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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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EU journalism prize awarded for investigation into migrant boat shipwreck

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EU Parliament journalism prize awarded for investigation into migrant boat shipwreck
A Greek, German and British consortium has won the 2023 Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for investigating journalism.

A Greek, German and British consortium has won the 2023 Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for investigating the Adriana shipwreck, which left over 600 migrants dead off Pylos in Greece.

The joint investigation by the Greek investigative outlet Solomon, in collaboration with Forensis, the German public broadcaster StrgF/ARD, and the British newspaper The Guardian revealed how the deadliest migrant shipwreck in recent history happened as a result of the actions taken by the Greek Coast Guard. It also reveals inconsistencies in the Greek authorities’ official accounts.


Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, Pina Picierno, Vice-President responsible for the Prize, and Juliane Hielscher, President of the Berlin Press Club and representative of the 28 members of the independent European-wide Jury, participated in the award ceremony held in the Daphne Caruana Galizia Press Room of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

“Today, as every year, we honour Daphne Caruana Galizia’s memory with a prize that is a powerful reminder of her fight for truth and justice. Journalists around the world continue to be targeted just for doing their job, but they refuse to be silenced. This Parliament stands by their side in this long-standing battle to safeguard press freedom and media pluralism in Europe and beyond”, said Metsola.

When accepting the prize on behalf of the winning consortium, Iliana Papangeli of Solomon said: “The fatal event has forced us to confront questions about so-called European values and where the EU really stands on protecting human life – regardless of passport, ethnicity, race, gender, disability, or class. This joint investigation showed how violent and restrictive EU migration policies are, ultimately leading to a massive loss of life”.

Between 3 May and 31 July 2023, more than 700 journalists from the 27 EU countries submitted their stories for consideration. Twelve of these submissions were shortlisted by the jury before the overall winner was decided.

About the winning story

The investigation took an in-depth look into the events surrounding the loss of the fishing trawler Adriana on 14 June this year some 50 nautical miles off Pylos, in south-western Greece, killing over 600 migrants who had left Libya some days earlier.

Over 20 interviews were made with survivors, and court documents and coastguard sources were looked into. The findings detail missed rescue opportunities and offers of assistance that were ignored, whereas the survivors’ testimonies indicate that it was the attempts by the Greek coastguard to tow the trawler that ultimately caused its sinking. The Greek coastguard denied that it attempted to tow the trawler.

The fateful night was simulated by Forensis using interactive 3D modelling of the trawler thanks to data from the coastguard’s log and testimony of the coast guard vessel’s captain, as well as from flight paths, maritime traffic data, satellite imagery and videos taken by nearby shipping vessels and other sources.

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Three countries to receive over €450 million in EU aid after natural disasters

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Romania will receive €33.9 million following damage caused by severe 2022 drought | Photo : Mircea Solomiea

The European Parliament has approved nearly €455 million in EU Solidarity Fund aid in response to recent natural disasters in Romania, Italy and Türkiye.

MEPs expressed their “deepest solidarity with all the victims, their families and all the individuals affected” by the natural disasters in Romania, Italy and Türkyie. They pointed out to the “increasing number of severe and destructive natural disasters in Europe”, stressing that “due to climate change extreme weather events such as those observed in Romania and Italy resulting in emergencies are going to further intensify and multiply”.

The European Commission has proposed to use the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) to grant financial assistance of € 454,835,030to the three countries. EUSF assistance will cover parts of the costs of emergency and recovery operations like repairing damaged infrastructure, securing preventive infrastructure and the protection of cultural heritage, as well as clean-up operations. Under the fund’s rules, emergency and recovery operations may be financed by the EUSF retroactively from day one of a disaster.

The aid package was approved by 593 votes in favour, 11 votes against and 22 abstentions.

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Writing competition for children in the UK is open for submissions

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Primary school aged children from across the UK can submit their own original short story until 8pm Friday 10 November

A writing competition for children in the UK is currently receiving submissions.

Primary school aged children from across the UK can submit their own original short until 8pm Friday 10 November. 

The competition, which is supported by BBC Teach, encourages children of all abilities to dive deep into their imagination and write the story they would love to read in 500 words or less, without fear of spelling, grammar or punctuation errors. 

Competition prizes

50 finalists, along with their parents or carers, will be invited to attend the grand final in February 2024 at Buckingham Palace. The event will be shown as part of a special 500 Words programme with The One Show on World Book Day®, Thursday 7 March 2024.  

At the event, the bronze, silver and gold winners of both age groups, 5-7 and 8-11, will receive a selection of exciting prizes, including having their stories read by famous faces and a bundle of books to help continue their love of the written word. 

The two gold winners will receive not only the height of judge, Sir Lenny Henry, in books, but 500 books for their schools.

Silver winners will get their hands on the height of Her Majesty in books, and bronze winners will receive the average height of a 7 or 11 year old in books. 

All of their stories will be illustrated by children’s illustrators – Joelle Avelino, Axel Scheffler, Fiona Lumbers, Sue Cheung, Jamie Smart, and Steven Lenton – framed, and put into a 500 Words winners’ book. 

Every finalist will receive a £20 National Book Token and their stories will be recorded and published to the BBC Teach website.  

“We are delighted to be running this year’s 500 Words competition. It goes to the heart of everything we do in BBC Education. Ever since it began, the short story writing competition has always been for every child, no matter what their ability. It is all about creativity with no need to worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar”, says Helen Foulkes, Head of BBC Education.

Every story will be entered into a random draw, where one lucky winner will receive a ticket to the grand final, and their school will receive a bundle of 500 books and literacy wall art of their choice. 

Since the competition first launched in 2011, it has received over one million entries.

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