Norwich link to UK charity's vital humanitarian role
A UK humanitarian charity is helping to provide vital aid and advocacy to the tiny Christian mountain nation of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is surrounded by hostile Azerbaijan. Keith Morris reports.
HART (Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust), led by Baroness Caroline Cox, has supported the nation of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is smaller than Norwich, since its people began their fight for survival against its larger neighbour in the 1990s.
In June, Eldred Willey, Chief Operating Officer for HART and a Norwich-based Christian, travelled to the country with Baroness Cox to attend meetings with the President and Foreign Minister of Nagorno-Karabakh in the capital Stepanakert.
“HART provides aid and advocacy for a people who often feel marginalised by Western political leaders who have oil interests in Azerbaijan,” said Eldred.
“Nagorno-Karabakh is a small historically-Armenian country which Stalin forcibly relocated in Azerbaijan. The people fought for survival against Azerbaijan in a bitter war in the early 1990s. Currently, it is not recognised by any other nation.”
During the war, Azerbaijan fired 400 Grad missiles a day, pulverising the little capital city, Stepanakert and other locations; dropped huge 500 kg bombs from low-flying aircraft; and used cluster bombs against international conventions.
The people of Nagorno-Karabakh are Armenians, belonging to a nation which during the First World War suffered a tragic loss of 1.5 million people and Western Armenia in a genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey. This bitter historical experience made the people of Nagorno-Karabakh all the more determined to defend their land, against apparently impossible odds: 120,000 people against seven million; hunting rifles against tanks; David against Goliath.
With great suffering and many killed or injured, the Armenians resisted and a cease-fire was signed in 1994. This was broken three years ago by a major offensive from Azerbaijan, with social media showing an Azeri soldier holding the head of a young decapitated Armenian soldier. Russia negotiated a ceasefire, which holds precariously.
Eldred said: “Nagorno-Karabakh is a deeply Christian country, which suffered for decades under Soviet Communism, during which time all priests were killed or sent to suffer in the notorious Soviet death camps in Siberia; hundreds of churches were destroyed. Recent years have seen a revival of faith, especially among young people. Ninety churches have been built for a population which, at 150,000, is less than that of Norwich.”
Baroness Cox became a universally acclaimed figure in Nagorno-Karabakh through her perilous helicopter flights during the periods of fiercest fighting in the first war, when she brought in desperately needed medical aid.
When the ceasefire was signed in 1994, she asked local people to identify their priority for aid. The yearned for a Rehabilitation Centre in Stepanakert to care for the wounded and other people with diverse disabilities. The Centre now treats 1,000 patients a year, from young children with disabilities such as Spina Bifida and Autism to people suffering road accidents and the elderly with strokes.
During the visit in June, Eldred met Mkhitar, who was shot in the spine in 1991, and now regularly visits the Rehabilitation Centre. Initially suicidal, and suffering from potentially lethal bed sores, Mkhitar recovered his will to live after receiving life-saving treatment by Vardan Tadevosyan, the Director of the Centre and Marietta, the specialist tissue repair nurse.
Their treatment enabled Mkhitar to carve beautiful crosses, which meant he could regain his dignity and support his family.
Eldred said: “I was really impressed by the way Vardan has created such a homely centre. It is overflowing with the artistic works of the patients – a sign of the way in which they are recovering their independence and creativity.”
HART currently provides around 40% of the running costs of the Rehabilitation Centre. It will be making appeals to fund social activities, holidays and outings for patients, and top-ups of essential medical supplies. For a patient like Mkhitar, £100 would provide all essential medical supplies for two months, including urine bags, diapers and catheters. You can support the project below:
Pictured top, Baroness Cox (far left) meets Masik Mayilian, Foreign Minister of Nagorno-Karabakh. Eldred Willey is in the white jacket, and above, a patient at the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre learns to model clay.