Overcoming life’s challenges through art and faith. An adolescent’s perspective

Robert Karapetyan on his experience of surviving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and his path to recovery

Gor Petrosyan
Տղան նայում է բարձրահարկ շենքի պատշգամբից։
UNICEF Armenia/2020/Biayna Mahari
17 June 2021

“Music, theater, faith. My world is based on these three areas,” says Robert Karapetyan, who left Nagorno-Karabakh on September 29 with his mother, older sister and brother, convinced that he would return in a couple of weeks.

They were at the temporary shelter when he learned about the joint initiative of UNICEF and the Nexus Center for the Arts – music lessons for adolescents and young people. Robert recalls: “One of my acquaintances said, ‘Do you know that they have vocal classes and lessons for various musical instruments.’ I went for the first time just out of curiosity, but just an hour later, I realized that this is exactly the place I want to be. I took my friends with me the next day.”

Like thousands of young people, Robert's life changed in an instant on September 27. The sound of explosions and air alarms urged his family and countless others to leave their homes behind.

Ռոբերտը խաղում է տան փոքր երեխաների հետ։
UNICEF Armenia/2020/Biayna Mahari

“In my hometown, I was a student at a music college, a novice actor in the Vahram Papazyan Drama Theater, but I had to flee to the unknown. In Yerevan, in a new environment, my cousins Alvina, Ashot and the Bible that I brought with me from home, help me not to feel completely alienated,”

says Robert.

Ashot and Alvina are coils of energy. They do something incessantly: play, sing, jump, run, and never tear themselves apart from Robert. Once they are on Robert's shoulders, a moment later they get him to play catch-me-if-you-can. "Fearing" how active his younger cousins are, Robert keeps his most sacred thing – the Bible not in the nightstand, but on the top of his closet.

Երիտասարդը գիրք է կարդում՝ պառկած բազմոցին։
UNICEF Armenia/2020/Biayna Mahari

“I get answers to all the questions that bother me from the Bible. And when I want to be alone, I go up to the eleventh floor of our building, the view there is fantastic, as if Yerevan is in your palm,”

shares Robert.

“I wake up in the morning, have breakfast, play with my cousins and hurry to the music lessons by UNICEF and Nexus. They help me and my friends to forget all our troubles for a few hours at least, and not think of our relatives whom we have lost or our ruined houses and that we might not be able to return back,”

says Robert.
Երիտասարդը նախաճաշում է առավոտյան։
UNICEF Armenia/2020/Biayna Mahari

Robert's grandmother, Mrs. Alvina says that when he’s home, he only talks about music lessons, how interesting they are, and how talented the people who work and study there are.

Robert adds: “It is a good day at the center today. Gor Sujyan will be our guest for a master class. When and where could we meet such a famous and popular musician and take his master class? I cannot miss it. But before that I will meet my friends, Milena and Darine. We recently learned that in the old center of Yerevan, in Kond, there are houses with walls that were painted by Armenian and foreign artists. We want to see them.”

Robbb ․․․ The girls call for him from afar.

Ընկերները քայլում են Երևանի փողոցներով։
UNICEF Armenia/2020/Biayna Mahari

“Rob brought many of us to Nexus. What would we do, what would we fill our day with, if it were not for our music lessons, I cannot imagine,”

shares Milena.

“Several times a week together with our teachers we visit children and adults like us living in different shelters in Yerevan and in the regions,” says Darine. “We play and sing for them, organize interactive musical games. Because of the stress, many people accept us with some difficulty at first, but then they do not want to let us go, they ask us to come again. With this project, UNICEF not only helped us, but also allowed us to help others.”

Դեռահասները քայլում են միասին։
UNICEF Armenia/2020/Biayna Mahari

Once at Kond, Robert and his friends roam around a line of old houses, all colorful with paint.

“I have seen this kind of thing only in the movies, an entire neighborhood with street art like an open museum,” says Robert. Then they hurry to the music lessons.

At five to three, they are already in the arts center. Robert is in his element: surrounded by people who he has become close with, a favorite musician who’s ready to share his musical talent, tips and tricks, and music that gives life.

Երեխաները ելույթ են ունենում Գոռ Սուջյանի հետ։
UNICEF Armenia/2020/Biayna Mahari

“Art and culture bring people together; most of us know the feeling of being moved by a good song and just like that art therapy can help reduce the pain and decrease stress and anxiety, while also increase self-awareness and self-management.This is one of the first services that UNICEF thought to make accessible for adolescents during and in the aftermath of the conflict, along with mental health services, and we have reached hundreds of young people through this programme.”

explains Hasmik Aleksanyan, UNICEF Adolescent Development Officer at the center.

Robert returned to Nagorno Karabakh and continues to grow asa musician and as an artist.

In the past eight months, UNICEF has reached over 30,000 children, adolescents and young people like Robert, affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, with various types of support – school bags and school supplies, winter clothing, COVID-19 prevention materials, hygiene kits, art therapy, life-saving skills training or mental health and psychosocial well-being services.