"Mer Hayrenik, Azad Angakh…" The opening words of our national anthem never quite hit me until I was reciting them along with a bus-load of my 11th grade Mesrobian classmates after just landing in Armenia. Singing our national anthem in our free and independent Republic of Armenia was almost too surreal of an experience for me. I had been anticipating Mesrobian Armenian School’s class trip to Armenia’since I was old enough to know what it was, and finally I was there, with 14 of my classmates.
The little things are what hit me first upon arriving in Armenia. Seeing everything written in Armenia when I walked into the airport was a real treat for me. Though I was obviously expecting it, I still found it oddly amusing to see important notices and directions written and explained in Armenia, after growing up accustomed to seeing such signs in English.
It took a while for me to get used to seeing everything in Armenian. I felt like a little kid; I’d get excited every time I saw soda cans and packages written in Armenian. I’d just sit there and read labels, curious to see how things I was used to reading in English were explained in Armenian. It was so different for me because in America I was always trying to keep my eyes open for something in Armenian since it’s rare, but in Armenia almost everything was in Armenian–and I was loving it!
On May 28th our group made its way to the Sardarabad Monument to take part in the festivities of the 90th anniversary of our first Armenian independence. As we neared our destination, the monument became visible just ahead of us. The famous bell tower, with the enormous oxen symbolically protecting our independence were right in front of my eyes for the very first time, after only seeing them on pieces of paper all my life. My body was covered in goose bumps at the sight. I felt a surge of patriotism, picturing our ancestors fighting on these very lands for our survival. We all gathered proudly around the monument, our mouths open in wonder, trying to take it all in…
Visiting Karabakh was one part of the trip that I was really anticipating. The long and winding drive up and down hills in the Lachin region was grueling, but worth it for the beautiful scenery along the way. On one side was the rock that the roads were carved out of, and on the other side was a deep valley full of luscious green trees thickly arranged all over the land. At one point, we saw long chains extending from one valley-side to another. Our tour-guide informed us how our fedayees had put these chains up during the war in order to trick Azeri helicopters into flying into them and crashing. I felt so proud knowing that a little Armenian quick thinking and ingenuity stood strong in the face of advanced Azeri weaponry.
In Stepanakert, the capital, we visited the Museum of the Martyrs of the Karabakh liberation struggle, and the Museum of Soldiers Missing in Action. In the first museum we were shocked to see walls covered entirely with pictures of soldiers from Karabakh alone who had lost their lives during the war. Each room we entered was covered from wall-to-wall with victims of the war, their young faces serving as a reminder of the sacrifices we had given to keep our lands. Our tour guide proudly showed us the picture of her son who had also lost his life fighting for Karabakh. We were all overwhelmed. We had always heard about the losses, but seeing them in pictures all around us, staring at us, was almost too emotionally handle. We all left with tears in our eyes and entered the near-by Museum of Soldiers Missing in Action. It was yet another emotional roller coaster as our tour guide/mother proudly showed us her missing son’s picture, along with the pictures of countless others who never returned home. She showed us his wedding clothes, and things he had made. Some of us were trying to hold back our tears, but most couldn’t. She beseiched us all to stop crying, telling us that we need to be strong and proud of the sacrifices our men had made. It was a very hard and eye-opening experience for all of us. We all felt very sad, but also very proud.
Our visit to the Armenian Genocide Monument, Dzidzernagapert, in Yerevan was no less emotional. We were first led through the museum, full of documen’s and grizzly pictures from the genocide. Familiar names and documen’s caught our eyes, having recently covered the details of the atrocities in our Hye Tad class. Again, many of us got emotional, but especially angry that in the face of all this evidence Turkey still is audacious enough to deny that anything of such a nature ever occurred. For me, the most emotional experience was standing in front of the eternal fire. To this day I still don’t understand why I felt so emotional. The closer I stood by the flame, the more emotional I felt. I silently stood there, tears in my eyes, staring at the fire and the symbol of eternity engraved on the fixture. I knew the fire was for all those innocent people who lost their lives and everything they ever owned, and I guess I was subconsciously grieving for all those lost souls who will never be forgotten by that undying flame.
My classmates and I all have our favorite places and parts of the Armenia trip. For me, nothing will ever top seeing Mt. Ararat. That was my favorite part of the entire trip. When I first saw Ararat I almost couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. All I could say was, "Oh my God." Ararat was visible in its entirety for most of the trip, and my classmates and I couldn’t stop staring at it; our eyes just couldn’t get enough. My teacher even told us, Ararat has a way of ruling over your being with its immense beauty. I felt so lucky to be seeing Ararat, in person, with my own eyes. I finally understood why it has been such a dominating figure in our culture and why most of our famous writers and painters have spent so much time on it. Ararat is quite possibly one the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and I really miss seeing it.
Throughout the trip, my classmates and I really bonded. We became one big family, and our happiness with being on our homeland was unparalleled. For most of us, it was our first time in Armenia, and we were so happy and proud to have been there for our first time with each other and with Mesrobian.