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A center has supported pregnant women in Artsakh since 1995

Lucine Arakelyan, a Stepanakert resident, is now expecting her fifth child. Unemployed and with her husband serving in the military, she has been receiving assistance from the Arpen Center. 

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Since its inception 28 years ago, the Arpen Center has assisted some 34,000 mothers | Photo: Arteida Mjeshtri

When the Arpen Center for Expectant Mothers opened in December 1995 in Stepanakert, the capital of the landlocked enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh (known to its Armenian inhabitants as Artsakh), it focused on providing critical prenatal assistance and nutrition to expectant mothers, starting from their third month of pregnancy. As economic conditions improved in the predominantly indigenous Armenian-populated war-torn enclave following a war and independence from the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Center limited its services to the financially distressed pregnant women expecting their fourth child.

Lucine Arakelyan, a Stepanakert resident, is now expecting her fifth child. Unemployed and with her husband serving in the military, she has been receiving assistance from the Arpen Center. 

Arakelyan is among the 120,000 residents of the Republic of Artsakh who, since December 12, 2022, have lived under the siege of Azerbaijan’s blockade on the Lachin corridor–the only road linking the unrecognized republic with the Republic of Armenia. Since the blockade by a group of “eco-activists” identified as government officials and ex-soldiers, Artsakh has lived under rolling blackouts, resulting in unpredictable gas supplies and Internet connectivity. Over 33,200 children have remained deprived of education as schools closed. The blockade continues in spite of the international community’s pressure for its end, and the February 22, 2023 decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ordered Azerbaijan to end Nagorno-Karabakh roadblock and ensure unimpeded traffic along the corridor.  

There have been over 329 children born since the blockade. Now over 5,700 of Artsakh’s population is now unemployed as over 750 businesses stopped operations, unable to provide products and services. The blockade has stopped the transport of over 400 tons of critical goods, food, and medicine from Armenia–forcing a food rationing system which has been in place since late last year.

“We’re somehow coping with this blockade. We are happy to have whatever we can from the Arpen Center…but we also need funds to afford critical medical procedures for my children,” says Arakelyan. “My eldest has third degree scoliosis and needs a surgery which requires large sums. We’ve been seeing a doctor once a month in Armenia, but since the blockade, it hasn’t been possible to travel. My youngest child needs an eye surgery–she’s blind in one eye.”

Lucine Arakelyan, expecting her fifth child, visits the Arpen Center

The blockade has also delayed some 800 surgeries in Artsakh. Through mediation, the International Committee of the Red Cross has transferred 153 critical patients to Armenia.

The Arpen Center continues to provide services to 72 expectant mothers registered at the Stepanakert public maternity hospital. With one full-time staff managing the daily operations, the Center provides five rations–supplies of sugar, rice, buckwheat, vermicelli, oil, pasta, and newborn clothing–primarily to residents of Stepanakert and the immediate surrounding region Askeran that includes many displaced refugees from the war-torn towns of Hadrut, Kashatagh, and Shushi.

Since its inception 28 years ago, the Arpen Center has assisted some 34,000 mothers who gave birth to 33,726 children. Even after Azerbaijan unleashed a 44-day war on the enclave in 2020, resulting in over 7,000 civilian casualties, the Center’s uninterrupted services continued to provide non-perishable food supplies to expectant mothers with multiple children.

The Artsakh Ministry of Healthcare reports that newborns and their mothers in the region now face dire shortages of baby food, diapers, medicines, and other necessities.

The dispute between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh dates back to the fall of the Soviet Union and the enclave’s constitutionally legal referendum in 1991 for independence and secession from Azerbaijan–the republic was carved out based on the gerrymandering undertaken by Josef Stalin a century ago. When Azerbaijan declared its own independence from Moscow, as Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin explains, “it explicitly embraced pre-Soviet borders that omitted Nagorno-Karabakh.”

In Memory of An Armenian Genocide Survivor

The Arpen Center, founded by American-Armenian physician and philanthropists, Dr. Carolann Najarian and her husband, George Najarian, is named after Arpen Abrahamian, Dr. Najarian’s mother–an Armenian Genocide refugee from Arapgir who after surviving the Ottoman Empire’s atrocities settled in America. Since its inception, the Center has expanded services throughout the years to meet the local population’s developing needs.

“It has been a great satisfaction for our family to know that in our mother’s name, pregnant women have received sustenance and support during their pregnancies throughout the years. Some women have returned to the Arpen Center three or four times for help. That gives us great satisfaction, especially now, amidst this blockade and humanitarian crisis,” says Dr. Najarian. “I cannot imagine what it is like to have three children, pregnant with your fourth child, and not have enough food to eat. Arpen Center doesn’t provide everything, but it is a lifeline to mothers in need.”  

Gurgen Melikyan, founder of the Gurgen Melikyan Multi-children Family Foundation of Kashatagh (a 501 C3 non-profit) which provides aid to the Center, explains how the current expectant mothers traveling from far distant locations receive two to three months’ supply in one visit.

“The Arpen Center contributes to a healthy increase of birth rates in Artsakh. It provides the direly needed nutrition and essentials to ease hardships facing families with multiple children and alleviates the daily struggles and social burden expectant mothers face,” says Melikyan.

The Center has also assisted orphans under the age of 18 and the disabled in the aftermath of the first Karabakh war. Melikyan says some children born to the mothers who received assistance from the Arpen Center, now serve in the army defending the borders of their homeland. Donations to his Foundation allow for continued “made in Armenia” clothing supplies for the children born to Arpen Center mothers.

As the blockade continues, recent skirmishes between Azerbaijani troops and Artsakh police resulted in five deaths. With trickles of goods and products reaching the enclave, Karabakh and Azerbaijan officials have held meetings to discuss possible resolutions to the stand-off. Whether “2023 will be a breakthrough year in the normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia” as Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev expressed recently to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Baku, Melikyan says the Arpen Center will continue to provide for expectant mothers to ensure healthy birth rates in the region.

Jackie Abramian is committed to amplifying the work of women peace-builders, change makers and social entrepreneurs. She is a social enterprise advisor and the founder of Global Cadence consultancy.

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£125,000 in grants awarded to UK creatives to support careers in screen arts

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Emerging creative from low socio-economic backgrounds are amongst the talent receiving bursaries.

BAFTA announced over £125,000 in grants have been awarded to 69 talented creatives to support their career development in the screen arts.  

This year, grants of up to £2,000 each have been made available to 58 emerging creatives including production assistants, costumer designers, writers, game designers, and camera and sound trainees to help them progress in their respective crafts. The grants will go towards essential costs such as driving lessons, specialist equipment, training and relocation costs that might otherwise lock talented people out of a screen arts career.  

The Prince William BAFTA Bursary scheme is named in honour of BAFTA’s President. Kickstarted with the support of film director Paul Greengrass, it is now in its fourth year.

For the first time, BAFTA is also awarding grants to individuals who have been forcibly displaced in collaboration with the Refugee Journalism Project. £30,000 in funding has been awarded to 11 recipients including journalists, editors, directors and videographers.  

The Refugee Journalism Project builds on BAFTA’s recent work with Counterpoint Arts – highlighting the importance of authentic portrayals of refugees on-screen, including recent events with BAFTA award-winning filmmaker and activist Hassan Akkad, a masterclass with BAFTA award-winning director Waad al-Kateab, and ‘Introduction to Filmmaking’ workshops with Deadbeat Films. 

Supporting the next generation of talent is an essential part of our mission. The Prince William BAFTA Bursary Fund is a fantastically effective way to kick-start careers, particularly for those who face socio and economic inequality. The bursaries are transformative for career starters, enabling them to buy an essential piece of kit, secure training, or in some cases it’s as simple as getting driving lessons so they can get to set! There is no shortage of potential in our workforce. Unfortunately, the opportunity to act on that potential is all too often limited by financial barriers. So, I’m delighted to continue The Prince William BAFTA Bursary Fund, thanks to our incredibly generous network of donors and supporters,” says Jane Millichip, CEO of BAFTA.

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Qatar museum opens exhibition revealing new voices from the Arab world

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Qatar museums opens exhibition revealing new voices from the Arab world
"Take Shelter" is one of the films showing during "Your Ghosts Are Mine, Expanded Cinemas, Amplified Voices" | Photo: still courtesy © LA CHAUVE-SOURIS

Qatar Museum has opened Your Ghosts Are Mine, Expanded Cinemas, Amplified Voices, a major exhibition coinciding with the 60th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale, bringing together works by filmmakers and video artists from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. On view at ACP Palazzo Franchetti (through 24 November), the exhibition presents a journey in moving images through contemporary experiences of community life and memory, transnational crossings and exile.

Your Ghosts Are Mine is produced by Qatar Museums and co-organised by Doha Film Institute, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and the future Art Mill Museum in collaboration with ACP Art Capital Partners and with support from Media City Qatar. It is curated by Matthieu Orléan with Majid Al-Remaihi and Virgile Alexandre, with exhibition design by Federico Martelli and Clément Périssé. The advisory committee includes Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, Zeina Arida and Catherine Grenier.

The exhibition explores themes such as deserts, ruins, borders, exile and women’s voices through films supported by Doha Film Institute and video works from Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and the future Art Mill Museum.

The works span fiction, documentary, animation and memoir. Included are excerpts from works by over 40 artists including Faouzi Bensaidi (Morocco), Jessica Beshir (Ethiopia), Ali Cherri (Lebanon), Tala Hadid (Morroco), Joana Hadjithomas (Lebanon), Khalil Joreige (Lebanon), Soudade Kaadan (Syria), Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese (Lesotho), Asmae El Moudir (Morocco), Amal Al-Muftah (Qatar), Shirin Neshat (Iran), Larissa Sansour (Palestine), Abderrhamane Sissako (Mauritania), Elia Suleiman (Palestine), Ramata-Toulaye Sy (Senegal), Tariq Teguia (Algeria), Shaima Al Tamini (Yemen), plus works by Wael Shawky, Lida Abdul, Hassan Khan and Sophia Al Maria.

Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums and Doha Film Institute, said, “Your Ghosts Are Mine will open the eyes of international viewers to the ideas, feelings, and artistic visions of today’s filmmakers from the Arab world and neighbouring regions. With this exhibition, Qatar Museums advances its mission of encouraging understanding across borders, while Doha Film Institute continues to nurture rising talents of our region.”  

A schedule of film screenings accompanying the exhibition is available here.    

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Thousands of free travel passes available to travel around Europe

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A solo traveler in Europe
Successful applicants will get a free rail pass to travel in Europe for up to 30 days

Starting this summer, thousands of young people will once again travel around Europe by train for free thanks to the latest call of the DiscoverEU programme. Today at 12:00 CET during the European Youth Week buzzing with activities, the Commission launched the latest DiscoverEU application round. It will end on Tuesday 30 April at 12:00 CET.

In total, 35,500 travel passes are available. To get one, young people born between 1 July 2005 and 30 June 2006 can do a quiz with five questions about the EU and one additional question on the European Youth Portal. Successful applicants will get a free rail pass to travel in Europe for up to 30 days between 1 July 2024 and 30 September 2025.

The call is open to applicants from the European Union and countries associated to the Erasmus+ programme including Iceland, Liechtenstein, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Türkiye. Ticket holders can plan their own routes or be inspired by existing ones. For example, they can discover a route launched last year, which focuses on cities and places making the European Union ‘beautiful, sustainable and inclusive’ in line with the principles of the New European Bauhaus.

Participants can also benefit from the DiscoverEU Culture Route an initiative of the 2022 European Year of Youth that combines various cultural destinations including architecture, music, fine art, theatre, fashion and design. Participants can visit the European Capitals of Culture which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List,  European Heritage Label sites, or Access City Award label locations, which are cities that have gone above and beyond to become more accessible to everyone.

Participants will also receive a discount card with over 40,000 discount possibilities on public transport, culture, accommodation, food, sports and other services in eligible countries. Additionally, Erasmus+ National Agencies organise pre-departure information meetings, and national agencies across all Erasmus+ countries prepare DiscoverEU Meet-ups, learning programmes lasting from one to three days.

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