people are increasingly anxious about their own future.”

— John Eibner, CSI International President

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND, November 9, 2023 / — Christian Solidarity International (CSI) is urging the United States to put its words into action and call the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno Karabakh to account.

In a letter to President Joe Biden dated November 13, CSI International President Dr. John Eibner says it is time for the U.S. to stand up for the Christian people of Armenia who are existentially threatened by the aggressive authoritarian regimes in Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Referencing President Biden’s Oval Office speech on October 20 pledging support to the endangered peoples of Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, Eibner reminds the president that the Armenian people, and specifically the 120,000 Armenian Christians of Nagorno Karabakh, are still waiting for “constructive American action to stop an ongoing process of genocide” against them.

Last September, Azerbaijan, openly supported by Turkey, finally achieved its goal of ethnically and religiously cleansing the Caucasus region of Nagorno Karabakh of its Armenian Christian population following a nine-month blockade. “In doing so, Azerbaijan and Turkey reached another milestone in the historic process of the Armenian Genocide,” writes Eibner.

CSI’s international president recalls that, speaking on behalf of the administration only five days before Azerbaijan’s military assault, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Yuri Kim informed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “The United States will not countenance any action or effort—short-term or long-term—to ethnically cleanse or commit other atrocities against the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Yet this is exactly what has happened, says Eibner. “Your administration did not act in defense of the fundamental human rights of the people of Nagorno Karabakh. Instead, it sacrificed them as valueless expendables in the context of the United States’ geopolitical power struggle for ascendancy in the South Caucasus.”

In her Congressional testimony, Kim identified the powers whose influence the Biden administration is dedicated to combat: Russia, China and Iran. But she failed to mention Azerbaijan and Turkey – the neo-Ottoman political, military, and economic constellation behind the ethnic/religious cleansing in Nagorno Karabakh.

Having met with no challenge from the U.S., Azerbaijan and Turkey have now fixed their sights on the Republic of Armenia, whose people are increasingly anxious about their own future, states Eibner.

“A reorientation of American policy to combat the malign influence of Azerbaijan and Turkey is overdue. But it is not too late,” he writes, and urges the U.S. to action.

The required action includes pressing for a UN Security Council Resolution calling for the establishment of a secure environment in which refugees and displaced persons can return to Nagorno Karabakh in safety, the international civil presence can operate, a transitional administration can be established, and humanitarian aid can be delivered.

The U.S. must simultaneously impose severe sanctions against the architects and other enablers of Azerbaijan’s religious/ethnic cleansing of Nagorno Karabakh; call for the suspension of Azerbaijan’s membership of NATO’s “Partnership for Peace Program”; and halt all US military aid to Azerbaijan.

The U.S. has the capacity to prevent further genocide in the region, Eibner concludes. “All that is required is the will on your part to lead. The power and prestige of the United States as an upholder of a rules-based world order, anchored in the UN Charter and the international human rights instruments, will be enhanced by such a display of leadership.”

Christian Solidarity International is an international human rights group campaigning for religious liberty and human dignity.

Joel Veldkamp
Christian Solidarity International
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Armenian Foreign Minister comments on problems with Russia

 11:22, 3 November 2023

YEREVAN, NOVEMBER 3, ARMENPRESS. Problems exist in the relations between Armenia and Russia, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan has said.

Mirzoyan said Armenia favors discussing, understanding and resolving the problems in a constructive manner.

The Armenian FM made the remarks at a parliamentary committee hearing on the 2024 state budget.

Speaking about cooperation in foreign policy, Mirzoyan said that Armenia will continue to develop its relations with Russia, among others, with whom it is connected with numerous and multisectoral ties.

“Now, of course it is visible that there are some problems in these relations. We aren’t satisfied with many things, we are surprised with many things, as far as I understand it there is similar attitude in Russia. We are convinced that what makes our Russian partners surprised is a consequence of the policy that we have seen in the most various media and elsewhere. We have no other position than to constructively discuss, understand and resolve the problems and move forward as friends and colleagues,” Mirzoyan said, stressing that this must be a bilateral work.