BY ANTHONY ANTONYAN
Special to Asbarez
Every year, Rose & Alex Pilibos gives the opportunity for the junior class to visit Armenia to reestablish their connections with their culture, heritage, and homeland. For some, it is a chance to reunite with their motherland; however, for others, like myself, it is an amazing opportunity for students to witness the beauty of their country for the first time.
I really did not know what to expect in Armenia. Even though I learned about our country and its beautiful geography and culture, nothing could have fully prepared me. I was blown away to see Sardarabad and Khor Virab’s beautiful view of Ararat and the bustling cities of Yerevan and Stepanagerd and the simple yet culturally rich villages like Byurakan that exhibited the immense spirit and life the Armenian people had.
I expected Yerevan to be a major developed city, with people walking boisterously throughout the Central Square, and I was correct to believe that. The European inspired city was absolutely beautiful and surpassed all of my expectations. We were fortunate enough to visit Armenia on the 100th anniversary of our Independence. In the Central Square, a huge concert was set up to commemorate the momentous occasion. Singers like Sirusho and dancers of all ages all came together to celebrate. The entire Yerevan population was out cheering along to the dances and song; the concert, overall, was a major success.
But what pleasantly surprised me was the state Stepanagerd was in. Knowing the recent conflicts Artsakh has had with Azerbaijan, I did not know what the state of the nation would be.
Before arriving at Stepanakert, we stopped at Shoushi, where we visited the beautiful church Ghazanchetsots. Being an integral part in the battle between Artsakh and Azerbaijan, we were extremely lucky to personally take in the magnificence of the church. There, we met Inna Gasparyan. She is the sister of Sargis Gasparyan, a fallen soldier from the Four-Day War Artsakh had with Azerbaijan. We heard Sarkis’s story from Inna and her mother. We understood and felt the troubles and heart aches they went through and the significance this war had on the lives of the innocent. Visiting the homes of the fallen soldiers took a heavy toll on everyone. We finally faced the reality of what the families have been facing, of what Artsakh has been facing.
Inna traveled to Stepanakert with us for the night. We spent the night with her laughing and getting to know one another. She played a major role in creating this Armenia experience.
The following day at Artsakh, we were fortunate enough to visit a military base and witness the soldiers of our nation train for combat. Pilibos students trained alongside the soldiers, climbing ropes, jumping over trenches, and maneuvering through narrow platforms. Thanking them immensely for what they are contributing to our country, we were able to talk and give gifts to each of the soldiers. At the end of the day, Pilibos played a soccer match against the soldiers in a friendly, fun match.
Visiting the military base and befriending other Armenians was a new experience for all the students. This Armenia trip happened to be Nayiri Artounians’s second chance to visit her homeland. Visiting the homes of the fallen soldiers and creating friendships with others left her a long-lasting impression. Nayiri said, “When I visited Armenia in the eighth grade, I saw the sights for the first time, but I was merely a tourist. This time around, I felt truly immersed and involved. In our classroom across the globe, we only hear about the sacrifices the soldiers undergo to defend our soil. But now, we were able to talk and laugh with them.”
After visiting Artsakh, we resumed to travel to the other provinces of Armenia. We visited Sevan and the beautiful monasteries it had to offer. We visited Kotayk and the Temple of Garni, the only stable pagan temple left in Armenia.
In Aragatsotn, we stopped by the village of Byurakan to see what Armenian village life is like. At Byurakan, the villagers explained and presented how they spend any typical day. Starting their day off with some bread and wine, to pass time, the men would play dhols as the women beautifully sung and danced along to the beat. Women and men both played essential roles in cooking; the men would cook khorovatz through the tonir while the women prepared lavash, salads, and other tasty foods. The villagers allowed the students to help prepare our lunch. The boys took turns placing vegetables and meat on skewers, and the girls sung traditional Armenian songs as they grounded flour. As we ate the lunch we prepared ourselves, we all talked about the wonderful time we had here at this village, where we were able to catch a glimpse of the lives of Armenians outside of the major, developed cities like Yerevan.
During the final days of our trip, we were allowed to roam the streets freely to grasp a better sense of the city. We walked the streets of Yerevan, found delicious restaurants to dine at, and spent quality time amongst friends.
It was during these final days, where the entire junior class was given a once in a lifetime opportunity: to meet the current president of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian. He devoted a lot of time from his busy schedule to answer all the questions we had about the current and future state of Armenia, the goals of the current administration, and the things we could do ourselves to help strengthen our homeland. He answered the questions happily. The best we could do at our current age to help is to join and take part of organizations that focus on bettering Armenia, such as Armenia Fund.
“I left Armenia with a new awareness about myself and my connection to my people,” Nayiri said. The juniors of Rose & Alex Pilibos came back to Armenia as stronger Armenians, while becoming fully embedded into our motherland.
Anthony Antonyan will be a senior at Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School. He is currently an intern at Asbarez.