Sometimes, the Missions with our volunteers do not go as planned. At AfA, we learnt to transform challenges into opportunities. Here is the example of Sirina, our volunteer who was forbidden from entering Artsakh for one of our missions. She didn’t let this stop her. Here is her story:
Last Saturday, I set out to return to Artsakh to help @all_for_armenia with their projects in Mets Shen village. I had already visited the weekend prior – my first time after the 2020 Artsakh War. Just as I had 10 years earlier, I fell in love with the scenery, people, and serenity and was impatient to return.
One of the many painful consequences of the 2020 Artsakh War was the redrawing of Artsakh’s borders, as Azerbaijan captured many Armenian regions in this historically Armenian territory. There is now only 1 road leading from the Armenian mainland to Artsakh, dotted with 7 different posts: 1 Armenian post, followed by 5 Russian peacekeeper posts, and 1 final Artsakh Armenian post. At each, officers scrutinize passports and visas, which are now quite difficult to obtain for those who are not Armenian or Russian citizens (my case).
On Saturday, we were greeted at the first Russian post by a long line of parked cars and people milling about. We exited our vehicle and learned the reason for the stop: an Azerbaijani convoy passing along the road ahead. After a nearly hour-long wait, I finally spotted trucks rolling through the mountain before me. In a poetic flourish, thunder sounded simultaneously and rain began to pour.
When we finally pulled up to the document inspection, the Russian soldiers quickly singled out my visa as a “problem.” Several phone calls later, and after another hour-long wait for the Azerbaijani convoy to return back up the road, we were finally informed of the reason: although my visa was still valid, I had neglected to inform the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs 3 days in advance that I would be re-entering. No one I had consulted regarding visas had alerted me to this requirement.
Heartbroken, I stepped out of the car and walked over to the cramped wooden Russian post. Enveloped in a thick military jacket the soldiers provided to shield me from the cold, I waited until our driver returned from dropping off the group in Stepanakert . As I fought back tears of frustration, the parting words of one of my fellow passengers echoed in my head: “This is what it is to be a defeated people.”
As if to emphasize this point, a car full of Russians approached the document inspection. They were approved easily, without any issues. The injustice of the situation incensed me: the fact that an ethnic Armenian was barred from entering historical Armenian land, but a foreigner (in this case, a Russian) was seamlessly allowed in.
After climbing up to the nearby church, praying, and letting out my emotions, I resolved not to allow this situation upset and demoralize me further, as I would be handing one more victory to the invader. Just a few minutes later, the director of All for Armenia called me encouraging me not to give up on the mission.
He proposed I redirect my efforts towards the border village of Kornidzor, Armenia – right up the Berdzor Corridor and now surrounded by Azerbaijan on three sides – where All for Armenia is working on the “Kornitun” community home. Choosing this alternative path, I wound up forging even deeper ties with the people of the region and returned to Yerevan resolute to further my involvement with these border communities.
My intention in sharing this story is not for anyone to feel bad for me personally. Rather, my experience stands as an example of the on-the-ground reality for non-citizen Armenians attempting to visit their ancestral lands post-war. Though these new obstacles have been implemented to hinder Armenians from setting foot on their soil, they are in fact motivating us to adapt, persist, and resist. There is always more than one road to get there.
” We, our volunteers, our community, never give up, All for Armenia!”