The little-reported conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh still isn’t fully resolved after 30 years. However one man believes he has a surprising peacemaking resource – the region’s wounded and disabled people.
Joseph Stalin left a terrible legacy: millions were killed, imprisoned in gulags or just starved to death. However, 65 years after his passing, Stalin’s legacy still casts a long shadow.
The landlocked region of Nagorno-Karabakh – in the South Caucasus, to the east of Turkey – still lives in the shadow of that legacy. In 1921, Stalin gifted the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, then Armenian, to Azerbaijan.
Karabakh Armenians lobbied President Gorbachev for the region to be returned to Soviet Armenia in 1988. The request was refused and an ethnic conflict broke out between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, turning to full scale war after the Soviet Union dissolved.
Thousands died and thousands more were injured and left disabled. This is where we discover another terrible legacy of Stalin…
No way back
When Armenian Vardan Tadevosyan was invited to start a rehabilitation centre in Nagorno-Karabakh, for men and women with physical and mental disabilities, there was nowhere else giving help in the region. The former Soviet Union didn’t ‘do’ rehabilitation.
‘Where I grew up in Yerevan, you wouldn’t see anyone in a wheelchair,’ remembers Vardan. ‘Even today, in Nagorno-Karabakh, there’s still no concept of disabled people having any rights, or of them being properly integrated into society.’
People with disabilities were either hidden away in institutions or inside the family home. And those who had experienced the horrors of war had nowhere to turn, to deal with the traumas.
Vardan was asked by former nurse and peer Baroness Cox to set up the centre, after working in a rehabilitation centre in neighbouring Armenia. To get the work going, he was gifted a building, albeit one badly damaged by the bombing.