Of the 11 trips take to Armenia by Steve and Angele Dulgarian, nothing quite measures up to this very last one.
There they were, in the land of their beloved dreams, celebrating a golden wedding anniversary with their four children and spouses, joined by nine grandchildren.
The group included 19 in all, enough to occupy the top floor of the Marriott Hotel in Republic Square and make them conspicuous sights at restauran’s, coffee houses and churches.
They came from coast-to-coast, met at Paris, before landing in Yerevan for a 2-week excursion. Mom and dad would have it no other way.
“I can’t think of a better way to spend an anniversary,” said Angele. “This was our wish, to show our grandchildren their homeland. I did a lot of crying, but they were happy tears, emotional tears. It far exceeded our expectations.”
No easy task was this, rounding up family members steeped in their own obligations and commitmen’s. Jury duty was sidetracked. Sporting games were put on hold. Jobs were set aside. Nothing else took precedence.
The parents were joined by son Stepan and his wife Maral with their two daughters, Sevan, 13, and Araz, 7; another son Oskian and his wife Mary with children Daron, 15, and Nairi, 14; daughter Satenig and her husband Raffi Ghazarian with their children, Dvin, 15, and Varak, 13, and second daughter Sona with her husband Allen Gevorkian, and their three youngsters, Datev, 7; Tsoline, 5, and Narineh, 4.
Two of the children reside in California, forcing their parents to make frequent trips to the West Coast. Daughter-in-law Mary had just visited Armenia in the spring with a school and was quick to go again with the entire family.
“They were so impressed, they didn’t want to leave,” Steve Dulgarian pointed out. “The grandchildren were together with their own cousins, aunts and uncles in our sacred homeland. It brought us all closer together as a family unit.”
The trip had been in the planning stages for a year. Of the four children, only Oskian had never gone. The others had made periodical visits.
In the case of Sona Gevorkian, she had made a number of pilgrimages to the outskirts of Yerevan performing earthquake relief in the 1990s through the Armenian Relief Society, Land and Culture Organization and other initiatives.
But nothing was more special than this, getting to savor the homeland of her ancestors with her husband and three children.
It was also special for 7-year-old Datev to visit his namesake monastery about eight hours outside the mainland. The youngster received his very own blessing by a priest and lit a candle. The questions never stopped.
“He was in his glory and definitely old enough to realize it,” said the grandmother. “All the grandchildren were impressed with Mount Ararat. They heard about it in school but this was reality.”
The same could be said for Sevan Dulgarian. The 13-year-old had such a good time swimming in “her” lake, she wanted to go back the very next day. Their parents granted her wish. The return trip was even sweeter. Sevan sang an Armenian song she had learned at Camp Hayastan.
Even Nairi got to spend a night in “her” own hotel in Karabakh. From their names to their history lessons, they got to put a label on their personal identities while absorbing the country’s beauty.
The tour included their own private bus, operator and guide. Among the other sites visited were: Ambert, Dzaghadzor, Oshagan, Khor Virab, Noravank, Gandzasar, Shushi, Etchmiadzin, Goris, Geghart, Jermuk, Areni, Erebuni and Garni. There were 19 stops in all, making for one crowded itinerary.
They prayed for the martyrs at the Dzidzernagabert Memorial Monument and scaled the Tsaghadzor Mountain on a chair lift. They enjoyed the many parks and fountains, recreational outlets and shopping meccas such as Vernisage. Another popular site was the Jermuk waterfall with a pleasant dinner at a picturesque park.
A farewell dinner party took place at a choice restaurant as the Dulgarians ate, sang and danced the night away.
Steve and Angele have been making regular stops to Armenia’since the 1950s when they first wed, establishing a tight bond with the country. Both are active in the Armenian community and sent their children to AYF camp and Armenian schools. Now, their children are doing the same. The entire clan is Armenian-speaking and possesses Armenian names.
Samples of different flowers were pressed into an album by Steve Dulgarian, complete with identification. He’s a stickler for bringing home the earth’s bounty.
But the best gift of all came after their return home.
Members gathered for a dinner and out came a striking photo album Sona Gevorkian had spent more than 100 hours compiling over the computer. It was truly a work of art.
In it came a message from the family.
“Words can never express the emotions we all felt as we celebrated your 50th anniversary with you in Hayastan. This was a trip that we will never forget and the memories we shared with you will always be treasured.”