Armenian Volunteer Corps

Welcome to the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) blog. Here our volunteers and alumni reflect on their experiences living and volunteering in Armenia. For more information about our programs, visit our website, follow us on Facebook or drop us an email: .

Friday, October 01, 2010

Now When I Think of Armenia…I think about the next pages of our history

Noushig Hovhannesian

I had been looking forward to the day when I would have the opportunity to visit Armenia for the first time. For so long, I wanted to understand the connection I have had to my homeland. Before, when I would think about Armenia, I would think about the land where the stories of our history were created and only understood it through my interpretations of images and texts.

This summer, I had the incredible privilege of living, working, and experiencing life in Armenia.

Through the Birthright Armenia program, not only was I able to see Armenia and experience the beauty of our landscape and our culture, but I was able to live life as a local rather than visit as a tourist. For two months, I served with the Armenian Volunteer Corps in the city of Gyumri.

The opportunity to be a Birthright Armenia volunteer was introduced to me earlier this year. As I was considering my next step after graduation, I was unsure about the decision I had to make. I found myself discouraged in a poor job market with sparse fulfilling employment opportunities. I had been working for a Real Estate company for four years and had developed notable job security in an unstable economy, yet I was determined to find greater and more fulfilling challenges. I was too comfortable and knew that I was capable of more and for that reason, more must be expected from me. I needed to find a place where I would be able to help others without working to gain anything, see and understand life from others’ perspectives, and, for a little bit, forget about my personal priorities.

After a lot of thought and consideration, I decided to quit my job and pursue the opportunity to volunteer in Armenia.

Birthright placed me with a homestay family in Gyumri with whom I have developed a close relationship and what I hope to be a lifelong connection. Now when I think of Armenia, I think about my extended family that lives in Gyumri. I have a mother who has been through an earthquake and has lived through devastation, who has seen the worst but only knows how to offer the most to others. I have three sisters, three nephews, and one niece who I think about often. I have mothers, brothers, and sisters-in-law. I have neighbors and their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.

There are moments I have had with my family in Gyumri that I can never forget and that have created my new knowledge of Armenia as I know it today. Now when I think of Armenia, I think about the many long, late hour talks I had with my host mother with whom I lived alone, since all three of her daughters were married and living with their in-laws. I think about Nareg, my favorite five year-old nephew, whom I love with special admiration. His singing and humming of Armenian songs around the house still ring in my ear and put a smile on my face. When playing alone in the middle of the living room, he would recite Armenian poems that he had learned in preschool. And when I would incorrectly use an expression or improperly pronounce a word in the Eastern Armenian accent, he would correct me rather than expect me to know better than him as an adult.

Now when I think about Armenia, I think about the unique and joyous traditions of our Armenian culture. I remember going to my upstairs neighbor’s apartment on Vartavar late Sunday afternoon with my small pitcher of water. In hopes to surprise her, I knock on the door and go running around the corner to hide and soak her with my pitcher when she found me. That was when my friend Zach, a fellow volunteer who had been staying with my neighbor, and her son chased me through the hallway with a tub of water that they managed to pour over my head as I was standing there helpless in the hallway, still holding onto my small pitcher. They had been playing, indoors, since early that morning. That was just the beginning of the fun we had that day. I remember my host nephew’s adamahadig, celebrated just as we do in the Middle Eastern Armenian tradition. After five minutes of the young child being indecisive about the item he should grab, the doctor’s item was handed to him, and that’s when they determined that Haigo was indeed going to be a doctor.

I had the privilege of working at Fritsiov Nansen Orphanage, an internship in which I was placed by the Armenian Volunteer Corps. I worked with a group of teens, ages fourteen through nineteen. All of them have left a significant impact on my life. Now when I think of Armenia, I think of the beautiful faces of these Armenian boys and girls; although they are disadvantaged and deprived they are able to speak of the future. Whether that future holds marriage and creating families of their own, job opportunities, or a new city to call home, they were able to see past the affliction in which they lived. My perspective says affliction, but perhaps in theirs, they are content. I witnessed the care and concern they all have towards each other as siblings. It is distressing to say, however, that some had no hope, brushing off my question of what they want to make out of their lives, what they most like to learn, or what they most enjoy doing. It is difficult to handle a response that tells you that there is no desire or want to become anything and no interest to learn from anyone. I did not want to go through a day without seeing the children, even if it was for only half an hour on certain days. And then there was Khoren. Khoren is an undeniable inspiration to all who know him. His love of the Armenian culture was evident, his intelligence was heartwarming, and his tremendous talent was uplifting. His singing voice could move you to tears. Khoren is physically challenged and the only child in the orphanage who had such harsh physical impairments. The bones throughout his body and his face were not properly developed. He would often be interviewed by a local television station and the interviews would be televised for local viewers; unfortunately, I had never had the opportunity to see any of the interviews. I was told that when he was once asked what he wanted to do in his life, his response was to be a doctor so that he may be able to cure others’ ailments so that they may live better lives.

As a Birthright Armenia participant, my fellow Diasporan Armenian volunteers and I had the opportunity to participate in weekly forums and havaks where we were able to meet with political figures, war heroes and veterans, local youth and historians, and talented artists. Now when I think of Armenia, I think of one of the most uplifting and emotional moments I experienced when one of our war heroes stood during our forum and with marked emotion told us in Armenian, “This is your Armenia just as well as it is my Armenia. This is your home. We are left with only a small portion of our great land, but remember that it is ours. It is Armenian land. We must always fight to make sure we hold on to what we have left so that there will always be an Armenia.”
That first night I arrived home from Armenia and sat in my living room, I felt a rush through me as if I had left a part of me behind in Armenia. My connection is now not only emotional but has become physical, fixed to the grounds on which I had the privilege of walking. Hardships and setbacks were evident. However, progress and hope is strong. Armenia is moving forward. Although few job opportunities are available, education is a priority. My host mother, who was widowed and who could barely afford her monthly expenses, put her daughter through college, knowing that the chance of her daughter being employed after graduation was slim to none. This says a lot about a country and a people, as Sevan Kabakian, the director and our leader in Birthright, kindly brought to my attention.

The next pages of our history have already begun. We are a free, independent nation and a newer, stronger, and greater Armenia is being created with the same determination as those of our legendary heroes, through those who believe in prolonging our history and in lifting it to a new level of glory.

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  • At 6:21 PM, September 07, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Khoren has an AMAZING VOICE ! I know someone who grew up with him in the "Gyumri Children's Home". For the life of me, I cannot figure out why the Armenian Church (Etchmiatzin) doesn't round up young talented (yet abandoned) kids like this and give them a home within the church.

    He would make a great Deacon, choir member, etc.

    I wish him the best and the AVC does a great job in getting young Armo's from the diaspora hands-on experiences with our motherland.

    Thanks Noushig!


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