BY DAVID ARAKELYAN
The AYF’s ‘With Our Soldiers’ campaign has been an important part of the organization’s efforts aimed at strengthening the connection between the Diaspora and our Homeland and a means of expressing our gratitude to those who fought to keep Artsakh Armenian. I have been a part of this campaign since it was first launched in 2012, and can say with confidence that it has been one of the most humbling and motivating experiences of my life.
When the ‘With Our Soldiers’ campaign was started, our goal was to turn the nation’s attention towards the problems of our veterans on the eve of the 20th anniversary of liberation of Shushi – one of the greatest military triumphs in our recent history. These veterans were responsible for that victory: they had fought valiantly in Artsakh only to be forgotten by their government and the Armenian society. We aimed to tell their stories, learn about their journey, and thank them for the sacrifices they had made on our behalf.
For the first time in 20 years, I visited Armenia in 2012 to meet with these veterans, and that trip left an indelible mark on me. The people I met – the individuals who helped our nation in the time of need – were in need of help themselves, some confined to a wheelchair, others unable to see due to severe eye injuries and many others incapable of finding work because of various health impairments. I vividly remember a trip I made to Hrazdan (in the Kotayk province) to visit Armen Begyan, a young man in his late 30’s who was just 19 years old when he joined the newly formed Armenian Armed Forces and went to the front lines. Having fought in Karvajar and Mardakert, Armen was wounded and spent a long time in snow and cold prior to being rescued by his fellow soldiers. As a result, he had lost mobility in both of his legs and was confined to a wheelchair.
With the help of our community and friends, we were able to raise funds to provide Armen with a retrofitted car, and this proud veteran was able to go to work as a taxi driver. He was grateful to be able to take care of himself and his family, and we felt that our efforts helped change someone’s life. During the course of the next two years, the AYF raised more than $80,000 and provided assistance and medical care to the families of more than 70 other freedom fighters. More importantly, the ‘With Our Soldiers’ campaign helped shed light on the issues facing our freedom fighters and warn the Armenian public about the need to stand with those who liberated Artsakh in order to motivate the soldiers who were standing on the front lines and who were going to protect our people and our country during the next attack by Azerbaijan.
That attack came in April of 2016. As the nation focused its attention on the heroic deeds of the volunteers and the servicemen defending our Homeland, the AYF re-launched the ‘With Our Soldiers’ campaign, this time with the goal of providing financial relief to those who had lost their loved ones in the Four Day War. Once again, our community and our supporters contributed generously to the campaign, and AYF members in Armenia made visits to the families of our fallen heroes to express our gratitude for their sacrifice and show support during those painful and difficult days.
As part of my work on the ‘With Our Soldiers’ campaign, I have spent a lot of time acquainting myself with the biographies of our fallen heroes. I read articles about them, watched heartbreaking videos featuring their stories, and spoke with AYF members in Armenia about their experiencing visiting the grieving families of our soldiers. I have been left in awe with the self-sacrifice and the bravery of these young men, eighteen, nineteen-year-old boys, who defended the portion of our country entrusted to them until their last breath. The heroic deeds of Robert Abajyan, Armenak Urfanyan, and Tigran Abgaryan will be forever inscribed into Armenian history books as examples of the kind of patriotism, self-sacrifice, and courage that keep the Turco-Tatars at bay and ensure Armenia’s existence.
The message of the April War is clear: our enemies have not changed, and neither have their goals. They are bent on destroying of our country and our people, and the only thing that is stopping them from achieving their goal is the brave Armenian soldier defending the front lines in Artsakh. Our nation owes these men an immense debt of gratitude, and it is the responsibility of every Armenian to stand with their families and do what we can to assist them and improve the security of our Armed Forces. Every single one of us can contribute in some way to this cause, and the time to act is now because tomorrow may be too late.