In the early hours of the day, you hear the sounds of the crowing rooster. In the distance, the firing shots.
In the early hours of the day, you hear the sounds of the mooing cows. In the distance, the firing shots.
In the early hours of the day, you hear the sounds of the old creaking wood floors. In the distance, the firing shots.
In the early hours of the day, you hear the sounds of the ticking clock as time stands still. In the distance, the firing shots.
This is the bittersweet symphony of the village of Baghanis.
Baghanis is found in the northeastern Tavush region of Armenia, bordering Azerbaijan. The village is small, the population number is low, the stores are scarce, and there are no restaurants in sight.
One may wonder why anyone would voluntarily visit such a place. Every time I spoke about our Jampar in Baghanis, I received two different responses. The first was people not knowing anything about its existence. The second was concern as to why 25 young Armenian Diasporans from the United States would want to visit such a remote, and at times dangerous, village so near to the border of Azerbaijan. My response was always the same: we were going to bring happiness to the children of the village.
Upon reaching Baghanis, I began realizing the validity of the responses I had received. The life of Baghanis was very simple. The food was gathered daily from cows, pigs, and chickens who roam the fields of the stone buildings. Water was boiled by wood fire, if it were even available. And at least once a day, from a distance, we heard the sounds of Azeri shots being fired.
The scenery of Baghanis was unlike any other. We spent many hours each day in the school field playing soccer, a favorite pastime of the campers. And each day, my co-counselors and I took a moment to appreciate all the nature of our homeland, the green of the mountains, the clear blue sky, the shining golden sun and the bright smiling faces of over 100 local children that attended our Jampar – the true beauty of Baghanis.
Even in such poor conditions, the children were always full of joy, hope and happiness, something I had thought we would be bringing them. Instead they brought it to us – the mere joy, hope and happiness in befriending the future generation of our resilient people.
Although we were merely one mile from the border, we were never in danger of the enemy. The only real danger we ever encountered was falling deeply in love with the children and knowing that after only five short days, we would depart, and sadly, never see them again. The danger was in our devastation and heartbreak.
This is the bittersweet symphony of the village of Baghanis.
Glendale, CA — On Thursday, the Armenian Youth Federation – Western Region announced the recipients of the Syrian Armenian Scholarship. The winners were Pierre Afarian of Yerevan State University, and Goruen Soghomonian and Tsoghig Ashekian from the State Engineering School of Armenia.
“As members of the Armenian Youth Federation, we felt that it is our responsibility to help other youth in their time of need, especially students that are barely trying to make ends meet so that they may have a brighter future,” said Serob Abrahamian, the Syrian Armenian Scholarship Coordinator. “Although there were many highly qualified students who applied to the scholarship, we could only choose three.”
The AYF-WR established this scholarship due to the influx of refugees escaping the ongoing war in Syria. Many of these Armenians went to neighboring countries like Lebanon, and others went back to their homeland Armenia.
“While reading the essays of the applicants, it saddened me to hear what my people had to go through and have to continue to battle today,” said Joseph Kaskanian, Syrian Armenian Scholarship Committee member. “But what was amazing was to see that not even war stopped our youth from pursuing their education.”
The Armenian Youth Federation believes that through the help of each and every individual, we can directly influence the lives of the Armenian people.
“Thank you so much to our friends in the United States who have established this selfless initiative for their brothers and sisters,” said Afarian, the first place winner. “I personally want to thank all of you for providing us with this scholarship during the most difficult time of our lives. I will use this scholarship in order to gain an education, with that education I will wholeheartedly serve the Armenian people, both in Armenia and in the Diaspora.”
Founded in 1933, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and most influential Armenian American youth organization in the world, working to advance the social, political, educational and cultural awareness of Armenian youth.
Baghanis is a small village in northeast Armenia, merely 1.5 miles away from the border of Azerbaijan. For those unaware of the situation between the two countries, Azerbajian is currently one of Armenia’s biggest enemies. There are continuous disputes between the two countries, which sometimes result in gunfire that can be heard all throughout this border village. Unaccustomed to the sound of gunfire, our group was completely oblivious to when and where this was occurring.
One morning at camp, a group of my campers ran up to me and asked if I had heard the noises of gunfire the night before. Oblivious to anything having happened, I asked them more and they answered in a very nonchalant manner saying the firing had begun around 7 p.m., while they were playing soccer in the field. I was incredibly shocked, not only to be hearing the campers say that there had been gunfire shared between the Armenians and Azeris, but more so that the children in Baghanis reacted in such a “no big deal” way.
How someone could have such a reaction to the sound of gunfire was so beyond me. I personally was afraid for the children, afraid for their future and afraid that they would grow up being numb to threats and violence. It made me sad that they were so used to hearing gunfire and living in a place where war and safety are an everyday concern. But there was something else about the situation that made me happy and proud. The children continued their game because they weren’t afraid. They are aware of the instability of their safety, but don’t let the fear of hearing gunfire on the border stop them from having fun and living their lives. There was such a strong lesson in this realization and I am so grateful to have experienced it.
What amazed me most about Baghanis was not the beautiful mountain scenery, or the fact that there were animals roaming the streets freely, but the children. These kids not only live in a small, desolate village with one main road and homes that lack running water, but they are also on the border of Armenia’s current enemy. Yet, they are happy and full of life. They came to camp everyday with a HUGE smile on their face, eager to learn and be a part of something more. Camp gave them an opportunity to not only forget about the dangers of what was going on around them, but to actually talk about their challenges and express their feelings.
These kids helped me see the bigger picture: that it’s not about how comfortably you live in your home, or whether or not you have access to water and electricity all day long, but it’s really about your attitude and approach to the hand you are dealt. They taught me that even though we may not live in the best conditions, there is still a way to make the best of it. For these kids, it was continuing their soccer game; for me, it’s finishing this program knowing I made a difference in over 100 kids’ lives.
Long car rides and bumpy roads have become a given in almost all of our road trips, whether it be from Martuni to Yerevan or Baghanis to Proshyan. Sitting in a 16-passenger van with no air conditioning for a minimum of 2 hours has also become a given, and luckily, we have learned that the smell of cattle outside is the least of our worries.
There comes a point in every car ride where we all sit in silence, enduring every bump, hoping the ride will soon come to an end. However, with all the lingering pessimism, looking outside and enjoying the beauty of the country feels strange and somewhat unconventional.
I feel that the real beauty of any country, especially Armenia and Artsakh, lies when you least expect it, like during a car ride with hundreds of bumps. Taking the time away from the slightest bit of negativity and grasping the infamous scenery truly brings one to a moment of peace amid an awkward situation.
That’s just one of the many things I’ve learned to appreciate while here. Take the time. Look outside. Just enjoy.
Coming to Armenia, we all knew that putting on the first ever AYF Youth Corps Jampar in Baghanis would be an experience of a lifetime. Since it is a small town with a small population and not a single one of us had ever been there, nobody really knew what to expect. Now that we have spent a week in Baghanis, we’ve, for the most part, adjusted to the way of life here. We have also seen many differences between the kids here and those that participated in our other camps. We noticed these differences through many aspects of camp throughout different parts of the day. For example, take Wednesday’s simple arts and crafts activity. It started off like any other Jampar activity. We asked the kids to draw two pictures: one of how they see Baghanis now, and another of how they want to see Baghanis in the future. Many of the kids said they saw Baghanis as a small town, but wanted to see it as a big city. Others drew future Baghanis as a town with more modern technology. Of all these drawings, one caught our eye the most.
Unger Narek, who is fifteen years old, handed us his paper just like everyone else and walked back to his table. On one side of the paper (how he sees Baghanis now), he had drawn the Armenia-Azerbeijan border, with armed men fighting on both sides. On the other side of the paper (how he wants to see Baghanis in the future), he again drew the Armenia-Azerbeijan border. However, this time, the men in the picture were unarmed and peacefully shaking hands.
Upon seeing it, we became overwhelmed with emotion and needed a moment to collect ourselves outside of the classroom. It’s unbelievable how this kid has so much to worry about, yet can carry on with his life every day, full of positive energy and dreaming of peace for his homeland. This was one of the most difficult and emotional, yet humbling moments that either of us experienced at Jampar so far. We realized how blessed we are that we never have to worry about such life-threatening situations like Narek and his friends do.
Walking into the classrooms each morning, with smiling faces greeting us, one would never know that each day, these children walk home in fear. They fear that at any moment, shots can be fired and any one of their loved ones can lose their life. But even with that instilled fear in them, they are full of faith and they are hopeful; faithful in their village and country, and hopeful that one day, they too, will live a peaceful, safe life. With a simple drawing of peace between the neighboring countries, so much is learned about their lives.