Members of Toronto’s Armenian community are mourning the death of a Canadian-Armenian businessman and community activist who was killed in Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday.
Kristapor Artin, a former Toronto resident who moved to Armenia in 2011, was killed while fighting against Azerbaijani forces in the breakaway Armenian-populated region, the Armenian National Committee of Canada (ANCC) said on Wednesday.
“It is with great sorrow that the Canadian-Armenian community mourns the passing of one of its repatriated members, Kristapor Artin,” the ANCC said in a Facebook post, adding that he was “an active member of the Toronto Armenian community, before repatriating with his family to his homeland, Armenia.
“Our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones. May his soul Rest In Peace.”
According to a brief statement from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), one of the oldest political parties in Armenia and the worldwide Armenia diaspora, Artin was one of several ARF volunteers who were killed while trying to recapture a strategic point in the region.
Fierce fighting broke out on Sept. 27 along the entire Line of Contact that separated Armenian and Azerbaijani forces following a 1994 Russia-brokered ceasefire, as Azerbaijan moved to reclaim the breakaway region.
Sevan Hajiartinian said she’d known Artin since her childhood, when he was her camp counsellor in Toronto. She said she was shocked and devastated by the news.
‘He volunteered to go’
“But at the same time I wasn’t surprised that he was the one that went there … because of his passion for Armenia, his passion for our people,” Hajiartinian said. “He volunteered to go, he wasn’t doing this as a job, it was purely his choice that he chose to go and fight for his country.”
Artin came to Canada in the early 1990s from Lebanon and became an active member of the growing Armenian community, Hajiartinian said.
“He was a proud Canadian and loved Canada but at the same time he taught us to be passionate about our Armenian identity, to always remember our roots,” Hajiartinian said. “He was a very humble, honest, loyal friend and mentor.”
Artin moved to Armenia in 2011 and settled in Kapan, a small copper mining town, in the country’s mountainous southeast, not far from Nagorno-Karabakh.
In an interview with TorontoHye, an online Armenian community publication, Artin described how, after initially working in the mining industry, he set up his own fashion business and a farm for breeding chinchillas.
Civilians flee shelling
The fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh already has killed more than 350 Armenian military personnel and 19 civilians, according to the region’s Armenian officials.
Azerbaijani authorities say 31 Azeri civilians have been killed and 154 wounded since Sept. 27 but have not disclosed any information about their military casualties.
Half of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians have been forced to flee their homes due to incessant shelling of the region’s capital, Stepanakert, and several towns and villages by Azerbaijani forces, regional officials said Wednesday.
“According to our preliminary estimates, some 50 per cent of Karabakh’s population and 90 per cent of women and children — some 70,000 to 75,000 people — have been displaced,” Nagorno-Karabakh rights ombudsman Artak Beglaryan told the AFP news agency.
Speaking at a press conference in the town of Goris in Armenia on Thursday, Lt.-Col. Artsrun Hovhannessian, spokesperson for the Armenian ministry of defence, said some foreign journalists were injured earlier in the day during Azerbaijani shelling of the St. Ghazanchetsots Armenian cathedral in the town of Shushi.
The cathedral was damaged earlier during Azerbaijani shelling of the town and was targeted again during the visit by the foreign journalists, he added.
Hovahnnessian said authorities are working to determine how many journalists were injured, along with their nationalities.
Canada has joined the growing chorus of countries calling on Azerbaijani and Armenian authorities in Armenia proper and in Nagorno-Karabakh to agree to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. Today, Global Affairs Canada said it’s advising Canadians against travelling to the region.
“Global Affairs Canada is aware of reports of the death of a Canadian citizen in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh,” the department told CBC News. “Consular officials are liaising with local authorities to gather additional information. Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed.”
The federal government says it knew of 147 Canadians in Armenia and 117 Canadians in Azerbaijan as of two days ago. Registration with the federal government is voluntary for Canadians living abroad, so the true numbers might be higher.
Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan in December of 1991 — weeks before the Soviet Union crumbled — after its majority Armenian population voted overwhelmingly to declare independence. Nagorno-Karabakh’s minority Azerbaijani community boycotted the referendum and Azerbaijan has never recognized its results.
Azerbaijan’s attempt to reclaim the breakaway region by force resulted in a military defeat and Azerbaijan was forced to agree to a Russian-brokered ceasefire in 1994. The war in the early 1990s resulted in about 30,000 deaths and nearly a million refugees.
Since then, Nagorno-Karabakh has been self-governed by the local Armenian population, with full economic and military backing from neighbouring Armenia. No country, including Armenia, has recognized Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence to date.
After nearly 30 years of on-and-off negotiations, the Azerbaijani and Armenian sides have failed to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution.