Protect ARTsakh auction to open on December 14

Fantastic selection of art showcased in fundraising sale for Armenian refugees

Many of us will remember how we celebrated special occasions in 2020, with Covid-19 having curtailed so many of our plans, but Lara Arslanian’s birthday, which fell on October 7, in the second week of the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict, will stay in her mind for an entirely different reason.

“My family, friends and fellow Armenians around the world were all focused on what was happening in Artsakh. Everyone was donating money and trying to help,” explained Lara, who is of Armenian descent. “I wanted to do the same and found myself wracking my brains about what I could do to make a difference.”

As a gallerist based in Belgium, Lara began to think whether she could use her industry expertise and experience to help fundraise for the cause. In the days that followed, she and her friends, Garabed Bardakjian and Sarine Samerjian, came up with a concrete plan in the form of a charity auction and began reaching out to artists. To their delight, the response was fantastic. 

“Everyone I contacted was incredibly positive and keen to help, which was just the encouragement I needed to put things into motion,” she said.

The result of their efforts is an impressive online benefit auction, titled ‘Protect ARTsakh’, which will run from December 14 to 20, showcasing an impressive 78 lots of works by 60 artists.

Lara, Garabed and Sarine have been overwhelmed by the generosity of artists who’ve contributed pieces to the auction and are equally excited about the variety of styles featured. “We have a fantastic mix of work – I’m so grateful to everyone,” Lara said.

One of the featured artists is the Armenian-born sculptor Mikayel Ohanjanyan, who has donated a groundbreaking piece of work, comprising two plaster blocks, linked with polyester thread, aptly showing the coexistence of strength and fragility. The work was a highlight of the Armenian pavilion at the 2015 edition of the Venice Biennale, which won the Golden Lion Award that year and was curated by Adelina Cüberyan von Fürstenberg, herself of Armenian descent.

Other artists whose work will be available to bid on include: Mekhitar Garabedian; Lionel Esteve; Rafel Megall; Adam Parker Smith; Silvina Der Meguerditchian; and Hrair Sarkissian.

The three friends are hoping that audiences will match the generosity of the contributing artists, given the scale of the crisis in Armenia. Lara is also very aware that the conflict hasn’t made the mainstream news in any detail, due to other big stories, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the US election, being given so much coverage.

“Aside from the major events that have dominated the media this year, I think Armenia is often overlooked when it comes to tensions around international relations because it’s a small country,” she explained. “The diaspora community is much bigger than its population, while its neighbours - Turkey and Azerbaijan – with whom Armenia has long-running issues, are larger and more powerful. They have more resources and just as importantly, better access to international media.”

This latest conflict in a longstanding series was sparked when tensions suddenly resurfaced in September over the disputed region of Artsakh, as it is known to the Armenians, or Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding territories. Located in the southeast of the Armenian Highlands, the region is officially part of Azerbaijan, but its population is almost entirely Armenian.  

Six weeks of fighting ensued in an armed conflict between Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, and Artsakh, together with Armenia, in which thousands of people were killed or injured.

Lara explained that a peace treaty signed under pressure stipulating that the territories must be handed over to Azerbaijan had terrible consequences for the Armenians living in the region, instantly making around 100,000 of them refugees. 

“It was impossible for the Armenian people living there – whose ancestors date back 2000 years – to remain in the region, governed by their enemy, once that decision was made; they were immediately made homeless, with many families having also lost the head of the household, who is traditionally the breadwinner in these communities, and the children being forced to leave school.”

The plan is for money raised from the auction to go towards broader fundraising efforts that will not only deal with immediate critical issues facing the refugees returning to Armenia, but also support them in their long-term rehabilitation.

“Aside from assisting them with their immediate needs, such as housing, heating and food, the idea is to help these people to create a sustainable way of life for the future, in segments such as agri-business, for example,” Lara said. “All three of us are touched that so many wonderful artists have contributed to this important cause and hope that audiences will take the opportunity to buy a fantastic piece of art, knowing that by doing so, they’re helping thousands of innocent people pick up the pieces of their lives.”

‘Protect ARTsakh’ will run from December 14 to 20 on the ArtScoops platform.

Click here to view the auction.

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