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Re-birth: Foundation hopes to raise Shushi from the rubble of war

In a Yerevan office, Shoushi Foundation co-chairman Bakur Karapetyan points to a map of the strategic Karabakh settlement and outlines his organization's plans for putting life back into the war-torn old town.

"Here, the red are the already measured buildings, which need urgent restoration. Armenia has had many fortress-towns -- Ani, Kars - but today only one remains, which continues to breathe and live," Karapetyan says.

But breathing barely, Shushi, once a landmark of Armenian culture, stands in need of almost any help it can be offered.

In 2001, Karapetyan co-founded his foundation for that purpose.

"I consulted the president of NKR Arkadi Ghoukassyan whose response was very positive," Karapetyan says, who shares chairmanship duties with NKR Minister of Culture and Education Armen Sargsyan and Pargev Archbishop Martirosyan.

The foundation hopes to raise Shushi back to cultural heights Now, a complex project on studying the historical and cultural heritage of Shushi's past as a fortress are being carried out. Photographs of historic landmarks are being documented, and all structures of architectural value are being listed and mapped.

The nearby area is also being surveyed by archeologists and others, who have found about 200 Bronze Age tombs. Some 520 monuments have been discovered and notated by professors and students from the Engineering University in Yerevan who spent part of their summer in Shushi.

"The project gives opportunity to create four main centers around one axis from the north-east of the fort to its south-west. The citadel will serve as a tourism center. In that section buildings have already been bought by a group of American-Armenians and constructions have already started," explains Karapetyan.

Then he slides the pencil in his hand towards the central part of the town which will be the core. St. Ghazanchetsots church will be the spiritual center and a series of schools - natural sciences, ladies' school, the Zhamharyans House - will form the educational center.

Progress of the project can be followed on the foundation's website at

The approximate cost of the project is $100 million. But Karapateyan points out that the foundation is not looking for donations.

"Here, we talk about profitable investments," he says.

Ultimately, the co-chairman says, Shushi will benefit from tourism. He says plans include opening a branch of Stepanakert University in Shushi.

The plan's first steps are to restore Shushi's 19th century character.

"In 1813 according to Kurakcha contract when Russian rule was affirmed, Shushi and all Artsakh received 100 years of peace. During that time the town became the largest all-Armenian trade and cultural center. It was considered the second in Southern Caucasus after Tbilisi. Shushi was also called Little Paris," says Karapetyan.

But the 20th century was one of turmoil. In 1905 Armenian-Tatar conflicts started, during which Shushi was burnt. On March 23, 1920, most of the Armenian population of Shushi were killed (about 20,000) or displaced by Turks and Azeris, who destroyed remnants of Armenian culture.

But in 1994, Shushi was "liberated" during the Karabakh War and :

"Thank God, something was saved and we are obliged to pass it to generations," Karapetyan says.

The foundation plans to produce an archive catalogue of Shushi and to open a photo museum that will include chronicles on local wars in the 20th century. Karapetyan thinks all of this will assist to activate the cultural life.

Two churches have maintained in Shushi, St.Ghazanchetsots and Kanach Zham (Green Church). There are also three mosques, in one of which within the frameworks of the same program works are carried out by Shen-France organization.

"That mosque will be a meeting point of two large civilizations - Christian and Muslim cultures. In general, we're thinking of making Shushi a center for peace propaganda," says the founder.

Shushi is situated in the center of NKR. It is 12 kilometers away from Stepanakert. Its territory is 400 hectares. Today refugees from Azerbaijan and Martakert live there, about 2,000 in all. Around 6,000 people came to Shushi after the war. However, Karapetyan says they left the town not being able to find shelter and home.

"This is a moral test for our people to see whether we are able to join and create an all-Armenian center like this, since culture is the base of our development," says the founder.

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