It all started with an intense game of UNO with some of the kids before the day started. After lining up and singing Mer Hayrenik, a small white and black puppy was found outside, shaking from the cold. The puppy looked so helpless and we immediately gave her some food and water. After taking care of the puppy for a little bit, the kids did some exercises followed by English class.
In English class, which I teach with Alex and Levon, we taught them the songs All My Loving by The Beatles and We Will Rock You by Queen. The kids sing these English songs with passion and just get a huge kick out of it.
I’ve noticed that in Armenia people are a lot more relaxed and like to enjoy the simple things in life. I feel that in the US we are constantly on the go and wanting more and more. As I walk down the streets of Gyumri, I feel a sense of pride to be Armenian and I feel like this is my home where I belong and I’m proud to be here. Being half Armenian and weak with the language, i do not feel out of place at all.
The kids at camp are teaching me Armenian while I help them with English, and I feel that I can understand a whole bunch more than before. At camp I feel a connection with the kids and I’m having so much fun. The boys are very naughty; never listen, while the girls are always listening and good. These kids are very energetic, never calm or quiet. When this 1st session of camp is over, I will miss these kids a lot.
However, my Youth Corps group is awesome and we’ve definitely gotten a lot closer. It’s like we’re always either laughing, having a good time, or joking. We have unlimited amounts of fun. This trip has been awesome and I’m sad we have only 2 weeks left.
It’s Tuesday night and we have now completed seven full days of our “Jampar” in Gyumri. The camp is running much smoother now that we and the children have become more comfortable with the daily routine. But, the kids are still extremely excited. It’s very easy to see that they have never experienced something like this camp. Every game, every song, every activity we do the kids genuinely enjoy. Seeing their looks of amazement when they watch Sensei Berj do some karate moves and the giant smiles on their faces when they do the chicken dance with 18-23 year olds during morning exercises are all we need to let us know that the kids are loving the camp.
As each day goes by our relationship with the kids grows. We have become very comfortable with each other. The jokes seem to be rolling freely now. Yesterday morning, the guy counselors finally confronted the group about the only real issue we’ve had so far; the flower issue. We explained to them how sad we were to see the girl counselors receive flowers every morning. Today, we were kind of regretting it because we are now all receiving what seems to be an endless supply of flowers throughout the day.
The kids mess around with us too. The boys collect tons of these spiky balls that grow on weeds all around our camp. These “pooshes,” as the kids call them, seem to stick to everything including clothes and hair. So once they collect enough they choose their target and carefully approach. Once their leader feels the time is right he yells “Hartsagoom!!!” and they all attack. You try to defend yourself at first, then you try to run but you turn around to see that you are surrounded. The attacks are always well organized. The designated target ends up with about 60 pooshes stuck all around his or her body.
Life outside of camp is pretty relaxing. The ten of us have become very close. We spend a lot of time in the living room just hanging out. We do a lot of talking. We play nardi, chess, and different card games. And we joke around a lot.
Deegeen Lilly, our host, is incredible. Every time we see her she greets us with a huge smile and always asks us if we need anything. Every morning she makes us breakfast with coffee and tea. She has made us dinner the passed couple nights. She always offers us something to eat and it’s impossible to refuse because her food is so good. Every time one of us coughs or shows any sign of being sick she gets worried and tries to diagnose our ailment and treat it properly. She cares for us like we are her kids. She laughs a lot and her laugh is adorable. She is amazing. She works nonstop in the kitchen taking care of the house, her husband, her three kids, and the ten of us, all while smiling and giggling at every little funny or interesting occurrence.
I have been in Armenia for three days now. I am the last member of the Youth Corps group to arrive due to my sister’s wedding which was last Saturday. My plane landed at 3 o’clock in the morning and Berj’s father was nice enough to pick me up from the airport in the middle of the night and drive me to Gyumri.
We got to Gyumri around 7 AM and I was happy to see some familiar faces and some new ones. The Youth Corps group is awesome and I am glad we all get along so well. Within minutes of settling in, I felt as if I was a part of the family and that the two weeks that I missed had no affect on the chemistry of the group.
After eating breakfast with my YC mates, our group leader approached me with a difficult situation. Did I want to stay home for the day and rest up after nearly 24 hours of traveling or did I want to rough it out and go to work? It was a difficult decision, but I decided that there would be plenty of opportunities for rest later and it was time to experience Armenia. It is important to mention that this is my first time in Armenia, and at this point I have literally been in the country for about 4 hours.
But I digress. Let’s get back to the story. So, a hefty serving of Armenian Coffee and a ten minute walk later, I was looking at nearly 80 extremely excited and hyper children from Gyumri that were ready to have a good time. Scratch that. Extremely excited and hyper is a huge understatement. I have been a counselor at AYF Camp in California for a few years now and I thought the kids in America were rowdy, but this was a completely different ball game.
The kids in Gyumri are like AYF Camp kids, but on steroids. They are constantly moving at 100 miles per hour and they have no brakes or any intention of slowing down. However, they are the most humble and sweetest kids I have ever worked with. They joke with us, they pick us flowers (only for the girls though, us guy counselors are extremely bitter), and they never complain.
Gyumri is the second largest city in Armenia. However, the effects of the massive earthquake that hit this city in 1988 are still very visible around the city. Furthermore, the facilities we use in our day to day activities with the children are in dismal shape. For example, the soccer field we used yesterday had absolutely no grass, was filled with rocks and potholes, and I am pretty sure was once used as a Soviet military barracks. However, the kids don’t mind. They play and laugh harder than anyone.
Being a spurkahye from America, I can’t help but to compare things in Armenia with what I am used to at home. So when I think about the equipment and camp ground we use in the states, like state-of-the-art rock climbing equipment, swimming pools, canoes, etc, and then compare it to what the kids play with here in Armenia, the willpower and positive attitude of the kids of Gyumri is absolutely remarkable. Everyday we spend in Gyumri working with the kids is a different and unique adventure. I am looking forward to continuing our work here and sharing my experience with you all.
Imagine your summer filled with breath-taking landscape, food that entices your senses, monumental structures, endless laughter, meeting locals that will offer everything in their household to you, and taking on the responsibility of being a counselor/mentor to a group of underprivileged kids. Reality transcends imagination when you find yourself in Gyumri, Armenia.
Our real work has finally begun.
Today, at 10:30 AM we gathered at the center where we will be hosting our two-week long summer camp sessions for the local kids in Gyumri. By eleven o’clock 81 kids were present at the center. They were over-pouring with excitement as they could not sit still in their seats. The smiles on their faces and eagerness to start the camp session was absolutely priceless.
We started the camp session with our national anthem, ‘Mer Hayrenik’. We introduced ourselves and the camp rules. Next, we did some exercises, which was followed by ‘yogurt-time’ which is basically snack/recess time.
The day continued with an English period where we separated the kids into three different levels based on their English language speaking ability. After English, we had song practice; we handed out songbooks to the kids and taught them ‘Akhperus Oo Yes’. I was pretty surprised to see how fast the kids learned the song… I mean the melody and tune are pretty hard to pick up in a short amount of time, but somehow, these kids had the ability to grasp it very quickly! Later we had some lunch.
The next part of the agenda was probably my favorite. We went down to the field to play ‘Steal the Bacon’. Serop and I were standing at two different corners and Berj told all the kids to separate into two groups – to go toward either Serop or me.
It was really funny to see all the girls run toward me and all the boys run toward Serop. We decided it would be cool to leave the teams like that and play Steal the Bacon with an added twist, girls vs. boys. Sad to say, the boys beat the girls, but it was a very very close game! I am more than positive that the girls will win the next time we play. Our first day of camp ended at 4:00 – some of the kids walked home while others waited for their parents to come pick them up.
Having this amazing opportunity to be a counselor to a group of underprivileged kids in my own homeland is truly a gift. I have been a counselor at AYF Camp for quite some time now, but it is different here. It is very hard to explain with words but there is this self-satisfaction you feel here, because you realize that you are truly making a difference in these kids’ lives. Needless to say, this self-satisfaction is worth more than anything in the world, because you know that it will shape your own life and you will carry it on with you for the rest of your life.
On another note, it was Kevork Kebabjian’s birthday today!! Not a lot of diasporans have the chance to celebrate their birthday in their homeland, so he was extremely grateful for this opportunity!
LOS ANGELES–A photo exhibition and sale, displaying the everyday life of Armenians in Javakhk will be held on Saturday July 25 at the Lost Souls Café in Downtown Los Angeles. (124 W. 4th Street, Los Angeles CA, 90013).
The events goal is to raise $6,000 to purchase two cars for the Javakhk Armenian youth organization, which has faced difficulty in organizing activities in Armenia over the years due to a lack of transportation. All proceeds will be donated through the Armenian Youth Federations Western Region, which is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization.
The youth in Javakhk have a desire to share learning experiences with other Armenian youth in the region. Unfortunately, a lack of transportation prohibits them from participating in summer camps, educational opportunities, and life enhancing experiences in Yerevan and Kharabagh.
With community participation and support, the exhibit hopes to bridge the gap between Armenians living in Javakhk, Armenia, and Kharabakh–a division which shouldn’t exist.
The professional photos that will be displayed depict an Armenian reality in Javakhk and provide a deeper look into the everyday lives of the people, their tradition, labor, courage, religion and love.
Բարեւ սիրելի ընթերցող: Իմ անունս է Մանուկ Բէկինեան: Ես Հայ Յեղափոխական Դաշնակցութեան Հայաստանի Երիտասարդական Միութեան անդամ եմ ինչպէս նաեւ 19 տարեկան ուսանող: Այս կուսակցական ընկերներուն խնդրանքով միացած եմ խումբին ամբողջ տեղովութեան որուն հետ պիտի մնամ Հայաստան, ընկերակցելով իրենց: Կ’ուզեմ պատմել խումբի տպաւորութիւններուս մասին:
Նախ ըսեմ որ առաջին հանդիպումի պահեն, իրենք շատ համեստօրէն դիմաւորեցին զիս, բոլոր ընկերները շատ բարի, խելացի, եւ անշուշտ ընկերասեր: Այդ ըսելով, շուտ կարողացայ ընկերանալ իրենց հետ: Երբ տեղեկացայ որ ընկերները վեց ամիս շարունակ աշխատած են ինքնաշարժներ լուալով, նախաճաշներ պատրաստելով ու այլ դրամահաւաքներ կազմակերպելով որպէսզի իրենց ունեցած քումարով քան Հայաստան, այստեղ, եւ հայ փոքրերուն համար բանակում ծրագրեն սորվեցնելով Հայրենասիրութիւն եւ այլ գաղափարներ, հուզուեցայ…
Շարունակելով պատմել ընկերներուն մասին աւելի մանրամասն. Այն ընկերները որ շատ հայրենասէր են, անորմով ես համոզուած եմ բազմաթիւ անգամներ: Օրինակ՝ ընկերներէն երեգը Հայաստան այցելած են, բայց շտապեցին Հայաստան առանց առիթը բախցնելով: Իսկ միւս ընկերները առաջին անգամ ըլլալով հաճոյքով կը մնան Հայաստան: Այս փաստը շատ ուրախանալի է քան ամէն հայ որ պատրաստ է ամէն ինչ թողելու եւ հայրենադարձ քալու, չնայած որ ամէն հայի թանկ է հայրենական կարօտը:
Կյումրի հասնելով, բանակավայրը այցելեցինք ու սկսանք մաքրութեան: Սեղանները տեղաւորեցինք որպէսզի ամսուն 22-ին երեխաները դիմաւորենք: Բոլոր ընկերները շատ մեծ հաճոյքով աշխատեցան: Կյումրի գալէն առաջ սակայն, երկու օր մնացինք Արցախի մէջ: Այդ երկու օրուայ մէջ ամբողջ Արցախը շրջեցինք: Պէտք է ըսեմ որ ամբողջ ժամանակը, ընկերներս շատ հուզուած էին, որովհետեւ գացին այնպիտի վայրեր ուր պայքարած էին մեր Արցախի պատերազմի հերոսները: Տեսանք նաեւ Ֆետայիներու յիշատակումը թանգարանի մը մէջ եւ կրկնաբար պէտք է ըսեմ որ բոլորն ալ շատ հուզուած էին քանի որ ամէն օր կարող չես տեսնել թէ ինչ տեսակի տանջանքեր կրած են մեր ֆետայիները:
Լաւ յոյսով եմ որ համաձայն կ’ըլլաք կարծիքներուս հետ: Այս անգամ շատ քիչ գրեցի խումբին մասին բայց երբ մենք աւարտենք բանակումը, ես աւելի մանրամասն տեղեկութիւններով կը բացատրեմ:
July 22nd demonstrations at Chevron headquarters; local stations to spotlight energy company’s lobby efforts against Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.252)
WASHINGTON–The Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) will join with Armenian Americans and human rights activists in kicking off a nationwide campaign to raise awareness about Turkish Government coercion of energy giant Chevron and some five multinational corporations currently lobbying against Armenian Genocide legislation.
The protest will begin on July 22, 2009 at the Chevron headquarters in San Ramon, California and local stations across the U.S., in conjunction with an online letter writing campaign to Chevron CEO Dave O’Reilly urging the company to publicly apologize for profiting from Genocide denial. Details are posted on the Armenian National Committee website – www.anca.org/chevron. Over 1000 activists are already part of a Facebook group taking action on the initiative.
“No company – however big or powerful – should be allowed to profit from genocide or its denial,” said AYF Eastern Region Chairwoman Lauren DaSilva. “Chevron and its partners must be exposed for their outrageous actions and breach of their own stated corporate code of conduct.”
According to their website, the corporation prides itself on running the company the “Chevron Way” — responsibly, ethically and with respect to human rights. However, on June 13th, the Associated Press revealed that Chevron and 5 other multinational energy and defense corporations, including BAE Systems, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, United Technologies and Goodrich have filed disclosure forms with the Senate and House “quietly” lobbying against H.Res.252 the Armenian Genocide Resolution, among a wide array of legislation.
In first quarter of 2009 alone, the six firms have spent some $14 million in Congressional lobby efforts. This is in addition to the over $3 million spent annually by the Government of Turkey to block U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, a cornerstone of their foreign policy priorities. The firms would not respond to press inquiries regarding their opposition to the House resolution.
“Clearly, Turkey will spare to no expense to cover up its dark past, “said AYF Western Region Chairman Vache Thomassian. “Coercing corporations like Chevron to do its dirty deeds is just the latest tactic – exporting genocide denial to our neighborhoods, one gas station at a time.”
Spearheaded by Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), George Radanovich (R-CA), and Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone and Mark Kirk, House Resolution 252 specifically “1) calls upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects proper understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution; and 2) calls upon the President in the President’s annual message commemorating the Armenian Genocide issued on or about April 24, to accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide and to recall the proud history of United States intervention in opposition to the Armenian Genocide.”
The resolution has the support of over 125 cosponsors, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D- CA) and Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA).
LOCATIONS FOR JULY 22ND CHEVRON PROTEST AGAINST GENOCIDE DENIAL
California: 11:00am 1:00pm: Chevron Corporate Offices, 6001 Bolinger Canyon Road, San Ramon, CA 11:00am 1:00pm: 1868 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles CA 90027 11:00am 1:00pm: 466 W. Broadway, Glendale, CA 11:00am 1:00pm: 233 N. Alta Dena Dr., Pasadena, CA 11:00am 1:00pm: 1400 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA 11:00am 1:00pm: 1500 Paramount Blvd., Montebello, CA 90640 12:00pm 2:00pm: 100 S Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank, CA 91502 4:00pm 6:00pm: 6737 Foothill Blvd., Tujunga, CA 4:00pm 6:00pm: 18081 Ventura Blvd., Encino, CA 91316-3517 4:00pm 6:00pm: 8980 Warner Ave, Fountain Valley, CA 92708 6:00pm 8:00pm: 1020 E Shaw Ave, Fresno, CA
The future of Nagorno-Karapagh remains in limbo as the world powers attempt to determine its destiny.
While the world remains unsure of what will happen in the region, the people of Karapagh do not concern themselves with such matters for they have already decided their destiny–freedom, independence, democracy.
“We’ve united This is not Karapagh, this is Armenia. Let the rest of the world not recognize us, we don’t care, we are one,” said Gala Aroustanian, the owner of the Museum of Fallen Freedom Fighters of Artsakh.
With the help of other mothers in the area, she established this museum after the death of her son toward the end of the war in 1994. For Gala and for many others in the self-declared independent country, it is impossible to give up lands that have the stains of their people’s blood.
The pride of the people can be felt everywhere you go. They remain as strong and as beautiful as their mountains. The people seldom throw trash on the floor, and you can catch young men holding on to their cigarette butts until the nearest waste disposal. Often you will find smiles on the faces of the people walking down the street, and they enjoy giving you a cheery hello. Their hospitality is beyond belief. Throughout our three day stay in the region, we were offered food and drinks many times by strangers who expect nothing in return.
When I would ask about the possibility of President Serzh Sarkisian signing away the 7 liberated territories, I would always receive a bit of dismissal. “The government is government, the people are the ones who fought and freed our lands and ourselves we will not give them away,” said Arayig, a freedom fighter who I bumped into on the streets of Shoushi. “Politics is a dirty game, but when it comes down to someone hurting our children, we are the ones who will respond.”
With an unquestionable resolve in her voice, Gala similarly said: “Let the President meet with whoever he wants, but he cannot make any decisions without the people of Armenia; without the mothers, soldiers, sons and daughters of this land. We have already solved our problem.”
Be it a statue, a symbol, or a grave, nearly every corner of this mountainous republic serves as a testament to the soldiers who fell while fighting for freedom.
Interestingly, young men who were only infants during the war, carried the same sense of pride and strength we saw in the elders and veterans. When asked if they would give up land for peace, 23 year old Masis Haroutounian responded, “peace isn’t something that can be sold.” A young Zorig Ghazarian from Shoushi spoke of the splendor of Sushi and the impossibility of it ever being occupied by Azeris. “Shoushi is the spiritual home of Karapagh, there’s no way the people will give it away. It is simply impossible.”
The OSCE Minsk Group, which has been mediating the conflict since the early 90s, continues its attempts to find a solution to the Nagorno-Karapagh conflict. However, what they have been saying lately is not in touch with the reality on the ground.
According to every individual I spoke to on the streets, if the US, Russian and French co-chairs of the Minsk Group succeed in pressuring Sarkisian to sign away land to Azerbaijan, it will only instigate another war.
With this in mind, the ARF Bureau made the same warning only two days ago. The possibility of war begs the question of the people’s readiness to fight.
For Masis the responsibility to defend one’s homeland is crystal clear and sacred. “Absolutely; I will fight. A lot of people might say that they will not fight, but if war breaks out, then they most certainly will.”
Zorig, meanwhile, told us of a story of a small group of youth he once met who cynically called us to just “give up the lands and get it over with.” According to Zorig over 90 percent of Karbakh’s population is unwilling to “give away what is ours.”
“Our people are a proud people, a happy people, a peaceful people, but a people who can no longer be submitted to foreign rule and oppression,” he states.
Yesterday, we got up early to start our six-hour trip to Artsakh. On the way we went to Noravank and Khor Virab. Going to Khor Virab was an especially emotional experience in that besides being a site of religious importance, it is also known to be one of the places where you can see Mt. Ararat the clearest because it is so close to the Turkish border.
Needless to say, I only felt anger knowing that a few hundred feet away there was an artificial barrier separating me from land that should and needs to belong to my people.
Thinking that those lands and those people were under the control of a foreign government strengthened mine and everyone else’s personal resolve to continue working and fighting for the Armenian Cause.
Being so close to Mt. Ararat turned all of the rhetoric we so often hear into reality. These people aren’t just words in a heghapokhagan song – they are living in circumstances that must be changed and seeing it first hand further convinced me that it’s up to us to change it.
These feelings were only strengthened when we finally arrived in Artsakh. The first thing we saw there was a group of kids playing by the hotel. They had no videogames or toys but were content running around throwing flowers at the local tourists. But the increasingly possible thought that those children might soon live under foreign rule, to grow up oppressed, only further magnified the feeling that it is up to us to do something. We can’t let these lands be taken.
These lands were won with bloodshed and it will be kept by any means necessary as long as the diasporan Armenian population fully realizes the seriousness of the situation and that we have to do something to make sure that land remains ours. Sitting side by side with people who had fought in the war or speaking to people who had lost loved ones only cemented this realization.
The people who live here are ready to defend their land, culture and lives once again if necessary, now it is our turn to show that same willingness.