Keeping the Faith in Artsakh

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Keeping the Faith in Artsakh: An Evening with Diasporan Militia Volunteer Robert Krikorian

By Lucine Kasbarian

The Armenian Weekly

June 6, 1992

New York, NY – There was just as much a Robert Krikorian in those present on this particular evening as there was a collective Armenian conscience coursing in the veins of Robert Krikorian himself. Many second-generation American-born Armenians were among the 100-plus audience members who gathered on Friday, May 29 in Manhattan to hear a commanding yet modest young man recount a year spent as a volunteer in an Armenian self-defense unit on the Artsakh border.

As Krikorian related why he chose this path and how it affected him, the feeling of pride in the room was palpable. This presentation demonstrated that traditionally valued Armenian character traits we supposedly carry in our genes do indeed exist in a thoroughly integrated American-Armenian whom critics would have categorized, in knee-jerk fashion, as a casualty of cultural gorsevadz (lost).

Krikorian’s presentation seemed to rekindle a passion among those present that may have all but gone into rigormortis through years of repetitive activities in the Armenian-American community. Day after day, it is often difficult to maintain a sense of urgency about our unresolved history – to shed tears over a turbulent past and an unjust present reality. However, knowing that a contemporary had taken it upon himself to step out of his comfort zone for a higher good could only set a profound example for others.

Though none of us felt privy to the nuances of Armenia’s state of affairs, it was evident from his talk that Krikorian felt helpless in the US while his people were facing grim circumstances in Artsakh. Krikorian resented being seen from afar by native Armenians as a soft, pampered, dilettante about Armenian ways. Many Diasporan organizations could not expect to be incorporated into Armenia’s sphere of activity and understanding that, Krikorian knew that if he wanted to serve Armenia, he would have to pack his bags.

Krikorian represents a special breed of Armenian. He embodies a transference of spirit that many natives of Armenia may not be able to fathom: the patriotism of an Armenian in exile; the product of survivors threatened with extinction; the irredentist who loves his homeland perhaps more fondly because it must be from afar and through second-hand stories; the strong character who wages a conscious struggle to bring a distant homeland to life in an artificial environment; and the one who doesn’t balk at rejecting prevalent but alien customs that can weaken one’s ethnic and moral fiber. Krikorian decided to fight for the right of every human being to live freely on his historic homeland, just as his ancestors had done. It was his turn to fulfill an obligation to those who came before him as well as those who would come after.

With no entrepreneurial or egotistical motives to guide him, this young man proved how insignificant physical luxuries can be by abandoning a comfortable life in the US to participate in a noble struggle. As a young professional with a military background, Krikorian was far from a thrill-seeking amateur he was thought to be when a defense commander chided his intention to join the Artsakh forces with a suggestion that Kirkorian pack a camera, Bermuda shorts and romp in the hills for a week only to go home with some swell stories to tell his friends.

As Krikorian listened to many parents who feared for their children fighting on the front lines, he reflected upon having not told his own family what he was really doing in Armenia. He eventually composed a letter to his parents, knowing they would be horrified that their efforts to create a secure life for their son was in jeopardy. He pleaded for understanding when he wrote, “Please don’t hold this decision against me -- you raised me this way.”

While Krikorian enjoyed his life in the US, he knew Armenia needed him and his skills much more. In Artsakh, he fought alongside young men who had left their jobs and families to fight, knowing that in these troubling economic times, they would be providing even less for their dependents.

While keeping guard along the borders, the militia would take time to express goodwill through community service, thereby expressing their noble intentions to the native population. The natives would drop off food parcels for the militia each morning in appreciation.

The ‘old guard’ of Artsakh, by now expert cynics and skeptics, appealed to the fighters to go back to their native cities and return with their entire families to assure the natives that they would not abandon Artsakh by one day leaving the people at the mercy of the Azeris. Most of the fighters Krikorian met agreed to these conditions without missing a beat.

Hesitant at first about discussing his experiences, Krikorian overcame his apprehensions when he reflected upon his vow to serve. He promised himself that if he emerged alive, he would speak to anyone who wanted to hear his story and to keep solidarity with all who are still defending Artsakh.

Observing those who were taking in what we learned about the risks taken and hardships endured by our brave men and women, it seemed as if the fighters could be as proud of those who attended this talk for withstanding the forces of cultural assimilation as the attendees were of them for taking on the daunting duty of defending Artsakh for the benefit of Armenians everywhere.