BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Of course, I always wanted to go to Artsakh, but not as a mere tourist. I wanted to visit Artsakh on a special occasion which finally came on March 31. As Senior Vice President of The Lincy Foundation, I participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a newly built school in Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh. Funded mostly by The Lincy Foundation and partially by the Government of Artsakh, the project was successfully implemented by Save the Children.
The Grand Opening of the school was attended by government officials led by President of Artsakh Bako Sahakyan, and other dignitaries. The new school will accommodate 350 students. It was a great day of celebration for the people of Stepanakert, as parents and students expressed their joy and gratitude for this state-of-the-art facility.
Beyond the high quality of construction, what impressed me most was Artsakh’s self-sufficiency! All supplies and materials, including school desks and cabinets, were produced in Artsakh, providing employment and income to the local population. Nothing imported from Turkey!
During my brief stay in Artsakh, I had the opportunity to see some of the ancient cathedrals and majestic mountains of the region, which visitors often compare with the beauty of Switzerland. I met the leaders of the fledgling republic who are doing their utmost to provide prosperity for their 150,000 citizens as well as protection from periodic Azeri attacks.
The people of Artsakh are comforted, knowing that they are not alone. Millions of Armenians around the world support their struggle for survival against all odds in this secluded ancient land.
I had no difficulty relating to the local people, as my grandparents hail from Zeytoun, in Cilicia, a mountainous region, not unlike Artsakh, with a warrior population that successfully fought for five centuries against constant attacks by the powerful Ottoman Army. Zeytoun was known as the “Eagles’ Nest,” an apt name for Artsakh.
It was clear from my conversations with leaders and people of Artsakh that they would never accept to live under Azerbaijan’s yoke again! The young generation was born and raised in Free Artsakh. It is out of question for them to be under Azeri occupation. The older generation, which spilled blood to gain Artsakh’s precious freedom, will never again accept any form of foreign domination.
While the heroic Artsakh people have paid the ultimate price for their independence — sacrificing their lives — they only ask the rest of us to contribute funds, time and energy to support their just cause!
It was a great honor for me to be asked by Prof. Gourgen Melikian, Dean of Faculty of Oriental Studies at Yerevan State University and a devoted Artsakh volunteer, to plant a walnut tree near the village of Berzor, in the Lachin Corridor, linking Armenia with Artsakh.
Prof. Melikian had made all the arrangements for the planting ceremony. He had the walnut tree seedling, a shovel, a watering pot, and an appropriate recitation for the occasion. I noticed that there were many other young trees nearby, indicating Prof. Melikian’s determination not to let any visitor pass through the Lachin Corridor, without planting a tree.
The most touching moment of the ceremony arrived when Prof. Melikian, holding a glass of red wine in his hand, recited a moving Armenian poem about tree planting written by Leon Zaven Surmelian in 1924. Here is my rough translation of that beautiful poem:
Bless this tender tree, O Lord; I plant it here
In crumbling black soil, where my forebears lie
As their mighty progeny, master of this land anew,
I grow under the sun, with their name on my lips.
This grand tree shall extend its arms and soul,
Embracing my forebears’ immortal fiery breath;
O Lord, let this lonesome, graceful tree be a prayer,
And a cuddling object for young lovers.
The olden history of these memorable lands
Brings tears to my eyes. Glory and death aplenty
In my ancient land, whose fierce progeny I am,
With bountiful thoughts, and soothing dreams.
This tree I planted, as a cross for my departed ones.
While listening to this inspiring poem, I made a vow to return often to this cherished land, to water my tree and defend the ground upon which it stands. May this walnut tree grow mighty with deep roots, and bear fruit for generations to come!