MOSCOW (ArmRadio)–Speaking at a Hayastan All-Armenia Fund dinner fundraiser in Moscow on Sunday, Nagorno-Karabakh President Bako Sahakian appealed to 80 Russian-Armenian businessmen to open their pocket books and donate to this year’s telethon, set for November 26.
All funds raised during this year’s telethon will be channeled into the revitalization of the ancient city of Shoushi, once the cultural center of Eastern Armenia but devastated after the Karabakh war of liberation in the early 1990s.
In remarks to the businessmen, who had gathered at the Ararat Park Hyatt at the initiative of Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, Karabakh’s leader stressed the historical relevance of Shoushi and the urgent need to accelerate efforts to restore “Artsakh’s ancient capital.”
He thanked the Russian-Armenian community for standing in strong support of Armenia and Karabakh over the years, describing Russia’s Armenians as “a unique bridge” between Armenia and Russia, “who live and work with the idea of providing help to [the homeland.]”
“The restoration of Artsakh’s old capital is of crucial importance for the independent Armenian statehood,” Sahakian said. “Historically Shoushi played various roles not only for Artsakh but also in the life of the entire Armenian people.”
In his remarks Sahakian highlighted that during the 18th and 19th centuries, Shoushi was the last bastion of independence and autonomy in the Armenian world and served as a major military, political, economic, cultural and education center for Armenians in the Caucasus.
At the beginning of the 20th century, he continued, the city boasted dozens of factories, and educational and cultural centers functioning in the town. With twenty two newspapers being published in both Armenian and Russian, Shoushi also enjoyed close economic ties with major cities in Russia, Europe and the Middle East. Indeed, many of Armenia’s scientists, artists, political and military leaders came from Shoushi.
The most tragic period in the history of this city, according to Sahakian, came at the beginning of the century. The first wave of Azeri massacres against Armenians began in Shoushi in 1905, leaving hundreds dead and many more wounded and homeless. Less than a decade later, Shoushi emerged as the center of the first Karabakh liberation movement from 1918-1920. But its status as capital of independent Nagorno-Karabakh was short-lived as Azeri forced soon destroyed the city and expelled its Armenian population.
Although Armenians were eventually allowed to return to Shoushi, seven decades of Soviet Azeri rule in Nagorno-Karabakh reduced the city to being another backwater region of the Soviet Union. Over the years Shoushi, like much of Karabakh, fell victim to demographic restructuring, as Azerbaijani’s flooded the city shifting the balance in population and making its Armenians a second-class minority.
Sahakian explained that during the Karabakh liberation war of the early 1990s, “Shoushi became one of Azerbaijan’s main military strongholds in Nagorno-Karabakh.” From this strategic location, the Azeri army would bombard Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert and adjacent Armenian village.
The liberation of Shoushi in May of 1992, however, served as a turning point in this bleak chain of events, Sahakian said, describing the heroic recapturing of the city as the Armenian people’s second greatest victory after the battle of Sardarabad. This moral and military victory inspired and invigorated Armenians across the world, he added.
“The liberation of Shoushi awaked in the sub-consciousness of our people, a self-confidence in our own strength, as well as resoluteness in building a free and independent statehood,” Sahakian said. “This great victory was Pan-Armenian in its nature. The entire Armenian nation joined to liberate Shoushi, providing material and moral assistance to Artsakh.”
It is for these reasons, Sahakian continued, that the authorities in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic “consider the development of the town of Shoushi and the whole region as an issue of great strategic importance.”
The government is already in the process of transferring many state agencies to Shoushi, including the judiciary, the Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs, some sub-divisions of the Defense Army, the Union of Writers, and the Artsakh branch of the State Agricultural University of Armenia. “We are confident that these measures will give a new impetus to the development of the town,” Sahakian said.
Sahakian underscoring the vital role Diaspora fundraising plays in the overall defense of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s independence, explaining that philanthropic development is necessary to revitalizing and strengthening the war-torn republic.
“A great deal of work such as the construction and reconstruction of homes, schools, health care facilities, cultural centers, roads, water supply systems and other objects needs to take place in Shoushi,” Sahakian said, adding that the town’s development is a “matter of honor.”
“The thriving of the town will demonstrate to the world our cohesion and united will in defending national values, and developing and strengthening our sovereign and independent statehood,” Sahakian said, adding that Shoushi’s revival will cement “the Armenia-Artsakh-Diaspora trinity.”