Digging a Way Out: American who “lives” in Karabakh says its future lies in ruins

Porter hopes to map out NKR's future through its "treasures"
Friend of Artsakh
There is no “yan” at the end of her three-word name, nor any brown in Kathryn Cameron Porter’s complexion.. Yet when she speaks of Karabakh, the blue-eyed grand daughter of a Cherokee Indian uses the word “Artsakh”.

In the world she comes from, few even know the tiny wanna-be republic by its modern name. But Cameron Porter is hardly from the world she is part of.

“I have a soft spot for Armenia, and especially for Artsakh,” she says on the last day of her visit here this week. “I feel in my heart that I live there. I can’t explain it.”

Nor is it easy to explain how, for nearly a decade, the (now) ex-wife of a US Congressman has been lobbying for the world to put “Artsakh” in its heart as well.

She would not use the word “lobbying”. It is too Washington. She would say “educating”. And though she knows Beltway politics and how to get messages all the way to the Oval Office, Cameron Porter is about as far from the “Washington” world as Artsakh itself.

She won’t get invitations to White House Christmas parties saying things such as: “Look at what happened to Ambassador Evans. He used the word ‘genocide’, and the (US) administration shows its true colors. It’s as if Turkey is running the policy of the US.”

Or: “It is a swamp in Washington. Nobody cares about people anymore, they only care about agendas.”

Yet, returning from her first trip to Artsakh since 1998, Cameron Porter will try to wade into that “swamp” with an agenda that she believes would secure the future of Karabakh by making news out of its history.

She is a democrat who held appointments during two republican (Reagan and Bush) administrations. She is a founder of a human rights organization. She once went on a hunger strike in support of the Kurds. And last year she wrote an editorial for the Washington Times, that predicted the renewed unrest that is in today’s headlines out of Afghanistan.

She has promoted human rights issues on campaigns from Cyprus, to Syria, to Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Guatemala.

Whatever other labels may apply, Cameron Porter is, first, a passionate archeologist.

It is that passion (and an airline ticket bought by “Americans for Artsakh”) that last week took her to the “Tigranakert” excavation site in NKR, where treasures from the hard dirt of Aghdam widened the soft spot in Cameron Porter’s heart.

She carries a map with hand-drawn circles around places in Karabakh that she believes hold lessons about a past that ought to be remembered, if Karabakh and its neighbors are to have a civilized future.

She points to the site of the Azokh cave and to the Tigranakert dig itself (see Landlocked Proof), where “you can hardly take a step without walking over history.”

The archeologist has a mission: “The whole purpose of this initiative,” she says, “is to get people to look beyond themselves.”

Look, she suggests, to the culture that existed before political enmity ruined it, and learn.

The initiative Cameron Porter speaks of took her not only to the excavation site, but into the offices of presidents Ghukasyan and Kocharyan. They “get it” she says.

If the country leaders “get” what Cameron Porter is saying, they understand with her that “treasures of this region belong to human kind”.

But preserving history hardly seems as important to the archeologist as using those treasures as a tool.

“We want to get the message across for (negotiators in the Karabkh debate) to rise above politics and take it to a higher plain.”

The higher plain is found underground, she says, from which the world could finally be brought to focus on Karabakh for reasons other than its stalemated dispute. Properly exploited, those “treasures” from the first century BC, could be Artsakh’s best self-promotion. “The Turks,” says Cameron Porter, “couldn’t buy that kind of publicity.”

The Artsakh-loving activist will be trying to give it away, far from the place where she lives in her heart.

She is now in the process of developing a web page, while also working with specialists here to prepare a satellite-image map of all the archeological sites in Karabakh. Armed with information, she will then attempt to take the message of peace-through-the-past, into conference rooms where the hopes for peace in Artsakh have been tabled.

Cameron Porter’s initiative is to convince the outside world that civilization grew from this region and it is uncivilized mentalities that now threaten it. In a country where Christianity is a national commodity, she is convinced Artsakh’s pre-Christian past is itself a reason to have faith in the future.

“It’s hard to convince people that we should be finding out about crossed pathways – especially since they are pre-Christian,” Cameron Porter says. “We must find a point where we can move away from blind faith and look at science.”

Then, she says, these treasures of Artsakh “could provide a way out of this morass.”