BY SEROUJ APRAHAMIAN
The last time I was in Proshian, it was for the wake of the village’s mayor, Artsakh freedom fighter and longtime ARF member Hrach Muradian. Having heard the shocking news about his assassination, I went to pay my respects alongside the rest of the community on that somber afternoon in early April.
On Friday, August 2, I was back in the village, this time to attend the closing ceremony of the AYF-Western Region’s 3rd annual Youth Corps day camp in Proshian.
When I arrived, about two-dozen young Diasporans were lining up in a packed hall full of kids and, one-by-one, serving them sandwiches and juice. It was lunchtime and the capacity crowd of over 150 local campers was getting ready for the final song competition to cap off their week.
But this was more than just another song competition or the finale of the third out of five Youth Corps summer camps being held in Armenia this year.
Coming just four months after Muradian’s assassination and two weeks after a controversial mayoral election (where the ruling Republican Party rival was elected by less than 100 votes), the Proshian camp this summer served as a critical juncture for both the counselors and the community alike.
“It’s very surreal; I almost can’t believe I’m here,” said Sanan Shirinian, one of the group leaders of the Youth Corps program. “I feel like we’re a part of history right now,” she said regarding the tense situation in the village and her experience at the camp.
Over recent days, many local officials have publicly resigned in protest over the mayoral election and most residents are still unsatisfied with what they feel is a failure to bring Muradian’s true murders to justice.
In this atmosphere, Shirinian explains how she met with Muradian’s wife and daughter when they visited the camp, stating that, “She was obviously still very shaken up by what happened but she was also thankful that we were here. She said that this community really needed us to be here right now, to bring us all together again.”
Mouradian’s son and nephew, Gevorg and Hambo, were also returning participants in the camp. They were fully involved in all of the activities and could often be seen hanging out at the center even after the days let out. During the closing competition they sang a moving duet of “Akhbers Ou Yes,” dedicated to Muradian.
In addition, counselors in the Youth Corps program visited the location where the former mayor was murdered and went to his gravesite. They also met with countless freedom fighters living in the community and family members of such Artsakh heroes as Garod Megerdchian, whose two nieces were also returning campers.
“I never thought I’d be in a room breaking bread with Artsakh heroes and their families and relatives,” said Arek Santikian, another Youth Corps group leader. “This village is home to these people and it has been very touching being here. I wish we could have stayed longer.”
In attendance for the closing ceremony that final day were not only parents of campers and community members, but also local officials, Diasporan volunteers, repatriates, and representatives of the ARF Supreme Body.
Standing out in the sun, listening to the campers singing revolutionary songs with conviction and at a pitch so loud that the whole village could hear, one couldn’t help but feel the power of unity and organization that the Youth Corps program represented for all of those involved. Just as such camps have helped spawn generations of activists and community leaders in the Diaspora, so to was it now trying to rejuvenate the youth of a shaken and polarized village in Armenia.
“I think that what happens now that the camp is over is the most important part,” says Shiriniam. “All of the campers had a blast but what’s important is the follow up work.”
While the Youth Corps group has left the village to carry out its final two camps in Shushi and Gyumri, Santikian and Shirinian both insist they will work very closely with the local ARF throughout the year to keep the campers involved in the Proshian AYF Juniors chapter—making sure the kids stay active together until the return of the camp next summer.
To learn more about the Youth Corps program or to follow the ongoing work of its final two weeks in the Homeland, visit www.AYFyouthcorps.org.