On March 28-30, the Foundation hosted a pan-Armenian conference that reviewed the strategy for developing and resettling the NKR Kashatagh district. The event brought together more than 90 people, including government representatives from Armenia and Karabagh, private donors, as well as non-profits and NGOs from Armenia and Diaspora.
Kashatagh is the primary lifeline connecting Karabagh to Armenia – the main road between the two passes through the district. In addition, Kashatagh offers land that is economically valuable and dramatically reduces Karabagh’s front with Azerbaijan, thereby bolstering its security.
However, in the 15 years since the Karabagh War, Kashatagh has become the most impoverished district in either Armenia or Karabagh. During this time, less than half of Kashatagh’s resettlers have actually remained in the district, and its vast potential thus remains largely untapped. This was the theme drawn out by James Tufenkian, President of the Tufenkian Foundation, during the conference’s opening session on March 28:
“This book represents the history of the Karabakh War,” he said, holding up a large volume. “It’s the story of thousands and thousands of Armenians who came here and fought.” Then, holding up a blank page, he said the page represented the history of Kashatagh development activities since the war. The sacrifices made in the war were being met with nothing. “This makes me very uncomfortable.”
Strong words also came from NKR President Bako Sahakian, who pledged Karabagh’s renewed commitment to Kashatagh:
“It is not accidental that for over 70 years, Azerbaijan used Kashatagh as a wedge between Armenia and Karabakh,” President Sahakian said. “Without the Kashatagh District, the full-fledged development and secure survival of Mountainous Karabakh…is not possible.”
The conference marked a major step forward, not only in drawing attention, but in developing the basis for a regional development plan. “We designed this as a working conference,” noted Antranig Kasbarian, who co-organized the conference on the Foundation’s behalf. “As such, we devoted only a small portion to speeches and pronouncements, with the bulk of our time spent touring the region, getting to know the villagers and their problems, and ultimately evaluating concrete project proposals.”
The Tufenkian Foundation worked with the NKR government to create a portfolio of development projects that would encourage Kashatagh’s current residents to remain in the region, while attracting future resettlers as well. The projects fall into four categories: infrastructure, agriculture & animal husbandry, health, and education. These include not only familiar projects such as schools, clinics, community centers, and home construction, but also detailed plans for sustainable business start-ups capitalizing on the district’s rich climate and resources.
As projects become ready to launch, the Tufenkian Foundation will coordinate operations for them and act as the liaison between donors and the regional government. While the Foundation works to get these projects off the ground, it will also continue to encourage donor organizations to expand and enhance these efforts.
To date, more than a dozen groups and investors have pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars toward various projects. These include school renovations, teacher training, recreational and medical complex construction, a large-scale infrastructure program, and agricultural businesses that will generate jobs without damaging the environment.
“It has been a good start,” Kasbarian said, “but the work must progress at a rapid rate. A strong Kashatagh is indispensable, not just for Karabagh, but for our entire national security.”
To learn more and get involved, please contact us through Rick Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org.