Our speaker on June 12, Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte, an ethnic Armenian, was born in Baku, Azerbaijan when it was part of the USSR.  Stalin had reorganized ethnic Armenians into a small region of Azerbaijan once called Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory whose sovereignty was disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  During the Soviet period, the dislike/dispute among ethnic populations was controlled in an artificial "friendship of nations". However, with the break-up of the Soviet Union, tensions resurfaced.
In 1988, when Anna was 10, she and her family were forced to flee to Armenia as the majority Muslim Azeri population drove the minority mostly Christian Armenians out of Azerbaijan using terror and violence. Between 1988 and 1990, over 350,000 ethnic Armenians were either killed or fled from the country.  Armenia was still recovering from massive earthquakes and was unprepared to handle so many refugees.  Anna and her family lived poorly in a country with little oil and no electricity or public transportation.
In 1990, Anna and her family emigrated to North Dakota where she attended college.  She later came to Maine to attend law school and moved to Westbrook in 2004. She published her diaries in 2012 and she travels and lectures extensively on the topic of the 1915 Armenian genocide, the ongoing ethnic hatred in the region, and her desire to see Artsakh in full control of its future.  She is currently a Westbrook City Councilor.
Today, this region is known as Republic of Artsakh or simply Artsakh. Although it is a presidential democracy under the control of the Armenian majority, it is still recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan and travel to/from the area is heavily controlled.  The border between Artsakh and Azerbaijan is called a “line of contact” and Anna called Artsakh an “open air prison” for the roughly 100,000 Armenians who live there.  Family income averages only about $100 per month.
For those interested in learning more about Ana and the Artsakh region, her book Nowhere: An Exile Story is available on Amazon.