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Shattered lives – Mission in Armenia

September 2021 | by Perouz Harrison

Injured Armenian soldier
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It is safe to say that the heart’s desire of most Armenians is to live in peace. We have a small country with a population of under three million, but we have a unique culture and language. We have also experienced much turbulence in our past which continues to the present day.

In world history, the term Armenian is often associated with suffering and genocide. The most notorious incident of ethnic cleansing happened in 1915 when 1.5 million Armenians were murdered, tortured, or deported from their homes into the deserts by their Turkish neighbours. The aftermath of 1915 witnessed a vast diaspora, as Armenians scattered and resettled across many countries of the world.

Armenia itself is a small country about two-thirds the size of Wales, populated almost entirely by Armenians. Sandwiched between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the autonomous, mountainous region of Nagorno Karabakh.

It is a beautiful area of mountains, valleys, fertile vineyards, and forests. In the times of the USSR, the population of this area was about 90% Armenian, but due to the poor economy of Armenia (especially when compared to the oil-rich state of Azerbaijan) this area was handed over to Azerbaijan by Stalin.

Once Communism collapsed, the Armenians of this region were left without security, and in 1991 Karabakh held out for its independence.

This led to fierce conflict, the loss of many lives, and an entire blockade of the borders of Armenia which resulted in the post-war ‘dark years’.

Imports to the country of goods, medical supplies, electricity, gas, and other amenities were severely limited, resulting in increasingly difficult living conditions. This crisis came on the heels of a dire earthquake in 1988 in which two major Armenian cities were largely destroyed.

The result was an economic crisis which plunged a large population of Armenians into extreme poverty, and from which many families are still struggling to recover.

Armenian Ministries

It was in the early 1990s that our family-based charity Armenian Ministries started its work, gradually becoming an established charitable organisation by 2000.

Today, Armenian Ministries has much the same aims as it did when first founded by Ivan Pambakian (father-in-law to current director Michael Harrison). These aims are to relieve poverty and to spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One of the first projects of Armenian Ministries was the translation of the Bible into Eastern Armenian. This project was directed and mostly completed by Sona Pambakian under the full sponsorship of the Trinitarian Bible Society. To date, tens of thousands of copies of the Bible have been printed and shipped to us by TBS and distributed free of charge from our charity headquarters in Yerevan (capital of Armenia).

We have also been enabled to write or translate some Christian books and evangelistic literature over the years. These continue to be distributed from our headquarters.

For many years now, Armenian Ministries has also been running weekly Bible clubs in Yerevan and several villages for poor families’ children. We also host about two months of summer camps for children to come and enjoy activities and hear God’s Word.

Armenian Ministries also sends humanitarian aid containers full of clothes, bedding supplies, knitted goods, schoolbag materials, nappies and incontinence pads, shoes, toys, bicycles, and mobility equipment from the UK to Armenia.

These goods form the basis of much of the help that we distribute among poor families that apply to our charity for help. Aside from these material goods, we also help many families with monthly food parcels, house rent, help with medical emergencies, and winter fuel (deliveries of wood or help with utility bills).

Covid and conflict

In the last couple of years the level of need has risen significantly in Armenia due to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic ramifications across the whole country.

Many people lost their jobs, and unemployment – already a problem for many families – reached crisis level. The governments of economically weak countries like Armenia could not support working people during lockdown conditions, so aside from a small period of lockdown, Armenians had to keep working through the pandemic. This inevitably led to many people contracting Covid and a medical crisis.

Furthermore, in September 2020 the volatile situation in Karabakh exploded once again. The Azeri military forces invaded Karabakh, and an unprecedented attack on the region started.

The borders of Armenia and Karabakh are protected by Armenian military personnel, conscripted for two years from the age of 18. These young men found themselves in combat against state-of-the-art unmanned drones, and anti-Geneva Convention cluster bombs and chemical phosphorus.

Forty-four days of tragedy, bloodshed, and tears followed. The Armenian nation is still weeping for an entire generation of young men who have either died, are severely maimed, or whose bodies have never been found. There is also an unknown number (suspected to be in the hundreds) of prisoners of war.

To this day the morgues contain many unidentified corpses and body parts, and many families are searching for evidence of their loved ones.

The ceasefire came not a moment too soon, but at a high price – the loss of much of the lands of Karabakh. The resident Armenians had a very short time to escape and many had to literally abandon all they possessed and flee for their lives. The result is that there are about 90,000 refugees scattered throughout Armenia, mostly in the city of Yerevan.

Post-war, the work in our Yerevan office has taken on a tragic and urgent nature. On a daily basis we see many young widows who are unable to care for their children; maimed soldiers struggling to find the will to live and feeling guilty about their comrades that died by their sides; parents who wish they could have taken their son’s place; refugees who are homeless and heartbroken. Shattered lives.

Armenian Ministries continues in its foundational aims in this time of crisis. Since the war we have already sent out from the UK several humanitarian aid containers with additional supplies of folding beds, wheelchairs, crutches, and sleeping bags.

On a daily basis our small team is handing out supplies of clothes, aid, and food parcels. In addition, we are trying to provide a shoulder to cry on and trying to share God’s love and God’s Word with as many hurting hearts as we can.

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