Since 1992, the Armenian Youth Federation-Youth Organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Eastern Region has had an internship program in Armenia. Through this program, Diaspora youth from throughout the United States, are placed in different offices to get hands on experience working in Armenia.
The AYF is an international youth organization that works year-round to guide the social, political, cultural and moral development of young Armenians. The AYF Eastern Region operates an internship program which places ambitious youth in offices in Yerevan in order to experience our homeland and contribute to its development. The AYF Western Region operates the Youth Corps program which runs a day camp for underprivileged children in Gyumri during the summer. For more information about the AYF’s activities visit (www.AYF.org—Eastern Region, www.AYFwest.org— Western Region).
Below are personal views of the internship program from this year’s participants.
Name: Tevin Polatian
From: Washington, D.C.
Working at: ARF Bureau Hay Tad office
I had never been to Armenia before. To me, I had always thought of Armenia as a place I’d only get to read about in books and as a place in which I would only get to see on a map. In my wildest dreams, I could never imagine myself here, as a nineteen-year-old full-time college student, working for the summer. When the opportunity presented itself to me, I jumped at the chance. What more could I possibly want than to be in my homeland? The answer was simple – nothing.
The very moment the plane touched down at the airport is when I knew that nothing else mattered. A sense of euphoria came over me. I was in Armenia. I am where I am supposed to be and no one could take that feeling away from me.
Our weekends are filled with excursions all over Armenia. We had already been to Etchmiadzin, Sardarabad, Garni, Geghart, and many other important places before we traveled to Tatev Monastery. By far, the road to Tatev Monastery was the most rugged and difficult to get through. Our driver, unhappy with the abuse his van was getting, traversed the twists and turns, and potholes. The lack of guard-rails made the trek that much more suspenseful. But when we got to the top of the mountain, none of that difficulty mattered.
The view was phenomenal. It is truly very difficult to put the beauty I saw into words. The mountains, trees, and clouds all came together as a sort of backdrop for the monastery at the top of the mountain, creating an ever-lasting image in my mind. The thing that struck me as odd was all of the construction that was taking place. Unger Allen, from the AYF Youth Corps group, explained to us that there was a massive project underway to revamp Tatev. The world’s longest teleferic was being built to help people reach Tatev Monastery easier; making it more accessible to tourists and locals alike. It is still hard for me to believe that a place like this exists. Tatev is a place not only to see, but to experience.
One of my fondest memories was when we traveled to Artsakh. The night we arrived in Shushi, it was raining like crazy. All of us were tired and the only thing we wanted to do was sleep. When I awoke, I went outside and saw a group of children kicking around a soccer ball. Back in my younger days, I was quite the soccer player so I decided to join them. After about 15 minutes, not only was I completely out of breath, but I realized that they were much better than I was at their age. We exchanged names, laughs, and some hugs and took pictures with the children before we had to leave.
Aside from our incredible outings, what makes this program so special is the fact that we live and work in Yerevan, day in and day out. I intern during the week at the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Bureau Office. This office is the headquarters of the ARF and in charge of the global operations of one of the Diasporas most far-reaching and active organizations. One of the best parts of my internship is the people I get to work with everyday. My boss, Unger Giro Manoyan has inspired to me be more active within my own AYF Chapter in Washington D.C. He is always stressing the importance of young Armenians taking ownership of the future of our country. My tasks here include doing research on official legal documents involving Artsakh’s independence and compiling information on the legal precedents set by the recent International Court of Justice (ICT) ruling on Kosovo. I am very thankful to have interned with the ARF this summer. As an AYF member, I realize the importance of the ARF and what they do. They have provided me with memories that will last me a lifetime and with friends who have turned into family.
Name: Michelle Metchikian
From: Los Angeles, CA
Working at: ARF Bureau (The Hrair Maroukhian Foundation)
4 a.m.: The Airbus was nearing Zvartnots International Airport. My twenty-one hour journey from LAX was about to come to an end. The fellow Armenian sitting next to me of similar age was peaking out the window over my shoulder. He was a frequent visitor of our motherland; a month had not passed since his last visit. However, the excitement in his face would have said otherwise. Chills ran down my spine as we glanced at the scattered city lights. The realization finally was hitting me; I was about to step foot on Mayr Hayasdan for the first time.
I came to Armenia with no expectations; I did not know what to expect. It’s now been three weeks since my arrival and the one word that I can use to describe my entire experience is “love.” During the weekends, we visit the tourist sites in Armenia and Karabagh with the AYF Youth Corps participants. This portion of the AYF Internship Program granted me the privilege to go to the places I have only been able to see in books and pictures. I have gotten to know some of the locals at the places we traveled, learned more about our history and have gotten to see how beautiful our homeland really is. From seeing Mt. Ararat for the first time, to sailing Lake Sevan, to visiting the churches, all my experiences thus far have touched my heart.
My most cherished time during this trip is our visit to the day camp that the AYF Youth Corps runs in Gyumri. Seeing how much their efforts positively impact the youth of our country is very special; the kids did not want to go home at the end of the day. On the other hand, during the weekdays, I have been granted the privilege to be directly immersed into Yerevan’s culture. I share a house with my co-interns right outside the heart of the capitol. I leave the house at 9:15 a.m. and walk to work. Despite how much I may feel like a Yerevanci, the lack of four inch heels gives away the fact that I am otherwise. Along the way, I buy a delicious khachapouri, gata or boncheeg from the store down our hill for breakfast and munch on it along the way. The site of familiar faces the occasional “barev dzez” along my morning commute makes me feel like a local.
On a clear day, Mt. Ararat can be seen in the distance and I cannot help but admire its beauty. Just around 10 a.m. I get into the ARF Bureau office and am warmly greeted by all those there. On a typical day, I do computer work (ie making lists of parliament members or transcribing speeches). What I value most, however, is having the opportunity of sharing an office with my boss, Maria Titizian. Ungerouhi Maria is a vice president of the Socialist International and she is the Director of the Hrayr Mahoukhian Foundation. The foundation, named for the longtime activist and leader Hrayr Mahroukhian, aims to build social democracy in the south Caucasus. Maria is an inspiring woman filled with knowledge and passion for Armenian social issues, and she is also incredibly passionate for life.
While my work is valuable to our office, Maria always insists that I make my time here as enjoyable as possible. She took my co-intern, Tevin Polatian, and I to a talk pertaining to social issues of Armenia, where she introduced us to Atom Egoyan and Arsinee Khanjian. From the small talk we make throughout the day, she has inspired me to look into helping the future of Armenia through public health and environmental work.
I could not have wished for another program to have been a part of to experience my first visit to Armenia. I have made memories that I will cherish for a lifetime and have become a part of a family that will always be in my heart. I haven’t left Armenia yet, but I can’t wait to be back!
Name: Rubina Christine Boyrazian
From: Chicago, IL
Working at: Zadik Mangadoon (Orphanage)
Landing in Yerevan still feels surreal. I’ve seen pictures my entire life but nothing compares to being in Armenia and seeing the history with my very eyes. Every scene is breathtaking, from the mountains to the monuments. Coming to Yerevan for the first time has been an interesting experience. Simple things like the street names in the city remind me of powerful figures in our history: Charents, Mashdots, Toumanian. You can’t walk more than a block without seeing a part of Armenian history; just make sure to keep your head up when you’re crossing the street.
My first time experiencing vartavar was here in Yerevan. There is nothing more precious than people on the streets with buckets full of water waiting for any dry victim to soak. Young and old alike take turns drenching each other in the hot Yerevan sun. It was a blast to see the entire country stop for this daylong water-fight.
Through the AYF’s internship it was arranged for me to volunteer at the Zadik mangadoun. Every day, I take a mashrootka to Zadik which is located in Kanaker, outside Yerevan. From my first day there, I was welcomed with open arms. The children, who are anywhere from 5 to 20 years old, all come from pretty tough home situations, but they have strong spirits and warm hearts. At Zadik these wonderful kids are given a comfortable, safe place to live and grow.
When I first arrived I was asked to teach the kids English. I felt I was in over my head, but I fought through my nerves and decided I would get creative. Taking a few kids at a time I started with the alphabet and went from there. The kids’ enthusiasm and ability to learn never ceases to amaze me. We learned numbers playing Uno, we learned colors by painting pictures and we learned conversations through talking to each other. Each day they greet me with huge smiles and welcome me, a stranger, into their lives. I’m so thankful to have met these children; even though our time together will be short.
Our weekends in Armenia include incredible outings planned by the AYF to some of the most special to all the historical sites including Erebuni, Etchmiadzin, Sardarabad, Garni. It’s these places that everyone, worldwide needs to come and visit. Places like Khor Virab, where Krikor Lusavorich spent 13 years, give insight to the history and beauty of our culture.
My favorite places to visit have been Datev, Karahunj, and Mount Arakats. Nothing beats the beauty of Datev, the details in all of the stones, the purity of the air, and the view of the town below is to die for. It was amazing to see Karahunj, the mysterious rock formation which predates Stonehedge by thousands of years, makes anyone that visits wonder about the wisdom and intellect of our predecessors. Finally, Mount Arakats, the tallest mountain in the Republic. I’ve always been interested in mountain-climbing, and am happy to say that the first mountain I have climbed has been Arakats. Ararat, You’re Next.
Being in Armenia is a dream come true. Seeing who the people of my country are, seeing the history, being able to touch it, reminds me how of how I should represent myself as a proud Armenian.
Name: Arpa Vartanian
From: Washington, D.C.
Working at: Tufenkian Foundation
Being in Armenia and working with the Tufenkian Foundation has been an amazing and unforgettable experience thus far. Having the opportunity to live a life in Yerevan instead of just touring it really makes the AYF’s Summer Internship program very unique and offers an insider view of what the city is all about. The foundation I intern at strives to make Armenia a better place to live by funding various social projects across the country. I work at the foundation’s headquarters every weekday, completing a wide variety of tasks: translating Armenian text into
English, editing the foundation’s website, or sorting out donated clothes for underprivileged families. The foundation’s main focus right now is on the “Zangakatun” program, which is an after-school center underprivileged children can go to and have a meal and be kept stimulated with various fun activities. One of the centers is in Yerevan, which I attend frequently to play with the children, and teach them English. The kids attend the center from 2 to 6 PM. Some of the children arrive even earlier because they enjoy being at the center for as long as possible.
The Zangakatun program keeps them off the streets and away from the negative influences that surround them in their impoverished neighborhoods. Aside from work, there is plenty of fun to go around at night; the restaurants, the cafes at Opera, Hrabarag, Cascade – the list goes on. On the weekends, the AYF organizes excursions to the must-see destinations throughout Armenia. One of the best trips we have taken so far has been to Artsakh. We took this trip with the AYF Youth Corps (AYF Western Regions group) and spent four days touring the region. The trip was very moving hearing stories from locals about the liberation war in Karabagh, but was also very fun having the opportunity to meet the young ARF members there who live and work to ensure the region will remain secure and will develop prosperously.
Overall, this internship has been indescribable. You can only understand how much fun it actually is, how eye-opening it is and how moving it is by experiencing it. I’m not looking forward to going back home anytime soon…because I feel like I have found a new home…
Name: Narine Esmaeili
From: Glendale, CA
Working at: Yerkir Media
The first time I visited Armenia, I wanted to sightsee and enjoy a vacation away from school with my graduation class. This summer I decided to have a different experience in Armenia. By signing up for the AYF internship program, I have been able to work and live in Armenia just like any other Yerevantsi. My internship at Yerkir Media—the ARF’s international news broadcast station— opened me up to what Armenia has to offer in regards to educational purposes. My job includes translating breaking news and sending them to CNN, Horizon, and other media outlets and following one of the head staffers to conferences and meetings that are used on the afternoon news. At first, coming to work was nerve-wracking because I was unsure how I was going to help the professional interpreters and broadcasters. In a sense, I was intimidated by Yerkir Media’s professionalism because I thought there was no way I would be able to contribute to the already fully staffed international news station. However, on my second day of work, international relations expert Gerard Chailiand held a discussion in which Yerkir Media was invited to watch and participate. The discussion might have been an everyday thing for the reporters at Yerkir, but it was very eye-opening for me. I had never had an opportunity to participate in a conference involving Armenian politics in the perspective of the people living in Armenian. Right after the discussion I had the opportunity to do a voiceover on a clip that would eventually be sent to Horizon, for my entire world to see.
I come to work anxious to find out what the agenda has in store because a different task is required every day. One day I might work compiling clips of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in Armenia and the next day I might be sending correspondence to MSNBC. Even though I love the work experience I am gaining for my future career, my favorite part about working at Yerkir is the people. By the end of my first day not only did I know everyone’s name but I was also offered everything from a guide to help me get me back home to ice cream to fight off the scorching Yerevan heat. They joke around and call me their “Spuoorkahye Unger” but the people have a sense of friendship that I am used to in my own Armenian community at home. The days are passing by fast at Yerkir but I am enjoying myself in Armenia as a working member of the society.
The difference between my first visit and this summer is that this time around, I don’t feel like a tourist…I feel like I’m home.