LOS ANGELES - Nanor Balabanian said she felt her heart guide her to leave Los Angeles and move to Armenia. Balabanian and her dog "Coco” moved to Armenia the day before the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan began and now, Coco has been serving as a therapy dog to injured Armenian soldiers.
In addition, Balabanian has put her teaching credentials to use helping the children impacted by the war.
"Coco, I believe is Armenia's first therapy dog and we are so happy to be here with him. At first the idea was strange, but this clinic was so welcoming and because Coco has done a lot of therapy work in the U.S. they welcomed him,” said Balabanian.
The soldiers welcomed Coco right away “Since Coco's has been here, it's transformed the hospital. I think the soldiers get so happy when we come to nurses, the doctors. It just kind of has created this new atmosphere," she explained.
Balabanian’s background is in education.
So, she began a daycare for the children who have been impacted by the war in Artsakh. Her goal is to give them some sense of normalcy.
Balabanian is working to provide educational enrichment opportunities for children, designing project-based classes in STEM, which involves art, music, Armenian literature, English, sports politics and social issues. She is working in collaboration with Impact HUB Yerevan and Hidden Road Initiative, a non-governmental organization she started 10 years ago.
On the side, she’s been busy working at the hospital and bringing books, music and art therapy to the injured soldiers.
"We have a French guy who painted these paintings, half of them, and the soldiers are supposed to finish the other half. We just try to find ways to. Get their mind off of the pain because it's a lot of pain," she explained.
Balabanian said most of the injuries she has seen are of arms, hands and legs.
Avedis is a 27-year-old married father of a two-year-old girl. He said he is aware of the support from the Armenian-American community in Los Angeles. He said the encouragement gives him strength.
"You feel a sense of pride when you see the images -- the entire Armenian is united and standing with you-- you don’t feel alone," he said.
Vahan was also at the hospital recovering from surgery. He is 46-years-old and remembers participating in this same war in the early 1990s.
He talked about how things are different this time around: “Before it was automatic weaponry now it is a serious technology war, with a computer they can do more damage than one thousand men. For someone fighting there is nothing to fear. You went, now you will either come back or you won't. If you’re going to be scared, stay home then, why did you come?”
Balabanian said she hasn’t had second thoughts about her decision to move to Armenia.
She said in her heart she knows this is where she needs to be, doing what she can.
"We are experiencing as a nation, one of the deepest pains we have slipped through in this. Last 23, 30 years for us 20 something millennials, this is one of the most painful, horrific things. And for our parents who experienced the earthquake, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the first war, even for them, the level of weapons, the level of torture and just hatred and. It is unbelievable,” said Balabanian.