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Artsakh Stories

New Year's Resolutions From Artsakh

New Year’s is a time when we all need a little inspiration. If you live in Chicago at least, you’re freezing your butt off and trying to remember what the sun looks like, and we’re all imagining what the next year is going to hold for us. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve had a bit of a rough 2017, and you’re not really sure what 2018 is going to hold for you. This New Year, as I try to figure out what I want to do in the coming year, I’ve been thinking of one of my favorite quotes from Artsakh.  

“Nobody told us it was impossible so we did it.”

 "Artsakh is not just home for us, but for all Armenians," says Karen Mirzoyan, Artsakh Foreign Minister.

"Artsakh is not just home for us, but for all Armenians," says Karen Mirzoyan, Artsakh Foreign Minister.

We were sitting across from Karen Mirzoyan, the Foreign Minister of Artsakh, having coffee in his office. I’d asked him about the overwhelming sense of hope that we’d seen from all the people we’d met in Artsakh so far. The April War in 2016, which had revived Azerbaijan’s military threat against Artsakh’s existence, had given people so much hope and confidence in their ability to defend their homeland.

 Exploring the mountains of Artsakh

Exploring the mountains of Artsakh

“According to all logic we should have lost, but we are mountain villagers. We have to stop being victims. We can’t wait for anyone to give us anything. Nobody told us it was impossible, so we just did it.” Minister Mirzoyan said. “And the most important thing isn’t only the military, but that the country is moving forward. We’ve had very positive trends in the economy this year. We started using hydropower to export energy to Armenia. We’ve had a 200% increase in visitors to our country. This is very good for us, because it’s important to feel that we are not alone, and visitors make a big network to make people here stronger.”

 While these recruits are preparing to defend their homeland, they all have plans for their future and the future of Artsakh.      Their aspirations are diverse, from lawyer to programmer to vintner, they will contribute to the growth and success of the country.

While these recruits are preparing to defend their homeland, they all have plans for their future and the future of Artsakh.      Their aspirations are diverse, from lawyer to programmer to vintner, they will contribute to the growth and success of the country.

Minister Mirzoyan’s words resonated strongly with what we’d heard from other people during our trip. We came to Artsakh knowing that something there was calling us, but without a clear idea of what we were looking for. The people that we met, however, quickly gave us the answer. On the third week of our trip, we had heard quite a few amazing stories, but what surprised us most in Artsakh was how much positivity and creativity they had moving them forward.

 Hiking the Janapar Trail

Hiking the Janapar Trail

 Visitors to the History Museum of Shushi can immerse themselves in the region's colorful past through the devoted curation of Director Ashot Harutiunyan.

Visitors to the History Museum of Shushi can immerse themselves in the region's colorful past through the devoted curation of Director Ashot Harutiunyan.

 Modern technology meets age-old artisan tradition at the Artsakh Brandy Factory

Modern technology meets age-old artisan tradition at the Artsakh Brandy Factory

We saw exciting changes in the country’s budding tourist industry, like the restoration of historic sites and the new Janapar hiking trail.We met the family of a fallen soldier who is creating a clothing company to support local artisans in his honor. We met the director of the new Tumo center for Creative Technologies in Stepanakert that is providing technological education to local kids in the hopes of encouraging entrepreneurship. We stumbled upon the studio of the self-taught stone carver who is carving an enormous and intricate design for the dome of the new cathedral being built in the nation’s capital.  

 Master carver Sergey Hamzoyan in his Stepankert studio with work in progress for the main cathedral under restoration.  "It is my soul's duty," says Mr. Hamzoyan.

Master carver Sergey Hamzoyan in his Stepankert studio with work in progress for the main cathedral under restoration.  "It is my soul's duty," says Mr. Hamzoyan.

Artsakh is an example for all of us. The country is still dotted with the rubble of their war for independence more than twenty years ago, but it’s full of new ideas and people working to put them into action. It is still a tiny unrecognized state, threatened by a much larger military power, which showed its might in the April War. But the faith that people have in themselves and their country is absolutely stunning, as are the things it has allowed them to create.  

 Painter Hovik Gasparyan in his Shushi studio.  His landscapes capture the soul of the Armenian lands, while his modernist work is rich with social and political commentary.

Painter Hovik Gasparyan in his Shushi studio.  His landscapes capture the soul of the Armenian lands, while his modernist work is rich with social and political commentary.

 The international sculpture exhibit at the Shushi Museum of fine Arts gives visitors a chance to meet world-renowned artists and watch them as they create.

The international sculpture exhibit at the Shushi Museum of fine Arts gives visitors a chance to meet world-renowned artists and watch them as they create.

So my New Year’s Resolution? To access the positivity that the people of Artsakh shared with me, pass it to everyone around me, and to keep us all moving forward. What’s yours?

Kristin Cass