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07/13/2023 Armenia (International Christian Concern) – In the darkness of her room, Mila Dolukhanyan shows the works submitted for admission to the Paris School of Fashion and Design on her phone. Among them, she proudly shows a T-shirt sewn on the theme of the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh.  

“The carpet piece symbolizes Artsakh, the torn part – the enemy’s attempt to obliterate us. The threads represent our blood and roots, which mean that no matter what, we will preserve our tradition and culture,” said Mila.  

Mila is one of dozens of Artsakh graduates who share the desire to advance their educations in Armenian and foreign universities. The blockade presents significant challenges that hinder their dreams. 

Mila Dolukhanyan posing in her designed T-shirt

The ongoing seven-month blockade imposed by Azerbaijan has taken the population of Nagorno-Karabakh hostage. The crisis was exacerbated on June 15, as Azerbaijan imposed a ban on the entry of humanitarian cargo to Artsakh and restricted the movement of citizens through the Lachin Corridor.  

The consequences of the blockade have profoundly affected every aspect of life in the country, and the sphere of education has not been exempt from its impact. 

Due to the impossibility of leaving Artsakh and the absence of international exam centers in Nagorno-Karabakh, local applicants are deprived of the opportunity to take entrance exams to be admitted to their desired universities.  

Nagorno-Karabakh Deputy Minister of Education, Science, Culture, and Youth Affairs, Hasmik Minasyan, mentioned in an interview with us that to solve these issues, they have agreed with the relevant universities of Armenia the ad-hoc opportunity for the applicants to take the exams online and through video recording. 

“We organized exams in ten subjects for these applicants. Oral exams were conducted through the Zoom platform, and the performance of the applicants to the theater and singing departments was audio-recorded and sent to the relevant institutions in Armenia.” According to the deputy minister, this process was also challenging because it was carried out during rolling blackouts and Internet connection disruption. 

Margarita Kiziryans, 19, graduated from Stepanakert Music College and intends to study at Yerevan State Conservatory. As an ad hoc solution, she passed the exam by recording the works and sending them to the examining committee. But even when admitted to the conservatory, her getting from Stepanakert to Yerevan by closed road is questionable. 

Margarita Kiziryants in front of Sayat Nova Music College in Stepanakert

For Margarita, Mila, and other students crossing the road is not the only problem. The 2020 war and now the blockade have significantly affected their studies. 

The blockade cut off the only gas supply from Armenia to Artsakh. It led to the regular interruption of the 118 schools operating in Artsakh and kindergartens and primary and secondary professional education institutions during the winter. 

Margarita is from the city of Shushi, which came under the control of Azerbaijan as a result of the 2020 war. Now she has become an internally displaced person (IDP), living in Stepanakert with her family. Through music, Margarita tries to escape the reality of war and blockade. 

According to the deputy minister, after the examinations are over, their next step will be transferring students admitted to Armenian and foreign universities, and the ministry will meditate and find solutions to transfer them to realize their educational rights.  

Mila is also struggling to focus on her studies in these conditions. “I want to study abroad and bring fashion culture to my home place, but it is so vague today that I don’t know if I will be able to follow my dream if I can return to Artsakh and implement what I have learned.” 

According to the special report of the Nagorno-Karabakh ombudsman, the worsening food scarcity partially closed all 41 kindergartens and 56 preschool groups, as a result of which 6,828 children could no longer attend educational institutions in general, being deprived of adequate care and nutrition. 

Hundreds of local students who study in universities in Armenia and abroad face obstacles in fully realizing their right to education. They are deprived of seeing their family members and spending the holidays with their families, even during summer vacations. 

During the blockade, the disruptions in the electricity supply from Armenia to Artsakh and the Internet also affected technological education, causing their suspension. 

Exams Under Fire 

Chankatagh village of Martakert region is located 67 kilometers from Stepanakert. Two weeks ago, two servicemen were killed by the weapons used by the Azerbaijanis on the military unit near the village, and two more were killed in the positions of Martuny region. 

Chankatagh residents live under daily fire. Varsenik Arushanyan, the school’s deputy headmaster, says that they spent the class under fire. Several classrooms are directly under the enemy’senemy’s sights, 500 meters away. Often during the school year, when shootings start, teachers are forced to move children to a safer part of the school. 

Varsenik Arushanyan at Chankatagh Secondary School. From the window, Azerbaijani positions are visible, from which they regularly fire.

On June 22, during the final exam in the school, when the students took assignments to start for the exam, another round of fire was opened from the Azerbaijani positions. 

“We seem to have adapted to lessons undershooting, but is it possible to adapt to it?” the teacher asks herself. 

To the question of whether they are not afraid to have classes and exams in such conditions, Arushanyan answered that, of course, there is fear, but they see no other acceptable way. “Sometimes the senior school children themselves reassure us not to be afraid. I am a native language teacher, my first job is to instill a sense of belonging in my students, and I think they learned that lesson well.” 

Arushanyan, looking at the commemorative plaque of the graduates who fell victim to the war, added that perhaps the hardest thing for a teacher is when a student you teach dies at a young age. 

While negotiations on the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh are being held on various international platforms and resolutions are being made to unblock the Lachin Corridor, Mila from Stepanakert, Margarita from Shushi, and students from Chankatagh are facing real challenges not only to realize their right to education. They and the entire Christian population of Nagorno-Karabakh face ethnic cleansing and the danger of losing their homeland.   

For interviews, please contact: [email protected].