Armenia - The volunteers in the monastery of Dadivank.

EN - Tuesday, 17 November 2020

7 am: the alarm clock rings and I open painfully my eyes in the darkness. Today is an important day for SOS Chrétiens d’Orient as volunteers have the chance to go to Artsakh, in the monastery of Dadivank. After our morning prayer and a quick breakfast, we are taking the roads of Armenia. Majestic landscapes parade before our eyes. The snowy peaks of the high mountains show us the impending arrival of winter. Our road passes past the gigantic Sevan lake which stretches for nearly 1.200 km2, forming one of the natural borders with Azerbaijan.

I'm excited to contemplate this mountainous area of Artsakh where murderous fighting took place recently. Once the border crosses, we see the impacts of the total ceasefire deal which was signed on November 10, 2020. A convoy of trucks loaded with furniture, livestock and sometimes even an entire house, go up the roads that snake into the mountain, to escape the imminent arrival of Azerbaijani troops. Armenians, knowing that they are in danger, bring with them everything they can. Indeed, the district of Kelbajdar, where we are, must go under Azerbaijan's control from November 15.

sos chretiens orient armenie monastere de dadivank artsakhThis humanitarian catastrophe contrasts with the beauty of Arstakh's frozen landscape. The high mountains remain steadfast, witnessing the clashes of men for this millennial land. As we are reaching our destination, I spot a convoy of armored vehicles and Russian tanks. The ceasefire agreement provide for the deployment of Russian forces to ensure the proper application of the treaty.

Here we are... at the Monastery of Dadivank. am surprised by the impressive number of vehicles parked on both sides of the road: while everything seems to cause people to flee this land asap, Armenians have come to say a final goodbye to the monastery.

sos chretiens orient armenie volontaires allument bougie dans le monastere de dadivankBuilt between the 9th and 13th century, Dadivank is home to the tomb of Saint Dadi, disciple of Saint Thadée who spread Christianity in Eastern Armenia from the first century. In the sanctuary's enclosure, I am seized by the air which is filled with emotion: Armenians show serious faces, some quickly wipe tears they try to contain. Two soldiers are crying in each other's arms. Armenians seem to want to take as many photos as possible as if they want to forever capture this last moment before Azerbaijan takes control of the site. An Armenian from Los Angeles explains with emotion that his people is in danger in Artsakh and that by looking away and keeping silent, all countries are killing them.

He encourages us to take many photos and to publish them on social media to alert opinion. Armenians need their fate to be known and the international community be warned of the danger Armenian people of Artsakh are facing. This call to testify hits me in the heart, just like Father Hovhannes's example, in charge of the monastery. This Shepherd, who participated in the release of the monastery in 1993, will not leave the scene and will not ′′surrender it to the Turks". He will defend it arms in hand to the death! What a resilience.

Armenians do not lack of courage and their presence in this sanctuary attests to it. They have lived many tragedies and today are going through a difficult one: living on this earth for thousands of years, they have to leave their homes to give them to an enemy, who is thristy of revenge, who still has not digested his defeat in 1994.

sos chretiens orient armenie armeniens de artsakh incendient leurs maisonsNot far from the monastery, a man set fire to his farm plunging the sanctuary into thick and smelly smoke. I'm struggling to fully realize what's happening before my eyes: the emotion of the Armenian population is reasoning in me alongside a feeling of not being legitimate to experience sadness. I contemplate the sadness of a people who must leave everything behind. Despite the darkness that seems to be falling on Artsakh, a leap of hope appears in the mid-afternoon: Russian armored units are stationed below the monastery. A crazy rumor then begins to circulate: the Russians would protect the monastery's enclosure against Azerbaijan forces. Could the monastery be saved? It is on this sweeter note that we leave the religious sanctuary to return to Yerevan.

We don't know it yet and will have to wait for Saturday, November 14 to learn the news: the monastery of Dadivank is saved. This Armenian jewel will remain Armenian! It will remain under the surveillance of Russia's peace forces. God be blessed.

The sun sets on the road. I am lost in my thoughts, remembering the afflicted faces of Armenians. Rays of light stroke Lake Sevan one last time before disappearing, caught by the frozen night. Lulled by the purr of the engine, we fall asleep one after another, tired of this very emotional day, with, in our hearts, the image of the people that still resonates in us.

For all the families that had to flee their home, volunteers from SOS Chrétiens d’Orient will soon be carrying out a food packs donation operation. From now on, respond to the emergency and help us rescue Armenians refugees from Artsakh.

Bertrand, volunteer in Armenia.

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