On the evening of Dec. 4, a small group of concerned Armenians assembled at the Holy Trinity Armenian Church hall in Cambridge, Mass., to listen to presentations by Der Dajad Davidian, Eva Medzorian, and others on the escalating violence on Armenia’s north-eastern border with Azerbaijan, primarily in the former Shamshadin region of the Tavoush Marz, with its epicenter in the town of Berd.
The evening began with a presentation by Der Dajad, newly returned from that region. Since having retired several years ago as the pastor of the St. James Church in Watertown, Der Dajad has spent most of his time in Armenia working on spiritual revival of the population, especially the youth. He presented an overview of the geography and ancient history of the Berd region, with all its splendor, glory, and breathtaking beauty. He followed with a grim presentation of the violence and vengeance thrust upon the area by the aggressive Azeris on the border who, since independence and without provocation, have been attacking innocent Armenian civilians. He described what is in reality a David and Goliath scenario, with the Berd region’s 30,000 villagers facing off against Azerbaijan’s 1 million-plus heavily armed villagers on the border. Der Dajad reported that the population of the Berd area, mostly youth and even entire families, are leaving the area for economic and personal safety. Unless this situation is corrected, he predicted dire circumstances for the region. In fact, the Azeris could eventually walk right into Armenia and take our lands, which he said is their goal.
A 20-minute documentary video was then shown, produced by Medzorian, with footage taken during her visits in May and September/October, focusing on the town of Berd and five villages, Nerkin Garmir Aghbyur, Aykebar, Movses, Chinari, and Artsvaberd. Also included were archival video clips from Armenia of the destruction in the early 1990’s during the Karabagh War—which spilled over to this area by aggressive Azeri destructive action—as well as videos of scenery, children, schools and houses bombed by Katusha missiles, and interviews with eyewitness residents.
The video showed how these incidents are accelerating; for example, in May 2012, a band of Azeri soldiers slipped into Armenia at nighttime, ambushed a vehicle, killed three Armenians, and fled back. That same month, another band of Azeri soldiers crossed the border at the Armenian border village of Chinari and sprayed the exterior walls of a kindergarten with bullets. There are still daily intermittent sniper attack on civilians. In May 2012, one of these snipers struck Vajakan Melkoumyan, a local farmer, while he was working his fields. He has lost use of one of his legs, and is no longer able to put food on the table for his family.
Knights of Vartan Grand Commander Nigoghos Atinizian also spoke about the importance of the region; proposed that the Knights and Daughters of Vartan focus on the development of the Tavoush marz with an emphasis on the Berd region; and listed some important projects in the area already under way by the Knights.
Berd native Victor Hayapetian gave a few remarks about the region and his personal experiences and passion for the area. Hayapetian is a creative individual and dedicated Armenian, who has already invested considerable funds in the renovation of the Berd cinema, “Averaberd,” into a modern, state-of-the-art facility complete with an internet cafe and a modern cafe/restaurant. In less than two years, Arevaberd has become the meeting place for young and old alike, has hosted banquets, and has sparked other investors to undertake developments of their own. Berd is a tourist paradise with its sweet, clean air, gorgeous landscapes, and intelligent, friendly people. A newly elected mayor, Haroutiun Manoucharyan, has many down-to-earth ideas and plans for its revitalization. He is reputed to have healthy work ethics, and promises to bring prosperity to Berd and stem the outflow of its citizens.
Jack Medzorian reported on another project by the Knights of Vartan that assists a local village hospital in Artsvaberd village. This project is underway, a fundraiser is in progress, and his Knights of Vartan volunteer team is busy packing a 40-foot container of supplies and equipment. Medzorian met with the newly appointed Armenian Minister of Health in October 2012 to enlist his support. The minister promised to complete the renovations of this hospital, especially as it is in a strategic, “de facto war” zone.
An important local figure in the Berd region is Der Aram Mirzoyan, a young pastor assigned by the Vehapar two years ago to bring about a spiritual revival of the area. He has already begun the construction of a new, magnificent church, the St. Gevorg Church, in the center of Berd on the same street as the Arevaberd Cinema, to replace the one that was destroyed by the communists during the early 1920’s. The benefactor of this church was the late John Stevens from Fresno, Calif., who donated nearly $1 million for the project. Der Aram looks after his community’s spiritual needs while also helping to revitalize the economy, and meet his people’s health, education, and cultural needs. In a short time he has become a true pillar of the church, and a community leader.