BY BARBARA HAROUTUNIAN
There was magic in the air as more than 1100 Armenians boarded the Costa Cruise Lines extraordinarily beautiful ship, Costa Atlantica. The Costa Atlantica is a “Jewel Ship”, a well designed and elegantly decorated with antique Italian flair.
Armenian Heritage Cruise XIII, sponsored by the Armenian Cultural Association of America Inc. sailed from Ft. Lauderdale for a week long cruise, January 16-23, 2010. The cruise was a welcome relief from the shivering cold and snow that gripped the northern states.
The destinations included St. Thomas, of the US Virgin Islands; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Grand Caicos Islands. Everyone had eagerly anticipated a week of beautiful sights, meeting new people, attending cultural programs, listening and dancing to Armenian music, eating good food and having fun in the sun in a profoundly unique Armenian way.
Armenians came from all over the world: Armenia, Argentina, Australia, Canada, England, France, Greece, Italy, Israel, Lebanon, Switzerland and Turkey. The United States was also well represented with people from almost every state in the country. Each guest received an AHC tri-color tote bag and Travel Document Pouch as a gift from the ACAA and Travel Group International. People met relatives, friends and classmates after many years of separation. With tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces they were all reunited on the Armenian Heritage Cruise. There are three ways to experience complete fulfillment on this cruise:
1. Spend a week of fun in the sun, leaving the hustle and bustle of life on hold.
2. Learn and help preserve the Armenian culture and heritage.
3. Meet old friends and make new friends.
For one week we put aside our political and religious differences and come together as one people and one nation to establish a “Little Armenia” in the Caribbean.
Everyone was given a tri-color ACAA Heritage Cruise cabin key card; this card granted each guest entry into all the Special Armenian activities for the week. Without this AHC Card no entry to any Armenian event was allowed. Each morning the announcements of the daily activities were presented in Italian, French, German and much to our joy, ARMENIAN! We were honored to have onboard The Most Rev. Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, Primate Emeritus of the Western Diocese of the United States and Archpriest Rev. Fr. Vazken Bekiarian, Worcester, MA. Everyday the Clergy onboard conducted the morning service in the chapel which was always filled to capacity.
Nightly, two bands performed in various rooms on the ship. Joseph Krikorian and his Band and The Aravod Band with Jim Kzirian, Aram Hovagimian and featuring Khatchig Jingerian, John Harotian and Richard Berberian. On Saturday, the first night of the cruise there was a Welcome Reception for all guests hosted by George and Shakeh Basmajian and Maria Tavitian. The Cruise Ambassadors were introduced and a highlight of the week’s activities was announced. This was followed by an Armenian Talent Show.
Throughout the week guests could sit poolside all day and enjoy the wonderful tropical weather. Others jogged, played Bingo, listened to lectures or watched Armenian movies. For those who did not venture out of their cabins the cruise provided 24 hour Armenian song and dance programs on two of the ship’s television channels.
In the morning there was Armenian Conversation Classes conducted by Ara and Arevig Caprielian of New York. Margo Kaftajian of Dallas, Texas taught Armenian Dance Classes. Many different styles of Armenian Dance were taught such as the Tamzara, Shourch Bar, Haleh, and many other popular traditional Armenian Dances. Guests could register for the Tavlou and Belote Tournaments under the direction of Antranig Boudakian and George Basmajian. The athletically inclined joined the annual 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament under the direction of John Jerikian.
There was a special table for the Armenian Heritage Tour 2010 with Maro Asatoorian, the ACAA liaison, where people could register for 15 day tour to Armenia on July 18 – August 1, 2010, an optional excursion to Karabagh will also be available. The Hairenik Bookstore was busy everyday selling traditional Armenian products including CD’s, movies, books, and artifacts on the ship. The ACAA Hospitality Desk was open every morning to assist passengers. With so many activities it can be difficult to decide what to do. The Armenian Heritage Cruise XIII had something for everyone.
After dinner on Sunday there was a Singles/Mingles Cocktail Party. This is a party where singles could meet and hopefully mingle. For the first time each day there was an AHC Club 39 Happy Hour. Armenian singles from ages 21-39 years old from all over the world had an opportunity to meet and maybe…
On one of the days we spent a wonderful day shopping and swimming on one of the worlds most beautiful beaches in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. We returned to the ship and that evening there was an ACAA Gala Cocktail Party sponsored by the ACAA Armenian Heritage Cruise Committee and Travel Group International. Everyone enjoyed complimentary champagne and cocktails. At dinner that evening guests enjoyed a unique Armenian menu with Hummus, Tabouli, Boureg, Lamb Chops and Chicken Kebob, Boulghour Pilaf, Salad and Pakhlava. The next day we arrived in gorgeous San Juan, Puerto Rico.
On Thursday Ann Samuelian and her committee organized the Armenian Festival Day pool party. Prizes were awarded for the best Armenian tri-color outfit, red, blue, and orange. Along with face painting Margo Kaftajian’s dance class performed the Shourch Bar, Tamzara, Haleh and other dance steps they learned throughout the week. There was an Armenian Dance Contest with prizes for the best Armenian Traditional Dance. This has become an annual event and people came prepared with original design outfits and special dance steps to compete in the contests. To add to the festivities the ship prepared a delicious Armenian menu for lunch. Later that afternoon we spent a wonderful day at the beach in Grand Caicos Island.
Each day there were speakers and programs about relevant Armenian subjects:
* Hamazkayin Cultural Association Tea Reception and Program.
* Armenian Relief Society Tea Reception and Presentation-2010 is the 100th Anniversary of this great organization.
* Sayat Nova Dance Company of Boston under the direction of Apo Ashjian. The group has performed in the United States, Canada, and Armenia. The company aims to preserve and promote Armenian culture through the art of dance.
* Armenian Fund USA, by Irina Lazarian, was founded in 1992 as a non-profit, non-governmental organization which represents all Armenian constituents. The discussion was to learn more and take part in a long standing effort to build, revitalize, and grow the Republic of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
* ANCA Presentation – This presentation by Ken Hachikian, ANCA Director, discussed the key points covered by the Protocols from both the Armenian and Turkish perspective, including the implications as it affects the legal, political, economic, and moral ramifications for Armenians living in both Armenia and the Diaspora.
* Book Presentation by Mary Terzian – Her book “The Immigrants Daughter” won the Best Book Award in multicultural, non-fiction category, and was a finalist in Indie Excellence 2007 Book Awards.
* The Diplomatic Protocols Recently Signed By The Government of Armenia and Turkey – The panelists were: Dr. Antranig Ka
sabarian, chairman of the Armenian Cultural Association of the Eastern United States. Ken Hachikian, Chairman, Board of Directors Armenian National Committee of America; Appo Jabarian, Executive Publisher USA Armenian Life Weekly; and Jack Medzorian
* Comedian Kev Orkian entertained his audience with a one-man, piano comedy performance. His program is filled with cultural satire that has made him a favorite all over the world. He was born in London and is active in the Armenian community. He has performed all over Europe, the Middle East and the United States.
* Knights and Daughters of Vartan – a reception and presentation for the members and friends of the fraternal organization.
* Armenia and Its Diaspora – An Important Factor in International Politics. Appo Jabarian, Executive Publisher and Managing Editor of USA Armenian Life Magazine and Hye Kiank – Presented the facts that Armenia has a commanding geopolitical position in one of the world’s most important cross-roads and progressive Diaspora makes Armenia a social and economic force.
* Tea Reception – Anniversary Celebration of the Armenian Weekly (75th) and the Hairenik (110th) – The celebration featured a presentation on the past and present of both publications.
* Dr. Antranig Kasbarian – discussed the effects and relationship of the Turkish Armenian Protocols and its impact upon Karabakh.
* Book Presentation – “Prior to The Auction Souls”, written and produced by Sosy Kevonian. This graphic novel is based on the life of Aurora Mardigian during the 1915 Genocide.
* The Humanitarian Outreach Foundation – “Each One Help One Movement” by Berge and Terry Minasian. This project was created to provide financial relief to over 500 extremely poor families in Vanadzor, Armenia. These are the poorest of the poor in Armenia and they all live in metal ocean shipping containers. The project staff interviews the families and then they are selected for sponsorship. The goal of the foundation is to keep families intact.
* Armenian Patriotic Songs and Concert – One evening everyone listened to their favorite
* Armenian Patriotic songs. Joseph Kricorian and his band performed.
The Armenian Heritage Cruise has become a respected and prestigious program working under the guidance of the Armenian Cultural Association of America, Inc., which is a 501 (c) 3, non-profit organization, that primarily assists in Armenian research, cultural events, and especially provides primary assistance to the Armenian language newspapers.
We are involved in many endeavors and work within our mission to assist and help the Armenian people in the Diaspora and the Armenian Republic. From all over the United States, dedicated individuals have volunteered to work on this fabulous event. Each area of the country and Europe are represented. There is no other event in the world that brings Armenians together for seven full days of fellowship and camaraderie. We look forward to seeing you on our 14th cruise sailing on January 21-28, 2011, with a seven day Eastern Caribbean cruise to Nassau, Bahamas, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, Catalina Island, Dominican Republic and Grand Caicos Island. Enjoy the unique experience of a lifetime on “The Original Armenian Cruise” where the Armenian spirit comes alive on the Caribbean Sea.
The following comments were received from a few of the pleased passengers:
“Thanks to the ACAA committee members for a great cruise. We all had a wonderful time on the Costa Atlantica. Our entire group from Paris, France enjoyed the warm ambiance, full of fun, dance, music and shows. We will gladly come back to repeat this wonderful experience. We will definitely promote this cruise with our friends and family in France, hoping to enlarge the “Fransa-Hyes.”
“It is my second time but, God willing, you can bet it will not be my last. Armenian Heritage Cruise…three words that sound like music to my ears. Aside from good food, fabulous scenery, fantastic entertainment, it awakens the hidden warm feelings of belonging to a nation of wonderful people from all over the world. My heartfelt wish to my very dear fellow Armenians, next to good health, is to take part in this wonderful experience. May God bless the organizers”.
“I traveled from Argentina to become a part of the ACAA’s Armenian Heritage Cruise onboard the beautiful Atlantica. This huge ship has been converted into an “Armenian Town”. The events exceeded my expectations with Armenian TV, dances, cultural programs, movies and many more activities. This year there were over 30 Armenians from Argentina on the ship, and I am sure this number will triple next year. I want to thank the ACAA committee for providing us with this wonderful experience”.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
“What an excellent experience for my first cruise! My kids have been on this cruise before, what an excellent Armenian cultural and friendly atmosphere. In fact my son found his life’s Armenian partner here. What an excellent thing to happen”!
“This cruise has enlightened me as to where the Armenian community stands today or how far we have progressed. Your program was a nice mix of social, educational, political and entertainment. It reminds me of the bygone “Atlantic City Affair” that was hosted by Philadelphia years ago. I wish you continued success. Keep up the good work”.
San Diego, California
“The Armenian Heritage Cruise is outstanding. Besides that, I had the opportunity to meet friends that I haven’t seen for 50 years. I was so satisfied to attend each event that was perfectly organized. I invite all Armenians from all over the world not to miss next year’s cruise. We will show the world the Armenians are “UNITED” in the Diaspora”.
“A week has passed and it is time to leave, but the memories will last a lifetime. As I pack my bags I am filled with unforgettable memories of a wonderful experience on the Costa Atlantica. I am taking with me a feeling that the Armenians in the Diaspora are united which will help Armenia”.