BY KRISTA APARDIAN
I knew seeing Hayastan for the first time would be an emotional experience. Landing at 3 a.m. felt surreal. Whether it was the anticipation of 20 hours of travel or a lifetime of longing to step on land I could call my own, there was an immediate connection.
I had finally arrived to the place I had heard about my entire life—the only place my great-grandparents and ancestors called home. The next morning, when I saw Ararat for the first time, I was immediately moved to tears.
It was an especially clear day and we had a beautiful view from the Armenian center we stayed at in Proshyan. Spending those first few days exploring Armenia gave me an inexplicable sense of relief— like filling a void I hadn’t even realize existed.
My first visit to Hayastan has indeed been absolutely emotional. But nothing prepared me for the emotional journey that would come with the jampar in Stepanakert. On our first full day, we had extra time in between activities and began singing “Aghpers Ou Yes” with the campers. I started crying, because it hit me that, in the diaspora, these songs are reflections of the past.
But in Artsakh, the lyrics, “Mom jan, chu dukhres, shad chu mudatzes,” are reflections of a very real present. The bond I’ve built with the kids here only intensifies the feeling of wanting to protect them. Picturing my young boy campers fighting in a war, or my little girl campers missing their dads and brothers is heartbreaking. But, the will of the people here is no doubt the foundation of their resilience.
When I first got here, the dialect and cultural nuances made me feel like I was a guest in a land outside of Hayastan; however, seeing those kids on the first day of camp reminded me that Artsakh is as much a part of Hayastan as Yerevan, as Sardarabad, as Ararat. Being pushed out of our lands in 1915 made us all citizens of the world, bound not by borders, but by blood. There is no better example of that power than witnessing the heart of Artsakh—its children.