Over the entire four years of the Artsakh Liberation War, when the orphaned, often homeless children of more than 7,000 martyred freedom fighters and countless civilian casualties were in dire need of immediate assistance, the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), steeled with its decades-long experience in benevolent activity, as always, at this historic hour was there to assist. At the close of the armed conflict, at the beginning of the reconstruction years, the Artsakh Ministry of Education, in 1998, offered the ARS a war-damaged building in Stepanakert to repair and use as a refuge for needy families and children left homeless by the ravages of war.
In April of the same year, in that renovated building, the ARS “Soseh Kindergarten opened its doors to 87 children, laying the foundations of the future Artsakh-wide network of similar kindergartens. The school named in memory of resilient warrior, Soseh “Mayrig” was set to give children an opportunity to grow up to become the leaders of tomorrow as they advocate for the betterment of our homeland. It is appropriate to note here that a month after the opening, on the 80th Anniversary of the establishment of the First Republic of Armenia (May 28, 1998), an interment ceremony initiated and sponsored by the ARS made it possible for Soseh “Mayrig” Vartanian to find her eternal resting place in our homeland.
Going beyond just the capital of Stepanakert, a network of a dozen kindergartens operated in Artsakh. Currently, eight “Soseh” Kindergartens serve the populations of Shushi, Togh, Metz Tagher, Ashan, Akanaberd, Qaregah, Khndzristan and Stepanakert. At these eight luminous institutions, over 350 students are nurtured in a familial setting with a unique formula that has the ability to ignite in children a fervent love of learning and the development of their talents, creativity and interests.
In 2015, during the highest meeting of the organization, the international convention, voted to undertake the project to renovate the Stepanakert Kindergarten. The decision spread through the ranks and thousands of members began planning events and finding sponsors for the project. Over two years of hard work led to a historical day of September 6, 2017, when over 400 distinguished guests, donors, and ARS members came together to celebrate the accomplishment of the venerable community organization. The sheer number of those who travelled from the various continents to witness the opening, became a phenomenon onto its own as they stood in front of a three-story building equipped with modern technology and became witness to their hard work’s fruition. The school also features a bunker that will serve as a shelter in the event of bombings to shield children from danger.
In an inspiring ceremony, heartfelt messages were given by the President of the Republic of Artsakh, Bako Sahakyan, ARF Bureau Member, Hagop Der Khatchadourian, Archbishop Barkev Mardirossian of Artsakh, Chairperson of ARS’ Central Executive Board, Caroline Chamavonian, Chairperson of the Kindergarten Renovation Committee, Angele Manoogian, and Chairperson of the ARS “Artsakh” Chapter, Ruzanna Abrahamyan. Founding and current principal of the kindergarten, Nelly Ghoulyan, participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony, along with Chamavonian and Der Khatchadourian. The speakers stressed the importance of the renovated kindergarten that will serve as an obelisk of determination and the will of the Armenian Nation and specifically that of the Armenian Relief Society. During the ceremony, an alumnus of the kindergarten, now a 10-year old boy who had received a compensation for his role in a play donated the sum to make it possible to create learning opportunities for his peers in Artsakh in his beloved alma mater.
Following the opening ceremonies, upon the invitation of President Bako Sahakyan, the fortress of Shushi became the staging area for a celebration around bonfires. On behalf of the Central Executive Board, Chairperson Caroline Chamavonian, presented a miniature statue of “Groong” (crane) to Sahakyan as a symbol of our respect and appreciation, as he embarked on his third term of office.
Through each project the organization has accomplished, it becomes clear that the Armenian Relief Society is more than just an organization – it is a movement. It serves as a trailblazer of Armenian national aspirations and with its worldwide network, it turns each promise into an action and each project into a reality. Moreover, just as we, look back to reminisce on this historical occasion, the ARS looks forward to advance with renewed vigor. As we continue our initiatives, we thank our benefactors, donors, friends, partner organizations, and members for their moral and financial support to help the ARS reach its maximum potential. Next year, the ARS will celebrate its 108th Anniversary, which will be another year full of opportunities to serve Armenians and non-Armenians alike and work for the betterment of our communities and homeland. And, we extend an invitation to all to join this movement to serve people in need and be part of the nation-building process.