Our groups’ time in Gyumri is quickly coming to an end, and before we make our way to Shushi I want to reflect on the city of Gyumri and its current condition. Gyumri is Armenia’s second largest city and in a lot of ways it’s a microcosm of Armenia.
There exists governmental corruption, widespread poverty, and infrastructural neglect. Sadly, remnants of the 1988 Spitak earthquake can still be seen, from the collapsed steeple of —- Sourp Amenaprgich Church, to the countless families still living without running water and electricity in domiks throughout the city. However, the city also has incredible natural beauty, rich history, friendly people, and a bright new generation, who are proud Gyumretsis.
During our time in Gyumri I conducted an extremely informal survey amongst people in the city; kids, adults, really anyone I could have a five minute conversation with. When I asked them about what they saw as the city’s most important needs here were the most consistent responses:
1) Roads- the roads in Gyumri are abhorrent. To a naïve eye, they look almost impassable. To a local, it’s a norm that they have become accustomed to ever since the 70’s/80’s when the last repaving took place. Potholes, boulders, and pits exist where asphalt should, especially in the residential areas, making it a journey to get anywhere.
2) Street lights- the city has incredible architecture, and natural beauty, but walking around in the evenings is difficult because most street lights are non-functional or non-existent. The general gloom leads the city to become a ghost town after dusk.
3) Trash disposal- just teaching kids in our camp that it’s not okay to throw the wrappers of their sandwiches on the floor in the yard of our school was an ordeal, especially when they routinely watch trash just getting burned nearby. The idea of an organized trash pickup that comes a certain day of the week and takes the trash to a proper disposal area, along with public trash bins, doesn’t exist and is the reason behind rampant littering.
It sounds really simple when it’s written down like this. It would make perfect sense for the local government to invest in fixing the roads in the city, which in turn would increase accessibility and ease of transportation (car and foot). It’s a no-brainer to put in, or repair street lights, which would increase public safety and give life to the city outside Republic Square. And it would seem logical to set up a system of trash pick-up and disposal which would increase sanitation and beautify the city. But sadly it’s not that simple.
New York City in the 1980’s was in the grips of one of the worst crime epidemics in its history. This wave declined in the 1990’s and one of the theories to explain the phenomenon is called the “broken window theory”. The crux of the theory says that simple societal problems coupled with neglect can have a far reaching impact. For example, a broken window in a building which is left unrepaired will lead people walking by to think that no one cares, and no one is in charge. Soon enough more windows will be broken and the sense of disorder will spread. Things like unpaved roads, non-functional street lights, and lacking sanitation are equivalent to broken windows, and are an invitation to anarchy.
In New York, city officials began by targeting the subway system. They began by cleaning up all the graffiti, then moved on to busting fare-beaters and drunks. Arresting those who rode the subway without paying, and those disturbing the peace inevitably meant arresting people with outstanding warrants, and people carrying illegal weapons, and this led to an eventual drop in crime. The result was that by 1996 New York City became the safest big city in America.
Thankfully, Gyumri does not have serious issues with violent crime, but the same changes New York saw can be replicated here. The point is that seemingly small changes can bring about revolutionary change. In a city like Gyumri, properly addressing the issue of roads, lights, and sanitation can lead to an increase in civic pride and a brighter future.
I was walking to the school in Gyumri for the last time with the staff. I got high fives and hugs from all the kids who were waiting impatiently for the school gates to open. The staff and I lined up the kids, to get ready to sing our morning anthem. It was amazing to me how the first day while watching the kids sing, only a handful knew the words. On the last day, every single kid was singing with confidence and passion. As we made our way to our classrooms the kids were excited to continue our usual classes, English lessons, arts and crafts, educational. During lunch time we were surrounded by all the kids, not wanting us to leave their site. I had one kid come up to me who made me promise him that I will be in Gyumri next year. We even shook on it. As time went on, it was time for our song competition, the moment we have been preparing since first day. The kids had their game faces on, and I had never experienced a song competition like this. After the competition was over, the group of boys I had punished couple days ago came up to me and hugged me. They asked to be punished one last time before I leave. The punishment was they had to carry me to the classrooms and back. For the last time they carried me around the school. As the day came to an end, I gave my email to most of the kids to keep in touch with them. Walking back to our house, I think it did not hit me that the Camp Gyumri was done for our group. I was still convinced that tomorrow I would wake up and continue what we have been doing for the past two weeks. The last day was full of emotions, and I definitely do not like saying goodbye.
As kids, one of our only worries was who was going to make our cuts and scrapes feel better and go away. On the second to last day of our Gyumri Jambar, I took a trip down memory lane. During lunch time we had a little free time, so Sevana and I started racing with the kids. We had to run to the wall and back. Since there were many of us in a confined space, as I’m about to tap the wall, little Vazrik turned around and we clashed and both fell. The little trooper was up two minutes later tying his shoes. I have a scab on my left elbow to remember the blue-eyed, blonde-haired kid by.
It was our last day of Jambar yesterday. Surprisingly, I didn’t cry as we all said our goodbyes. Once we gave all the kids our group picture, I took another trip down memory lane, because they all came running around by the counselors with the picture and a pen like we would do at AYF Camp, so we could write a little note and our info.
All the kids were seriously great, but a few stuck out to me. Jiro was a charageegee, but every morning he would come to give me a big hug and wouldn’t let go, and as we would line the kids up, he would pick out flowers and bring them to me. Vartoohi would always give me a hug and kiss in the morning and hold my hand, or else she wouldn’t walk in to the school. She was the one who actually noticed my elbow and busted out Wet Wipes so I could clean it. The older girls like Leanna, Diana, Ani, Gohar were always talkative, but they would smile and listen to me. Every time they saw my camera they each wanted a picture and we had to take a hundred of them. Gayaneh and Angela made me bracelets that I probably won’t take off until they fall off. Armen was a very handsome kid who would try to mess around, but when it came down to serious things like song practice, he was one of our best kids. We saw him and his parents when we went out to the Hrabarag last night [the Republic Square where people always go to hang out; probably something in between our Glendale Marketplace and Americana] and talked to them. The mom told us that we strongly influenced the kids and shaped them up because they really look up to us and they are going to remember us for a really long time, which of course made us feel even better than we already did.
We played with the kids, taught them a lot, got mad at them, messed around with them, but in the end it was time for goodbye, and I definitely feel like as much as they took and learned from us, we learned from them even more. We’ll miss you Gyumri <3 .
Երկու շաբաթ եղաւ որ մենք հոս ենք: Ամէն երկու օր անփոյթ բայց կատաղի յանդիմանութիւն կ’ստանանք մեր խմբի ղեկավար Վաչէէն որ «պլոկ» գրենք: Օրէ օր, խումբի անդամները կը նստին ու կը գրեն, եւ տակաւին ես գաղաբար չունէի գրած նիւթիս մասին: Միայն գիտէի որ կ’ուզէի Հայերէնով գրել որովհետեւ տասը տարիէ Հայկական դպրոց գացած էի, եւ նաեւ Ամերիկա մեկնելէս աոաջ, իբր հա մալսարանի դաս ալ արի: Անկէ զատ հոս ըլլալս երաւակայութիւնէս աւելի հայրենիքիս կապած է: Իմ աոաջին գալո ւս առթիւ ամէն ծանօթներս ինծի ըսին ուր երթամ եւ ինչ ընեմ եւ որքան գեղեցիկ է ամէն ինչ: Հիմա որ հոս եմ, գիտեմ ճիշդ ինչի մասին կը խօսէին որովհետեւ սպասումներս գերազանցած են: Ուր որ երթանք ամէն կողմ գեղեցկութիւն կայ եւ հրաշալի է գիտնալով որ դալար դաշտերը եւ լեոներով որ շրջապատուած ենք, ամբողջութեամբ մեր հայրենիքին բնական գեղեցկութիւնն է: Վեոադարնալով Ճաւախքէն, մեր խումբը պիտի վիճաբանի որովհետեւ աոաջին անգամ ըլլալով լոգանքի կարք չունինք, եւ ամէնքնիս պիտի նստինք Տիկին Լիլիկին տունը եւ վստահաբար նոյն գաղաբարը պիտի անցնի մեր մտքէն – Ինչպէս այսքան շուտ անցաւ աոաջին շաբաթը: Կարծես թէ դեո նոր Կիւմրի հասանք, բաժնուելով մեր միւս խումբէն որ արդէն մտերմացած էինք իրենց հետ, գալով օտար շրջանի, եւ հիմա արդէն եկրորդ շաբաթն է: Դժուար պիտի ըլլայ բաժանուիլ ամէն այս պզտիկներէ որ կ’ուզենք մեր հետը տուն բերել եւ մեկնիլ մեր տունէն: Սակայն, պիտի ձգենք գիտնալով որ ճիշդ բան մը ըրած ենք եւ այս պզտիկներուն առիթ տուած ենք որ ամառնին վայելէն: Շարունակել մեր յաջորդ քայլին, պիտի կրկնենք նոյն ծրագիրը գիտնալով որ այս նոր Շուշիի պզտիկները ինչպէս պիտի ըլլան, բայց գիտենք որ անմիջապէս պիտի սիրահարուինք ամէնուն հետ, եւ շատ հաւանաբար նոյն բանը պիտի պատահի Պրոշիանի մէջ ալ:
Ուր որ երթանք կը կապուինք պզտիկներուն հետ, եւ որովհետեւ կ՝ընենք բոլորս մէկ միասին եւ մէկ նպատակով մեր գործը աւելի դիւրին կ՝ըլլայ: Պզտիկներուն ժպիտները տեսնելը եւ ամէն օր իրենց հրճուած ձեւով մեզ դիմաւորելը մեր բոլորին սիրտը կը հալեցնէ եւ կ’անդրադարձնէ օրէ օր որ ճիշդ որոշումը ընտրած եմ Youth Corps-ին մաս կազմելուն եւ ամառս Հայաստան անձնելը: Քանի մը շաբաթէն երբ մեկնինք ու երթանք մեր Ամերիկայի տուները 1Յ նոր ընտանիքը անդամներէս պիտի բաժնուիմ եւ նորէն կեանքս մինակս պիտի շարունակեմ ու մինակս որոշումներ առնեմ նորէն:
We have been here for about two weeks now. Every other day we get a nonchalant yet wrathful scolding from our group leader, Vache, to write a blog. Day by day, every one in my group has been sitting there writing their blogs, and yet, I had no idea what to write about. I just knew that I wanted to write in Armenian because aside from going to an Armenian school for ten years of my life and taking a college course Armenian class the semester before coming to Armenia, being here has linked me to my homeland more than I could have ever imagined. I kept getting told how beautiful everything was and where to go and what to do, it being my first time here. Now that I’m here, I know exactly what everyone was talking about because everything has exceeded my expectations. Everywhere we go, there is beautiful scenery all around- and its heartwarming knowing that the greenest fields and all around mountains are all a part of our country’s natural beauty. As we return from our wonderful weekend in Javakhk, we’re going to fight over our for-the-first-time-unscheduled shower list and sit down at Digin Liligs house and I promise you the same thought is going to go on in every one of our heads – how did the first week fly by so quickly ?? It feels like just yesterday that we arrived in Gyumri, splitting away from those we had gotten so close with in Yerevan, and coming to an unfamiliar city, and now it’s week two. We are going to have a hard time separating from all the kids we want to bring home with us and leaving what has become our home. However, we’re going to leave knowing that we have done something right and made a part of all these kids’ summer. As we move on to the next step of our program’s journey, we are going to repeat the cycle by being nervous about what these new kids in Shushi are going to be like, but know that we are instantly going to fall in love with every single one of them, and the same thing will probably happen in Broshyan too.
Everywhere we go we are getting attached, but it’s easy to move on to the next step because we do it as a whole group – we do it as a family. Seeing the kids smile and having them run up to you to give you the biggest hug just makes our hearts melt and makes me realize over and over every day that I made the right decision by wanting to be a part of Youth Corps and spending my summer in Armenia. Now once we leave Armenia and go our separate ways it’s going to feel weird knowing that each and every one of us now has to adjust to what comes next on our own.
Every evening, Melanie, Margaret, Sevana and I sit down and plan what to do with our Advanced English students the next day. We had already talked about family, school and hygiene with them, and were starting to run out of ideas when Sevana suggested we ask the students what they would change and what they would keep the same if they were president of Armenia. We were worried about whether or not we could help them with political terms or if they would even be interested at all, but the responses we got helped us see the changes needed in Armenia through a child’s eyes and the simplicity of most of their suggested changes showed some of the roots of the troubles Armenia faces.
Many of our students had worries that we would have expected to hear from adults. These children are so much more aware of their surroundings than we had expected. They share the household stress with their parents who are struggling to make ends meet. Hasmik Hovasepyan says,
“If I were president of Armenia, I would create more jobs because I want to help people. I shall create more buildings because I want people to have homes.”
Hasmik is 12 years old and has worries that I have never seen in an American preteen, who would have been more worried about the latest video game or trendy outfit.
Trash has never been a problem for us in the two weeks we’ve been in Gyumri because there is a dumpster located about two blocks away from our temporary home and we produce very little trash since we don’t cook our own food and don’t clean much, but our students showed us that trash is a huge problem for Gyumri’s smallest citizens. 13 year old Jenya Hovhannisyan says,
“I would create a law forbidding trash cans in the streets.”
While Jenya wanted fewer trash cans, 14 year old Gor Hovhanisyan
“would eliminate trash.”
We had seen trash on the streets of Gyumri, but began noticing it more after reading our students’ responses. As Unger Gevorg explained to us, there are no laws about trash on the streets, and people do not care to find a trash can, instead choosing to dump whatever trash they have on the streets.
The innocence of the children really showed in some of their responses. 13 year old Angela Apriyan would
“build parks for children and… give money and clothes to orphanages… and establish flowers and trees in streets.”
12 year old Alina Mkhoyan wants to
“eliminate criminals” and “have world peace.”
11 year old Marian Nahapetyan would
“eliminate money because people commit crimes for money and it is not needed.”
14 year old Andranick Khachatryan
“would buy wonderful footballers for our country because today football is not good in Armenia.”
But some of the most memorable responses were the most serious ones. 14 year old Gor Hovhanisyan wants
“to help for women and and laws that prevent parents from hitting their children.”
Hearing that from Gor, who is usually bouncing off the walls in our classroom was incredible. It just emphasized the fact that we learn something new about our students every day. I personally had always underestimated him and am sorry it took so long to realize his true colors. 11 year old Roza Simonyan wants
“Ararat to be ours again,”
but she had trouble explaining how she would reach that goal if she were president.
12 year old Arpi Antanyan
“would build skyscrapers and change every building [and] keep the same only the natural beauty of Armenia.”
Like Hasmik and Arpi, many of our students wanted better, newer buildings in Gyumri, which brought to light that over two decades after the 1988 earthquake, there are still buildings that need to be rebuilt and the ones that survived the earthquake are deteriorating over time. Arpi also wants to
“create a law about not smoking”
because she wants people to be healthy. In a country where smoking is accepted in almost every location, Arpi’s response gave me hope that there are still those who care about the health and wellness of the people. The final sentence of Arpi’s response was most memorable:
“I would beautify my country so well that nobody would want to leave.”
As children of Armenian emigrants, we know that the conditions in Armenia are unbearable for many people, but it was beautiful to see that there are still those who believe that Armenians should stay in Armenia.
At the end of it all, Andranick said it best, “my country Armenia is the best in the world.” It is these children with their big ideas and innocent outlooks on life who will grow up to be the changes that Armenia needs in order to live up to its full potential. I’m so proud that we were able to see the beginnings of it.
For the past three years every time I heard the song Yelek Hayer I would remember Patil Aslanian as my counselor at AYF Camp Big Pines going crazy, yelling and screaming for the blue color to remember the words to this simple song. From today on, the most striking memory of Yelek Hayer will forever remain from July 18, the seventh day of Jambar in Gyumri.
When our group leader, Vache asked us what the mandatory song for 2011 Gyumri Jambar should be, Patil and I looked at each other and said Yelek Hayer. The rest of the group quickly agreed because it is an upbeat song and easy to learn. The second day of Jambar we started song practices and as the only counselor in my color familiar with the song I automatically became the crazy song teacher, who would yell at 40 innocent faces when they would forget a single word. Throughout the week I became more and more competitive always fearing that these kids would hate me. I made one girl cry for an hour, had the mischievous boys sent to all four corners of the class and even had to start using corners in the hallway. Every day after song practice I would think to myself, why am I doing this… these kids are on summer vacation, and look forward to Jambar all year. I am being the counselor I always hated.
Today I walked into song practice with a big bottle of water, ready to yell my lungs out. To my count of yerek, chors (three, four) the classroom shook. The kids amazed me. Not only did they sing loud, but it finally sounded like they understood the song. They not only had extreme passion for the song, they also had a will to impress us. You could feel the words resonated in their lives. Following Yelek Hayer, they sang Sardarabad and Kini Litz like I had never heard before. At the end when I turned to them and smiled they started to cheer, because finally I approved. If I knew my approval meant that much I would have given it much sooner. I will remember many things from the summer of 2011, but this will definitely have a different place in my heart.
Back home, I am just a college student who makes little to no difference to my surroundings, but here, I am able to influence our youth. The future leaders of Gyumri, Armenia can be shaped during their participation in Jambar. These kids are far from ordinary, they are smart, talented and energetic beyond belief.
Before Jambar started, I really underestimated the influence of our program. These kids are not only having a good time at camp for a couple weeks, then going home to their usual lives. They are molding into better, more open-minded, and Hayrenaser versions of themselves.
My experiences thus far this summer, have already shown me that my career choice is the right one for me. As a teacher, I would give up anything to have this type of effect on my future students.
Akhalkalakh, Javakhk, Georgia. 48 hours. 13 people traveling from Gyumri attempting to see an entire region of Armenian history in a short period of time. It was an exhausting, yet rewarding experience. Friday 6pm we got into the “aftobus” at Digin Lilig’s house in Gyumri to travel two hours to Javakhk. Once we got to the Armenian/Georgian border we were surprised that we actually had to walk the border… a twenty minute walk which on a normal day would have been fine, except it began to rain. Holding our luggage and sleeping bags we tried to walk at the fastest pace possible but it did not really work out. By the time we actually got to the Georgian border our clothes were soaked. We crossed the border, got into another “aftobus” and finally arrived at the Armenian Center (“Gendron”) in Akhalkalak.
As soon as we arrived there were already youth awaiting our arrival outside. They immediately took us upstairs and helped us situate our stuff. Nairi took charge and started the circle of introductions, which quickly went into stories about how he knew Hrag’s brother and how Vache’s sister was there last year. We listened to their stories about how the majority of deghatsis are being forced to leave Javakhk in order to find work, go to school or raise their families in other locations. We listened to how he had moved to Yerevan to receive his Bachelor’s but returned to his homeland (babenaganhogh) after graduation instead of taking the easy way out and leaving. Time flew by in Javakhk. I can sit here and write about the touristy locations that we visited, but what influenced me most was actually spending time with the locals and hearing their stories about why Javakhk is so important to them and us. On Saturday, Verginie, Vache and I gave an interview for a local radio station and when asked what was the one thing we would tell the local Javakhk-tsi’s our resounding answer was to never give up (mishdbaykarik) and although it is very simple for us from America to say, “Don’t leave these circumstances, don’t not leave the only land in our badmagan hayasdan (Historical Armenia) which is still populated by a majority of Armenians”…In the most uncliche way possible we truly meant what we said. Javakhk, is an area which consists of a majority of Armenians, who until today grasp on to their identity, who still insist for Javakhk’s autonomy within the Georgia Federation. The youth that traveled with us showed us a few of the churches that used to be Armenian that have been transformed into Georgian churches… they’ve lost their kmpeds (steeples), their Armenian inscriptions have been unceremoniously plastered over or gouged out, however we can see an amazing struggle for survival. Even though they live in an area that is predominantly Armenians they face a greater chance of losing themselves and their history. For them it is not about assimilation but about losing their lands which have been in their families hands, and in our ancestors, for a period of time long before us.
The last day, the last thing we did before we left Javakhk was going to Parvana Lake. Obviously as soon as we got there it started pouring on us (which has become the norm for us while we sightsee). Vache and I decided that since it was our first time in Javakhk that we would take the chance of getting sick and actually jump in. The freezing water could not be described through words. Vache had to coax me into jumping in fully and now I am writing this blog while sick… and Vache will proofread this blog while sick, but I will never regret the decision we made. My first experience in Javakhk will never be recreated and I am glad I was given the opportunity to visit our ancestral lands. Now when I talk about Javakhk I can speak from my own experience. Javakhtsi’s baykaruh tser mechuhneh… took ek badjaruh vor menk ter guh kohadevenk mer hogheroon . To all the Javakhk locals the fight is within you guys. You are the reason that we still exist in this region and you do not make up a part of the Armenian diaspora.
GLENDALEMore that 35 low-income students from Glendale schools completed a month and a half long pilot tutoring program on June 16, launched by the Armenian National Committee of Glendale, the Armenian Youth Federation and the CASPS.
Spearheaded by the ANC Glendale Chapter, the tutoring program came as an expansion of the Path to College Program established by the chapter in 2007.
We are excited to create this pipeline of support for neighborhood youth as education and youth development are key components of our work at ANC Glendale, stated Elen Asatryan, Executive Director of ANC Glendale. ANC Glendale along with its partners is grateful to all the volunteer tutors who made the pilot program such a great success. We will take the summer to evaluate the program in an effort to make it permanent staple in the community come September, added Asatryan.
Initially, the Path to College program included hosting community forums for non-English speaking parents and students that covered such topic matters as high school graduation requirements, the college admission process, ways students can recover credit, financial aid as well as differences between community colleges and universities. In January 2011, ANC Glendale joined forces with the Armenian Youth Federation WR and CASPS in hopes of expanding the program to include free after school tutoring to local youth. The pilot program which ran from May 1, 2011-June 16, 2011 offered tutoring in Math, Science and English, 3 days a week, between the hours of 4 to 7 p.m. All tutoring sessions were held at the Krikor and Mariam Karamanoukian Glendale Youth Center.
Being one of the primary pillars of the AYF, educational enrichment is a goal the organization actively strives to achieve, explained AYF Central Executive member Niree Kodaverdian. Unfortunately, many families dont have the means to afford private tutoring for their children. Our goal with the jointly organized Tutoring Program is to make available this supplemental education opportunity to students, regardless of their familys income, added Kodaverdian.
Founded in 1933, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and most influential Armenian-American youth organization in the United States working to advance the social, political, educational, and cultural awareness of Armenian-American youth.
Since its inception, CASPS has served more than 5000 children and parents in all ethnic groups. In the Glendale Unified School District, the organization enjoys continuous collaboration with the Healthy Start Program, addressing problems and making a positive difference. In the Los Angeles Unified School District Local District 2, CASPS participate in troubleshooting, diversity programs planning, and staff development workshops.
The Armenian National Committee Glendale Chapter advocates for the social, economic, cultural, and political rights of the citys Armenian American community and promotes increased civic participation at the grassroots and public policy levels.
After only spending a week in Yerevan and a couple nights in Stepanakert, my
emotions and understand of my homeland have changed completely from my first visit
to Armenia. The first time I came to Armenia and Artsakh was in 2006 with my family. I
was 13 years old, and had the time of my life, sightseeing, taking pictures and just
experiencing a whole new environment and lifestyle. This time around, yes, Iʼm still
taking those usual pictures and revisiting the basic sightseeing spots, but Iʼm really
gaining a totally different experience out of it. This time around, Iʼm trying to understand
exactly why Iʼm at a particular monument or why this church is different from all the
other churches found throughout Armenia. Last week, we visited Sartarabad, we took
pictures and confidently discussed the victories of our people. We all thought we knew
the stories, until one of our group members, Unger Khachig, took it into his own hands
to acquire more information for the group, by speaking to one of the female workers at
Sartarabad. They spoke for a long period of time, and in the end we found out that this
women was no ordinary employee, but rather a widowed wife who had been working
there since the martyr of her husband in the Kharabagh war. Thatʼs one story none of us
would have known if it wasnʼt for Khachigʼs interest on learning more and speaking with
Sightseeing isnʼt just taking pictures next to the church or monument, or reading
the small description on a nearby plaque, explaining the significance of the church or
monument. To gain the full sightseeing experience, one needs to take the time to
understand and respect that piece of history preserved for us today. Four years ago, I
did not take this approach, but today thanks to Unger Khachig, I have now acquired the
real secrets of good sightseeing in Armenia.
In 2006, I was lucky enough to come to Artsakh as well. We stayed in Shushi,
such a beautiful city but sadly destroyed by war. At the time I understood that Artsakh
had just survived a war and thatʼs why it was destroyed. But being only 13, I can say my
understanding of the real situations in Armenia and Artsakh were blurry and quite
unclear. Four years ago, living in the Sushi Hotel, I did not quite understanding the real
lives of my brothers and sisters in Artsakh; believing life here was decent, with water
and food available at all ours of the day. Obviously, I was wrong in many ways. I began
to understand the real Artsakh during our first few days in Stepanakert. After our first
dinner, fellow group members, Stephan, Khachig, Levon, and myself were sitting
outside with our host mom while she was washing the dishes. She explained to us that
the neighborhood where her house is, the same house that we are staying in for the
next 2 weeks, only has access to water from 7pm to 9pm, thatʼs only 2 hours for an
entire household days of work to be done, washing dishes, laundry, shower and the list
continues. Itʼs a very difficult lifestyle but somehow they manage on a daily basis. Life is
difficult here in Stepanagert, and even harder in the smaller towns of Artsakh, yet they
donʼt complain. Life in America is heavenly compared to this but as Americans we still
find ways to complain, we complain if our water is too cold or too hot, whereas in places
such as Artsakh, around the world, that donʼt even have access to clean water, or even
water in general. Regardless of their sad conditions, they truly are the happiest people
Iʼve ever met.
First time I came was in 2006 as a young 13 year old tourist boy, who had no
actual understanding of the struggles of the day. Now Iʼm here again, as an 18 year old
young adult, who now has a greater understanding of the struggle. My emotions and
understanding have changed so much in 1 week, i know it will further grow and change
in the remaining 5 weeks of my stay.