Last year, Armenia Fund hosted its Annual Telethon to benefit the construction of the Vardenis-Martakert Highway. A year later, there has been a great deal of progress. This year, the goal is to raise the needed money to get the job done.
It has been a difficult year for Armenia since the 2013 Armenia Fund Telethon. Under constant attack this summer by Azerbaijan, several soldiers from the Armed Forces lost their lives defending the Armenian homeland. In August, two homes in Aygepar burned down after being fired upon by large caliber Azerbaijani artillery. And, just last week, there was another brazen attack by Azerbaijan on an unarmed Armenian helicopter running drills in Artsakh – the three soldiers onboard were killed.
Despite constant overtures to war by Azerbaijan, Armenian soldiers bravely defend the borders every time and, notably, the villagers who live under constant attack stay put. Their connection to the land is too deep and too strong to be so easily uprooted.
There is no question that the villagers in these hard-to-reach parts of Armenia – in Tavush, in Artsakh, in Gegharkunik – live by the sweat of their brow. They farm, they raise animals, they grow fruits and vegetables, and they get by.
Armenia Fund wants them to do more than get by. That’s why in 2013, it focused its annual Telethon on raising money from benevolent Armenians to build the Vardenis-Martakert Highway. The road would cut through northern Artsakh and connect it with the rest of Armenia, ending at Vardenis, not far from the shores of Lake Sevan.
In 2013, Armenians around the world answered the call to help this part of Armenia develop economically by having access to markets beyond their small villages: $22.6 million was raised and, of that, $11.25 million was allocated to the road. The remainder was specifically earmarked by donors for other Armenia Fund projects including healthcare centers like the newly opened Stepanakert Hospital, educational facilities like the Togh Art School in Artsakh, agricultural development projects like the one in Lusahovit, community centers from Shirak to Tavush to Martuni, and water and irrigation systems in the villages and regions that need them most.
As promised, work on the Vardenis-Martakert Highway has been going full steam ahead. Parts of it are already either complete or near completion – and the effects can already be felt by the locals.
“I pick the apples from my fields and sell them here,” an apple farmer says as he points to the apples he sells on the side of the road. “That road is for people like me so that there are customers I can sell my apples to.” “I’m very thankful to Armenia Fund,” he says, for installing the road. It’s not lost on him that the road is being built by Armenians – even when, as he notes, the “mighty Soviet Union” could not manage to do it in the mountainous region where he lives.
Another example is Nor Getashen, a village settled by former residents of Getashen village which is currently under occupation by Azerbaijan and along the path of the Vardenis-Martakert Highway. The mayor, Alexander Nazaryan, says, “A lot of people from the village are working on the construction of the road.” He explains that “everything grows here but we’re unable it to sell it anywhere since there is no road. Now that there will be a road, we’ll be able to reach markets in Vardenis and beyond.” It’s not the only project that Armenia Fund has realized to benefit Nor Getashen: the mayor proudly recalls that years ago, the organization also built a water distribution system for the village.
The first eight miles of the road has already been paved enough to start being used. A local driving on the road, seated in his old car, says, “Before it would take me an hour to drive this road, now it takes me five minutes.”
Once the Vardenis-Martakert Highway is fully built, it will give villagers access to a larger Armenian market, as well as to markets in Georgia and Russia – places which are currently too difficult to reach for it to be economical to take produce there. The increased access will also encourage higher-volume production by farmers who currently have little incentive to do so for lack of anywhere to sell their produce. The road is also expected to boost tourism because it traverses some of the most beautiful parts of Armenia, benefiting many rural areas that have yet gained little from growing tourism to the country.
During this year’s Annual Telethon, the Armenia Fund will focus on finishing the job of building the Vardenis-Martakert Highway by raising the remaining $17 million needed to complete the highway that will connect Artsakh to the rest of Armenia. It is with the support of Armenians looking to create a better, stronger Armenia that this goal will be accomplished.
Your contribution will support rural economic development in Armenia, a better life for the villagers who will use the road, and it will be an integral part of bringing lasting peace and stability to Armenia, including Artsakh. Contribute now by visiting armeniafund.org/donate or by calling 1-800-888-8897.