Absolutely. In a heartbeat. No question. I’ll be better prepared, knowing what to expect and how to better handle certain situations. I’d get to live in Artsakh for two weeks (who wouldn’t want that?). I’d get to hear more stories from azadamardiks (freedom fighters) and their families. I’d get to meet and bond with hundreds of kids that are the future of our country. I’d meet fellow youth from my region as well as regions from all over the world. Of course I’d do it all again.
Sure, being away from family and friends for 7 weeks is tough, but the more I think about it, the question that needs to be addressed is, why aren’t my loved ones there with me? I can’t speak on their behalf, but would love to have that discussion soon.
There’s just something about this program. It’s not something that I can easily explain. The country, the people, my fellow volunteers have all moved me. During Jampar (camp) I didn’t realize it because I was too busy making sure everything was organized, kids were behaving, the food was on time, and the educationals were engaging. That daily grind consumed all my energy, physically and mentally. But on our last day in Shushi, when we gathered in the open area at Naregatsi Art Institute to do our final closing ceremony and effectively conclude the 2013 Youth Corps camps, it hit me hard. Very hard. Suddenly, the daily grind I experienced every day was forgotten. The problems and decisions I faced didn’t matter. At that final moment nothing mattered, except the lasting impression that the program will leave in every region we went to.
That day I had to fight back the tears in order to avoid crying in front of hundreds of children. I had to take my time addressing them for one final time, speaking about how happy I was with the camp in Shushi. The truth is, I wasn’t just thinking about the kids from Shushi, as amazing as they are. I was thinking about the kids in Gyumri, the kids in Proshyan, the families of Artsakh heroes we met along our journey, the breathtaking environment in Shushi, the 24 people in our group, my fellow group leader, Sanan, the 3 AYF members that joined us from Holland, the group of AYF members we met from France, the 3 AYF members we met from Kuwait, the youth we met in our respective regions, my family and loved ones back home that I’d see very soon, my two role models and friends, Sosé & Allen. All of these memories, bundled up into one single experience, came rushing at me like an avalanche. Emotions that I couldn’t ignore.
So, I took my time, asking the kids to say their ganches (group calls) loudly one more time, then asking them to sing Mshag Panvor for the last time, then proudly repeat the ganch we had created in memory of Sosé & Allen. That gave me enough time to gather my thoughts and regain my composure. When the ganches and singing ended and the kids waited for me to speak, I couldn’t think of anything. I just told them that they needed to remember to take their water bottles and books home. I couldn’t say anything else. Then our day, and the camp, ended. But a strange thing happened…the kids didn’t leave.
They each ran to their favorite counselor(s) to give him/her a hug and ask for a picture. They asked for phone numbers, and made us promise we would be back next year.
When I came down the steps I saw my favorite camper, Aram, the leader of the best ganch I’d ever heard in my life. He ran up to me and gave me the biggest hug. That alone would make me want to do Youth Corps again next year. Tears started to come back again. Then two of the older campers came up to me and said they are looking forward to getting involved with the Artsakh Yeridasartagan (youth) now that they are too old for Jampar. That was enough to make me want to start another session of Jampar right then and there. More tears. Then I saw two of our younger campers who had just finished singing one of the cutest and touching duets ever. I hugged them like they were my little sisters, not knowing when I would see them again. That made me want to never leave Shushi. Even more tears.
This sentiment stuck with me the final couple days of Youth Corps. I wasn’t excited to return to Yerevan. I didn’t care about a stronger WiFi connection. I didn’t care about the cafés or restaurants. All I could think about was that inexplicable attachment. That thing that made me love the program so much. I just didn’t want to leave.
Suddenly, I find myself back in Los Angeles. The last two nights in Yerevan were a blur. The flight to Moscow was a blur. The flight to Los Angeles was a blur. When we landed, we saw our family and loved ones. All that became a blur. Then someone asked me, “So, would you do it again?”
The answer was crystal clear, “Yes I would.” Only next time, I hope my family and loved ones will be with me in our homeland, so I wouldn’t have a reason to leave.
Ամեն անգամ Արցախ գալիս գիտենք, որ մեզ նոր և ուսումնալից փորձառություններ են սպասվում: Թարմ տեղեկություններ հայրենիքի մասին և նոր, պայծառ հուշեր: Այս ամառ առավել ևս հետաքրքիր և հիշարժան էր լինելու, քանի որ մասնակցելու էինք Արևմտյան Ամերիկայի կազմակերպած պատանեկան ճամբարին:
Մենք շատ անգամներ էինք եղել Հայաստանում, բայց առաջին անգամ էր, որ պետք է մասնակցեինք այս աշխատանքին: Չգիտեինք ի՞նչպիսի ճամբար է լինելու և ո՞ւմ հետ ենք աշխատելու: Խմբի վարիչներին չէինք ճանաչում, իսկ նրանք արդեն ճամբարներ էին իրականացրել Գյումրիում, Ասկերանում և Պռոշյանում: Այս ամենը մեզ քիչ թե շատ անհանգստացնում էր:
Շաբաթ առավոտյան ժամանեցինք Պռոշյան, որպեսզի հանդիպենք մեր խմբին, որի հետ պետք է մեկնեինք Շուշի։ Պռոշյանում երկու խմբերը միասին էին ճամբարը կազմակերպել։ Ծանոթացանք մեր խմբի պատասխանատու ընկեր Արեգի հետ և կամաց–կամաց բոլոր երիտասարդների հետ, ովքեր հերթով ծանր և արկածախնդիր երեկոյից հետո արթնանում էին։
Ընկերների համար ամենահուզիչ հարցերից մեկը Նիդեռլանդների հայ համայնքային կյանքն էր և հատկապես մեր շրջանի Հ.Յ.Դ. երիտասարդական միության դրությունը։ Նիդերլանդների երիտասարդական միությունը շատ է տարբերվում Արևմտյան Ամերիկայի երիտասարդական միությունից։ Մեր միությունը շատ փոքր է և նոր։ Այն ունի ընդհամենը 5 տարվա պատմություն և մոտավորապես 20 անդամ։ Հայությունը սփռված է և չկան երիտասարդական կենտրոններ։ Սակայն դա արգելք չի հանդիսանում Հոլանդիայի երիտասարդ դաշնակցականների համար համախմբվելու և հայանպաստ գործունեություն ծավալելու։ Ամերիկայի երիտասարդական միությունը օրինակելի է և ունի տասամյակների փորձ։ Նրանց տարիների փորձը պատճառ դարձավ միանալ այս ծրագրին և սովորել փորձառու ընկերներից։
Երբ այնքան խոսեցինք մեր շրջանի մասին մինչև բոլորն արթնացան ժամանակը եկավ ճանապարվելու դեպի այն սպասված վայրը, որի համար ամիսներ նախապատրաստվել և երազել ենք։ 11 անծանոթ երիտասարդների հետ սկսեցինք մեր ճանապարհը դեպի Շուշի։ Ճանապարհորդությունը դարձավ մեզ համար ամենահետաքրքիր և հիշարժան ճանապարհորդություններից մեկը։ Այդ երիտասարդները շատ կարճ ժամանակում դարձան մեզ մտերիմ։ Նաև գիտակցումն այն իրականության, որ մենք առաջին անգամ իրական հայրենանվեր գործ ենք կատարելու, շատ էր ոգևորել մեզ: Առաջին իսկ պահից մենք մեզ զգացինք մեր հարազատների գրկում, չնայած շատերին առաջին անգամ էինք տեսնում: Հիրավի սա է դաշանակցության մեծությունը, որ գաղափարակից մարդիկ առանց արյունակիցներ լինելու կարող են այդքան հարազատ լինել միմյանց համար: Մենք սովորում էինք ամեն վայրկյան և սովորելով վայելում էինք նաև կյանքը: Շատ կարճ էր ժամանակը, բայց այնքա՜ն մեծ էր ոգևորությունը և խանդավառությունը, որ այս մի քանի օրը վճռորոշ կարող է լինել մեր կյանքում:
Ամենաանմոռանալին և տպավորիչը այնուամենայնիվ Արցախի երեխաներն էին: Մեր հայրենիքի ապագան և մեր հաջողությունների գրավականը: Նրանց ամեն ինչ ասող պայծառ աչքերը այն վառ լույսերն են, որոնք մեզ անպայման կառաջնորդեն դեպի երջանիկ ապագան: Չնայած մենք էինք սովորեցնողի դերում, բայց կարծում ենք, որ մենք ավելի շատ բան սովորեցինք մեր Արցախի երեխաներից:
Այսօր շատ ենք խոսում խոսքից գործի անցնելու կարևորության մասին: Վերջին երկու շաբաթների ընթացքում մենք տեսանք թե ինչպես է հնարավոր դա իրականացնել: Ամերիկայի ընկերների փորձը չափազանց ուսանելի է: Ճիշտ այդպես պետք է գնալով ավելի մեծ ծրագրեր իրականացնենք մինչև մեր ամենամեծ նպատակների և երազանքների կատարումը:
We may not have “haghteld” or “antzeld” our competition but we definitely take gold for pride. For every one idea we have the kids have ten. Although the kids get rowdy at times and test our limits the passion in their voices as they chant their ganches or practice their songs makes up for it. Win or lose they run around chanting “gabooyd” with smiles on their faces. Be it in the gym, the classroom, or any place in between the kids figure out some way to stay entertained. But what we appreciate the most about these kids is not the fact that they love learning English phrases like “howdy partner”, or the fact they make us drawings and bring us flowers every morning. What we love most about blue group is how much they genuinely care about making jampar the best as possible. They pay attention during educationals absorbing as much information as possible. The older kids help the younger ones learn their lines for talent show and they run up to us every morning repeating the songs and phrases they learned the previous day in English class.
As our time in Armenia comes to an end, we can’t help but be greeted with a bitter- sweet feeling. Yes, its sad that we have to leave our homeland and the kids, but its so nice knowing we gave these kids an unforgettable summer and they did the same for us. Every moment we spent with our kids deepened the connection we had with them. Five weeks ago we never pictured the kids impacting our lives the way they have. No amount of picture or video would do our memories and experiences justice.
Earlier in the year, when Levon first proposed the idea that we all participate in Youth Corps together we were extremely apprehensive to agree to it. We knew it would be an amazing experience, but were nervous about meeting new people and stepping out of our comfort zone. Levon, who participated in Youth Corps in 2011, continuously assured us that the we would regret not coming to Armenia together. Growing up together, going to the same school, and having all the same friends, we assumed that nothing could possibly bring us any closer. However, participating in AYF Youth Corps together definitely proved us wrong. The past few weeks we’ve spent together, more specifically the time we’ve we spent in Shushi, has brought us closer then ever. Every day for the past two weeks, we have been sharing a twin size bed, (which is not that comfortable when Sareen steals the entire blanket…actually, Taleen’s lying, she’s the one that always has her feet in my face.) Surprisingly, we have enjoyed waking up this way. It’s reassuring knowing that not only your cousin, but also your best friend is right by your side every morning as soon as you wake up.
Without a doubt we are each others’ support system throughout this journey. No one would be there to help the other participants understand Sareen’s fear of ants, or help Taleen deal with her anxiety when driving by cliffs. Yes, we know our fears are a bit strange, but we have helped each other get through them. We rely on each other for support the most during Jampar. Whenever we need advice on what to say to one of the kids or how to react to a situation, we know we can turn to each other. For instance, Ishkhan, one of the kids in our Shushi Jampar, was continuously disrupting Sareen’s classroom. Together, we discussed ways in which we could help Ishkhan understand that he needs to improve his behavior in class and Taleen decided it would be best to pull him aside and talk to him. By talking to him alone, Taleen was able to form a bond with Ishkhan that caused his behavior to improve immediately. Not only that, Ishkhan has grown to be Taleen’s favorite camper. It’s situations like this that prove the bond we share as cousins has helped us throughout this trip.
We came on this journey knowing we would learn more about Armenia and its history, but we never imagined how much we would grow as Armenians. As we arrived in Shushi we were both aware of the history in Artsakh, but seeing these places first hand has been unreal… seeing all the ruins in Tigrankert; seeing an actual missile launched into to the side of the wall at Gandzasar; walking on the same ground that our fedayeen fought on in Shushi… And the most amazing part about all of this is that we were able to experience it with one another and the twelve other group members that we have grown to call our family. We could never have imagined coming to Armenia for the first time without one another and are grateful that Youth Corps has provided us with this amazing experience. Growing even closer to one another was something we never thought possible, but these past five weeks have definitely proven us wrong. We’ve spent been nineteen years, eight months and 21 days together and we continue to grow closer each day.
With love from Shushi,
Sareen and Taleen Yepremian
Monday was the first day of the last week of Jampar. It sounds as weird as it feels. Weird in the sense that next Monday, instead of walking to Jampar in the morning, I’ll be sitting on a plane headed back to Los Angeles. Weird in the sense that I won’t wake up next to the same people I’ve lived with over the past six weeks. And especially weird in the sense that I won’t spend everyday from 10:00am to 4:00pm with some of the most amazing kids in the world.
With that said, AYF Youth Corps has been one of the greatest adventures of my life. I’ve done things that I would not have imagined doing in my life, like crossing a suspension bridge in Artsakh’s mountains or riding a horse in Gyumri’s delicious fish restaurant. AYF Youth Corps has taught me to be more open-minded and to try everything at least once. It seems that these life lessons I’ve learned over the last six weeks will stay with me for years to come.
The end of camp is bittersweet. It’s bitter because we won’t see the kids anymore of course, but more importantly it’s bitter because those kids are genuinely disappointed that camp is almost over and they have to wait another year to come have this amazing experience again. It is sweet because the impact we make on these kids lives is so visible. Even though there is still a whole 4 days left, the kids are already wanting exchange contact information and constantly asking me “Ungeruhi Areni myoos tari piti gas che?” (Ungerouhi Areni, you will come back next year right?) I can’t deny that our campers misbehave and drive us crazy most of the time; however, every morning we all still greet each other with smiles because we have built unique relationships with one another. We are not their parents, we are not their teachers; we are their older brothers and sisters, we are now friends from different sides of the world who will never forget one another.
This last session of camps are dedicated to our Ungers Allen Yekikain and Sose Thomassian-Yekikian. Allen and Sose were a very big part in creating and developing this AYF Youth Corps camp program and their untimely departure has left us with very big shoes to fill. Regardless of the fact that some of the participants from our group may not have personally known these two, all of us are now a part of the work being done to uphold their legacy. With these last four days of camp ahead, we will do our absolute best to build the bridge with our homeland through our relationships with these incredible kids.
First I want to start off saying how honored I feel to be in Armenia, especially with a group like the one I am with. As days go by, our friendships grow closer and although we have our ups and downs, we always end up loving each other at the end. We have met new people, who have inspired us with unique, musical talents along with shocking stories of their experiences in war. Everything has truly touched me since the day I stepped foot in Shushi.
Our departure from Proshyan was interesting as we got to meet three new members in our group: Adrineh, Sarineh, and Narineh (from Holland). As our destination got closer to Shushi, I missed those mornings in Proshyan when I would to wake up to Mount Ararat right in front of me, but I was also excited to discover new sights in Shushi. On the road we stopped at Noravank Church on top of a tall, rocky mountain, and explored the great secrets of the historic rooms and underground rooms. And that wasn’t our only stop. We made our way to Khor Virab, a church right in front of Mount Ararat. I remember seeing a poster of the church and Ararat in my dad’s dental office, and I had always wished to go there and seeing it was a very surreal experience. Then came the best part: sitting on the edge of the church wall and gazing at Mount Ararat’s icy beauty, admiring every second. As hard as it was to pry our eyes away from that sight, we were on a mission to reach Sushi on time, so we made our way — crammed inside a van. The next touristic sight was a special one. It was a sky-lift, the longest one in the world, taking us to Tatev “Vank” (monastery). It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever encountered! Once we reached the church, I saw villagers selling all types of teas and quickly purchased the most unique smelling ones.
A few hours later, finally we arrived at Saro’s house in Shushi. We immediately settled in and joined the Argentinian party, introducing ourselves and making friends; a great conclusion for the night.
This past week has been fantastic. We’ve been exploring Artsakh, seeing known landmarks around Shushi/Stepanakert and continuing our Jampar with 190 amazing kids. I don’t think I would want to go back to America. Spending all this time in Armenia makes me want to live here and make it my home. I want to explore all the other churches, cities, landmarks, villages, and meet different people. I also don’t want to go back and separate from this group. It is such an amazing experience to be able to live with people I’ve never met and create a bond that’s indescribable.
This trip has inspired me to apply again next year so I can live in my homeland for 6 weeks again, or maybe even longer. AYF Youth Corps 2013, thumbs up!
Asbed Levon Sarkissian
AYF Youth Corps 2013
Artsakh, day 3. We made pasta from scratch today (not really, but it felt like it).
Artsakh. Kharabakh. Shushi. Stepanakert. To some, these words may be just that – words. Others may know Artsakh to be an autonomous region that isn’t recognized as its own, independent country. Scholars and historians will know about the region based on what is written in books. However, to the 143,600 citizens living in Artsakh, the word “Artsakh” means home. It’s the land that Armenians fought and died for. And honestly, the books do no justice. The pictures do no justice. The spoken word does no justice to the real deal. As cliche as that may sound, it’s the truth. Artsakh has six different regions: Askeran, Martuni, Martakert, Hadrut, Shahumian, and Shushi. The greenery, fields, and clean air in Shushi is so different from city life. Life is literally in slow motion here; there’s no rush, no craziness. It’s perfect. The kids here are so attentive, welcoming, and curious, which makes Jampar (camp) that much better. You can see how proud the campers and their parents are to live on this land and be able to call this their home. These two weeks in Arstakh are going to be great. From get-togethers with foreign AYF groups such as France, to viewing all the sights Artsakh has to offer, this is going to be a good ending to such a memorable and inspiring trip.
It wouldn’t be right to talk about Artsakh without mentioning the drive. The drive to Artsakh was an adventure on its own. Moments like those we had in the van are the ones I relish, for that’s when everyone is careless, having fun, and just having a good time with each other.
So, the trip started; a 12-hour road trip, to be exact. Our first stop was Khor Virap, an Armenian Apostolic monastery located close to Armenia’s border with Turkey. The view of Ararat from Khor Virap is breathtaking yet extremely bittersweet. Seeing the Turkish watchtowers and knowing that Ararat is not on present-day Armenian soil is aggravating; it serves as a reminder that the fight for our homeland is far from over. Our next stop was Noravank, another monastery, built on top of a mountain in a narrow gorge in the 13th century. 5 hours later, we arrived at Tatev Monastery. I’ve been to Tatev once before, but that was before the cable cars were built. I can now say that I’ve been on the world’s longest cable car, Wings of Tatev. In my opinion, the view from the cable car and from the actual monastery itself is one of the best in Armenia. The greenery and the church in the distance leave you speechless. Finally, I was able to cross that trip off my bucket list, but I know that I will definitely make a ret rn trip to Tatev in the future. The next four hours of the trip were probably the most memorable. Singing songs, luggage falling on us while sleeping, and poking fun at people in our group who are scared of cliffs (Hi Taleen!)… Let’s just say we had a good time. Upon arrival in Shushi, we went directly to our host family’s house. To our surprise, we were also welcomed by four Argentinian street performers playing random instruments and performing crazy acrobatics. Needless to say, this trip is one that will be remembered well into the future.
It’s weird knowing that this all coming to an end soon. It’s been almost 5 weeks we’ve been here, but it feels like we arrived at Zvartnots Airport yesterday. Coming to Armenia with AYF was one of the best decisions I’ve made, and I think the final week here will just reassure that statement.
“So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, go barefoot oftener, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets. Life must be lived as we go along.” – J. Hastings
There’s so much to see in the world and there’s nothing better than going to your homeland and meeting and working with the future generation of your country.
Toasts are very common in the Armenian households and are generally very important. The first toast, typically given by the host, is directed at the eldest member of the household, or most respected individual around the table. The second one is a “free for all.” Anyone can speak, but out of respect, everyone allows the host “to run the show.” The third toast is in memory of the fallen azadamardigs and ungers for the sacrifices they made during the war. The fourth toast is for the parents. Always mindful of their parents, they say they will toast to them whenever it is an open toast. The people in Armenia take these toasts seriously. New generations are taught how to give toasts by listening and observing more experienced individuals such as their parents and grandparents give toasts around the dinner table. In sense, they are taught the unwritten rules of giving a proper toast. I hope to learn these rules and properly give a toast without messing up.
I came to Youth Corps knowing I would form bonds with the youth in Armenia. But I never expected to form bonds with the AYF & ARF members. In Artsakh, ungers Vauhg and Kegham instantly welcomed us into their homes, as if we were their family members. We felt like Artsakhtsis from the moment we got there. In Broshyan, we were with ungers not only from Armenia, but with ungers who had repatriated back to Armenia. The AYF/ARF communities in these regions were almost identical when it came to respecting a fellow Armenian and unger. They understood that we came here to help improve the state of Armenia and, with that in mind, they welcomed us with open arms.
Ever since the day we arrived in Yerevan and started touring, I was never able to see Mount Ararat clearly. It was always foggy, smoggy, or cloudy. In Proshyan, that quickly changed. The second day there, I woke up to a clear view of Mount Ararat. I stood there staring at it for a few minutes. It was so beautiful. I couldn’t keep my eyes away from it.
Thus far, we have completed 2 jampars and are now doing the third one. As we go through each Jampar, I learn a lot about Armenia, its people, and its history. While in Proshyan, I feel as though I started loving Armenia more and more There is so much more history in the village than I had originally expected. I heard stories about heroes like Bedo, Hrach, and Garod every day.
Although our stay in Proshyan was short, the Jampar that we did in this village meant so much to me. The feeling you get when meeting the family members of “azadamardiks” is hard to explain. It’s different. Hearing the story of each person, the sacrifices they made, and the heroic things they did for our country was amazing, and it created a fire within me that never existed before.
Honestly, I never thought that I would love Armenia this much. I have loved it so much, that I am really considering moving here. My friends in America told me that I would have the time of my life in Armenia, that it’s going to be a memory that I will never forget, and it’s a feeling that they couldn’t explain to me. When they told me these things, I never understood them. Now I know. It seriously is a feeling you cannot explain. It’s just something that you have to do and experience for yourself.
Thank you Proshyan and AYF Youth Corps for giving me this experience.