PASADENA, California — On November 10, 2020, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a ceasefire in a 44-day war incited by a territory dispute in Nagorny Karabakh. The history of the dispute goes back decades. Nagorny Karabakh was initially Azerbaijan’s territory in the Soviet Era until the majority-Armenian population attempted to separate from Azerbaijan in an attempt for independence. This resulted in a war from 1991-1994.
After extensive fighting and death, Russia brokered a cease-fire agreement. Turkey provided Azerbaijan direct assistance through “military trainers, drones and equipment.” While international support could be largely vacant, a U.S.-based NGO named Kooyrigs was able to step up during these times. It provided support for Armenian soldiers, civilians and mothers suffering from desolation before and after the war.
The Origins of Kooyrigs
Executive Director Karine Eurdekian founded Kooyrigs, a project that stemmed from Eurdekian’s time as an ESL teacher for an Armenian Women’s Research Center. Kooyrigs formed as a safe space on Instagram for anonymous conversations between Armenian women in various regions in the diaspora. This enabled Eurdekian to develop a supportive network before the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict.
After receiving more than $150,000 in individual donations and a $25,000 grant from Family Foundation, Kooyrigs was ready to offer immediate support through grassroots action. Maro Matosian, the founder of the Women’s Support Centre in Yerevan, spoke in an Insider interview: “[Kooyrigs] also provided us almost with $14,000 of medical supplies and crutches that we sent according to the request of Stepanakert Hospital and Goris Hospital.”
Entering the War
Armenian troops suffered under Azerbaijani artillery, and frontline soldiers were in need of immediate support. Kooyrigs initiated the Looys campaign, a program where team members deliver “food, water, medication, clothing, diapers, formula, sanitary products and household essentials” to some of those most affected by the war.
In an interview with The Borgen Project, Eurdekian said that Kooyrigs was the most immediate source of distribution during the conflict, with team members being the first response to distribute medicines to hospitals. She stated that they risk their lives by transporting supplies to warzones surrounded by Azerbaijanian military drones.
Eurdekian explained how the Kooyrigs Armenia team quickly recognized that “[w]hile the government was providing food for the soldiers that were registered in the system, they didn’t [missing verb] a lot of the time provide food for the volunteer soldiers.” Armenians connected through the Kooyrigs forum revealed that their volunteering relatives hadn’t eaten in weeks. The team members responded by delivering food from rural Armenian farmers in every municipality. Soldiers received familiar, regional food grown in local farms, delivered regularly and transported in trucks with temperature-controlled storage units.
The Effects of War on Armenian Society
The destruction of homes, cities and families has left Armenia in a societal depression. Children were among those who suffered the most. Separated from their homes and thrust into fractured environments, Armenian children and families experience notable mental challenges. Armenian therapists cite young experiences with war bombings and displacement from homes to local hotels as triggers for anxiety and more. Indeed, the Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief reports that “[w]hile the loss of our fallen Armenian soldiers is itself a tragedy, the war has had the secondary effect of leaving children fatherless and mothers and families without their primary breadwinner.”
Eurdekian currently runs project Mayreeg as well, which is set to provide care packages for pregnant mothers in Armenia. The packages contain a month’s worth of baby products as well as connections to classes meant to help mothers find community. Furthermore, Kooryigs will find doctors, help coordinate birth plans and help pregnant mothers through the birthing process step by step. Eurdekian and her team have seen how stress and trauma have caused a boom in miscarriages in Armenia.
The team uses resources from Yerevan to supply rural areas and spotlights mothers and their children to motivate further donations. The Kooryigs Instagram recently highlighted Tamara, a mother of two who was displaced from Stepenarket and unable to afford education for her oldest child. Tamara suffered through a stress-induced, premature birth. Kooyrigs raised $4,000 the day after posting her profile, which provides her son with a kindergarten education and has helped relocate the family to Yerevan, dramatically changing Tamara’s life.
Pockets of Joy
The war effort enlisted many DJs and artists who had been spreading music throughout the streets of Yerevan. This stunted the spread of music even more so after the COVID restrictions prevented clubs and venues from opening. Kooyrigs collaborated with Zach Asdourian, the Chief A&R of the creative label “Critique,” on an album called YERAZ [Past, Present and Future Armenian Sounds From Los Angeles to Yerevan]. All of the “net profits” from the YERAZ (meaning Dream) album will go toward Kooyrigs’ educational projects. Currently, the album contains “electronic beats with neo-soul tunes, instrumental sounds and folk melodies.” Additionally, it added to the large electronic scene within Armenia.
Eurdekian describes the electronic scene coming together during the war and reinforces how underground clubs in Yerevan became a safe space for young Armenians. One of Yerevan’s popular underground clubs “Poligraf,” where young Armenians enjoyed themselves despite the external situation, hosted the album’s release. It also supported the Kooyrigs cause by buying merchandise or prints. Eurdekian says that the YERAZ album is a “pocket of joy” for people getting through the war. She told The Borgen Project that the album “is just one of those things that we can invest in that is for the culture, for preservation and is proactive as opposed to what’s reactive in the war immediately.”
What Kooyrigs Aims to Be
Kooyrigs serves as a symbol of homecoming for young Armenians in diasporas who are negatively impacted by the older generation’s view of war, tragedy and genocide within their country. These old tragedies repeat in different ways. However, people like Eurdedian have taken the opportunity to focus on an approach that centers a focus on care, direct aid and those in need. Historical moments like the Armenia-Azerbaijan war create new generations of leaders who pick up lessons from elders to pave the way into a brighter future.
– Matthew Martinez
Photo: Courtesy of Kooyrigs