Armenia hails new weapon in war with Azerbaijan: Kim Kardashian
It's hard to imagine Kim Kardashian, one of the world's most famous reality TV stars, at her family's ancestral home in Armenia. So we did it for you!
Samvel Balasayan doesn't look like a man who spends a lot of time keeping up with the Kardashians. As the mayor of Armenia's second largest city, Gyumri, he has enough on his plate - and like most middle-aged men, he is not that fascinated by the everyday reality TV stars in LA.
Still, Mr Balasayan can boast of one thing most of Kim Kardashian's 190 million social media fans can only dream of: he actually met her. Gyumri is where her ancestors are from, and when she returned to town for an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians five years ago, he was at the VIP welcome party.
"Gyumri became famous for its program," beamed Mr. Balasayan, who wants to promote the city as a tourist destination. "We are very happy that Kim has put us on the world map."
For now, however, Ms. Kardashian has turned her considerable publicity powers to a more pressing Armenian cause: the war against Azerbaijan over the controversial Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, which has claimed more than 300 lives since it erupted two weeks ago.
"Please share the news," she posted on her Instagram account. "We pray for the brave men and women who risk their lives to protect Artsakh (the local name for Nagorno Karabakh's self-declared republic) and #Armenia."
The rundown home of Kim Kardashian that The Sunday Telegraph visited this week
Ms. Kardashian's online profile is so large that what she said about Nagorno Karabakh may have been viewed as equal, if not more, to those of Armenia's elected leaders. While many Cardashian followers may have only a passing interest in Nagorno-Karabakh, there is another worldwide constituency that couldn't be closer to the heart: the global Armenian diaspora.
The diaspora stretches from Los Angeles to Lebanon and is also found in France, Russia and west London. It is a legacy of the First World War, when up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks.
Turkey denies Armenian claims it was genocide and said the deaths occurred during the civil war, but the scale of the exodus is beyond doubt. The diaspora is estimated to be 11 million strong - compared to just 3 million in Armenia.
Since the conflict with Azerbaijan flared up, the exiles have mobilized en masse - some are holding demonstrations, some are organizing relief supplies, and some are even volunteering for frontline service.
"Armenia is a small country that is always at the mercy of other rich people, and we have only two allies: our army and our diaspora," said Vartan Marashlyan, executive director of the Repat Armenia Organization, a group based in the capital, Yerevan, promotes the commitment of the Diaspora. "Whenever we have an existential problem, the entire nation becomes an army."
The diaspora had been mobilized on a large scale in 1988 and helped Gyumri after an earthquake that killed at least 25,000 people.
Since the diaspora is traditionally well organized - there are around 30,000 Armenian parish and church groups worldwide - the contribution to the recent war effort is substantial. Approximately £ 60 million in donations have already gone to the Hayastan All Armenian Fund, a national charity.
Thousands have now returned home to help, from doctors and trauma psychologists from LA to Russian-Armenian business magnates. Some offer expertise in IT or logistics - while others, like Allen Sayadyan, a 40-year-old LA real estate agent, simply offer goodwill.
The Telegraph met him last weekend in Nagorno-Karabakh, where he and several friends had gone to donate medical supplies, cigarettes and water. At that time he visited the Cathedral of the Holy Savior in the city of Shushi, the dome of which has since been shelled by Azerbaijani forces.
"I'm only here to help as I can," he said. "I would fight if asked, even though I honestly have never picked up a gun."
The Mayor of Gyumri, Samvel Balasanyan - JULIAN SIMMONDS
Gyumri street scene. Gyumri Armenia - JULIAN SIMMONDS
Another expat who took action is 32-year-old IT project manager Haik Kazazian, who returned to Armenia from Montreal two years ago. When the war broke out, he called up friends in the Canadian diaspora on Facebook and expected no more than 500 CDN (£ 300). He has already received CDN $ 20,000 (£ 11,750).
"Nobody in Montreal sleeps at night, everyone is as concerned as possible," said Mr. Kazarian as he stood in a yard full of vegetables and toiletries ready to be sent in a van to families displaced by the fighting were.
Like Mr. Sayadyan, Mr. Kazarian has no military service experience, although he has offered his services at his local army headquarters in Yerevan. However, with Armenia still full of battle veterans from the last war with Azerbaijan in the 1990s and also running a national utility, it felt like it wasn't needed.
"I felt like the war effort would go really badly when things got to the point where I had to sign up," he smiled. "Aid convoys are probably the best way I can help."
Similarly, no one expects Ms. Kardashian to swap out her raunchy outfits for designer military clothing and go to the front lines. But back in Gyumri, your support for the cause has certainly raised the morale among some of those who try to help.
"I would definitely like her phone number," joked Svoyan Sasun, 30, as he occupied a booth in the city center to collect food and clothes. "People here criticize, but when the nation is in its hour of need, they all love."
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