First published in the Aug. 27 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
Seeking a stronger link to the homeland of many of Glendale’s residents, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution on Tuesday to establish a sister city relationship with the Artsakh Republic city of Martuni.
The approval makes Martuni the 10th sister city for Glendale. The agreement will prompt each city’s officials to explore direct partnerships with each other, for the purpose of deepening business, cultural, educational and social ties.
Historically, sister cities frequently host delegates from each other for special visits and encourage their residents to visit the other.
“I think the resident of the Martuni region will be heartened by our support for them spiritually, if not through tourism and financially,” said Councilman Ara Najarian.
According to a city report, Glendale’s sister city programs have been geared to exchanging cultural, educational and professional programs and to share common problems and their solutions with partnering municipalities.
Sister cities are typically built upon some level of similarities, such as population size, prominent industry or the presence of diasporas.
Councilwoman Elen Asatryan noted that children of the Armenian diaspora here could benefit from having direct contact with their nationhood peers in Artsakh, which functions tenuously as an unrecognized nation that fell victim’s to Azerbaijan’s more sophisticated military in 2020 when Baku moved to reassert control of the breakaway state.
“I hope that the sister city relationship that we build today will allow us and our students to learn about resilience and the challenges that we are definitely not familiar with that they face every day,” she said.
Prior to Tuesday’s agreement, Glendale had made three sister city relationships in South Korea, two each in Armenia and Mexico and one each in Japan and the Dominican Republic.
Martuni, located around 25 miles east of the Artsakh capital, Stepanakert, covers 367 square miles and, based on the most recent data from 2016, had a population of more than 24,000.
The municipality is heavily agricultural, with crop fields, cattle farms and apiaries filling much of that economic engine.
Mulberries are the popular crop there, as evidenced by the jar of mulberry jam that Councilwoman Paula Devine produced on Tuesday — perhaps disappointing those listening earlier when Najarian recalled sampling mulberry vodka while visiting Martuni years ago.
Notably, Martuni is home to the Amaras Monastary, founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator in the 4th Century and home to the first school to adopt the Armenian alphabet developed by Mesrop Mashtots.
“We are convinced that together we will create horizons of new development and strengthening for Glendale and Martuni,” said Martuni Mayor Aznavour Saghyan in a statement. “Martuni, wounded but full of life, is an inseparable part of universal values with its centuries-old culture and history.”
Mayor Ardy Kassakhian, who made the initial request to explore the partnership, expressed a hope that educational opportunities between the two communities would only grow, especially in terms of language.
“Nowadays, with the advent of technology and being able to communicate online, there are various ways we can have an exchange of knowledge, even teach classes,” he said. “We can have programs where our students in our public schools who are learning Armenian can converse with their same-age students in Artsakh, and they can also learn English from our students here.”
The relationship also carries a moral boost for Arstakh, which developed as a liberal democracy similar to Yerevan after declaring independence from Azerbaijan, functionally a hereditary autocracy.
Although the ceasefire agreement from the 2020 war formally designates continuing autonomy for what remained of Artsakh’s territory, Azerbaijani troops in recent weeks have encroached upon those settlements in violation of the agreement and in spite of the Russian peacekeeping presence.
“Now today, only two days away from another major expulsion of the Armenian community … this sister city resolution brings to the forefront the irrevocable relationship the Armenian community shares with its roots,” said Edward Barsoumian, the government affairs coordinator of the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region.
During the war, Martuni saw shelling from Azerbaijani forces after they launched an offensive against Artsakh to reclaim control of the territory lost when the first war ended in 1994.
“Aside from this destruction, we see that this community has really risen up together to build a new life for themselves, as the Armenians do,” Barsounian added. “I feel very strongly, and I know that this is the sentiment of the Armenian community, as a whole, that this resolution will undoubtedly promote meaningful discourse on current events taking place in the Armenian homeland, as well as cultivate greater exchange of culture and demonstrate that the city of Glendale is a leader in combatting hate at home, abroad and anywhere that it takes place.”