First published in the Dec. 4 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
State Sen. Anthony Portantino recently returned from an “emotional” trip to Artsakh, during which he toured the countryside and “broke bread with heroes,” according to a statement from his office.
It is believed that this is the first time a state or federal elected official has visited the region, which Armenians at large contend is an ancestral piece of their nation, since the end of the 44-day war, the senator’s office added.
“I was honored to have been asked to go to Artsakh and deeply affected by my time there,” Portantino, a La Cañada Flintridge Democrat who represents Glendale, said in a statement. “In particular, in the village of Taghavard, I encountered the most resilient and strong people I have ever met. Their pride and determination to live peacefully on their lands was both inspiring and emotional.
“At the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center, I observed a classroom of autistic children receiving loving care and spent time with war heroes who are dealing with the significant personal consequences of the war,” he continued. “Government officials and residents made ardent pleas to the international community to recognize the sovereignty of Artsakh and to advocate for human rights and dignity.”
While in Artsakh, the senator met with President Arayik Harutyunyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs David Babayan, Minister of Education, Science and Culture Lusine Gharakhanyan and leaders of the Artsakh Parliament. In addition, he visited the frontlines during a tour of Taghavard village in the Martuni region.
In Taghavard, he bore witness the “consequences of the unprovoked war,” Portantino said, noting destroyed homes and a prominent church that was leveled by the Azeri military’s shelling. Additionally, he met with village leaders, soldiers and survivors of the war.
Portantino said he also toured a school damaged by bullets and bombs but later revitalized by the Armenia Fund. At a church, he said he was shown remnants of missiles and was later taken to a cemetery, where family members “proudly and emotionally” mourned the loss of young men and women who fought in the conflict last year.
“This was by far the most emotional visit I’ve taken to Artsakh. The personal stories and first-hand accounts of the war were both inspiring and sad. Walking through the rubble of a once thriving home with the grandson of the owner was quite emotional,” Portantino said.
“And seeing the harsh reality of adjacent Azeri military camps and infrastructure advances were imminent and concerning. Standing below the deserted city of Shushi was particularly disturbing, as I have such fond memories of my last visit there. And seeing the proximity to danger school children face every day when they go outside to play was unsettling and all too real,” he added.
“Given the recent and continued aggression in Syunik and the unprovoked actions on the Shushi-Berdzor road,” Portantino added, “we know that the international community needs to act with humanitarian passion and dedicated support for the Armenian people who are facing a well-funded military with destructive intent.”