BY KAREEN SASSOUNIAN
During the summer of 2010, I decided to participate in the AYF Youth Corp Program, where nine participants and I ran a day camp for the children of Gyumri for four weeks and spent two weeks in Yerevan visiting historical monuments and enjoying what Armenia had to offer. However, my trip was complete only after the last weekend, after visiting Javakhk. Having heard about Javakhk for years and participating in many fundraisers, I was ecstatic to finally witness everything firsthand.
During the course of two days we went Akhalkalak, where we saw the Hye Getron and met its youth members, and drove to Parvana Lake, while stopping at a few small villages on the way.
What I observed in Javakhk surely put things into perspective. Although I had heard countless stories about their dire conditions, seeing the extent of their troubles was something I was not prepared for. Damaged and shattered houses made of wood and cow manure lined up one after another. Roofs were falling apart, bathrooms were composed of wooden boxes, and showers were collectively shared by entire communities. Children walked around, malnourished and too small for their years, with hand me down clothing. Extended families shared small houses with one or two rooms. Food and supplies were limited; their struggle was evident.
On the drive through these villages, we stopped at a house where a kind older lady greeted us. Although her house was falling apart, she had a big smile on her face and welcomed us with open arms. Her entire family lived in one house, including grandchildren.
As I walked around, what I found endearing was that all of the children shared a few toys but were still thankful for everything they had. This is a major difference from America where most kids walk around with a cell phone, an iPod, the latest clothing, and the newest electronic games and gadgets.
Their optimism and love for Javakhk were amazing. Even through their hardships, the love they had for their land was unconditional. They explained that Javakhk belonged to Armenia and that they were happy to be living in their home. Their outlook was inspiring.
After seeing the conditions in Javakhk, my fellow Youth Corp participants and I collectively decided to donate our clothing and whatever else we could. I had heard stories about the struggles in Javakhk, but after seeing everything firsthand, donating over half of what was in my luggage became much easier. They were thankful for every single donation from socks to towels. The gratitude they had for our small donation and the diaspora as a whole was beaming through their smiles. As we made the donation, we ensured them of one fact; they were always on our minds and that our support would never cease.
My short visit to Javakhk opened my eyes to a new perspective. How could people be so happy with so little? How were they so willing to fight and struggle in order to keep Javakhk occupied by Armenians? Why were they more welcoming and optimistic than many American families who own a house, have at least two cars, always have food on the table, own brand name clothing, and buy the latest technological gadgets? These people did not have an ounce of selfishness or materialism. They had no desire to be wealthy and own expensive toys. Their sole objective was to put food on the table, stay warm, keep their families healthy, and occupy their lands.
On the way back from Javakhk my thoughts were racing. I was sad to see their struggles. I was sympathetic to hear their stories. I was inspired by their will to survive. I was overjoyed to hear their determination to live in Javakhk in the hopes of one day reuniting with Armenia. I was surprised at how grateful they were for the small things in life. I felt guilty because of how much I had compared to how little they owned.
But it was then that I came to a realization. The people of Javakhk don’t care about how many things they own. They just want to live comfortably, to see our faces, to hear that they are always on our minds. They need to hear that, despite our distance, their struggles are our struggles, their worries are our worries, and that their determination to see historical Armenia reunited is a dream that we all share. Instead of feeling sorry for them, I developed a new appreciation. Their struggle and outlook on life inspired me and brought a newfound determination to stay active and help out.
My weekend in Javakhk is one that I will never forget. I realized that no matter how much money we raise here, no matter how many articles of clothing we send, our efforts are nothing compared to the direct struggles they face on a daily basis. They are determined to preserve their culture and to reunite with Armenia. They refuse to give in to the hardships that the Georgian government presents and to their poverty. They should be an inspiration to us all as they are a prime example of dedicated Armenians struggling to keep their cultural identity no matter how hard the conditions.
Javakhk now holds a special place in my heart and will definitely be a place I visit during every trip to Armenia. I am excited to return and experience the people’s amazing spirit, zeal to endure, and passion for everything Armenian.