Serving Armenia’s Service Members

How Razmig Arzoumanian is saving and improving Armenian soldiers’ lives with support from the diaspora

In 2016, as news of the clashes on the Artsakh border broke, Armenians worldwide directed their attention to the frontline. Weapons and money poured into Armenia, and, though the violence would cease almost as suddenly as it erupted, the Four-Day War would remind the Armenian world of just how tenuous Artsakh’s security is, despite the 1994 ceasefire.

For Beirut-born Razmig Arzoumanian, the Four-Day War was much more than a reminder; it was the catalyst for him and his longtime friend and business partner Chris Petrossian to use their expertise in the aerospace and defense industry to establish the Armenian Wounded Heroes Fund. The Fund quickly received U.S. IRS non-profit status, with the mission of protecting, saving, and rehabilitating service-members in Artsakh and Armenia. In its three years of operation, AWHF has already saved over 15 soldiers’ lives by improving the odds of survival of those wounded in combat or by mines leftover from the war. 

Often, when civilians think about success on the battlefield, they think only of arming soldiers with weapons. Arzoumanian knows better through his firsthand engagement with the U.S. military industrial complex for 15 years and in his current position as managing director of Mergers and Acquisitions for Aerospace and Defense at Lincoln International. In his view, the reality on the ground involves many facets of war that are typically overlooked but can go a long way to improve outcomes—on and off the battlefield. 

“Sustaining a defense force isn’t just only with weapons—most of the challenges and costs involve feeding your soldiers, housing them, training them, transporting them and other equipment, and protecting them,” he explains. The AWHF uses every dollar donated to provide rehabilitative care for veterans and introduce life-saving measures in active combat situations through superior quality first-aid kits. 

To complement his expertise in the defense industry, Arzoumanian also allows his life experience to inform the decisions he makes, knowing intimately how war affects those who are tasked with waging it. Coming of age during the Lebanese Civil War, he arrived in the United States with his parents at the age of 15, already aware of the challenges of war and survival. 

Fiercely proud of his Armenian heritage, Arzoumanian admitted that he was guided by an idealistic conception of Armenian liberation, justice, and peace. He brought this idealism to the University of Pennsylvania where, as an undergrad, he was active in Armenian clubs, raising awareness about the Armenian cause. Then, during the summer of 1988, he participated in the AGBU New York Summer Internship Program [NYSIP]. Connecting with Armenian youth from different parts of the world at a time when liberation movements in Soviet Armenia were coming to a head was such an empowering experience for him that, decades later, he would enroll his own children in NYSIP. 

Just months after his own internship, the Spitak Earthquake shocked the world, putting Armenia on the map for non-Armenians and provoked a moment of revelation in Arzoumanian. “Only after the earthquake did Armenia become a real place for me, a place to which I thought I could actively contribute,” he recalls. So, upon graduation in 1991, in the heat of the Artsakh Liberation War, Arzoumanian headed to Armenia for the first time, when frontline defense was a daily reality. 

Serving Armenia’s Service Members

Arzoumanian surrounded by Armenian soldiers while providing them with first-aid kits. Photo by Armenian Wounded Heroes Fund

This exposure to the fight for liberation, and the sacrifices that were made in the name of defending Armenia, fundamentally shifted the relationship Arzoumanian thought he would have with the homeland. “I realized that, because I didn’t have military training, I would be a burden on a battlefield,” he reflects. Though he would return to the United States within the year and begin successfully navigating the varied financial industries of New York City, he would not abandon searching for ways to support Armenia. 

As fate would have it, an opportunity would come to him in 1996. As an advisor to the World Bank, Arzoumanian was stationed in Yerevan as the country gasped its first breaths of independence. Though, he admits, “The experience of living in Armenia for a year was disillusioning. The corruption and incompetence drained me of my hope, and I almost decided never to organize any large-scale project in the homeland, if it involved dealing with the government.” Over the next two decades, he would focus on building a successful career in the defense industry and, though he would visit Armenia with family and remain connected culturally and socially, Arzoumanian would maintain a distance. Then, two decades later in 2016, the Four Day War changed everything. 

Hearing of the Armenian casualties after the ceasefire was restored, Arzoumanian knew he had to act. In the time he spent working outside of Armenia, his knowledge of—and network in—the international defense industry had grown to the point that he could identify a fatal vulnerability in Armenia’s defense forces: lack of adequate combat casualty care. 

“When war broke out, it became obvious that one of the most impactful ways the diaspora could support Armenian defense forces was by providing advanced first-aid kits,” he recalled. Scouring the world for the most effective first-aid materials and trainings, he realized that having access to American-grade kits had the most significant impact on surviving combat-related injuries. Viable for 15-20 years, the kits could be passed down from soldier to soldier and across generations. 

With the supply of kits at hand, Arzoumanian needed to figure out the more difficult aspect of this project: providing access to the training needed to use them. “I was losing sleep thinking that we got this far, that we could get the kits, but that the training would be too expensive and too difficult to coordinate,” he recalls. “I could only describe what happened next as fate.” 

In meeting with Armenia’s Minister of Defense, Arzoumanian learned that Armenian service members were already receiving American-standard first-aid training by the the U.S. Army, but were unable to put it to use due to a lack of these kits. Within just two months of the Four-Day War, the Armenian Wounded Heroes Fund was officially launched with the explicit purpose of providing every Armenian soldier in combat with top-grade first-aid kits, equipped with life and limb-saving tourniquets.

Since 2016, AWHF has raised more than $1 million, allowing it to complete the deployment of kits and training to 100% of the active forces in Artsakh. Beyond the kits, AWHF continues to support injured veterans by covering medical expenses and providing access to targeted mental and physical rehabilitation. Furthermore, the organization regularly shares on social media the journeys of these recovering veterans, shedding light on the long-term challenges faced by disabled Armenian heroes. 

Arzoumanian sees diaspora support of the AWHF as a monumental success and testament to how the diaspora is truly Armenia’s secret weapon. With a number of new front-line strategic infrastructure projects, including providing running water, solar power, communications, and cargo transportation, the organization continues to gain momentum and expand its capacity. 

Looking back on his personal journey, Arzoumanian reflects on his pivotal decision to return to the United States in 1991 and pursue his career in the defense industry, realizing how his accumulated knowledge prepared him for AWHF. “Saving the life of one well-trained soldier is 100 times more valuable than sending untrained volunteers into the battlefield. Through the movement we started, the Diaspora helps defend the homeland best by empowering Armenia’s defense forces.”

Banner photo by Adam Kane Macchia

Originally published in the August 2019 ​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.