Inside the rush to help thousands of Armenian refugees

Los Angeles' large Armenian-American community continues to monitor the situation in the region of Artsakh closely, with many locals traveling to Armenia to help the tens of thousands impacted by a humanitarian crisis there that's resulting in ethnic cleansing.

More than 100,000 people who have fled the region of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) have made it to the city of Goris, Armenia. 

Much like three years ago, during the 2020 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, many individuals and organizations from Los Angeles have gone to help.

The non-profit Artsakh's Nvehr was inspired three years ago, by a picture of a 2-year-old boy with a torn shoe named Nvehr, whose family was seeking shelter. In 2020, through generous donations, funds were raised by the Armenian Diaspora around the world.

Now, they're doing much of the same for the 120,000 indigenous Christian Armenians who have instantly become displaced. They have fled their homes afraid they will be killed or jailed, after a nearly 10-month blockade by Azerbaijan, which left them without food or medicine.

"The trauma that they've endured in blockade has been so devastating," said Meline Elian, the founder of Artsakh's Nvehr. "I think it would take them a year to just get over it. Obviously it had affected them very much. They lost so much weight. I couldn't even recognize some of them."

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On Sept. 19, after Azerbaijan's military began to heavily shell civilians, it resulted in the forced surrender of their homeland. Now, there is a mass exodus of people who have been traveling for days to get to Armenia. The Armenian government is facing a sudden increase of its population by nearly 5%. Right now, the focus is to provide food and shelter to help bring them back to life.

"One of the boys was so malnourished… He looked like an old man," said Elian. "It took us one day to get them back and by the evening they had rosy cheeks. They were talking. They were joking with us."

In the last several days, the back room of a carpet weaving center has been turned into a shelter. 

"It didn't have even a bathroom or a kitchen, so we bought a stove, plates and cups," said Elian.

Up to 60 refugees are being housed at the makeshift shelter. 

"They come and go. So it's a stopping place where they come. They stay the night for a night, a day or two," said Elian.

Goris is the first point of entry into Armenia. It's where everyone is registered, then they essentially have to start from scratch.

"There are homes taht are housing two, three families," Elian said. "Goris is packed."

The people arriving are still in shock. Some said they "have nowhere to go," others said they'll "stay in the car and then see what happens."

"It's like a bad dream," Elian said. "It cannot be real that we are here. These people work hard. They build a life, they're good people."