Mariam, born and raised in Yerevan, capital of Armenia, shares her story and perspective on what's going on between the two countries, and why they never managed to agree a peace treaty.
Hi Mariam! Can you tell us a little bit about you and where you're from?
Hi! I am Mariam and I currently live in the beautiful city of San Francisco, CA. I am originally from Yerevan, Armenia where I was born and raised. From the age of 3-6 I lived in Moscow but then moved back to Yerevan till the age of (almost) 11, when my family moved to the U.S. So that’s a bit of my history
Before talking about the conflict going on in Armenia right now, can you tell us a little bit about your beautiful country? How is it like?
As far as Armenia goes, it’s a small country located East of Turkey, North of Iran, and West of Azerbaijan. It has a population of just shy of 3 million people (so about 3x the population of San Francisco). One of the most impressive facts about my country is that it’s one of the oldest in the world! If you Google us (which I did to make sure I’m only relating facts), Armenia is approximately 3,500 years old!
We are the first country to accept Christianity and are very proud of our faith and the churches and monuments we have built around it. (Historically though, our faith has also cost us a lot of land and people because of religious wars with surrounding countries – but that’s a whole other topic).
Our other claim to fame is that recently the oldest winery and the oldest leather shoe in the world were found in a cave in Armenia (Areni-1 cave), both over 5,000 years old! Yerevan, where I grew up, is the capital of Armenia and is the largest city in the country. It’s filled with stone buildings (made from a pink stone called “tuff”), cobblestone roads, lots of monuments, museums, parks, and more recently delicious restaurants!
One of my very favorite places in Yerevan is a place called Vernissage a large open-air artisan market where you can find every trinket you can think of. It’s a big tourist trap, but I could spend days there. Just never gets old!
Ok, it's time to talk about serious stuff. What is happening in Armenia?
You may have spotted Armenia in the news recently or you may have seen stories on social media about the conflicts in a region called Nagorno Karabakh (or as Armenians call it, Artsakh). Armenia and Azerbaijan used to be part of the Soviet Union and during the Soviet era this region, which was largely populated by Armenians and is home to thousands of Armenian artifacts and monuments, was somewhat arbitrarily given to Azerbaijan.
Right before the Soviet Union fell apart (dissolution was passed in December of 1991), Nagorno Karabakh, which was at the time populated 80% by Armenians, declared independence via a referendum, which was a legal way to declare independence from the Soviet Union at the time.
When the Soviet fell, Azerbaijan did not acknowledge the independence, and war ensued. This lasted from 1991-1994, when a ceasefire was declared by what’s called the Minsk Group (Russia, U.S., France) to mediate the tension. Since the ceasefire, there was always tension at the borders, but the last outbreak prior to this one was in 2016 – when a 4-day conflict left hundreds dead. What is happening now, is the continuation of the same conflict.
Why is there such a huge confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan
I don’t want to oversimplify the situation and I really encourage people to read through the details, but the core of it is this (at least in my understanding). In the 1991-1994 war, Artsakh, with the help of Armenian troops was able to gain more territory around its perimeters, effectively taking Azeri land.
Since the ceasefire of 1994, Azerbaijan has been adamant about Armenia and Artsakh returning this land, but in exchange for this, Artsakh wants Azerbaijan to acknowledge its independence. It’s a bit of the question of the chicken or the egg – each side wants the opponent to make the first move and neither trusts the other to do so.
So as a result, Azerbaijan is now using excessive force to regain the land. However, their war tactics are quite barbaric and from the rhetoric I have seen in the media, they don’t care for the lives of the people of Artsakh. They are interested in the land and in Armenian troops abandoning “their” territory. Armenia is interested in protecting the Armenian population in Artsakh.
Ok this was still quite a long explanation, but it’s hard not to share all these details! So I’ll say a bit more. When I say that Azerbaijan has barbaric tactics – there is a precedent that they have set of deporting and murdering Armenians (yep, this is dark!). In the late 1980’s, they executed what we call the Baku pogroms where they murdered and expelled all Armenians who lived in their capital of Baku (my mom was one of those Armenians – deported from the country she was born and raised).
Given this precedent of inhumane crimes, it’s very hard for Armenians to agree to Azerbaijan’s demands because the people of Artsakh (90% of whom are Armenian) are in real danger. Azerbaijan is also backed by Turkey, who executed the Armenian genocide, killing 1.5 million Armenians (half the current size of the country) and still does not acknowledge this heinous crime. If we lose Artsakh, there is nothing stopping from these countries from continuing to wage war and continue picking away at our lands until there is no more Armenia.
This may seem extreme to some people, but it’s a very legitimate fear backed by history. Look up a map of Armenia throughout its history and you will see how much it has shrunk due to religious wars and how much land it’s lost to its neighboring countries.
What can we do to help?
Armenia wants peace and safety and it’s difficult to have either without the help of our international allies. What does help mean? We need countries like Russia, France, and others to pressure Azerbaijan into acknowledging Artsakh’s independence and agreeing to peace in the region.
Why hasn’t this happened yet? My honest opinion is, this region has nothing to offer. They have no oil and no other valuable resources. And Armenia itself is a very small and pour country, now warring against a country whose military budget is the size of our entire economy.
We also need money. War is costing us over $30 million a year. Being in the U.S. this may sound like an insignificant sum – the equivalent of a very expensive home somewhere in Malibu. But for Armenia, this is a huge sum of money. So one of the biggest ways to help is to donate. Literally, even $3 makes a difference. Skip the coffee for a day and give the money to a country that desperately needs it in its fight to survive. We are literally fighting to exist!
And if you can’t donate (and I myself feel guilty asking for money, especially as so many people have been impacted by COVID), then take a few minutes to share this. Share posts on social media. Read the news. Talk to your friends. Talk to your families. Spread awareness. Be an ally!
Where can I donate and help the cause?
Visit Armenia Fund (@armeniafund on IG), a valid non-profit, non-governmental, non-political humanitarian organization, helping Armenia with every single of your donations. They just sent a plane carrying humanitarian aid from Los Angeles, with tons of medicines, clothes, and people ready to help.
Also, here is a list of business that donate part of their sales to help Armenia:
SarahCotta Plants (@sarahcottaplants)
Cafe Rich (@rich_cafe)
Arm Printables (@armprintables)
Lilah Lifestyle Co. (@lilahlifestyleco)
Lola Blendz (@lolablendz)
Graze LA (@graze.losangeles)
Silv Art (@shopsilvart)
Baby Gold Official (@shopbabygold)
Nairian Skincare (@nairian.us)
We are happy to announce that this month we will be also donating 50% of our sales to Armenia Fund. Tap here to donate.