Building an alternate route between Armenia and Karabagh is the designated campaign theme of the upcoming Armenia Fund’s 16th International Thanksgiving Day Telethon. The goal of this massive public works effort is to turn the roads that currently link a string of strategically important towns in northern Armenia and northern Karabagh into a modern highway system. The new route is projected to promote trade, cooperation, and economic development among vulnerable border communities that are vital to national security.
Reflection of new geopolitical realities
For some, this new initiative may beg the question, Why another public road works project when there is the Goris-Stepanakert Highway? Since its completion back in 1999, that highway has proven to be the kingpin of the fund’s sustainable economic development and security strategy. Prior to its construction, it took several days to travel from Mardakert in Karabagh to Yerevan in Armenia. Following the completion of the Goris-Stepanakert Highway as well as the North-South Highway, within Karabagh alone it now takes just nine hours. With the addition of the Vardenis-Mardakert Highway, there will be a shortcut through the north, which will take just a few hours to cross. Trucks will be able to reach markets faster and, equally important, supplies will be able to reach military bases and local government centers promptly.
The Goris-Stepanakert route connects south-eastern Armenia with south-central Karabagh, ending in its capital city. It excludes access for both northern Armenia’s border communities and those border towns in Karabagh which, 22 years ago, were delineated as part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. Today, these villages are neighbors with a hostile Azerbaijan, creating a very different security dynamic. An alternative route connecting the two Armenian republics can make all the difference. The Vardenis-Mardakert Highway will link 16 village communities and 3 towns, Vardenis in Armenia and Kharvachar and Mardakert in Karabagh. That’s more 76,000 residents who stand to benefit from the new highway.
The security, stability, sustainability connection
Khoren Bandazian, the chairman of Armenia Fund USA, explained the rationale behind the project. “Security is a high priority for both Armenia and Karabagh,” he said. “And the key to that security lies in demographics. The stable presence of an Armenian population is paramount. But keeping multiple generations on their ancestral lands is only possible with economic growth and sustainability. The Vardenis-Mardakert Highway project is at the intersection of these three goals. It will hasten the transport of goods and supplies so that local businesses can reliably serve customers and regional trade can increase.” Bandazian also noted Armenia Fund USA’s generous support of and first-hand experience with building the Goris-Stepankert Highway, and later, with the North-South Highway that connect Armenia’s communities with Karabagh. “Given our track record, our affiliate is uniquely equipped to help make this project a success,” he said.
A projects-within-a-project approach
The road from Vardenis in Armenia to Mardakert in Karabagh totals 96.7 kilometers. It covers such varied terrain that there are multiple construction, engineering, and public safety challenges involved. For example, there is a significant stretch of unpaved, dirt-covered road that changes dramatically in width at different intervals and involves as many as 339 sharp turns, 17 of which are serpentine configurations. Other sections have been partially blocked due to landslides or river swells, adding to the hazardous conditions. Finally, new road signage, protective barriers, and other modern standards of road safety must be installed to meet current government regulations.
Telethon 2013 to put northern regions in spotlight
Armenia Fund USA has begun to reach out to some longtime donors to generate support for this worthy initiative. “We believe that our past support of major highway projects has convinced our donors that their generosity will produce tangible, lasting benefits once again,” said Irina Lazarian, the executive director of the eastern U.S. affiliate. “We have led the way through this type of ambitious undertaking twice before, under more trying circumstances. Sure, building roads is gritty and heavy work and doesn’t make for pretty photos,” she said. “Yet the promise for transformative change is golden.”