by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
the Armenian Mirror Spectator
FRANKFURT, Germany, DECEMBER 7, 2023 — In response to the humanitarian catastrophe created by Azerbaijan’s forced expulsion of over 100,000 Armenians from Artsakh, Armenians in Germany have been working with German organizations to supply urgent relief. In the forefront of efforts has been the Armenian Embassy in Berlin, working with Armenian-German groups and church communities.
Refugees streaming into Armenia need everything: material help above all, a place to sleep and reside, basic supplies like energy, heat, bedding and food, but also psychological support and professional assistance to deal with the effects of trauma.
Energy, Light, and Bedding
Already in October, immediately after the expulsion of Armenians from Artsakh, organizations in Germany responded to Armenia’s call to the European Union for assistance. The Agency for Technical Relief (THW) Logistics Center in the city of Ulm, directed by Bernd Urban, organized the transportation of relief goods including 50 electrical power units and 520 sleeping bags for refugees.
These goods were sent first to a THW center in Bavaria, where tents, lighting equipment and field beds were added, the entire shipment worth 450,000 Euro, Urban said. The final transport to Armenia went by air freight.
Several organizations with teams in Germany, including those of international scope, have been active, among them Caritas, Bread for the World, UN Refugee aid, Bread for the World, and Doctors without Borders, to name a few. Narime Danielyan, leader of the Doctors without Borders medical team in Goris, reported that the refugees from Artsakh, having lost everything, need mental health support as well as medical treatment. The group, which has been treating patients in Goris since late September, offers mental health consultations and psychological first aid from professional psychologists. “Our approach involves several steps, including building trust, ensuring well-being, stabilizing those in acute distress, providing practical assistance, rebuilding social connections, offering coping strategies, and connecting them to additional resources and care,” Danielyan said.
Make Every Event a Fundraiser
It has become common for groups to transform events, some of which may have been originally organized for other purposes, into fundraisers for the Artsakh refugees. On November 25, in the city hall in Halle, a “thank-you event” was held to commemorate the twin city relationship established on March 6, 2023 between Halle (Saale) and Gyumri (Armenia). The German-Armenian Friendship Society Halle-Gyumri organized the gathering, attended by State Parliament President of Sachsen-Anhalt, Dr. Gunnar Schellenberger, the Honorary Consul of Armenia, Michael Schmidt, Halle city representative, Dr. Patze, Chairman of the German-Armenian Friendship Society Halle-Gyumri, Armen Klisch, Honorary Consul of Germany in Gyumri, Alexan Ter-Minasyan, as well as the director of the TUMO Center in Gyumri, Lena Karapetyan, who delivered greetings. Stephen Bridges, Business Development Manager of TUMO International, also spoke and members of the Armenian Embassy in Berlin were present. Artem Sargsyan provided music on the duduk. During the meeting, funds were raised to provide support for the Artsakh Armenians, forced to leave their homeland.
On November 16 the Armenian Colors Jazz Quartet directed by Vahagn Hayrapetyan held a benefit concert for a capacity crowd in the Hall of the All Saints Court Church in Munich, honoring the 120th anniversary of composer Aram Khachaturian. Dr. Christine Sasse, Honorary Consul of the Republic of Armenian in Bavaria, and Helmut Pauli, Chairman of the Council of the European Cultural Foundation EUROPAMUSICALE, delivered opening remarks.
The concert, entitled “Khachaturyan Meets Jazz,” featured famous works by the Armenian composer and conductor interpreted in jazz, as well as works by Komitas and Tigran Mansuryan. Concluding the concert was the symbolic work entitled “Peace” by Vahagn Hayrapetyan. The audience, which included political and public figures as well as member s of the Armenian community and jazz lovers showed their enthusiastic appreciation.
The entire proceeds from ticket sales together with the German-Armenian Society (DAV Social) were sent to Armenia, to provide relief for refugee families from Nagorno-Karabakh.
The concert was organized by EUROPAMUSICALE with support from the Armenian Embassy in Germany. It was under the patronage of the Armenian Ministry for Education, Science, Culture, and Sport, as well as the Honorary Consul of Armenia Dr. Christine Sasse and the Spine and Joints Center Munich (WGZM).
The following day, November 17, the Jazz Trio offered a repeat performance with a benefit concert on the same theme, this time in Palais Biron in Baden-Baden. Here guests were greeted by Honorary Consul of the Republic of Armenia in Baden-Württemberg Günter Pilarsky, representatives of the Armenian Chamber of Commerce (IHK) in Baden-Württemberg, Robert W. Huber, and Chairwoman of the German-Armenian Music Society Ani Aghabekyan. Again, the group performed jazz interpretations of works by Khachaturyan, as well as Komitas, and pieces by pianist Vahagn Hayrapetyan. Khachaturyan’s renowned “Sabre Dance” opened the second part of the concert and Vahagn Hayrapetyan’s “Peace” was performed.
Here, too, all proceeds from the ticket sales to the concert, which received enthusiastic standing ovations, went to the Armenian Relief Organization (Armenische Hilfswerk Organisation), for families driven out of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Role of the Churches
Church groups have been most active. At the general conference of the German Bishops in late September, the chairman Dr. Georg Bätzing had depicted the plight of at least 100,000 Armenians expelled from Artsakh, and urged action. Several church groups have responded. The Gustav-Adolf Works and Diaspora Work of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), and the Saxony state church donated 5,000 Euro to the Armenian Evangelical church. This was in response to calls by the sister church in Armenia for assistance.
Father Hovhannes Hovsepyan of the Armenian Evangelical Church had reported at the onset of the expulsions that communication with parishioners in Artsakh were extremely difficult, and that the entire population would be forced to leave. “We have to find shelter and supply the refugees with essential needs. It is a huge task. The situation is dramatic. We need whatever you can donate.” The pastor had 300 parishioners and co-workers in Artsakh for whom he sought assistance. According to Rolf Bareis, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Georgia, the Armenian Ambassador there had also issued calls for assistance.
The churches have also intervened on the political level. On November 3, the EKD press office released a letter written by the Chairman of the German Bishops Conference, Dr. Georg Bätzing, together with the Chairman of the Council of the EKD, Council Chairwoman Dr. h. c. Annette Kurschus, and the Chairman of the Working Group of Christian Churches in Germany, Archbishop Radu Constantin Miron, addressed to German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.
In the name of the Christian churches in Germany, the letter called for the Berlin government to intervene in protection of human rights in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. “Without the intervention of the international community, the ethnic Armenians remaining in Nagorno-Karabakh are at the mercy of the Azerbaijan government and military,” it read. The religious leaders therefore called on the Foreign Minister to “take meaningful steps to move the Azerbaijan government toward a just and peaceful solution to the conflict.” Though Armenia is expected to receive international support, “in view of the dimensions of the task, it is overburdened. The Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev,” it continued, “claims further regions of the territory of the Republic of Armenia.” Protection is therefore required. The Christian leaders called for “a qualified and powerful UN or EU peace mission.”
Furthermore, they asked the German government to address the EU, urging it to “review its relations to Azerbaijan – including its trade and energy relations.” This is a reference to the far-reaching deal negotiated by EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in July 2022, whereby Azerbaijan would export 8 billion cubic meters of gas per year, to be augmented by expanding capacities for transport. The deal, negotiated in the wake of the Ukraine war and terminated supplies from Russia, has been criticized widely. In the letter to Baerbock the religious leaders stressed, “Human rights issues must have the highest priority.” They also ask for increasing financial aid to Armenia for refugee relief and furthermore warn of the danger that the 1000-year-old Armenian cultural heritage in Artsakh be destroyed, in light of the ravages of the 2020 war.