November 2nd, 2015
Beauty from Ashes
We have just received copies of two articles written by Baroness Cox for British Global and Travel Health Association (BGTHA) magazine Travelwise and thought we’d share them with you. In Travelwise 53 Spring 2015, Baroness Cox shares stories of visits to Nagorno-Karabakh where HART supports a Rehabilitation Centre. Find out more about the Centre here.
It has been my privilege to visit some of the most beautiful places in the world: the dramatic mountains and deep rivers of the lands of the peoples of the Hill Tribes in North-East India and Northern Burma; the starkly beautiful, bleak mountains of the historic lands of Armenia, with some of the most ancient churches in the world nestling in wooded valleys or standing proudly on hilltops; and, in the vast continent of Africa, the wide-open spaces of desert in Sudan with the ever-changing colour of sunshine dancing on shifting sand, and the vast expanse of green, fertile bush-lands in Nigeria, interrupted by rugged mountains erupting from the plains.
However, on my travels, the exhilaration of beauty is inextricably linked with sadness as we know we are about to enter a heart of darkness.
My journey’s destinations are lands of people suffering from oppression, persecution, war or the aftermath of war. I travel with the small NGO HART (Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust) which I founded to help victims of cruel regimes inflicting systematic suffering on their own people. In some of these situations, the ruling regime does not allow humanitarian aid organisations to visit its victims, so they are left unreached, unhelped and unheard. HART was established to reach such people, with aid and advocacy. We work with local partners who are committed to helping their own people. They always humble and inspire us with their dedication, integrity, resourcefulness and resilience.
Therefore, we are doubly privileged: our travels in beautiful lands enable us to be alongside amazing people, helping them to make a transformational difference for their communities in very challenging parts of the world.
Please ‘come, and travel with me’ to visit one of our partners in the historic land of Nagorno Karabakh. If you have never heard of it – join the club! Neither had I, until my first visit in 1991, as parts of the Soviet Union were erupting into turmoil and war. Azerbaijan took this opportunity to attempt ethnic cleansing of the Armenians from this little land with systematic and brutal deportation of towns and villages, escalating into full-scale war. By 1992, the Armenians were forced to try to defend their families and their land, armed only with hunting rifles against tanks. I used to count 400 Grad missiles raining down on the little capital city, Stepanakert. This was one of the most high-intensity conflicts of the early 1990’s. A cease-fire was signed in 1994, which has largely been maintained until now, although sniper incidents do still sadly disrupt the peace along the 160km front line.
I always say about the Armenian people that they do not just survive (genocide, earthquake and war against seemingly impossible odds); they create beauty from the ashes of destruction. Nowhere is this truer than in this little land of Karabakh. Towns and villages still bear the scars of war- but are being rebuilt with inspirationally aesthetic style. Priorities include rebuilding of churches (destroyed by the Soviets and by war); art galleries and museums. Now there are delightful, clean and comfortable hotels with all ‘Mod. Cons’ and tree-lined boulevards with stylish cafés and restaurants where the visitor can enjoy delicious local and international menus, all set in a land of stunning beauty.
It is the privilege of my small NGO, HART, to support a Rehabilitation Centre in Stepanakert.
Our visionary Director Vardan Tadevosyan has transformed a bomb-damaged old school building into an internationally recognised state-of-the-art facility, bringing innovative therapeutic repertoires to people with disabilities in Karabakh and across the South Caucasus.
During the war, there was a high risk of infectious diseases spreading like wildfire as women and children were forced to live for months in overcrowded basements and cellars with no electricity or running water. Diphtheria was beginning to re-emerge in neighbouring Azerbaijan and Karabakh was inevitably very vulnerable to the spread of this and other diseases. I was delighted when MERLIN (Medical Emergency Relief International) accompanied me on a visit to assess the situation and agreed to establish an Immunization Programme for the whole of Karabakh. Their brave team stayed throughout the war years and the Immunization Programme has been maintained until today.
The health care system now functions well and there is a brand-new hospital in the centre of the capital city, Stepanakert. Provincial hospitals and clinics are gradually being restored from grimy, war-torn, Soviet style buildings to modern, bright and well-equipped facilities.
It is not surprising that visitors from around the world now travel to this little land, via the historically fascinating land of Armenia. Eight of my ten grandchildren have accompanied me for transformational experiences. They have witnessed for themselves how people can survive horrendous suffering with dignity, and rebuild their land with indomitable courage combined with aesthetic inspiration.
It has been my privilege to travel 82 times to Armenia and Karabakh. Many of these visits were during the horrors of the war; many during the subsequent years of cease-fire. It has been humbling and inspiring to witness the ‘Spirit of Armenia’ rising like a Phoenix from the ashes of death and destruction, enabling the people to share with visitors their love of their land, their history and their rich culture of music, dance, art – all in the context of the breath-taking beauty of their land’s rugged mountains, thick forests, fertile valleys and crystal rivers.
Truly, one of the most fascinating places and some of the most inspirational people it has been my privilege to visit.
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