Thanksgiving Armenia Fund Telethon: An Update on the Vardenis-Martakert Highway

Last year, Armenia Fund («Հայաստան» Համահայկական Հիմնադրամ) hosted its annual telethon to benefit the construction of the Vardenis-Martakert Highway. A year later, there has been a great deal of progress. Today, November 27, 2014, the goal is to raise the needed money to get the job done.
It has been a difficult year for Armenia since the 2013 telethon. Under constant attack this summer by Azerbaijan, several soldiers lost their lives defending the homeland. In August, two homes in Aygepar burned down after being fired upon by large caliber Azerbaijani artillery. And, just last week, there was another brazen attack by Azerbaijan on an unarmed Armenian helicopter running drills in Artsakh – the three soldiers onboard were killed.
Despite constant overtures to war by Azerbaijan, Armenian soldiers bravely defend the borders every time and, notably, the villagers who live under constant attack stay put. Their connection to the land is too deep and too strong to be so easily uprooted.
There is no question that the villagers in these hard-to-reach parts of Armenia – in Tavush, in Artsakh, in Gegharkunik – live by the sweat of their brow. They farm, they raise animals, they grow fruits and vegetables, and they get by.
Armenia Fund wants them to do more than get by. That’s why in 2013 it focused its annual telethon on raising money to build the Vardenis-Martakert highway. The road would cut through northern Artsakh and connect it with the rest of Armenia, ending at Vardenis, not far from the shores of Lake Sevan.
In 2013 Armenians around the world answered the call to help this part of Armenia develop economically by having access to markets beyond their small villages: $22.6 million was raised and, of that, $11.25 million was allocated to the road. The remainder was specifically earmarked by donors for other Armenia Fund projects including healthcare centers like the newly opened Stepanakert Hospital, educational facilities like the Togh Art School in Artsakh, agricultural development projects like the one in Lusahovit, community centers from Shirak to Tavush to Martuni, and water and irrigation systems in the villages and regions that need them most.
Work on the Vardenis-Martakert highway has been going full steam ahead. Parts of it are already either complete or near completion – and the effects can already be felt by the locals.
“I pick the apples from my fields and sell them here,” an apple farmer says as he points to the apples he sells on the side of the road. “That road is for people like me so that there are customers I can sell my apples to.” “I’m very thankful to Armenia Fund,” he says, for installing the road. It’s not lost on him that the road is being built by Armenians – even when, as he notes, the “mighty Soviet Union” could not manage to do it in the mountainous region where he lives.
Another example is Nor Getashen, a village settled by former residents of Getashen village – currently under occupation by Azerbaijan – and along the path of the Vardenis-Martakert Highway. Mayor Alexander Nazaryan says: “A lot of people from the village are working on the construction of the road.” He explains that “everything grows here but we’re unable it to sell it anywhere since there is no road. Now that there will be a road, we’ll be able to reach markets in Vardenis and beyond.” It’s not the only project that Armenia Fund has realized to benefit Nor Getashen: the mayor proudly recalls that, years ago, the organization also built a water distribution system for the village.
The first eight miles of the road have already been paved enough to start being used. A local driving on the road, seated in his old car, says, “Before it would take me an hour to drive this road; now it takes me five minutes.”
Once the Vardenis-Martakert highway is fully built, it will give villagers access to a larger Armenian market, as well as to markets in Georgia and Russia – places which are currently too difficult to reach for it to be economical to take produce there. The increased access will also encourage higher volume production by farmers who currently have little incentive to do so for lack of anywhere to sell their produce. The road is also expected to boost tourism because it traverses some of the most beautiful parts of Armenia, benefiting many rural areas that have yet gained little from growing tourism to the country.
During today's telethon, the Armenia Fund will focus on finishing the job of building the Vardenis-Martakert highway by raising the remaining $17 million needed to complete the highway that will connect Artsakh to the rest of Armenia.(*)


(*) The November 27, 2014 telethon gathered $12,399,550 ("Armeniaca")

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