“No alternatives to peace and reconciliation”
The YMCA is seeing first hand the suffering in the region; it is active in trying to alleviate it, especially in its refugee camp at YMCA Vanadzor; and its long-term hope is expressed in its 13-year old peacebuilding programme for young people, ‘Roots for Peace’.
“ ‘Roots’ has brought together more than 2,000 young people – including young Armenians and young Azerbaijanis – and shown that the collective humanity they share is greater than anything that divides them”, says World YMCA Carlos Sanvee.
“Our hearts go out to all those on all sides who are suffering in the region, and especially to our colleagues in YMCA Artsakh [Nagorno Karabakh], and the communities they serve. We believe that there are no alternatives to peace and reconciliation.”
Lika Zakaryan from Artsakh, 26, has been part of the YMCA Roots for Peace programme since 2015. She is now writing a daily web diary from Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno Karabakh. “We will live and we will smile”, she says.
Lika Zakaryan from Karabakh (Artsakh), a YMCA Europe Peace Work Institute Alumna, one of the leaders of YMCA Artsakh. Photo: Civilnet.am
YMCA is doing all it can
YMCA Vanadzor, Armenia’s third city in the northern province of Lori, runs a camp which is now home to over 40 Artsakh refugees, women and children who were caravanned from Artsakh soon after the conflict began at the end of September.
“Most of them were living in bunkers, hiding from the bombing and violence”, said the Armenian Bar Assoiciuation.
The camp offers refugees accommodation, food, hygiene items and medical and psychological assistance. In the group there are pregnant women, and also elderly people who need additional medical measures.
The camp also collects and sends food and clothes packages to vulnerable people sheltered by private families in Vanadzor.
Staff of YMCA Vanazdor bring a smile to the faces of refugee families. Photo: Armenian Bar Association
YMCA Spitak, with support from YMCA Zurich, has also opened its hostel rooms to families fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh. As from 19 October, it will offer refugees shelter and food, and daily lessons for school-age children.
The third local YMCA in Armenia, YMCA Vardenis, at the border with Azarbaijan, is at risk of shelling and has been forced to close its city office and its camp at Lake Sevan.
Meanwhile in Nagorno Karabakh, the intensity of the conflict has meant that YMCA Artsakh itself is also unable to serve its community. Severely damaged by shelling, its programme spaces are unusable, and its staff confined to bunkers.
Since 2004 its leaders and some 30 volunteers have run programmes focused on the role of young people in resolving conflict.
“It doubles our pain that we are not able to offer our communities support at this time”, says David Melkumyan, the President of YMCA Artsakh.
The ruins of the historic Ghazanchetsots Church in Shushi, Karabakh. Photo: https://massispost.com/
There is precedent in peace-building
“While YMCA wants to see peace made now, it also wants to continue to nurture the ‘Roots for Peace’ to come”, says Juan Simoes Iglesias, YMCA Europe Secretary General. “We have seen young Armenians and Azerbaijanis embrace each other. We are ready to continue this great, inspiring work.”
YMCA, the world’s oldest and largest youth empowerment organisation, has often been called on to continue its work in conflict zones. It has also implemented long-term conflict resolution programmes like Roots for Peace.
Since 2007, the programme – implemented by YMCA Europe, and funded by ICCO Netherlands, EPER/HEKS Switzerland, YMCA USA, Bread for the World, YMCA Germany, the European Union and the Council of Europe – has empowered youth in taking practical actions for transforming conflicts all over Europe.
‘Bridges for the Future’, one of the Roots for Peace projects. Photo: YMCA
“There are so many stories”, continues Juan Simoes Iglesias. “They are stories which are more powerful than bombs claiming innocent lives. Stories of young Armenian and Azerbaijani girls playing the piano together in Budapest, singing songs at a YMCA Camp in Georgia, sharing sweets in Berlin. Young people can bridge divides and bring peace, and ‘Roots’ is for them.”
From the Roots camp in Ureki, Georgia, as recently as September 2020, see and hear the testimony for peace from three students: Rima Marangozyan, 21, an Armenian; Anvar Jafarov, 21, an Azerbaijani; and Keti Kobiashvili, 18, a Georgian.
Since 2007, the Roots for Peace Programme has reached over 15,000 young people through over 50 projects in 12 countries across Europe. Similar peace-building and post-conflict rehabilitation initiatives have linked up young people from Serbia and Kosovo, Turkey and Armenia, Russia and Ukraine, Russia and Georgia and Syria and Lebanon.
‘It’s my Story’ Pro–fest: another Roots event promoting peace and dialogue
among those whose countries were and still are in conflict with each other.
Over 2000 Roots alumni have gone forward as advocates for peace and reconciliation.
“Don’t lose hope. Believe in magic”, wrote Lika Zakaryan, in Nagorno Karabakh last week.
For further information, please contact:
Marius Pop, Director of Communications, YMCA Europe, firstname.lastname@example.org, +34 635 891 362
John Phillips, Director of Communications, World YMCA, email@example.com; +41 792 173 376