In defiance of oppression: Our goddaughter’s wedding in Artsakh and why we can’t attend

By Rupen Janbazian

My wife Araz and I were supposed to be in Stepanakert, Artsakh, today to celebrate our goddaughter Sirun and the love of her life, David, on their special day. We eagerly looked forward to witnessing their union and sharing in their joy. Instead, we find ourselves separated by an unjust and inhumane blockade that has left Artsakh and its native Armenian population isolated for more than 200 agonizing days.

Sirun, an intelligent, charismatic, and beautiful soul, entered our lives a couple of years ago during my work at the Tufenkian Foundation in Artsakh. She became the heart and soul of our Stepanakert office, and we formed a deep bond with her and the entire Artsakh-based staff. Together, we embarked on a journey that transcended professional relationships and blossomed into a lasting friendship.

Following the 44-Day War, my trips to Artsakh and working with my dear colleagues deepened my understanding of its people and their struggle. Araz, who joined me on some of these visits, also formed a close connection with Sirun and the rest of the staff. Last year, we were moved when Sirun, unbaptized in the Armenian Apostolic Church, asked us to be her godparents. It was an honor we cherished, symbolizing the new path she was embarking upon.

On May 9, 2022, we gathered in Stepanakert’s Surb Hakob Church on the 30th anniversary of Shushi Liberation Day to baptize Sirun. As we stood together in that sacred space, we experienced bittersweet emotions. Shushi, once a symbol of Armenian liberation, had fallen under Azerbaijani occupation just two years prior. Despite the pain of the past, we dared to hope for a brighter future—a new beginning for our friend and for Artsakh.

Little did we know that only a few months later, the path forward would be obstructed by a cruel blockade orchestrated by Azerbaijan under the guise of “environmental protests.” In Dec. 2022, the Lachin corridor, the lifeline connecting Artsakh to the outside world, was blocked by so-called “eco-activists.” Since then, the blockade has tightened its grip, with Azerbaijan seizing strategic ground, installing military outposts, and blocking essential routes. International outcry has condemned these actions as violations of the ceasefire agreement signed on Nov. 9, 2020. However, the world’s response remains feeble, and Azerbaijan acts with impunity.

The consequences are dire. Artsakh, already scarred by the horrors of war, now faces shortages of energy, food, medicine, and other vital resources. Newborns, young children, and their mothers are left vulnerable without access to formula milk, baby food, and diapers. While the International Committee of the Red Cross has offered some humanitarian aid, it falls short of meeting the region’s needs. Tragically, the blockade persists alongside Azerbaijan’s ongoing ceasefire regime violations. Just days ago, four Armenian soldiers were killed by Azerbaijani forces, further fueling the anguish and despair of the people of Artsakh. In this darkest hour, the struggle for their free and independent existence has never been more compelling.

Araz and I are not alone in being unable to attend the wedding due to Azerbaijan’s cruelty; Sirun’s own father, brother, and sister have also been unjustly denied the opportunity to be by their daughter and sister’s side on this momentous occasion. The blockade that separates families, denying them the right to celebrate together, is a painful reminder of the callousness with which lives are disregarded, bonds are shattered, and families are robbed of the joy and togetherness they rightfully deserve.

In the wake of the 2020 Artsakh War, my faith in international law and its mechanisms has been shattered. The very systems meant to protect human rights and ensure justice have proved themselves conflicting and tragically selective in their application. Governments, driven by their own interests, flagrantly disregard the principles enshrined in charters, trampling upon the rights and lives of innocent people. Witnessing the ongoing blockade of Artsakh and the suffering inflicted upon its native Armenian population from afar, it becomes painfully evident that international law is insufficient in providing the protection and justice it promises. The blockade, a clear violation of the ceasefire agreement, stands as a stark reminder of the impunity enjoyed by those who disregard the fundamental principles of humanity.

In the face of this disillusionment, my hope has shifted towards the resilience and determination of the people of Artsakh themselves, embodied by individuals like Sirun. It is in the strength of their spirit, the unity of their voices, and their commitment to justice and freedom that I find solace.

Through it all, the resilient spirit of the people of Artsakh shines brightly, and their determination to endure and overcome hardships should inspire us all.

From afar, we bear witness to the strength and resilience of Sirun and the people of Artsakh, who are determined to celebrate love and life in the face of adversity and the hardships they endure; hardships that often go unnoticed in our own lives as we plan joyous occasions like weddings. In a blockaded country, even the simple act of sourcing food for a wedding becomes a daunting challenge, further compounded by a recent ban on large gatherings due to shortages.

And while we lament the present, we dare to envision a future where weddings, baptisms, and celebrations in Artsakh are not acts of defiance but rather ordinary, everyday events. We envision a world where not only is the blockade lifted but one in which justice prevails and the people of Artsakh can breathe freely, unencumbered by the weight of oppression.

Sirun, as you embark on this new chapter of your life today, know that we stand with you and your beloved David. We celebrate your love and the resilience of your spirit. Let your wedding day be a testament to the indomitable spirit of Artsakh. May it ignite a flame of hope that burns bright within us all. 

Last May, when I shared a photograph of your baptism on Facebook and captioned it “Artsakh lives,” it was a declaration of hope and resilience. Today, as you embark on your sacred union, your wedding becomes a powerful testament that Artsakh does indeed live, even in the face of overwhelming hardship and adversity. While we may be denied physical presence, the indomitable spirit of Artsakh burns brightly within our hearts, and your wedding stands as an act of defiance, defying the forces that seek to suppress and erase the essence of Artsakh and its people.

Sirun and David, your love story in your ancestral land shall forever be etched in our hearts as a symbol of unwavering determination, defiance against injustice, and the enduring spirit of a people who refuse to be silenced or lose hope.

Through you, Artsakh lives.

July 7, 2023