Before Youth Corps started, I thought about what it might be like doing a program for six weeks in my homeland. My friends who had participated in previous years had told me about their amazing experiences and I couldn’t wait to have my own. I was extremely nervous at first, but the past three weeks have been incredible.
I’ve been going to AYF Camp near Los Angeles for the past twelve years. Joining Youth Corps and coming to Armenia, I thought the camps we were going to organize here were going to be like AYF Camp. After going through three weeks of camp, two in Artsakh and one in Broshian, I think it’s safe to say that I was both right and wrong. I was right in the sense that the Jampars we do here are like the camp I’ve grown to love. We play games like steal the bacon, butt volleyball, and dodgeball, we give the kids educationals about the ARF, and we teach them heghapokhagan songs in preparation for a song competition at the end of the week. A typical week at these Jampars consist of these activities, along with many more, and i’ve loved every minute of the last three weeks.
But there is one main difference between AYF Camp and the Jampars in Armenia. As I was sitting in Broshian with two girls who were going to sing the duet for the red group, I thought to myself, “These two girls are singing Garodee Hishadageen. But not only are they singing that song, they’re also Garod’s nieces.” At that moment, I realized how honored I was to be a part of this program. Who can say that they drove by the Mamik and Babik monument every morning to go to Jampar in Artsakh? Or that they woke up to a view of the majestic Mount Ararat in Broshian? How may people can say that they listened to a duet during song competition, sung by the nieces of Armenian hero Garod Mgrdchian, or that they got to meet his father? How many people could say that they saw where Bedo lived before he went off to the Kharapagh war? How many people could say that they became a part of the lives of hundreds of children in our homeland?
Thanks to Youth Corps, I can say yes to all of the above. That’s what Youth Corps is all about: being with the people, living with the people, and experiencing what they do in their daily lives. And I’m so happy to be a part of every minute of it. Two more weeks left… Gyumri here I come!
It is definitely not enough. One week in Proshyan is just too short. It’s too short for “Jampar” (camp). It’s too short to understand the value of the village, its people, the fallen heroes that lived there and their families that continue to do so. Only a mere 15 minutes outside of Yerevan, but a drastically different place. A week is too short, but I’m glad I was able to at least have that.
Where do I begin? I didn’t know much about Proshyan’s history before coming here. Nor did I get a chance to ask, as I soon realized its significance during the Artsakh liberation movement and thereafter, is enough history to digest during a short, one-week stay. Proshyan was one of the first villages to send fighters to Artsakh from Armenia during the early 1990s. It is also home to fallen Artsakh heroes, including Bedros Ghevondyan, Garod Megerdchian, and the recently murdered Hrach Mouradian. It continues to be home for their families, as well as many other freedom fighters, or “azadamardiks.” This reality, in and of itself, makes Proshyan a special place. When embarking on this 6-week program, I knew we would meet such individuals and their families, but I didn’t comprehend the effect it would have on me. We sing songs about their battles and in their memory, but shaking the hand of their brothers and fathers, hugging their children, seeing the house in which they would rest, evoke an emotion that is indescribable, but I will try to nonetheless. Beautiful. Inspiring. Motivating. Uplifting.
It was an everyday occurrence, as different people would visit Jampar throughout the day. Garod’s brother and father were regular visitors. Bedo’s relatives opened their home to show us some of his belongings, including the hat we see him wearing in almost all of his pictures. Hrach’s children participated in our Jampar and his son, Kevork, even stayed overnight as “bahag” (guard) one night. Everywhere we’d turn someone was there as proof that their memory and work will continue to live on for generations.
When surrounded by the families of so many fallen heroes in Proshyan, I can’t help but also think of those close to me that left far too early and without whom I wouldn’t be a group leader for AYF Youth Corps today. Every day, either during Jampar or after, I think about Sosé and Allen constantly. It is difficult not to. During Jampar I am surrounded by the fruit of their hard work and vision. After Jampar, I wish I could ask for their advice on certain decisions. We conduct each day of Jampar in their ever present and contagious spirit. Their inspiration is present even as I write this blog. I hope they are proud, but I’m sure I can do better.
This year thus far has been difficult for Proshyan. On April 2nd, the mayor of Proshyan, Hrach Mouradian, was murdered in broad daylight. The assassin(s) are still unpunished. I’m not even sure that someone has been arrested. Why?! Why him?! An “azadamardik,” a proven hero, someone that willingly put his life on the line for the betterment of the country, an Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) member, someone that had been elected mayor 3 times, and was a loved and respected individual. Why him?! Why, after 4 months, has no one been punished?! The story reeks of political motives as the election for a new mayor found the Republican Party, the current president’s party, “victorious.” A hero was replaced by a man representing a party of crooks and thugs. What is most troubling is that there are no witnesses that have come forward, more than likely out of fear, to testify. If these thugs won’t hesitate to murder a mayor, they certainly won’t hesitate to murder any witnesses.
I wish I had the chance to meet “Unger” (Comrade) Hrach, as I heard he was a frequent visitor of Jampar during the prior two years it was in Proshyan. This year, the third year of Jampar in Proshyan, we decided to conduct the one-week camp in his name, to show the village, those responsible for his death, and those responsible for failing to punish the murderers, that the youth today, though separated by thousands of miles, are unified and will always remember Unger Hrach and what he represents. His death will not be in vain, and I can show you 180 kids and counselors who agree.
In Proshyan, Jampar started Monday with over 100 kids. The next day, the number grew to 150, the maximum number we can accept. The next day, even more kids showed up, forcing us to turn them away, undeniably the worst part about being group leader. We even had kids showing up on the second to last day, begging to participate. Nevertheless, we had the fortune to interact with a very special group of kids. Some stood out more than others. Whether it was their through exceptional singing, or entertaining personality, we embraced the opportunity to meet them all. Moreover, the Jampar was very special for Youth Corps participants because both groups worked together for a week, and they had a great time doing so. The day was full of high energy and excitement, which allowed for productive song practice and competitive games between color groups. The camp concluded with a memorable song competition, featuring Garod’s nieces singing a song dedicated to their uncle, talented singers displaying their beautiful voices, and a group performance of “Verkerov Li”, dedicated to Unger Hrach. Typically, song competition makes counselors proud of their campers as it reflects the hard work they put into teach the kids songs all week long. This song competition went a step further, touching all of us, and making the parents and members of the community and beyond, proud of the village’s children.
I can’t conclude my thoughts about Jampar in Proshyan without mentioning a vital key to its success, Unger Kevork Parseghian. At the beginning of the week, he was just the father of my close friend, Berj. At week’s end, he became my Unger. I didn’t know much about him, and he doesn’t like to talk about himself much, even though he, too, fought in the Artsakh war. He is a genuine “Tashnagtsagan” (Federation member), dedicated to the ideal of humbleness. Despite this, I was able to pick his brain during our various meetings throughout the day or during our drives into Yerevan to buy food for camp. At first he told me I didn’t have to go with him, but I insisted, and I’m glad I did. I learned a lot from Unger Kevork. I not only heard his stories about battles in Artsakh or the Lebanese civil war (which he also fought in) but also lessons about life, and in particular, Armenian life. He moved to Proshyan nine years ago, and has somehow remained calm in the face of many obstacles that have pushed him to the edge of frustration.
Perhaps the most notable memory I will have of him is from one of our drives into Yerevan at 8:30 in the morning. After pointing out all of the things wrong with the current state of Armenia, he told me “Yete hayrenikit mech bidi chi baykaris, baykareluh animasd eh” (“If you are not willing to fight for your country in your country, then your fight has no meaning).” At first I didn’t understand his point, because I don’t think one has to be in Armenia in order to fight for its betterment. But eventually, I figured out that’s not what he is saying. What he means is that that the country we want Armenia to become will not come into being unless we, and all Armenians alike, create a direct connection to it. And I wholeheartedly agree. We need to visit Armenia and spend time there, in order to understand it. And if we are able to, we must live there, not with the expectation that we are here to fix it, but with the desire to contribute to it. For generations, including those from Unger Kevork’s generation, a free and independent Armenia was just a dream. We now have a country that we can call our own, so it is up to us to unequivocally embrace it.
That conversation had my mind racing throughout the whole week. The needs for Armenia are vast, just like any other country. What this country needs is leadership that genuinely cares for it; leadership that values and invests the country’s beauty and potential. The people are thirsty for work. Not just work that will pay the bills, but work that will allow the country to grow and become something they can be proud of, something that represents the free and independent Armenia they have envisioned, and in some cases, died for. The current leadership is not that. The current leadership is worried about their personal gain, not that of the country. The current leadership is not working to find the culprits behind the murder of a village mayor, an Artsakh war hero. The current leadership doesn’t care that roads are unpaved or full of potholes; or that water doesn’t run through every village/city 24 hours a day; or that prices for gas, water and electricity have increased by large amounts while wages have stayed the same. But forget about the current leadership! To hell with them! Just because they don’t care, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. They are not Armenia. They don’t control you and me. The 150 tram revolution showed us the people aren’t scared to voice their concerns any longer. The current leadership’s time will eventually come to an end. It is our duty to continue working until that happens. We have roughly 8 million people living in the diaspora and 3 million living in Armenia. It is time for our collective 11 million to not just say that we care, but to truly show it.
Visit Armenia, it’s what Bedo, Garod and Hrach died for…and it’s beautiful.
Live in Armenia, it’s what Sosé, Allen and Unger Kevork did…and it’s home.