BY KATIAN KARAGUEZIAN
The details were taken care of: refrigerators, grills, sandwich presses, extension cords, t-shirts and hats for the volunteers, tomatoes, pickles,… and yet as I was heading to Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, on the afternoon of Thursday June 30th, for the opening day of the 36th Navasartian Games Festival, I was overcome by a different kind of anticipation. I made sure to stop by an ATM machine to pick up extra cash for my Navasartian “Armenian” shopping! Where else in my busy life do I get the opportunity to shop at Armenian specialty stores set up conveniently next to each other?
At my local Homenetmen chapter’s food booth the hustle and excitement of annually reunited volunteers was well on its way. Nowhere else have I encountered individuals who willingly sign up to volunteer for ten, twelve, fourteen hour shifts and labor in 105 degree heat, singing and cheering no less! Motivational chants of different chapters and the beating of drums from some booths mingled with the aroma of Soujouk, Chicken press and Kebab sandwiches. At the first opportunity for a break, I snuck out of our booth and headed towards the vendors. I joined throngs of attendees, athletes rushing towards their next games, parents guiding their children, teenagers eyeing each other, coaches excited about game scores, Homenetmen representatives in transportation cars making their way through the crowds, and grandparents beaming with pride of their surrounds… Dozens of vending booths greeted me, and I had a field of a day browsing through unique Armenian books, handcrafted jewelry bearing letters of the Armenian alphabet, beautiful pomegranate candle holders, caramel brittle concoctions of nuts and dried fruit, and oh yes, I finally got my hands on the latest Sirusho CD. Across from the vendors, ethnic fused with Hi-tech on the sprawling stage equipped with gigantic lighting and tech features common to any modern day concert production. Where else can we enjoy a complimentary multi-artist concert just for attending? In the next four days, a chorus of performers from the Knar Band to Hoy Lari, from the classics Vatche and Harout to the newer Sash and the Blackjack Boys will entertain the masses. Attendees will enjoy two spectacular firework shows, visits by Nav the Lion, the nascent Navasartian mascot, and our booth will be inundated by lines of customers. Tens of thousands will attend and take part in the festival. On Thursday night, as singer Karnig Sarkissian took the stage, a multitude in the thousands swayed with age old lyrics as if they were embracing their long lost dear ones.
The Navasartians has become a brand to behold within the Armenian community, because it is built on the Homenetmen principle of “elevate yourself and others with you”. Every consecutive Homenetmen Western United States Regional Executive Committee and Navasartian Organizing Committee, has strived to elevate the bar a notch higher by employing new approaches in marketing and promotional strategies, with the understanding that for the tradition of the Navasartians to stay alive it needs to align itself with current trends designed to engage its number one audience, “the youth”. This year witnessed the launching of bar coded membership cards, the introduction of youth friendly acronyms such as the Navs (short for Navasartians) and the NOC (Navsartian Organizing Committee), and an international boom in Homenetmen Internet links and postings on Facebook. Representing a minority ethnic population, the Southern California Armenian community should be proud that the Navasartians is arguably one of the largest annual festivals in the San Fernando Valley area. Homenetmen commends admiration, pride and loyalty among the Armenian community, because since its conception in 1918, it has never veered from its principles and its mission of defining the identity of the Armenian youth and offering them a most valuable sense of belonging. It inspires community members to contribute their talents and take part as volunteers, because it holds the healthy physical, social and individual development of Diaspora’s most precious asset, the Armenian youth, at the core of its mission.
This year’s Navasartians hit the mark right on from beginning to end. The Grand opening at Birmingham High School on May 15 mixed pomp and circumstance with the current craze for food trucks. The elegant Victory Banquet at the CBS Studios Lot on June 25th had an Armenian celebrity of sorts, Dr. Armand Dorian, the medical consultant on the popular TV docu-drama “Deadliest Warriors” as its master of ceremonies. The setting was sophisticated and hip at the same time. Beautiful white orchids cascaded down enormous clear glass vases, and a lounging tent with flowing drapes complete with sleek white leather sofas and color changing lights stole the show. The youth was invited to take part in the celebration with an After Dark party following the formal part of the event. Seeing the future inheritors of this priceless organization hit the dance floor dressed to impress, made our hearts flutter with joy. Even the speech given by this year’s Exemplary Homenetmen member of the Year award recipient, Yeghpayr Rouben Gourjian, distinguished itself by its humility and tear jerking raw advice drawn from years of selfless servitude. On July 3rd the pre-parade show of the Closing Ceremony of the Navasartians was appropriately dedicated to the “Armenian Youth”. The tricolor Armenian flag bearers were scouts who were due to depart to the 2011 Scouting Jamboree in Armenia that very next Monday. As always, the parade of scouts and athletes wearing the colors of 18 Homenetmen chapters was the highlight of the Closing Ceremony. As the Regional marching band played on, the accolades of each chapter were announced by Homenetmen Western Region Executive Committee Public Relations representative Nora Tchaparian and Donig Donabedian in both Armenian and English. As they reached the field, teams from Phoenix Arizona mingled with teams from Fresno California, Las Vegas Nevada and local teams in Los Angeles. The Navasartians, dubbed the “Armenian Olympics” of Southern California, offer a unique opportunity for the Armenian community and the Armenian youth in particular to meet, connect and network.
This monumental production will be followed by a last hurrah on July 20th at Glendale’s Carousel restaurant, where the efforts of all the volunteers who assisted at the Navasartians will be recognized by the Homenetmen Western United States Regional Executive committee. Special Recognition is in store for Navasartian Organizing Committee Chairman Mher Tavidian, and Co chairwoman Salpi Jejeian for their out of the box approach and exemplary commitment to the success of the 36th Navasartians.
At the Closing Ceremony, the Western Region Homenetmen Executive Chairman, Karnig Aprahamian and Athletic Director Alec Araradian presented the winning trophies to proud chapters on Birmingham High School’s Stadium field. Honored speakers included congressmen Adam Schiff and Brad Sherman, and the 36th Navasartians were blessed by his Eminence Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian. The games over, the tournament’s competitive edge softened, and the mask fell to reveal the true identity of the Navasartians. The tournament may be all about soccer goals, basketball dunks and winning streaks, but in its heart it is about creating for four days, a home away from home for the Armenian community, where booths remind us of Armenian neighborhoods in Lebanon, cheers bring to mind the glory days in Iran, and entertainers stir in us the promise of a bright future for our motherland Armenia. At 1 o’clock in the morning of July 4th, as I walked through the abandoned stage area with overturned chairs, canopies being folded and appliances being hauled away, the 36th Navasartians had evaporated into a dream, but I was all smiles knowing that this phenomenal annual event was in safe hands and will be back even better next year! We simply love the Navs!