Retrouvant la Patrie

Le voilà ! Si clairement visible de loin. Si connu et en même temps si insolite. Si grandiose et indescriptiblement beau. Comme si une image de rêves apparaît devant les yeux et devient une réalité.

harut

Ararat ! La première chose, que j’ai vue depuis le hublot de l’avion, en arrivant un vendredi soir à l’aéroport Zvartnots à Erevan. Puis, à travers la baie vitrée du terminal, j’ai pu plus en détail examiner toute la beauté de notre montagne biblique et jouir de son aspect impressionnant.

La prise de connaissance surprenante avec l’Arménie anticipait un séjour aussi remarquable pendant trois mois estivaux dans la patrie de mes ancêtres. Maintenant, à l’expiration de ce temps, je peux dire avec certitude que les émotions et les impressions ressenties pendent cet été, ont surpassé toutes mes attentes. À partir du tout premier jour – la rencontre avec la famille d’accueil, qui m’a accepté, sans exagération, comme son membre et en finissant par la conversation déjà en langue arménienne, avec le chauffeur de taxi, me déposant le dernier jour à l’aéroport, j’étais envahi par un sentiment interne que je suis chez moi. Et c’est étonnant, puisque ce sentiment je ne l’ai jamais ressenti dans aucun pays où j’ai vécu, mais seulement ici, en Arménie, où je me suis trouvé pour la première fois. Un sentiment énorme !

Je sais que sans Birthright Armenia ces émotions seraient incomplètes. Elles auraient été tout à fait différentes car, en effet, cette organisation offre le format idéal pour la perception du pays et de sa vie. A travers les excursions remarquables dans toute l’Arménie et l’Artsakh, les forums avec les représentants de diverses organisations engagées dans le développement du pays, mais aussi la possibilité de rencontrer un grand nombre de personnes différentes, des bénévoles, des Arméniens de toute la diaspora et des personnalités simplement intéressantes. Ainsi, ВА crée l’atmosphère spéciale, la perception vive et émotionnelle de la vie arménienne. Par ailleurs, ВА donne la possibilité de ressentir l’Arménie réelle, en premier lieu par le biais du volontariat, à travers la communication avec ses habitants, la compréhension des problèmes et les complexités de sa société.

Birthright Armenia c’est nous tous : les participants du programme, nos familles d’accueil, les professeurs d’arménien, les guides des excursions, tous qui sont liés à notre séjour ici, dans la patrie. Mais dans son cœur – un petit collectif de personnes sensibilisées et énergiques, aimant leur pays et croyant à son avenir radieux. Moi-même, j’en ai foi et donc je reviendrai absolument pour participer à la construction de cet avenir.

Ayant quitté l’Arménie, rentré dans ma ville, en me rappelant les moments magnifiques passés dans ma patrie, en regardant les photos et en pensant à nouveau à toutes ces personnes que j’ai rencontré: les collègues de travail, les bénévoles de tous les coins du Monde, tous les représentants et les participants du programme, la famille, avec laquelle on s’est vu pour la première fois et même les nouveaux vrais amis, je commence à me rendre compte que ces trois mois étaient, peut-être, la période la plus heureuse dans ma vie. Période de recouvrement de la patrie.

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Originally posted on kohar minassian:
Yesterday, the Birthright Armenia excursion took me to the ArmAs Winery in the Aragatson Province of Armenia, about an hour away from Yerevan. It was really a relief to be out on the land with…

Why Birthright Armenia?

Ani Nina Oganyan
Los Angeles, USA

994400_10151962604397025_1705602273_nIt has been about a month now that I have been back “home” in America. I arrived in Armenia early August to participate in a volunteer program I had read about online; something I casually stumbled upon as I was researching for a paper. Never would I have imagined that this program would leave such an overwhelming feeling deep in my heart. And never have I been asked the question “why”, so many times by so many people in my life. Why volunteer? Why Armenia? Why Birthright Armenia?

Sometimes these questions are the hardest to answer. No, wait, these questions are always the hardest to answer. The best, and my personal favorite answer, is “why not”, but some expect a better response. For as long as I could remember I have always been a volunteer. I remember volunteering to help my mom around the house and my teachers after school. At the age of ten, I began volunteering at a local animal shelter, and during the holidays I volunteered with local food and toy drives; the list goes on. Every volunteer has their list of reasons for why they choose to volunteer, but one of the reasons many will have in common is that volunteerism is a way of committing social change. Change starts within us, each and every one of us. I believe that in order for us to really see any sort of social change, we need to be the driving force behind it. Throughout the years, I have come to realize that volunteering is not only a form of giving/charity, but rather an exchange. This exchange, though it may sound selfish, keeps me sane and fulfilled. This exchange for me is where I offer my abilities and service in exchange for a challenge. This may sound like the smallest of exchanges, but for me this challenge changes me everyday, this challenge is what makes me, me.

My family moved to the United States when I was just shy of two years old. At the time, Armenia was going through some of its darker days, so my family decided it was best to go away for some time, but little did they know that “some time” would turn into more than two decades. The word diaspora refers to a scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area, according to Wikipedia. As a diaspora Armenian, scattered is exactly how I feel, day to day. There is an intangible presence that I always feel lurking by, that only begins to fade when I am in the presence of a certain people, culture, mountains, food, soil, and this small collection of land called Armenia. It is an unexplainable connection that I have within me; a connection I have heard many others refer to, and for them, it is also sometimes unexplainable. Sometimes it is simpler to just say, “It is THE homeland.”

About a year ago, I began to research for a paper I was writing. Several webpages and blogs later, I was reading an article published by the Women’s Resource Center of Armenia. First, I was excited to learn of such an organization and then I was intrigued by the topic that it covered. Soon after I clicked a link that took me to the Birthright Armenia list of internships page. As I delved deeper, I learned of an internship opportunity with WRCA through the Birthright Armenia program. I completed the online application within the next few weeks and before I knew it, I was in the Birthright office on orientation day. This program is true to all that it states and more. I learned to read and write in Armenian, which my grandfather was beyond excited to hear about, I met and worked with amazing individuals, have made life long friends who in their own ways inspire me, and embarked on weekly excursions that kept us on our toes. Literally, I, a girl who has worn sneakers a hand full of times, was repelling off of a cliff! During orientation, I was told that the office staff would be there for us, but I assumed it was just a common thing that is said in such programs, but to my surprise, this was a fact. The office staff became family and, with newer volunteers, our family grew weekly and when it came time to leave, as sad as it was, it was never a goodbye, always a see you later. I won’t cover all that the Birthright Armenia program offers, because the information is there for when you fill out your application, however from time to time I think of the phrase “the opportunities are endless,” and for me, it took this experience to really bring this phrase to life. When looking for home, a challenge, or an opportunity, I look to my birthright.


TIA – This is Armenia ~

Araz Boghossian
(Canada, AVC ‘12)

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The reason I took months to start writing my first blog was because I simply didn’t know where to begin; I’m completely lost for words and at the same time I feel like I’m going to burst because I have so much to say, so many stories to share; it’s a strange feeling. My experiences were brilliant, unique and unforgettable (These words are such understatements). I’ll simply say that those 18 weeks in Armenia were the best times of my life. I took some 22,000 photos and over 500 videos, which I go through partially everyday, so I could re-live my time in Armenia and be able to bare the distance until I can return again soon.

Having said that…I still don’t know where to begin.

11 April , 2012…

I was very excited to be coming back to my fatherland for the second time; I remember sitting in the plane thinking about Gayane and Avetis (Avo), my homestay mother and brother to be. I was thinking about how it would be to live with total strangers for months. What if we don’t get along? May be I should have gotten my own place? Then I started thinking about my work placement. I got so excited; I couldn’t wait to see what they had in store for me. I was assigned by Jenya at the AVC office to work with Professor Artak Hambarian, the dean of the Engineering Department at the  American University of Armenia (AUA). I started thinking about the different type of projects that they might have for me and what kind of work I would be doing during the four and half months. My mind started to wonder away; I started day dreaming about all the adventures that I’m going to have with my friends, Saro and Tigran whom I had missed so much. I thought of visiting Artsakh for the first time and my heart immediately started to pound; little did I know, I would be visiting Artsakh twice during my 18 week stay in Armenia. I thought of how it would be and painted a picture in my mind, when suddenly I felt my chest being pushed back into my seat and short moments later the plane was off the ground. Half way through the trip I was overwhelmed with strange feelings. At first I was excited about landing in hayrenik, but my excitement slowly dissipated.  It felt like I wasn’t going away to Armenia, it felt like I was returning home from a faraway place. I was puzzled. That wasn’t how I felt the first time I travelled to Armenia. What had happened? Where has all the excitement gone? I didn’t find the answer to that question until I actually arrived in Armenia. Still no excitement, I was “just happy to be home” is what I responded to the question “how do you feel?” from my childhood friend of 19 years,  Saro, who was picking me up from the airport. I didn’t know at the time why, but I never have a higher sense of belonging than when I am in Armenia. I don’t feel that way about any other place, not even for the country in which I was born and raised, nor the place I currently live in, which I’ve been residing in more than half my life.

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Ten hours after I landed, I had to wake up by no choice of my own. It was 5:00AM and I was heading to a military base with my friend Saro. I promised him that I would take photographs and videos of him parachuting out of a helicopter. We got to the base at 7:00AM. It was a bit chilly and rainy, so I had my winter jacket on. We stepped out of the car and the first thing I saw was mount Ara staring back at me. It was rather wide and had several peaks, I closed my eyes and I took a deep breath. The fresh smell of thyme (uorts) filled my lungs; that was my first nostalgic moment in Armenia since 2008.

Later that afternoon, Continue reading

Together As One

Paul Vartan Sookiasian
(United States)

The essay was originally published on Repat Armenia website.

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As an American currently living in Armenia, getting the chance to see a soccer (make that football) game in Armenia was a totally new experience for two reasons. Not just because it was my first chance to see the rabid dedication of Armenian sports fans, but being an American this was my first time seeing a professional soccer game, ever. As a participant in the Birthright Armenia program, I embraced the opportunity to go over the top with my fellow volunteers, painting our faces red, blue, and orange and marched to the game with laughing and singing. We entered Hrazdan Stadium with thousands of other fans with intense hope in our hearts. In a way, we all knew we were going to lose. We were up against Italy, a powerhouse of a team not exactly known for playing clean either, but the hope was there. Having seen the exuberant reactions of Armenians fans in the streets after Armenia’s win away at Malta the month before, I was praying for a win to experience that again to an even higher degree. The game got off to a rocky start with an early goal against Armenia which shouldn’t have happened, but the stadium erupted when Mkhitaryan scored an equalizing goal in the 28th minute. Though there was never another goal from Armenia and it eventually fell 1-3, the fans didn’t give in. I remember the constant reassurances of ‘lav a’ being shouted by a fan behind me no matter what happened.

Sitting in the stadium, it gave me a chance to reflect. I knew that I wasn’t quite “one” with the locals in attendance. I have only been in Armenia a month, am not fluent in the language, was not raised and molded by the same society, and frankly am not even much of a soccer (err… football) fan, yet in that moment we were all one. While from my vantage the difference lies between me as an American-Armenian and them as Hayastansis, I know there is no single Hayastansi identity either. I know the disparate and unique backgrounds of each of my fellow volunteers with whom I was sitting, and I know that diversity extended to those thousands there from whom we naturally feel a bit of distance. That did not matter though, as we were all one in our support of our team, our nation, and our people. This crowd of Armenians was as one to us, and we were part of it. And perhaps that’s the ultimate metaphor for what our Armenian ideally should be, a united being with a head poking up near the top of the world in the Caucasus Mountains, and a body which extends throughout the world. Though the body is scattered and shaped by the numerous countries it finds itself in, all those parts of the body find themselves connected by a common Armenian thread which connects them all back to Armenia. Despite being aware of these differences, the longer I am here the closer I feel to these people and recognize the issues they face. While the ideal of a unified Armenian body isn’t reality, and Armenia is beset by as many internal struggles and conflicts as it is by external ones, it is all set aside and forgotten for a great moment of sport to remind us all that ultimately we are all one people despite our differences.

Though we left the game in defeat, there was no oppressive feeling of failure hanging over us. Our team had played hard and well against a dominant foe, and their performance left no reason to feel shame. We walked back into the center of Yerevan in a crowd of thousands of our fellow Armenians, soaking in their pride at having seen their team play a good game. No, it wasn’t the same as the jubilant celebration which could have been, but in a way seeing this dignity in defeat was almost as good. Ultimately the game’s outcome was no matter, but the feeling of joy and unity was.

Click here to see more pictures.