“DISCOVER ARMENIA”: THE SECRET OF BEING ARMENIAN AND A HUMAN

- Happy birthday to You, happy birthday dear Chake!

The morning starts cheerfully at AGBU Vahe Karapetyan Center. The participants of AGBU Discover Armenia program are getting ready for a trip to Haghartsin. It will be the most memorable birthday for Chake: “To start with, I am in my Homeland; and second, I will be celebrating my birthday with so many Armenian friends. I couldn’t wish for better.” The Canadian-Armenian girl receives birthday wishes and makes an important promise publicly: “I will be back for sure, I will be back to settle in our Homeland. I want to become a judge. I will study hard, and will return to work here.”

The bus heads toward Tavush. The participants of the program, ages 15 to 18, have so far explored Yerevan, Etchmiadzin, and Tatev; they have joined in the grape blessing event in Noravank, they have taken part in the construction works by the Fuller Center for Housing Armenia in Nerkin Bazmaberd, they have visited the children at the Vanadzor orphanage and have handed over the gifts they had brought from home, and have participated in national dance and song classes at Hayordats Tun (AGBU Children’s Center) in Yerevan… discoveries have been all around, every day, every hour, every single minute …“After all, what have we gained during these last three weeks, is a question I’m trying to answer. Homeland regained. Yes, we regained our Homeland, and that homeland is not only about these places, the land, or the people: our Homeland was within us – here beneath our hearts and minds – it is simply revived.”

Thomas confidently states that all 52 participants of AGBU “Discover Armenia” program have the same impressions. Despite coming from 10 different countries, from totally different families and background, the participants realized they are one for they come from the same culture, they belong to the same culture, the same nation about which they have read so much, learned so much at school, and have heard so many stories from their great-grandparents. “My most vivid impressions were at Tsitsernakaberd. My final paper at high school was about that memorial; it was named the best paper. Regardless, studying the memorial from afar, sharing about it with others is quite different from seeing it and experiencing it personally… We were flooded with varied sensations of grief, anger, pride, and joy when we saw the ruins of Ani. We had travelled to see the ruins from this side of the border. That very moment the whispered stories of the genocide of our family echoed so loudly and clearly in my head…”
Thomas is silent, Lulu Troyer, who is sitting next to him, tries to continue his unspoken words. She might do a better job: the girl with Armenian ancestry wants to become a writer. “Wrath: Probably that would be the right word.” Lulu stands out among her loud peers for her thoughtful gaze. She closes her book and shows the front page: a non-fiction on feminism she picked up for a read on the road. “Women in Armenia are respected. I have noticed how Armenian men revere women and girls, take care of them, and worry about them. Obviously, that’s really good and is part of the mentality. However, there is the reverse side of it as well: men oftentimes are imperious toward women. Women here seem to have more responsibilities than rights. I would love to be back when I get older to help Armenian women defend their rights. That’s the goal of my life ‘Discover Armenia’ set in me.”
“I will come back in a few years to serve in the army,” the voice from the rear reveals a curly, blond, green-eyed young man. That’s Davit. He was born in Yerevan, and considers himself a native “Yerevantsi”. He was eight when his family permanently moved to Canada. “My dad frowns when I speak of serving in the army. He is an Artsakh war veteran. He has left Armenia with a heavy heart. I want to reconcile my dad with our Homeland. That’s why I needed this discovery. I was almost breathless when I saw Shushi while travelling through Artsakh. I know every single move in the liberation operation of Shushi from my dad’s stories… I will be back to join the army. Yes, I must convince my father by all means, I know what I am going to tell him… I will say: Dad, I do make you upset oftentimes, right? And I do get hurt oftentimes, too, when you don’t let me do things, right? But we never give up on each other, do we? It’s the same with our Homeland: Armenia is a child that needs your help, your care, your love, and your forgiveness, for that matter.” The 12 classmates have finished their eighth grade and have travelled to Armenia with the help of AGBU to discover Armenia along with 40 other peers. “Being Armenian is not just about speaking Armenian, or writing and reading Armenian, it’s not the ancestry: it’s much more than that, which I still cannot define by words,” says Natasha Artokun complementing Davit’s words. She is also from Canada. Swaying, the bus motors along the roads of Armenia, leaving rapidly “dissolving” landscapes, and settlements outside the windows, behind. These young Diaspora Armenians, who have been on the run for twenty days, have accumulated impressions and emotions, seem to slowly realize that next week this same day they will be far apart from one another and from this land. “Yeah, we will definitely miss it,” they respond all at once. “Miss what?” . “Hermine’s strictness,” the rear of the bus bursts into laughter. They are all on the same page. The boot-camp-discipline will long remain part of their memories, and there will be legends told of their shared adventures. Such stories are being told for more than 10 years by now.

“I have even climbed mountains, and camped out in the woods side by side with them. I can also recall bringing water on the back of a donkey for a whole week to a kindergarten site we were once renovating in Hadrut,” says Hermine Duzian, who is the founding director of AGBU “Discover Armenia” program for the last fourteen years. All these years she has been discovering Armenia for hundreds of young Diaspora Armenians with never-ending patience. “This is by no means a touristic program,” says this woman of covetable enthusiasm taking a break after fixing lunch for the teenagers. “It’s a 24/7 job. You need to be a parent of each and every child. Upon arrival, most of them can hardly imagine what they will encounter, although the parents are given the tour packages as early on as in May. It would great if the participants were informed just a little bit of the places they will be visiting beforehand. Of course, we educate them about the place we visit in any case. As you probably noticed, Anzhelika, my assistant, presented the history of Haghardzin and the creation of cross stones. That’s what we do wherever we go.”
This year the “Discover Armenia” hosted more than fifty young people. Fourteen years ago, Hermine Duzian launched the program with only seven participants. The applicants of the following year were the siblings of the first-year participants, their friends, and their relatives. Year after year Hermine’s perfectionism and care have accompanied generations. The founder of the program shares her observations: the meaning of the word ‘discovery’ is quite different for the participants upon their arrival from what is noticed in their eyes at their departure. “We don’t just show them around the country: first and foremost, we educate them, not by teaching them just the history. For God’s sake! No! They can easily get that information from the internet. We teach them to support and take care of one another, to do good” says Hermine. “This year we celebrate the tenth year of cooperation with ‘the Fuller Center for Housing Armenia. The youth took part in the construction works of a house for a needy family in Nerkin Bazmaberd. We visited the Vanadzor orphanage… And when I asked them about their most vivid impression, they all point to the construction works and the visit to the orphanage. It seems they are young, and should take things light-heartedly without realizing much. But they do. Amazingly, they are extremely strong.”

The group of more than four dozen boys and girls is headed towards Sarigyugh community near the border. There, some thirty young participants of yet another AGBU program, the “Armenia: Land of Life”, coordinated by Hermine, are waiting for them. The group has partially renovated the village school on their own expense. In the end, based on the experience of their older peers the participants of “Discover Armenia” were on a discovery of the secret of being a Human.

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