Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) Congressional Relations Director, Mariam Khaloyan, traveled to Artsakh last month on a working trip, where she assessed the region’s needs and conditions in the aftermath of the 2020 war launched on Artsakh that resulted in devastating consequences for the Armenian people. Khaloyan held meetings directly with several governmental and humanitarian organizations addressing these challenges.
Khaloyan met in Stepanakert with International Christian Concern (ICC), a human rights organization that is helping families amidst the current humanitarian crisis.
During the meeting, Khaloyan and ICC representatives discussed the importance of therapy for those who are trying to adjust after the brutal war that claimed the lives of soldiers and civilians, destroyed infrastructure, and displaced thousands of residents.
The Assembly had also connected with ICC in person in December 2020, when Khaloyan traveled to Artsakh during her fact-finding trip following the signing of the November 9, 2020 trilateral ceasefire statement. Since then, ICC has conducted extensive research, participated in the Assembly’s online Advocacy Panels, and published several articles raising awareness and expressing concerns regarding Azerbaijan’s continued existential threats and violence against the Armenian people in Artsakh.
During Khaloyan’s meeting with The HALO Trust, she was briefed on current conditions of post-ceasefire challenges relative to unexploded ordnance and demining clearance operations in the remaining areas of Artsakh. Khaloyan also participated in a field visit by The HALO Trust in Martuni province’s Nengi village, where she saw demining efforts firsthand alongside HALO team members.
The HALO Trust is focused on clearing cluster munitions and other unexploded ordnance from densely populated areas such as Stepanakert, Martakert and Martuni, which will ensure the safety of the remaining population and returning displaced families in the coming weeks and months.
Most of the current contamination is due to the 2020 war on Artsakh, where cluster munitions continue to be found in civilian areas, including in fields, schools, and homes. HALO’s team surveyed areas for threats to the civilian population and found three types of cluster bombs: a Russian-manufactured bomb delivered by Smerch carrier rockets which carries over 70 submunitions; a 9N235 bomb with a self-destruct mechanism that often fails to function; and an Israeli-manufactured M095 cluster bomb, delivered by long artillery ranged rockets (LAR-160). HALO’s diligent team works in the field in groups of eight. They are accompanied by trained medics, who are on hand for the clearance team.
«As one can imagine, the work is very dangerous. These teams put themselves in harm’s way everyday to ensure the safety and well-being of civilian lives,» said Khaloyan. «This critically important work saves lives and we very much appreciate continued U.S. assistance in this regard,» Khaloyan added.
Since 2000, HALO has cleared almost 500 minefields in Artsakh, making the land safe and transforming the lives of more than 130,000 people. They visit schools and communities to teach individuals, especially children, on how to stay safe until all landmines are cleared.
In her meeting with Artsakh’s Human Rights Ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan, a variety of ongoing issues that are priorities for the well-being of Armenians living in Artsakh were discussed. They included the humanitarian crisis on hand, including the lack of proper housing for approximately 40,000 internally displaced persons. Currently, funding for housing and help with the displaced is coming from the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund and other diasporan organizations. Additionally, challenges facing school-aged children were also emphasized.
«There is not enough space for students or educators, as students are crammed in one classroom,» said Khaloyan. «There is also a concern of language preservation as there are many dialects throughout Artsakh. To ensure the preservation of these dialects, children are taking second shifts in school. To help solve this issue, additional schools are needed to protect the language and help preserve the culture of the different areas of Artsakh now under occupation,» added Khaloyan.
The November 2020 statement required that Armenia and Azerbaijan «exchange prisoners of war, hostages and other detained persons.» Despite this, and along with strong calls from Congress, the Administration, and a number of humanitarian organizations, Azerbaijan still has not released all prisoners of war and captured civilians. Just last month, the U.S. House of Representatives reiterated the importance of the immediate release and repatriation of Armenian POWs – still unjustly held captive and subjected to torture and abuse by Azerbaijan – via passage of an amendment strongly supported by the Assembly to the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The Assembly remains deeply troubled by Azerbaijan’s ongoing ceasefire violations, including last week’s unprovoked attack against the Armenian people in Yeghtsahogh – a region along the Lachin/Berdzor Corridor monitored by Russian peacekeepers – with the use of mortars, launching grenades, and strike drones aimed at defense posts, resulting in 2 killed, 19 wounded, and 4 seriously wounded.
The Assembly urges Congress to hold the Aliyev regime accountable for its ongoing ceasefire violations and renewed hostilities against the Armenian people. The importance of enforcing Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act is clear. «It is imperative for Armenian Americans to make their voices heard and press Congress to stop Turkey and Azerbaijan from succeeding in their plans to remove the surviving Armenians from Artsakh and infringe further on Armenia’s border,» stated Khaloyan. «Armenia and Artsakh stand as leading democracies in the region and efforts to maintain its security are tantamount,» added Khaloyan.