AGBU Women Entrepreneurs (WE) Alumna Gayane Margaryan
AGBU Women Entrepreneurs (WE) Alumna Gayane Margaryan

Everything for a Reason

How Gayane Martirosyan helped forcibly displaced Artsakh Armenians feel at home

All that business owner and entrepreneur Gayane Martirosyan had worked so hard to achieve in life seemed to have been leading up to that tragic September day in 2023, when the first cohort of Artsakh Armenians crossed the border into Armenia, overcome with weariness, hunger, and the trauma of losing their homes and way of life. Then they saw the welcoming smile of Martirosyan, ready to serve them a warm meal and open the doors of her guesthouse to those with no place to stay.

On September 19th, upon learning that Azerbaijan had achieved its malicious objective and Artsakh was about to face ethnic cleansing, Martirosyan hurried to her home town of Goris, located in the Syunik province of southern Armenia

There she met up with the volunteers of AGBU and World Central Kitchen (WCK) who were partnering together to provide home-made nutritious meals to the multitude of displaced families who had endured a nine-month blockade that left many malnourished and weak. The AGBU team was delighted to see her, a recent program participant who completed the AGBU Women Entrepreneurs (WE) program, designed for Armenia’s women looking to start or scale up their own micro-enterprise or small business. AGBU was well aware that Martirosyan's expertise in the restaurant and hospitality industry was exactly what was needed during this unprecedented humanitarian crisis. In no time, she joined the WCK team as a staff member to help arrange meal preparation and distribution.

Martirosyan preparing deliveries of nutritious warm meals for forcibly displaced people of Artsakh.

Martirosyan preparing deliveries of nutritious warm meals for forcibly displaced people of Artsakh.
Martirosyan preparing deliveries of nutritious warm meals for forcibly displaced people of Artsakh.

Martirosyan assumed sole responsibility for providing fresh, nutritious, and hot meals twice daily to 350 individuals sheltered near Goris. She carefully curated food combinations to ensure they received essential nutrients while maintaining balance and avoiding overwhelming their bodies with heavy or hard-to-digest products, considering the malnutrition they experienced during the blockade.

She says that now when members of the Artsakh community see her, they refer to her as “the woman who brought food to us.” She goes on to say, “I am thankful that I could join such a professional team both from AGBU and WCK and use my skills for the benefit of my people.”

That wasn’t all. Martirosyan had previously opened the guesthouse that she owns and runs in Goris to shelter over 200 Armenian evacuees who had temporarily relocated to Armenia during the height of the 2020 Artsakh War. “Now those same people that I accommodated in 2020 were returning to the guesthouse. They considered it their second home in Goris.” Again, she opened her doors to old and new faces looking for a safe and clean place to rest and unwind before embarking on an uncertain journey to recovery.

Today, with the AGBU WE mini-grant she was awarded in 2023, she was able to purchase a solar panel for the guesthouse to stabilize her costs and earn additional income with the extra work at WCK.

Looking ahead, Martirosyan believes that Syunik is in an economically vulnerable situation. “The people of Syunik are very resilient. We are ready to struggle for our land, but we also understand that the struggle should start now. I wish people could really understand that Syunik is not that dangerous to visit for touristic purposes. We should understand that if we want to preserve Syunik, we need to enhance its economy, and spending money in Syunik is essential.” She hopes that her enterprise will contribute to this effort to boost tourism and the revenues that come with it.

Despite skepticism from others who claimed a participant from Syunik had never secured a grant from the WE program, she was undeterred. She declared her intention to become the first to achieve this feat in Syunik. Her hard work paid off, as she won first place and received a 2,000,000 AMD grant to scale up her guesthouse.

Everything that I have experienced has put me in a position to help those who have been robbed of their dreams to begin anew.

Martirosyan’s career journey goes back many years before this destiny moment in which she could play a role in a major historical event. “Upon reflection, she says, “Everything that I have experienced has put me in a position to help those who have been robbed of their dreams to begin anew.”

In the late 1990s, following her graduation from the Department of Pedagogy at Goris State University, Martirosyan pursued a master’s degree in economics and embarked on a career at the Goris Business Center. Eight years later, she had advanced from clerical duties to conducting research among Goris entrepreneurs. Additionally, she played a pivotal role in coordinating foreign aid programs, in collaboration with the Business Center, aimed at bolstering entrepreneurial capacity in her region.

Later, Martirosyan joined the IDeA Foundation, where she was tasked with overseeing a restaurant business situated near the Wings of Tatev Ropeway. It was during this time that she acquired valuable insights into the intricacies of the food industry, proving to be unexpectedly beneficial for her current endeavors.

Then she was offered the opportunity to manage the newly opened DE LUXE Lounge Café, the first culture-centric café in Goris, intended to serve as a gathering place for youth and a venue for cultural events. This initiative was warmly embraced, heralding a notable transformation in the city’s café culture. “Youth could linger until 11:00pm at DE LUXE, and families began dining out, a previously unheard-of practice in the city,” she reminisces.

In 2015, Martirosyan was presented with the opportunity to oversee the management of Goris’s esteemed Mirhav Hotel, renowned as one of the most prestigious and highly rated establishments in the region, where she works until today. Yet, when the pandemic struck, she found herself with a rare moment of reflection on her own entrepreneurial prowess. Drawing upon her extensive experience managing cafés, restaurants, and hotels, she conceived the idea of opening a

guesthouse with a focus on showcasing Armenian culture and heritage. Her vision encompassed everything being authentically Armenian, from the furniture to the cuisine.

“All these life opportunities have prepared me to be the entrepreneur that I am today. It’s gratifying to not only make a better life for me and my children, but also for my community. For me, that is the definition of success.” 

Originally published in the June 2024 ​issue of AGBU Insider. end character

About the AGBU Insider

AGBU Insider profiles extraordinary AGBU program alumni across a diverse set of industries and passions. With exclusive interviews and photography, each issue reveals the Armenian impact on society, community, and industry.