In homage to the undying spirit of the Armenian freedom fighter, the AYF recently unveiled a limited edition t-shirt designed by Roger Kupelian dedicated to the “With Our Soldiers” campaign. Sales from the tee will benefit the ongoing effort to assist veterans of the Artsakh war still dealing with combat-related injuries.
The crewneck features a three-panel graphic on the front, with a soldier from Artsakh at the center flanked by a pre-Christian era warrior on the left and a fighter from the Vartanants period on the right. The slogan Always Faithful is emblazoned directly underneath the image.
The shirts are available for $15 in your choice of White, Cream and Sky Blue. With only a little over 150 shirts made, they are being sold exclusively online and at AYF booths at community events.
Purchase a shirt today before they run out and help provide medical care for the brave men and women who liberated Artsakh.
After touring all week, I was excited to be in the comfort of Armenia’s AYF, Hye Yerdasartats Miyoutioun (HEM). When we first arrived, we went to a room with all the HEM members; it was somewhat intimidating and awkward. I didn’t know what to really talk to them about or how to interact with them. However, in literally less than five minutes, conversations were flowing and lifetime friendships were being made; it was as if we had been reunited with old friends. It was amazing how well we got along and it was beautiful to see these new friendships growing. It was especially interesting to see that the HEM members shared the same organizational issues that we have locally such as recruitment, member retention, meeting productivity, etc.
The AYF building is rather impressive; one floor is devoted to Badanegan, another for Yerdasartats, and a third floor serves as a conference room, computer room and a game room. It was a proud moment for me to see how much our counterparts in Armenia do. We do as much as we can from the Diaspora but to see the Armenians here, also devoted, gives me a sense of hope. To know we have people here also trying to accomplish the same goals is reinvigorating. We think we’re so different than the locals here, but in reality were much of the same. We’re all tashnagtzagan yerdasartagans. We all go to school, we all work and fight for our nation. The only thing really separating us is the seven thousand miles between us.
Even though our days are packed with different activities and touring, we had the opportunity to head up to Arakatz to visit Ambert. I already had the chance to visit once before but I didn’t realize that this time would leave a greater impact than before. The fortress of Ambert lies in ruins, where it once was a safeguard for the Armenians during the medieval period. The enemy thought they could force the people in the fortress out by cutting off their water supply; however the people had distinct ways of retrieving supplies under the protection of the fortress. The approach our ancestors used to protect themselves gave me a much greater appreciation of my heritage and the strength our people have. This is what encouraged me to climb up the steep rocks leading up to the fortress, which could collapse at any moment.
Reaching the Armenian flag that waved proudly at the top was a great sensation especially as it stood there motivating me to conquer my fear of heights. The experience made me feel closer to my people and the obstacles they have overcome through the years. As we stood at the top we were fortunate to look over the city of Yerevan, while Mt. Ararat loomed on our side. While I looked at Mt. Ararat I finally began to grasp my involvement in Youth Corps and felt the proud to be in Armenia and to create a bridge for the Diaspora and the youth of Armenia.
Standing on the edge of a steep cliff and looking out into Armenia’s pristine natural environment brings about a sense of clarity and peace. Lingering under the dark shadows of the Haghartsin Monastery connects one with the dynastic worlds of our forefathers. Looking out through the dusty trails at the homes of the locals transplants one to a time and place that we recognize, but do not fully understand. The outlines of far-off villages stand out like scars through the landscape, morphing together the pain of their creation and the beauty of their endurance. The dizzying churn of chatter and laughter only hint at the centuries of human persistence at that very time and place.
Yet, through all the grandeur provided by the surrounding environment, I could not keep my attention away from the thousands of small wildflowers that lightly dotted the hillsides. Beautiful shades of white, yellow and purple added the perfect touch of color to the cool, dark atmosphere. With the whisper of our passage lingering throughout the majestic monastery and its surroundings, we began to gather to continue onto the next leg of our journey. I went over to one of these flowers and “picked” it. I tugged too close to the bulb and the entire flower crumbled into my palm. I tried again, but the next one fell victim in the same manner. Disappointed, I turned and walked away. A friend, upon seeing this situation unfold, jokingly asked, “do you not know how to pick flowers?” Lightly holding the flower, he demonstrated how moving it from the stem repeatedly in an opposite direction could release the flower. I was surprised. This was simple and I was not used to simple.
I had never really known how to pick flowers, nor had I ever wanted to. The purely simple task of picking a flower had not ever presented itself to me as even the least gratifying. It was so easy to become lost into a whirlwind of school, family, meetings, organizations, responsibilities and externalities. The simple things in life had gotten lost somewhere along the way. The constant search for identity, ever-changing standards, and constant expectations can take a lot out of a person. Life had always been about knowing what I wanted and charting how I wanted to achieve it. In a matter of a short time, I’ve realized that there are so many intricacies to our surroundings that we neglect. We close ourselves off to challenges and dictate ourselves on a set identity we have created. Embracing challenges allows us to foster our innate sense of being, looking past what we have fabricated for ourselves for our personal benefits and peace of mind.
Coming to Armenia, I have realized that life is a lot simpler than we make it out to be. Life is simple. We are complex. The fusion of the general simplicity with life’s challenges can blind a person to all that is important. Simplicity is elusive. We don’t need to know where to look for it or how to look for it. We just need to look. We need to take the time out from the constant hum and drum and just appreciate our surroundings. People do not rush here. They take the time to sit on the bench at the park. They have real conversations. Life here is not about subsidizing time between Point A and Point B, but about making each point worthwhile. We meet people here and we remember them. We do things for the right reasons, not based on calculations but simply because they make us happy.
Thus far, my time in Armenia has brought about an unexpected sense of clarity. It has presented many challenges, but it has also given me the gift of perspective. It is up to me to embrace this gift. Simple wildflowers on a hillside have taught me how to look at things with a new sense of appreciation. Look at everything with a new set of eyes and learn to not take things for granted. There is wonder and beauty in every situation and it is completely up to us to figure how it manifests itself.
The last time I was in Armenia was in 2004. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about returning and having to live here for the next 6 weeks, especially because I have never been away from home for that long. Then, we landed and all that nervousness seemed to disappear and my excitement took over. I realized that from this point on I would be surrounded by my people. I was surprised to see how much Armenia had changed within the past eight years. The airport was completely renovated and looked like an airport you would find in America rather than a third world country. On our way to the hostel, I could not help but be mesmerized by all of the beautiful high rises. I was surprised to see how much it had developed in the last couple of years, whether it be through technology or just the peoples mentality. One can easily see that all of these changes will lead towards further progress and development.
People make it seem as though we are doing them a favor by running summer camps here but what they do not realize is this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it is truly a humbling and gratifying experience. I am honored and very proud to be a part of such an organization and to be given the chance to impact the lives of my fellow brothers and sisters.
We received word yesterday that Ruben Hayrapetyan resigned from parliament due to pressures from the people regarding the death of Vahe Ayetyan. This was bittersweet because it took the death of a military doctor to see an oligarch out of parliament. However this is a start to what can become a monumental movement in Armenia. The people spoke up and the impact was felt, further showing that Armenians want to be more involved in ensuring citizens rights are protected. It is exciting to know that I was part of that initial movement. I was present at the protest on Saturday that was organized by locals and saw a sea of people who were infuriated by what had happened. I was moved by the number of people present.
Being from the United States, I take for granted our first amendment right to assemble; I know that if I’m passionate enough about a topic I can use this right, within the limits of the law, without fearing targeted persecution. By participating in the protest in Armenia, I felt uneasy because I didn’t know the laws and didn’t know how the police and security were going to react to the crowd. However protests and movements like this one help lay the framework for people to freely exercise their rights . I’m happy that I was able to be part of this movement.
Yesterday was a very emotional day for me, as I participated in a protest in Armenia for the first time. The circumstances are as follows:
Two weeks ago, on June 17, I landed in Yerevan, overwhelmed to be back home. Little did I know, upon my arrival, 3 military doctors were brutally beaten at Harsnakar Restaurant, which is owned by one of Armenia’s very well connected parliamentarians. Two of the three were badly injured and unfortunately one of them, Vahe Avetyan, was murdered.
A mix of mourners and protesters gathered in front of the restaurant to express their anger, frustrations, pain, and utter disillusionment with the current situation. Hundreds of candles were lit, the walls were smeared with the words “oligarchi hantsakordz,” “sbantanots,” and “chek marseloo.” The crowd passionately chanted the likes of “martasban” “baykar” and “amot” as they confronted the police keeping them from entering the building.
This senseless murder was a perfect example of the unchecked “goshd-gobid” behavior of Armenia’s oligarchy. It has come to the point that these people use and abuse their power knowing that, most likely, some fake measure of “justice” is the worst they will have to deal with. Simply stated, the rule of law does not exist in Armenia when it comes to its oligarchic class of thugs.
Throughout the protest, I felt as though I was on an emotional rollercoaster. I had pain in my heart and nothing but anger on my mind. I couldn’t believe the amount of people that showed up and protested furiously no matter how intensely the rain poured down on them. I honestly was expecting a much smaller turnout, however I was truly inspired by my surroundings. The biggest question going through my mind and the mind of the other protesters was “How can an Armenian kill another Armenian so senselessly?” No matter how tragic the circumstances are, I feel as though the people of Armenia are taking a step in the right direction by standing up for their humanitarian rights and working towards a better future no matter what the odds are against them.