In an annual telethon broadcast from Los Angeles, a pan-Armenian charity has received $12.4 million in donations that will be mostly be used for financing the ongoing construction of a second highway connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.
As always, the Thanksgiving Day fundraiser organized by the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund featured prominent members of the Armenian community in the United States and Karabakh Armenian leaders. It was broadcast live by Armenian and U.S.-Armenian TV channels.
Passenger and cargo traffic between Armenia and Karabakh has until now been mainly carried out through a highway passing through Lachin, one of the seven districts in Azerbaijan proper that were partly or fully occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war.
The Lachin road stretches for more than 80 kilometers from the Karabakh capital Stepanakert to the southeastern Armenian town of Goris. It was built in 1997 with the financial assistance of the Armenian Diaspora and U.S.-Armenian billionaire Kirk Kerkorian in particular.
The second, 116-kilometer-long road link, which began to be constructed in 2011, will run from the northern Karabakh town of Martakert to Vartenis in eastern Armenia through the Kelbajar district that has been under Karabakh Armenian control since 1993.
Officials say that the new highway will not only shorten travel time between Yerevan and Stepanakert but also spur economic activity in nearby rural communities and bring more tourists to Karabakh. It should also benefit a major Armenian company mining gold and copper in northern Karabakh. The company, Base Metals, is Karabakh’s single largest corporate employer and taxpayer.
The Hayastan fund began financing the project after its previous telethon and other fundraisers in November 2013 that netted more than $22 million in donations. Most of that money was contributed by wealthy Russian-Armenian entrepreneurs.
“With proceeds from the 2014 Telethon, the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund will complete the asphalting of the entire highway as well as install all remaining safety and navigation components, including traffic signs and lane marks,” the Diaspora-funded charity said on November 10. In a short statement issued on Friday it did not clarify whether the televised fundraiser lived up to its expectations.
Hayastan’s executive director, Ara Vartanian, said earlier this year that $20 million is needed for completing the “strategic” road project by the end of 2015.
Hayastan has implemented over $260 million worth of infrastructure projects in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh since its establishment over two decades ago. The fund’scurrent Board of Trustees is headed by President Serzh Sarkisian and comprises other senior Armenian state officials, Catholicos Garegin II as well as prominent representatives of Armenian communities around the world.