Artsakh in My Heart: AMAA’s Vision for Artsakh
By Rev. Dr. René Léonian, AMAA Representative in Eurasia
Since its founding in 1918, the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) has always aimed to be vital to the Armenian people. It is in a Christian spirit, and in the name of love of neighbor, that the AMAA has organized its programs.
The essence of AMAA’s work is summed up in its support to churches, its Christian education, humanitarian, educational, cultural and development programs.
After the devastating earthquake in Armenia on December 7, 1988, the AMAA’s Board of Directors, under the leadership of its Executive Director Rev. Movses Janbazian decided to invest heavily in Armenia and come to the aid of families in the disaster areas. From the early years of AMAA’s involvement in Armenia, the Association partnered with Espoir pour l’Armenie – Hope for Armenia of the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches of France. At the time, the official authorities of Soviet Armenia praised AMAA’s mission and service in the Homeland.
On September 10, 1991, the AMAA was officially registered in Armenia to work in two directions (cf. official registration text):
– “To help the Armenian people in spiritual, religious, educational programs and publications.
– through humanitarian programs.”
On September 21, 1991, Armenia became independent and immediately afterwards the AMAA established its permanent headquarters in Yerevan (with “Hope for Armenia”).
In the fall of 1994, I had the privilege to be the Representative of the Armenian Evangelical World Council and the AMAA. The AMAA’s services were originally focused on the earthquake zone, then gradually it spread to the whole Armenian territory. From time to time, sporadic actions were carried out in Artsakh.
After a few years, the AMAA decided not to neglect Artsakh. Thus, in 1995, the leadership of the AMAA in the United States and the leadership of AMAA in Armenia, decided to set up a permanent center in Artsakh. That same year the AMAA officially registered in Artsakh as the first Diasporan Armenian philanthropic organization.
This materialized through contacts with the highest authorities of the Republic of Artsakh. It was facilitated by personal ties, but also because the AMAA’s reputation in Armenia was appreciated by the President and the Government of Artsakh.
Rev. Janbazian and I had a similar conception of the goal to be reached and shared these objectives with Hagop Manjelikian, who was AMAA’s Field Director at the time.
Arsen Manasyan, who was appointed Coordinator of the AMAA’s programs in Artsakh in 1996, strategically directed our offices in Stepanakert and supervised the AMAA’s work throughout Artsakh. His courage and faith in God enabled the realization of our programs in the early years.
While being in full agreement with the objectives enshrined in the official statutes of the AMAA, spiritual and philanthropic action, we believed that Artsakh represented much more than a piece of territory. Artsakh was like a part of us.
During the Artsakh war for independence from 1990 to1994, it was at the cost of the sacrifice of our soldiers and the Armenian population that we regained our honor and our pride in being Armenian. We understood that the security and independence of Artsakh were the guarantors of the security and independence of Armenia.
That is why it was necessary for the AMAA to invest in many areas of the lives of our brothers and sisters in Artsakh. Very quickly, the AMAA focused on the Christian education aspect of the younger generation, as well as their social, economic, educational and cultural needs. Through these programs, we knew that we would encourage the local people to stay in Artsakh.
The official inauguration of the new headquarters in Stepanakert was held on July 15, 1998. The Government of Artsakh, by its presence at the inauguration ceremony, expressed its support for our patriotic, humanitarian and spiritual action.
That day in Stepanakert with Rev. Janbazian, our international delegation and our local leaders, we first stopped at the Cemetery of the heroes who fell during the liberation war to meditate. Rev. Janbazian deeply moved us by his words filled with gratitude to these young people who fell at the front for the defense of the Armenian borders and for the defense of Armenians all over the world.
Later in the day, we went to Shushi to visit this “impregnable” fortress. We prayed in the magnificent Ghazanchetsots Cathedral. When I left the Church, I asked Rev. Janbazian to follow me and our local Coordinator Arsen Manasyan. The three of us went to visit a house 500 meters away with adjoining land. I said to Rev. Janbazian: “We have a permanent seat in Stepanakert, now we must also set the presence of the AMAA in Shushi, because Shushi is the place where, in 1823, the Swiss missionaries of the Evangelical Mission of Basel settled and, it is there that the Evangelical movement began in the Caucasus (Eastern Armenia) among the Armenians. Rev. Janbazian looked at this beautiful house and said: “It’s okay, you find the money in France and we buy it.” In the following months, an Armenian from France financed this purchase and that’s how AMAA settled in Shushi. This house was also the place where AMAA’s Summer Camp Program in Shushi developed. Soon AMAA also took charge of the only kindergarten in Shushi.
We were so happy, along with our Artsakh colleagues, to have been able to help the city of Shushi flourish.
Today, we are still reeling from the defeat of the war and the surrender of November 10, 2020. However, we believe that better days will come. The AMAA is still present in Artsakh. Our on-site representatives do an extraordinary job and under the leadership of Executive Director/CEO Zaven Khanjian, the AMAA is raising awareness around the world on the situation and needs of Artsakh.
Thanks to the help and prayers of all AMAA members and friends, we will continue to participate in the recovery and development of Artsakh and its people.
We have been shaken, but we believe God has not forsaken us. The children of Artsakh will still sing patriotic and spiritual songs, they will still dance our folk dances, they will continue their studies, and they will grow up healthy, under the benevolent gaze of the Good Shepherd.
So, we will say as usual with faith and comfort: “Next year in Shushi!”
Rev. Dr. René Léonian was AMAA Representative in Artsakh 1995-2011