An international conference devoted to the development of Kashatagh took place from March 28th - 30th in Berdzor, the regional hub of the Kashatagh region of the NKR. The conference was organized by the Tufenkian Fund, under the auspices of the government of the NKR. The aim of the conference was to get Armenians to once again focus their attention on the problems facing the region and to rally resources needed to implement a variety of projects.
Scores of organizations and political parties from both Armenia and the Diaspora attended the conference as well as representatives of the Armenian Government. The President of the NKR, Bako Sahakyan, was also present for the opening ceremonies on March 28th.
Antranig Kasbarian, the Tufenkian Fund’s representative in Armenia, noted that,
“This conference has two primary aims. The first is to awaken our people, both in Armenia and in Karabakh, to the vital importance of the Kashatagh region not only as a land bridge between Armenian and Karabakh but also as one of the cornerstones of our national security. Secondly, we want to familiarize our people with the region, its present situation, the lifestyle of the people and its triumphs and hardships.
Only by comprehending this difficult reality will people see the need to initiate a series of programs designed to move the region forward, to assist in its development and to spur resettlement.
The attendees then welcomed James Tufenkian, the founder and president of the Tufenkian Fund, to the podium:
“Welcome to Berdzor village, the capital city of Kashatagh Region in Nagorno Karabagh Republic. When I come to Berdzor, Kashatagh, I still feel a little uncomfortable wearing civilian clothes. I don’t know why, but it’s unnatural for me. I’d like to wear cowboy boots. I wanna wear a cowboy hat and ride a horse. To me Kashatagh represents something of the old west of the United States. In America, the old west is a beautiful concept. It’s a place where people come with big dreams and with the chance to make them come true.
Why have we organized this conference? Let’s say, that this work represents and contains the history of Karabagh war; the story of thousands and thousands of Armenians who participated in the war. It’s the story of their families, their friends and other people. The story couldn’t be contained in this book. And in this case I know that many of you here are mentioned in this book. Some people have may be have just a sentence or paragraph, some people have a page written or whole chapter. I can say my name isn’t mentioned. One, the big thing of this conflict is the liberation of Kashatagh. So, on the other hand I have a blank sheet of paper. This piece of paper represents the history; the activities developed Kashatagh in 15 years.
Why this is possible now? Why this moment? Because now President Bako Sahakyan has made a point that for his administration the development of Kashatagh is a priority. So here we are united with the government to develop the region. Let me state why it’s important for all of us to be here today. It’s important to note who is here and who is not. Let’s start with those who are not here - the OSCE is not here, US government and USAID are not here, UN and its organizations are not here, here there are no governments or representatives of any government, beside the Armenian and Karabagh governments. They are all the people who don’t care about Karabagh, who don’t care about Armenia and its security. So, who is here? The Armenians and representatives of Armenian organizations and the Armenian and Karabagh government. I don’t think that I have to say much more-Kashatagh should develop, and we will assist in its develop-ment.
I just want to say why I’m here and why Tufenkian foundation is here; why we have been working in Kashatagh for some years. I can explain it in one word-gratefulness. I’m very grateful for the sacrifice, the sufferings of the Armenian people in order to liberate Kashatagh. I didn’t fight in that war. I was far from this region. I was sleeping very comfortably in New York, surrounded by peace and comfort. I thought about the war, I prayed for the war, I did small things. But I didn’t suffer sacrifice myself, so I am grateful to those who suffered. But what has happened in Karabagh is much more than just saying thanks. I cannot go back and fight in the war. But what I can do is to participate in the development of Kashatagh” concluded Mr. James Tufenkian.
In his address to the gathered assembly NKR President Bako Sahakyan thanked the Tufenkian Fund for its work and noted that similar meetings would be on-going. The President noted that,
“The region of Kashatagh is an area that possesses strategic importance for the entire Armenian nation. It is not by accident that for the past seventy years our enemy has used it as a wedge between Armenia and Karabakh. In May of 1992 this region suddenly assumed a new role - the vital lifeline for the people of Karabakh. Today, Kashatagh, along with the Shahumyan region, serve as the essential links uniting Karabakh with Mother Armenia. Comprehending the both the political and economic importance of Kashatagh all of us, together, must get actively involved in the work needed to develop this region.
The most depressing issue that we face in the region is the demographic situation. This is the result of a host of problems, both objective and subjective, that is present here. The consequences of the war, social and economic issues, negative tendencies in the sphere of governance, and the incorrect application of the politics of resettlement, among others, have hampered the rebuilding of the region. Given this, the government has already begun to take the appropriate remedial steps.”
President Sahakyan then went on to outline the long-term economic plans envisaged for the region needing future investment.
In addition to the benevolent organizations and various foundations represented at the conference, there were representatives of the ARF-D, Heritage Party, National Unity Party, Prosperous Armenia Party and the National Democratic Unity Party.
It’s still to early to predict what the results of the conference will be. However, all one needs to do is to walk along the streets of Berdzor, to see the broken water mains, and to talk to local residents, to conclude that essential improvements haven’t been made during the last year.
In closing, I’d like to cite the words of a foreign diplomat spoken during our “off the record” conversation - “The world must be convinced that Armenians need these lands, that the region has a vital significance for Armenians. When I tour the area, I come away with a completely opposite impression.”