GLENDALE—Sheila Papayans, who just returned from a trip to Armenia and Javakhk and is the Vice Chairperson of the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) of Western USA Arax Chapter, took the opportunity to talk about the difficult challenges in Javakhk during the Arax Chapter’s 50th Anniversary celebration, which was held on Nov. 1 in Torrance, Calif.
Papayans, a longtime supporter of the ARS of Western USA Javakhk Fund, was saddened to find out how the Georgian restrictions on schools and churches were making it difficult to hold on to the Armenian culture, and spoke about the ARS-funded Youth Centers in Javakhk, “On this trip, I saw where our money is going and it’s extremely important… They’re keeping the culture alive.” She compared the ARS Arax Chapter Friday School, to the after school programs at the Youth Centers, where the children learn the history, dance, music and language, and called on those who support Javakhk by adding, “You’re keeping the culture alive.”
Medea Kalognomos, who had accompanied Papayans on her trip, noted that “For Armenians to survive in Javakhk is a daily struggle.” During a separate interview, Haigoush Kohler, who had also been on the trip and held the Chairperson position of the ARS Javakhk Fund Committee for a dozen years, said, “They need a lot of help from us.” After hearing about the takeover of the Armenian churches in Tiblisi, one of the attendees remarked, “What’s terrible is that these are Christians doing this to us.”
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In early October 2014, a two-person ARS delegation from Glendale departed for Javakhk. Lena Bozoyan, Chairperson of the ARS Javakhk Fund Committee, along with committee member Harout Madenian, traveled with a fact-finding mission to see and evaluate the conditions for themselves. Vicken Haboian, a video editor and former Javakhk fund committee member, joined them from Armenia to record video interviews and shoot photographs.
The delegation toured the Akhalkalak, Akhaltskha and Ninotsminda youth centers. The first two were established and are operating with funding from the ARS of Western USA. The Ninotsminda center is the latest addition, which was jointly funded with France Javakhk Fund, and just started operating in mid-October with funding from France.
The delegation not only met with the local leadership, but also with parents, staff and teachers. They were delighted that 250-300 children attend each youth center and discovered that Akhaltskha youth center has an immediate need for a preschool, as the waiting list for the children is growing. They could use more educational videos, classroom furniture and art supplies. Both Akhaltskha and Akhalkalak have growing pains, and could use much bigger performance halls. Some children live far away from centers, and need transportation assistance with a large van. The centers need more computers, Armenian books, songbooks with notes and dance costumes, in order to accommodate language learners (English, Armenian and Georgian), dance performances, music, arts & crafts classes.
Lena Bozoyan, who was on her 4th trip to Javakhk, expressed her opinion about the importance of the work of the ARS Javakhk Fund Committee noting, “The sponsorships and humanitarian assistance that our fund provides through our donors and community keeps the Armenian heritage identity and culture alive in Javakhk, but may not prevent emigration due to overwhelming economic needs, Georgian discriminatory practices, as well as environmental impacts from Turkish-Azeri investments.” Bozoyan added, “Infrastructure and resource assistance needs, particularly hospitals and medical centers shut downs, and lack of business and economic activity compel many young people to leave to find work or to advance their education.”
The committee is planning on continuing to educate the community and specially the new generation and urge them to visit Javakhk as part of their homeland tours, to continue fundraising with the coin banks at Armenian day and Saturday schools, as well as holding a dinner-gala during March 2015. In the past, the committee has invited guest speakers or provided videos of messages to get the latest evaluation of ever worsening conditions.
Bozoyan urged to support the Javakhk Armenians, concluding, “If we as a nation and people don’t want another Nakhitchevan, we need to invest economically and culturally at all levels.”
The Armenian Relief Society of Western USA, established in 1984 and with regional headquarters in Glendale, CA, has 26 chapters and more than 1,200 members in four western states. The ARS-WUSA operates a Social Services Division and Child, Youth, and Family Guidance Center, and funds numerous youth programs, scholarships, and relief efforts. For further information, please visit www.arswestusa.org or call 818.500.1343.