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MY

THE TRAILS & TRIALS OF AN ARMENIAN R E PAT R I AT E

nation { TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHY BY ARSINEH KHACHIKIAN }


MY nation The Trails and Trials of an Armenian Repatriate Design, text, and photography by Arsineh Khachikian Yerevan, Armenia

Š 2008 Arsineh Khachikian All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher. All photos in this book were taken by and remain the property of Arsineh Khachikian.

First edition: 1500 copies

additional editing Eduard Marques Shakeh Tashjian

creative consulting Rostom Kouyoumdjian Araz Artinian

special contributors Dr. & Mrs. Grigor & Arax Khachikian

Deem Communications www.deemcommunications.com

printing Kirkwood Printing Wilmington, Massachusetts


MY

THE TRAILS & TRIALS OF AN ARMENIAN R E PAT R I AT E

nation { TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHY BY ARSINEH KHACHIKIAN }


introduction The Armenian nation in the global sense has experienced a very unique dispersion... causing more people outside the borders to identify themselves as Armenians than within the land.

A lifetime spent searching for my own identity led me to the discovery of history in the making. Underneath each rock I turned lay more rocks, revealing the story of a people undefined in a modern age: Armenians. This book explores the scope of a people who constantly resist assimilation, defy expectations of failure, and triumph in the face of their own doubt. This is the story of my life and my nation through the lens of my camera, my eyes. What do I mean by my nation? One might assume I am referring to the Republic of Armenia, with fenced borders as they are currently drawn. Another may view the Armenian nation as the once “Greater Armenia” which existed centuries ago, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea, to the Black Sea, to the Caspian Sea. Others might guess that my nation is borderless and encompasses the span of the globe where any descendent of Armenian ancestors may exist. Though this is the closest to how I define my nation, it lacks the element of identity. For me, “my” nation refers to my personal life story, born and raised in Washington, DC to my parents of Armenian decent, born in Iraq and Iran, both raised in Iran. There was a time when being Armenian simply meant living in Armenia, speaking the language, eating the food, and multiplying. But the Armenian nation has ex-

perienced a very unique dispersion globally. This mostly came after the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, leading to the unlikely position where more people outside the borders identify themselves as Armenians than within a land called Armenia. This has created a huge mass of people with dual identities; this duality rooted in a common tragedy, binding them together. I am a product of several backgrounds including Western Armenia (uprooted from Anatolia during the Genocide), Iraq, Iran, and America. My personal experience of this duality narrows down to two focuses in this book: America, the place I was born, raised and evolved, and Armenia, the place I embrace as my own. America can be defined by millions of


dual-identity communities. So how is being an Armenian-American different? Perhaps it’s the inexplicable influence we have gained despite such small numbers. Maybe it’s the stubborn pride we carry to all the world’s corners we reach. A part of me is still marvelled at the fact that Armenia is the oldest surviving nation in the world (as proven by the oldest map recorded) and yet most of the world still can’t locate it on the map. I once met an Italian priest who endlessly praised Armenia as the first Christian nation, and the landing place of Noah’s Ark. But outside of the church, many have mistaken me as Muslim. What amazes me is the incredible impact Armenia has made in the world and how millennia of history have proven our capacity to shape civilization. But we might as well be the quiet kid in the back of the room, because in the bigger picture, we are merely a “comma” in the world’s history books. Regardless of the world’s poor memory, the most incredible story we have to share is that, time and time again, against all odds, Armenians have stood on their own two feet and powered on. It couldn’t be more clear to me that our inexplicable influence in the US in particular is the result of our own determination, despite our comparative size and the big players, including oil companies, highly-paid lobbyists, the US State Department, military influence, and some of the highest-ranking elected officials. Simultaneously with the growth of influence in the US came the blossoming of Armenia. How, in the last twenty years, did a population of three million not only withstand a catastrophic earthquake, the ii

collapse of the Soviet Union, thus economy and infrastructure, seven years of war, and mass exodus (a brain drain) all while 90% of the borders are blockaded with no port access, yet thrive in economic growth, win the war, and remain firm on its commitment to justices for Genocide recognition by neighboring country and strong US ally, Turkey? I remember my childhood when all things Armenian could be learned in books, from a few low-budget documentaries or in stories our grandparents told us. It was an identity based on the past that only we knew about: stagnant, to be preserved. Back then, marrying our own became just as important as learning the alphabet. Schools, summer camps and youth groups were founded across the world to secure a future for our culture. The only active facet in our communities was the urgent fight for Genocide recognition. While this movement was at its height in the 1970s, my generation was a little apathetic once Armenia became independent. Few could be bothered with so many demands for action; earthquake relief, fighting for an end to the blockade, Karabagh’s right to autonomy, and of course, Genocide recognition. We soon became spread across more fronts than we could handle. The early nineties saw the birth of a greater problem that came close to plaguing our communities: assimilation. What happened next is where I’m determined to show how Armenians got smart, defining their role in a new world order, particularly in the US and Armenia. I just happened to be around to catch it all on film and megapixels.

The oldest known map of the world. SOURCE: Armenica.org


thefoundationyears My parents’ friends’ kids all became like brothers and sisters and split time between their homes and our home.

As I look back on various stages of my life, the memories that come to mind aren’t the major events or historical turning points. They are the moments that surround them. Somehow as I child, I knew to dream of the little things instead of the big events. My earliest memory was visiting my relatives in London. They say I was three years old. I remember walking into a flat and down a hall with a plastic carpet cover. My mother’s sisters were all sitting together in the living room. Suddenly, everyone gathered in the bedroom where my grandfather laid and I felt a sadness come over my family. Someone told me to stay where I was, but my curiosity and need to be involved was eating me up inside. I later learned that my grandfather died of cancer that evening. He was highly respected in the Armenian community in Iran: a leader. I remember feeling that more than just a man’s life had ended. His death was something worthy of far more sorrow. Sibling abuse, dancing in the living room, and eating Cheerios on the kitchen counter aside, my next memory was the day my mother took me to my first day of kindergarten. I held her hand tight in fear of the strange new environment and she introduced me to a teacher, but pronouncing my name differently. She called me ‘Ar-See-Na.’ Next

thing I knew I was in a room with kids my age and lots of blonde hair, pale, fair skin, and strange accents. They all knew each other and I wondered where I was and what on earth I should do. Around the same time, I started going to another school on Sundays with the people I grew up with from birth. This was the Hamasdegh Armenian Sunday School in the basement of Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church. My parents’ friends’ kids all became like brothers and sisters and split time between their homes and our home. We went to school together and were together at the wrath of Digin (Mrs.) Moutafian, Digin Armenian, and Digin Najarian. The map of Armenia was to be studied as if our lives depended on it. So there it began, the battle with my dual iii


identity. I was different no matter where I went. At school, I spoke a weird language, went to a special school on Sundays, even started to do a different kind of Scouting, just for Armenians, on Saturdays (I guess my parents felt that an extra free day was a risk), and I wasn’t allowed to have pets in the house. It was like passing through different dimensions every day and the worlds never overlapped. Even in the Armenian world, at church and in Scouts, I was odd for going to a private school while everyone else went to school with each other at public (government-run) schools and talked about their friends there, except my brother and sister who seemed out to destroy me as a child anyway. I recall a Saturday afternoon I had a fight with my mother. She insisted I stay inside to do my homework for Armenian School. It ended with me slamming my bedroom door and shouting, “I hate being Armenian! I wish I was normal!” This was the last time I rejected my heritage. My genes took their course as the Armenian world started drawing me in. I sensed that beyond our church and family friends were other Armenians in other parts of the world and this became much more interesting and appealing to me. Now if only I could figure out why no one else was as fascinated as I was. The summer of 1985 brought us a family road trip: eight hours of sitting between my brother and sister, lots of Arsineh sandwiches (crushed between the two, yes I was the youngest), and playing the cow game (premise: counting cows). With no idea where we were going, we eventually apiv

peared in a hidden camp ground deep in the forest. There were cabins, basketball courts, and Armenian kids from all over the country. JACKPOT! This is it! “Mom, Dad, I’m staying. Where do I sleep?” “No Arsineh jan, only Shakeh and Zareh get to stay, you are still too young.” I wasn’t, but whatever, water under the bridge. “Um, I don’t think you get it, I’m staying. Where’s my bed?” “Arsineh, you can come next year.” “Okay, see if you can register me now for next summer. Ask them. Go ahead, ask.” The entire eight-hour drive from Franklin, Massachusetts to Washington, DC in the family station-wagon was serenaded by my repeated reminders to my Mother and Father, “Don’t forget to send my application!” I can’t imagine how on earth they didn’t just leave me on the side of the road, but it was a sign of my determination (or stubbornness) to come. One year later, there I was, eight years old going on nine, ready to be crowned princess of the underworld: Camp Haiastan. I certainly earned the title as all the older boy counselors held me on their shoulders like a mascot. I was home. For two summer weeks, I lost my inhibitions. Everyone had the same thing in common: we were Armenians from all over the US. Each battled their dual-identity in a different way, in a different place. It became my secret at school. Everyone knew there was another life I led. I was the one who had the ‘other friends.’ It wasn’t too long before my fascination led to another world: the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF). I found out that they were the ones

It was like passing through different dimensions every day and the worlds never overlapped...


I suppose even then I thought that life would make sense if I wasn’t a stray to my land, even though I’d never seen it.

to start the camp, so what else do they have in store for me? A long weekend at another campsite with triple the amount people. Somewhere in the backwoods of Western Pennsylvanian small towns sat Camp Lutherlyn where 300-400 AYF members aged 10-28 endured lecture after lecture on Armenian history. I still wonder how such an event format could be so appealing to such a vast age group. For starters, Armenian parents only trust their kids with other Armenians, so no parents. Great! Sounds good to me! So what were all these lectures about? Ohhhhh.... I was ten years old and my lecture group sat under a tree. I lost attention early when I found a stick and decided to dig a hole in the dirt with it, a common distraction for me out in the woods. I wasn’t a studious child. But the lecturer began speaking about death marches and slaughters. Who couldn’t open an ear to that? The lecturer spoke of 1.5 million murders of Armenians... for being Armenian. This was the first time I heard the word “Genocide.” I sat in horror. We started to learn more about the current Republic of Armenia, and the ambitions for independence from the Soviet Union. One lecturer asked a group of 10-13 year olds if they would move to Armenia, should it ever gain independence. The feeling at the time was that this was an impossible dream, but everybody raised their hands except one girl. We looked at her like a traitor, but she was expressing her truth, that our patriotism wasn’t allowing us to grasp reality. It was not that likely for us to have wanted to just up-and-go to a land we’d

never seen. However, I for one raised my hand in truthfulness. It was an idea I seriously dreamt one day possible. I suppose even then I thought that life would make sense if I wasn’t a stray to my land, even though I’d never seen it. Oddly enough, before I even understood anything of all this, our first exposure to the homeland appeared to us on our local nightly news as reports came of a war that broke out in Nagorno Karabagh, an enclave of neighboring Azerbaijan at the time. I was learning of the war simultaneously with my history of Genocide. I just don’t remember when the pieces of the puzzle came together that one could be connected to the other. What I do remember is December 7, 1988. Earthquake hit Armenia. The word rubble was repeated endlessly. That night we went to church and everyone seemed casual. I was sitting with my friends and they were joking around. I couldn’t help but wonder how they weren’t overcome with sadness in the same way. My mother was volunteering for the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) at the time and spent night after night at our church, fundraising and organizing donations to be sent to Armenia. My father was interviewed on the evening news and everyone else around was in panic mode. They continued to pull bodies for weeks. Images of crying women draping their loved ones haunted us. Shots of countless coffin boxes lined the streets and gathering snow began to concern the world. I returned to school a few days later and my entire sixth grade class greeted me at the door offering condolences and checks v


from their parents for relief work. I remember feeling overwhelmed with compassion. My classmates and their families entrusted me to find the right place for their generous donation. I did the best I could and gave it to my mother to pass on. Soon after, my mother told me that we would have some visitors from Armenia. Three girls would stay with us, ages 2, 7 and 11. They were coming for special medical treatment for their severed limbs. I remember the two-year-old best. She lost her entire left arm from the shoulder. When she was with us, she was all smiles and giggles. How was this possible? I told my classmates about them, but I had a hard time describing them since they were just as new to me. I barely understood when they spoke, and they didn’t look or act like any other Armenians I ever met. As relief work became part of our lives, so did news of the war. Life continued this way for years. Summers brought camp memories, Memorial Day weekends brought AYF Junior Seminar, Labor Day weekends brought AYF Senior Olympics, another excuse for the older crowd to converge in one place and become one massive heaving mob. While other Americans were sparking up the grills and celebrating their proud holidays, Armenians took every opportunity to come together. Boston was the nucleus of this vast and intricate network. The AYF office address became something to recite: “80 Bigelow Avenue” We sent our articles there for contests, and eventually saw them printed in The Armenian Weekly newspaper on the last page. Meanwhile, in the other half of my life, I vi

was experiencing change and transition. My sister went off to college at Virginia Tech, a four-hour scenic drive into the deep south of Virginia. My brother was in his senior year and I faced my freshman year at an all-American High School with not a single familiar face in sight. For the previous 9 years I was surrounded by the same classmates and walked the same tiny hallways. Suddenly I was thrown into a sea of strangers (more blonde hair), and they barely even saw me. I mostly kept to myself, meeting a couple of people who shared many of my classes. But I noticed I was attracting a culturally diverse crowd: Indian, Lebanese, Chinese, Iranian, Japanese, and Jewish. Considering this was a very small percentage of the “All-American” school, it was clear to me how we grouped together. Our school teams were called the “Saxons.” My locker sat next to a guy’s name Scott. He towered over me and used to stick his nose in my locker asking me millions of questions about my pictures, usually of Camp Haiastan and my Armenian friends. I remember one time when everyone disappeared, he and I were left alone, and there it was. He turned to me and said, “Why don’t you go back to your fucking country, troll?!” I was born in Washington, DC, and had never been to Armenia. I was more confused than insulted. Over time he began to rally some of his football buddies against me to the point where I couldn’t walk into a classroom without someone sitting near me uttering racist insults. This paled in comparison to their treatment of some others. There was an Indian girl who

As relief work became part of our lives, so did news of the war. Life continued this way for years.


index Over time, I came to accept that I was destined for another place and temporarily held captive in a strange world for a while.

sat up front in a science class and usually walked away with tons of spit balls stuck in her hair. It didn’t matter how many “American” friends I had at this point. It just kept adding up to my increasing hatred and spite for a people who made me feel like an alien in my hometown. I moved on with my life; finding compassionate ears here and there, but mostly keeping my Armenian life outside of school walls. I didn’t do very well academically, but found comfort in my photography, art, and inexplicable math skills. Go figure, I got a B+ in AP Calculus without even studying, but I couldn’t stay awake through one single government class. I didn’t participate in many after-school programs since I was so preoccupied with my other activities: piano, photography, and of course, my Armenian community. Ironically, despite my poor performance in government class, I was spending my free time in the Halls of Congress volunteering to lobby for Armenian issues. Over time, I came to accept that I was destined for another place and temporarily held captive in a strange, transitory world for a while. Once I finally found my direction, it was just a matter of climbing up the mountain to reach the destination I dreamt about so early in life. After years of moving city to city, school to school, job to job, and even Armenian community to Armenian community, seeking my identity as an American-Armenian, I realized I’d had the right idea at the age of ten. I moved to Armenia eighteen years later. So here it is, my life in pictures during a journey of discovery and self-indulgence.

chapter 1 ••••••••••••••••2

A Defining Youth

ThE DOUblE IDEnTITy COmplEx

chapter 2 •••••••••••••••18

Getting Schooled

DIggIng ThE ROOTS, bUIlDIng A fOUnDATIOn, wAlkIng ThE pICkET lInE

chapter 3 •••••••••••••••30

First Trip Home

DISCOvERIng hOmElAnD

chapter 4 •••••••••••••••42

Getting Lost

TO fInD my wAy bACk

chapter 5 •••••••••••••••50

Getting Found

ThE DIASpORAn hEARTlAnD

chapter 6 •••••••••••••••62

Building a Bridge

lInkIng ThE DIASpORA TO ARmEnIA

chapter 7 •••••••••••••••80

An Intricate Network

A wEb Of gEnERATIOnS ACROSS ThE glObE

chapter 8 •••••••••••••••98

Celebrating Culture OUR wAy

chapter 9 ••••••••••••••112

The Frontline

TRUTh IS On OUR SIDE

chapter 10 •••••••••••••134

Repat Movement

bREAkIng ThE fInISh lInE

chapter 11 •••••••••••••158

Culture Evolution

REDEfInIng ARmEnIAnnESS

chapter 12 •••••••••••••182

A Modern Armenia

whERE DO wE gO fROm hERE?


The dock on Uncas pond at Camp haiastan. Franklin MA, 1995

I

t’s always the first few years of life that define one’s path. Mine were a clear indication of what lay ahead. The 1980’s and 90’s became a pivotal time in Armenia’s history and perhaps it is those events that brought me here; war, earthquake, blockade, economic collapse, independence, and the start of a long road to building a nation. I watched from the sidelines as my community reacted. It was an underlying tone to an otherwise very normal childhood. Exposure to this world opened a Pandora’s Box inside me. It was the meaning and the reality of life, the humility and selfless devotion in our community, a cause that was bigger than all of us, which drew me in. In contrast, my surrounding classmates and their bully games became something to hate. At first, their popularity intimidated me. But it wasn’t too long before I saw underneath the surface of the fantasy lifestyle to find a shallow end. Kids were desperately searching for an element to define them... either a rock band, or a hair cut, or event, or a talent. But once someone stood out, they were subject to stereotypes and labels; art freaks, band geeks, tree huggers, and foreigners are just a few. I carried my identity on my shoulder every day and began to appreciate the insults. I only took pleasure in the bonds I created with the few who felt the same way. Otherwise, I waited for every opportunity to escape in search for the places and people that made me feel at home.


a def ining youth THE DouBLE IDENTITY CoMpLEx

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my mother (right) and her best friend nazig. photo of a photo taken in Iran in 1969 my father watering the plants on a Saturday afternoon. he is rarely ever seen without a suit and tie, even to the beach or skiing. McLean VA, 1991

my family: Shakeh, mom, Dad and Zareh. McLean VA, 1992

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my mother is famous in the washington Armenian community for her nazouks (a sweet pastry). She spent days baking in bulk for the Soorp khatch Church Annual bazarre. McLean VA, 2004

my brother Zareh. McLean VA, 1991

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my sister Shakeh. New York City, 1995


The cousins: Shant m, nouneh, Sharis, Shant and Alishan, at the Un headquarters. New York City, 1997

Sharis embraces my baby cousin yelena. New York City, 1997

The grandmothers: nazig, nazig, and Digin manoush (aunt’s husband’s mother). pittsburgh, pA 1997

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TOp Ten years practicing on the Steinway was the root of my appreciation for music. McLean VA, 1995 lEfT green hedges private School ďŹ eldtrip to the Smithsonian. This was my introduction to the nonArmenian world. Vienna VA, 1989

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The Armenian school gang. when my American school friends were relaxing on their Sunday mornings, we went to Soorp khatch Armenian Church to attend hamasdegh Armenian Sunday School to learn Armenian history, reading and writing. Bethesda MD, 1989


Ayf Junior Olympics in Queens, new york. It was the beginning of many weekend trips to other cities where we met Armenians from all over the country for sports, games, and educational seminars. Queens NY, 1989

Camp haiastan became a sanctuary I would dream about all year. The washington kids would always attend the same two-week session, but my brother and I decided to stay longer one year. As the bus drove off with the washington kids, they all reached out asking for a rock to take with them. Franklin MA, 1988

green hedges School was a foundation for high-culture and education taking us to see all that the nation’s capital had to offer. but it never brought the same nostalgia and longing I had for my Armenian life. Washington DC, 1989

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In high school, I started to find my creative path and other friends who shared common interests. photography was a means to connect to others. Our defining bond became nature and art. Great Falls VA, 1995 while the surface showed a grand, carefree lifestyle of parties and sports, I later understood that there was a deeper disturbance in the people around me. The boy on the right, mike wong, committed suicide that year for reasons unknown. I then realized that my life was rich and full... and far more valuable to me. Langley VA, 1994

lEfT we spent most of our free time playing with a camera, photographers without a cause, McLean VA, 1994, or RIghT hiking and rock climbing in the nearby great falls national park. Just after I shot this photo, I fell off a 12-foot cliff onto piles of boulders. It was the first of many stumbles and falls, all after which I stood back up. Great Falls VA, 1994

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we conducted a mock protest at Camp haiastan to recreate the struggle for freedom that our Armenian heroes experienced. Franklin MA, 2000 Daily flag lowering of the American and Armenian flags followed each dinner, just as flag raising started every day. Franklin MA, 2000

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I began distancing myself from my school peers. Competition and bullying were rampant; everything became a popularity contest. Langley VA, 1993 A langley high School pep Rally was a chance for everyone to take pride in their graduating class. Langley VA, 1993

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Camp haiastan was everything to me. I spent eight summers as a camper, and three on sta, passing down every ghost story and memory to each new generation that came looking for the same familiar faces from all over the world; los Angeles to Armenia to brazil and everything in between. Franklin MA, 1995-2000

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The lily pads of Uncas pond. Franklin MA, 1995

The absent days me dreaming of familiarity... each lily pad, history lesson, even the guy that got clobbered in capture the flag.

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I became obsessed with a life I could barely reach. I was destined to live in constant longing for a distant place.

SUNRISE . BY ARSINEH KHACHIKIAN . 1995 The sound of silence plays in my ears.

The sun began peaking over the tree tops.

No screams or cries or rude disturbances.

The clouds were sweeping across the purple sky,

Thoughts of hope and answers to life

Reflecting images of God and Mother Nature.

and chance sit in the back of my mind.

No worries of unmet expectations. No worries of ignorance, hate, hypocrisy.

“No worries” one says with a smoke in her hand.

We are immortal for this moment in time.

“No worries of our lives’ complications.”

No human insanity can touch us where we are. No worries at sunrise, we are immortal then.

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Ayf genocide Educational weekend at Camp haiastan. Franklin, MA 1998

I

started to connect the dots with each lecture. At age 10, children aren’t usually so attuned to wonder why the people around them are different. I began to ask why as Armenians, we weren’t living in the country of our ancestors. I discovered a rage inside me that would define the rest of my life, rooted in a feeling of violation. Genocide became my target. “Life is too short to be angry,” they would tell me. I could only think how convenient it must be to just avoid bad thoughts in life. There was a reaction in me to this truth, the murder of my nation, and I needed to find the right response. Over the years, I saw a progression that led towards action. Writing letters to Congress wasn’t just homework for me. I learned about my US government through practice. To this day I see the younger generations responding to world events that most people my age never hear about. Everywhere we turned Armenian issues were discussed. One of my favorite discussions was Eastern vs. Western Armenian language: which is the correct form? Then there were the lectures that we anticipated. I was floored when a soldier who fought in the Karabagh war came to speak about his experience just as a ceasefire was called. There was nothing like Reverend Vartan Hartunian’s eyewitness account of the Armenian Genocide. Most learn history from calculated books that might mention one line about the Armenian Genocide before the chapter on the Holocaust. We learned from the truth, the reality of life happening all around us.


get ting schooled D I G G I N G T H E RooTS, BuILDING A FouNDATIoN, WALkING THE pICkET LINE

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The washington Armenian community often gathered in front of the white house to protest the blockade of Armenia in the early ninties as well as demand territorial integrity for nagorno karabagh and its right to autonomy from neighboring Azerbaijan. Washington DC, 1990

At a young age, I was exposed to the inner workings of Armenian lobbying in washington. Our house was often used as a venue for events hosting members of Congress, such as Representative Jim moran above. McLean VA, 1991

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As war in karabagh continued and Armenia gained independence, our weekend seminars and summers at camp became opportunities to spread the news and stories about our heroes that the mainstream media wouldn’t speak of. It was a way to build pride and ambition for Armenian prosperity, and became written on all our faces, our wardrobes, and even tattooed on our bodies. Franklin MA, 1999 (lEfT), 1991 (RIghT), 1993 (bOTTOm)

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Armenian genocide survivor Reverend vartan hartunian was devoted to passing his eyewitness account to all generations. he gave lectures until his very last days. Franklin MA, 2000 John boloian gives a speech to 400 Ayf Junior Seminar participants after ag lowering. prospect pA, 1992

In the background of all the happy memories, there was always the historic undertone I associate with my experience. I remember observing Armenia’s changing times at Junior Seminar and Camp haiastan. prospect pA, 1992

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Antovk pidedjian gives a history lesson on heroes who resisted the genocide, we called Fedayees. It was the foundation of our values and morality. prospect pA, 2002

Camp haiastan became a location for more than summer camping. ken Sarajian lectures at the Annual Ayf Senior Seminar at Camp haiastan. Franklin MA, 2002

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hundreds of children attended year after year to learn about their history and ancestry. Franklin MA, prospect pA, 1995-2001

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At the border of Turkey, the ancient Armenian city of Ani. Ani,

F

or years, I waited for the right opportunity to visit my homeland and it finally came to me. I embarked on a two-week trip to Gyumri with six other diasporans. In my old journal, Armeniabound for the first time, I claimed to be unaffected. But I remember the fear. I wrote, “The people will be different from the Armenians I know... will I be welcomed or shunned?” After a two-day flight connecting through Paris, seven hours at Zvartnots waiting for our luggage and watching the sun rise through a crowd of Soviet Armenians pressed up against the glass tapping their keys, another three to four hour drive to Gyumri, we finally arrived at the music school where we would stay. They sparked up a live band and a packed room of strangers began to dance, welcoming us like we were blood relatives. We heard dhols, duduks, and zournas from a mile away, and it finally sunk in that we arrived. We traveled each day to sites I’d only seen in old picture books: Sardarabad Memorial, the historic city of Ani across the border, Geghard Monastery, and of course Mount Ararat. Every step I took, I could recall thinking, “I wish my father was here to see this.” But there was no doubt that this was the most extreme culture shock I had ever experienced. Coming from cozy American suburbs, I suddenly threw myself into a collapsed Soviet society at its lowest point of struggle. My initial draw to the land had become conflicted with mixed emotions of sadness and excitement.


f irst trip home D ISC o V ERING Ho M ELAND

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The welcoming party. Gyumri, 1994

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we were greeted with more than just hospitality. They shared with us their traditional customs through music and dance. Gyumri, 1994

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Dilapidated buildings and remnants of earthquakeshattered homes lined the streets of gyumri, but life continued. The placard advertises a play titled “A foreign groom.� Gyumri, 1994 Sourp Amenabrgitch (Saint Savior) Church became an iconic symbol of destruction after the earthquake. Gyumri, 1994

During our visit, we attended a performance by the national Orchestra in a half standing Soorp Amenabrgitch church, destroyed in the earthquake. Gyumri, 1994

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A child at the music school where we stayed. Gyumri, 1994

TOp A dance performance by local children stunned me. This level of talent in a time of such diďŹƒcult turmoil was humbling. Gyumri, 1994

bOTTOm The streets were a mix of life and destruction. Gyumri, 1994

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Symbolic Armenian grapevines stretch across this villager’s home. we celebrated the return of his son who was believed to have died in the war. Gyumri, 1994 lEfT A seventeen year-old soldier suits up for battle. Gyumri, 1994 RIghT Sardarabad memorial. Hoktemberian, 1994

lake Sevan. Sevan, 1994

A woman prepares wool for stuďŹƒng blankets. Gyumri, 1994

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Carpet weavers in the music school. Gyumri, 1994

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Crossing the bridge to manhattan. New York City, 1995

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he time came to choose a path, so I enrolled in the undergraduate program at Parsons School of Design in New York City. From the woodsy picturesque suburbs of Washington, DC with deer frolicking in my backyard, I went to jagged, dirty, harsh concrete streets and buildings. Crammed into a closet for a dorm room I shared with a ChineseAmerican fashion design student, I was alone in a strange place with a clean slate and new faces. My first class was with fine artist Simon Carr. He began roll call and when he got to my name, he pronounced it correctly on the first shot. I was shocked. “Is that Armenian?” he asked. I asked how he could know that. “Oh, I have a few Armenian friends.” Regardless of how strange New York was to me, at least I didn’t feel judged. Every single person around me had a background, a strange story, something unique that made me feel—at the very least—among peers. But no matter how much I tried to embrace my new life choice, I knew it wasn’t the right one. The following year, I realized all my friends had disappeared. The novelty had gone and it was time to turn back to my Armenian roots. For a few months, I focused on starting a publication for the Armenian Youth Federation, Hoki Magazine, but it wasn’t too long before I decided to take another turn. After two years in New York, I decided to move on to Boston, the second largest Armenian community in the US.


get ting lost T o FIND M Y W AY BAC k

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The bronx. New York City, 1996

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Downtown manhattan. New York City, 1996

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The hudson River. New York City, 1996

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Union Square. New York City, 1996

manhattan Subway. New York City, 1996

The view from my dorm. New York City, 1996

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A foundation ďŹ ne arts course at parsons School of Design. New York City, 1996

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The hairenik building. Watertown MA, 1997

I

found a tiny apartment in Roxbury around the corner from an old camp friend, and started working at The Armenian Weekly newspaper. If it was roots I was looking for, I found it. Stacks of 100 years of archives, newspapers, books and current news reports left little room for the coffees that kept me up through the night to meet deadlines. My mentor Tatul Sonentz-Papazian would come and check in on me from time to time. He shared stories from years of seeing different characters passing through, including Arshile Gorky who visited daily to read the paper in the lounge. I can still smell the rain-stained carpets of the AYF office when I would glance over at a photo of the first AYF Convention delegation in 1933 down the street in Boston, as if they were all starring back at me. While others complained about suffocation, I secretly relished it. It was the place where my Armenian identity fused with my American lifestyle for the first time. I attended the Art Institute of Boston and found my classmates to be of every background; Israeli, Chinese, Columbian, Anglo-American, and even Turkish. We became a UN-style family, and for once I could see a Turk as an individual and a friend after a civilized, open discussion of our common history. I eventually wedged myself in every aspect of the community, waiting for every picnic, bazaar, sports tournament, reception, and running to my friends at Harvard Square playing chess, or even crossing the street to the pub where the Irish owner/bartender would say parev tzez (hello). I had found my comfort zone.


get ting found T HE D IASp o RAN HEART LAND

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The hairenik building, 80 bigelow Avenue, watertown, massachusetts. I started working for The Armenian Weekly newspaper (est. 1899) in 1997. Entering the building was like coming home. Watertown MA, 1997

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The hairenik archives. One hundred years of documents, records and archives are overwhelming at ďŹ rst sight. These walls tell stories of dozens of devoted editors before me. Watertown MA, 1997


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The ďŹ re escape of my apartment became a new sanctuary where I hosted endless guests in town for Ayf meetings. Roxbury MA, 1998

A greek-owned sub shop just below my apartment was a place to compare common cultural traits with nick the greek. Roxbury MA, 1998 A twenty-four hour candlelight vigil on April 24 in Copley Square. Boston MA, 1998

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TOp Ararat Restaurant, down the street from the hairenik building, the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center, and Saint Stephens Church. Watertown MA, 1999 lEfT The Ayf oďŹƒce. This view became very standard over time. Watertown MA, 1999

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The Ayf oďŹƒce during a meeting of the Central Junior Council. Watertown MA, 1999


The Art Institute of boston Senior Design Show. I was the organizer, and brought entertainment of my own avor. It was embraced. Boston MA, 2000

Students from the berkley School of music played jazz at the local pub on my block. I have similar experiences in Armenia. Roxbury MA, 1999

Sevan bakery on mount Auburn Street, the hub of Armenian markets. Watertown MA, 1999

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Sevan bakery. Watertown MA, 1999

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Arax market on mount Auburn Street. Watertown MA, 1999

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TOp Tatul Sonentz-papazian. we called him The Godfather. he worked at the Armenian Relief Society headquarters in the hairenik building. he passed on years of stories, experience and tradition to those who came and went. he was my mentor, a graphic designer like me. Watertown MA, 1999 lEfT Ayf kids play table football at a fast-food joint before going ice-

skating. I love that game. Watertown MA, 1999

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Climbing from karin Dag to Shushi. karin Dag, 1998

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ince my first trip to Armenia, a buzz started spreading among my peers. The focus on Armenian issues quickly shifted from independence to summer programs in Armenia. Everyone was talking about participating in the AYF Internship, Land & Culture Organization, Church group trips, or anything out there to help out in Armenia. I honestly started to get jealous of the others as images of my good memories came back to me through their stories. So it was a nobrainer for me that when my cousin Alishan decided to go in the summer of 1998, I would go with him. Thereafter each trip was with a group of volunteers working at orphanages, hospitals, and all sorts of NGOs. I began to feel a connection to the land through the innocence in the faces of the children and humility and hospitality of those who had nothing. Years later, I was off to a great start in the graphic design industry when I got the call that changed everything. I was offered a job in Armenia. All it took was the image of walking down the streets of Yerevan as if they were my own to convince me. Just months after September 11, 2001, I was on a plane to Yerevan to work for AIM Magazine as photo editor. Alone for the first time in a wintry, cold Yerevan, I questioned my choice every day, but would never regret it. I felt Armenia become my own. But I knew I wasn’t ready to stay forever just yet. I returned to the US to figure out the next step.


building a bridge LINkING T HE D IASp o RA T o ARM ENIA

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On one of the Ayf Internship excursions, a group of men were mourning the death of one of their brothers. They invited us to their home where a feast awaited us, along with hours of drinking, dancing, and bonding. Dzaghkadzor, 1998

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A proud father embraces his son who sang brilliantly for their guests. Dzaghkadzor, 1998

Taking the marshroutka (bus). Yerevan, 1998

This boy was dropped o at the nork marash infant orphanage by his mother, never to return. he’s unaware of his fate. Yerevan, 2001

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Zadig orphanage. Yerevan, 2001

This child was found in a box by the police and delivered to the nork marash orphanage. Yerevan, 2001

A girl plays alone in the entrance of our building. Yerevan, 2001

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Devastated by war, children found simple comforts many years later in gifts from around the world. Shushi, 2004

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Armen Carapetian, our internship director and family friend from childhood, role-plays in a captured Azeri tank on display as a memorial to karabagh’s victory. Stepanakert, 1998

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my cousin Alishan mansourian explores Armenia’s historic noravank monastery during its reconstruction phase, like a kid in a candy store. Yeghignadzor, 1998

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A refugee family preparing to move into their new home provided by the norwegian Refugee Council (nRC). Gyumri, 2004


TOp Refugee family waiting for their new nRC home. Gyumri, 2004 CEnTER A village family hosts us with Armenian hospitality. karin Dag, 2004 bOTTOm Daniella, a merchant at Vernissage (an open ea market), had faith in John kerry to come through on his promise of genocide recognition to Armenians. Yerevan, 2004


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Dzidzernakabert, the Armenian genocide memorial and eternal ame. Yerevan, 1998

nayiri karapetian, a nurse from Chicago, discovers the living quarters at khor virap, 3rd cen., of the nurse who cared for Saint gregory the Illuminator, held captive for thirteen years underground. Ararat Valley, 1998

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yerevan fire Station in Sakharov Square. Yerevan, 1998

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Armenia’s military graduation ceremony. Hoktemberian, 1998

women sit outside to prepare their dinner in the open air. Yerevan, 1998

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ganach Jham (The green Church), 19th cen. Shushi, 2004

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noravank monastery, 13th cen. Vayotz Dzor, 1998 kecharis monastery, 11th cen. Dzaghkadzor, 1998


lake Sevan. Sevan, 1998

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lEfT karin Dag River. Nagorno karabagh, 1998 RIghT gandzasar monastery courtyard, 13th cen. Nagorno karabagh, 1998

khor virap ďŹ elds. Ararat Valley, 1998

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group photo at Ayf Junior Seminar. prospect pA, 2005

O

nly when I returned to the US did I see how truly well networked the Armenian community can be. Yes, we are few, yet the average Armenian’s circle, relative to the average Joe, is astonishing. An Iranian-American once asked me why the Armenian community is so well organized and effective. I don’t have an answer. There are times I would sit in an Armenian dance hall watching the crowd and wondering if it’s only us that love our culture so much. Other times, I would be organizing photo archive collections and people I never met, of every generation, would call me to share their stories and excitement. It is something that ties us together. It was an excuse to drive hundreds of miles just to see our friends. It’s a spirit, an adrenaline rush that everyone feels. As we started to travel more and technology made communication easier, our network continued to broaden. Communities around the world were connecting with each other and degrees of separation were lessening. Meeting an Armenian across the planet didn’t take more than the mention of a few names before finding a mutual friend. From the US to Brazil to India to Sweden to Ethiopia, no matter where in the world, people were connected. Each region has their major event that draws in the massive crowds. On the East Coast, we have the Annual AYF Senior Olympics. At times it seemed like the world ended outside the hotel. You could count on seeing all your closest friends in the Olympics hotel lobby.


an intricate net work A W EB o F G ENERAT Io NS AC Ro SS T HE G Lo BE

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ARS women prepare kebab at Soorp khatch Church during an April 24 commemoration. Bethesda MD, 2005 homenetmen Scouts raise their ags during a concert of revolutionary songs by karnig Sarkissian. Bethesda MD, 2005

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montreal Annual Kermess (festival) at Sourp hagop Armenian School draws in thousands each year. Montreal, 2005

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paris Armenian Cultural Center. paris, 2006

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new york Community Center. Queens NY, 1997

youth basketball tournament at the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center. Watertown MA, 1999

Homenetmen Scouts at the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center. Watertown MA, 1999

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The ďŹ rst Zankou Chicken in los Angeles. Glendale CA, 2008

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historic glendale landmark Alex Theater, opened in 1925. Glendale CA, 2008

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Yeretsgin (wife of a priest) of Soorp khatch Church. Bethesda MD, 2005 Armenian Ambassador to the US, Tatul markarian speaks at Ayf Senior Olympics Opening Ceremonies. Washington DC, 2005

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nagorno karabagh Representative to the US, vardan barseghyan addresses the crowd at the Armenian genocide Observance on Capitol hill. Washington DC, 2006


his holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the great house of Cilicia, visits Soorp khatch Church. Bethesda MD, 2005 popken hachikian, founding member of the Ayf, at a reception at the ACEC. Watertown MA, 1999

John baronian, aka mr. Tufts, attends Ayf Senior Olympics Opening Ceremonies. Chicago IL, 2004

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TOp Ayf Senior Olympics Opening Ceremonies. Chicago IL, 2004 bOTTOm Ayf Senior Olympics Opening Ceremonies, in honor of Ayf alumni. providence RI, 2003

TOp Ayf Senior Olympics track races. Detroit MI, 2000 bOTTOm Ayf Senior Olympics Swim meet. providence RI, 2003

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Steven karapetian races to gold in the 100 freestyle swim competition. Washington DC, 2005

Chris Arabian leads the homenetmen Scouts in the opening ceremonies. Bethesda MD, 2005

The providence Varantian Chapter celebrates their championship victory at Ayf Olympics. Washington DC, 2005

Dikran Callan and Rich bagdassarian take a break in the track shed. parsippany NJ, 1999


karine birazian competes in shot-put with her eyes on the pentathlon gold. Washington DC, 2005

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The Ayf alumni crowd stand during the singing of the Armenian national Anthem at Ayf Senior Olympics Opening Ceremonies. Washington DC, 2005

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greg kanarian celebrates his team’s softball victory, wrapped in the providence banner. Washington DC, 2005

The philly guys at the annual Ayf Convention. Boston MA, 2004

Aremin hacobian and Aram Adishian compete in a short-lived chess competition for points at Ayf Olympics. parsippany NJ, 1999


lEfT new England Ayf Juniors compete in winter Olympics games. Worcester MA, 1999 bOTTOm A campďŹ re draws a crowd at Ayf Junior Conference at Camp haiastan. Franklin MA, 1999

hanging around the director’s quarters at Camp haiastan during Ayf new England Junior Conference. Franklin MA, 1999

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A Sayat nova Dance Company performance at northeastern University. Watertown MA, 1999

M

usic, dance, food and laughter are the cornerstones of any Armenian community. When Armenians fled to the US after the Genocide, they took with them what they knew. The music is preserved to this day, played at each dance, picnic or festival. Figures like Onnik Dinkjian and John Berberian were our household names growing up listening to the oud, dumbeg, and clarinet in the Camp Haiastan dance halls. Now zournas, duduks, dhols and kamanchas have resurfaced. We learned a different ‘circle dance’ that went with each song and anxiously waited for the chance to show off our steps. Then there was Harout Pamboukdjian who “raised the roof,” and Karnig Sarkissian who inspired a room full of kids to embrace their roots. When I was in Boston, I danced with the all-volunteer group, Sayat Nova Dance Company. Not only did we perfect the art of each traditional dance step, the directors innovated to create new choreography and performances that fantastically showcased the Armenian culture. We made a life out of our traditions, from weddings to dance performances to concerts, we sought it all out. It became so addictive that we wanted to share it with the rest of the world. Every Wednesday at the Middle East Café, a major club in Boston, my Armenian friends became an attraction as they played their Armenian and Arabic music. I started bringing my nonArmenian friends to events and sharing CDs with them. Americans were starting to warm to our historic culture.


celebrating cult ure o uR W AY

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The Sayat nova Dance Company practice at Abaka studios. Watertown MA, 1999

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yerazArt foundation prodigies perform at the mayower hotel. Washington DC, 2006

Jim kzirian of The Aravod Ensemble plays dumbeg at Ayf Senior Olympics. Washington DC, 2005

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The Antranig Dance group of new Jersey performs in Times Square during an Armenian genocide 90th Anniversary Commemoraton Rally. New York City, 2005

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The hamparian wedding at Soorp khatch Church. Bethesda MD, 2004

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Ayf 65th Anniversary celebration. New York, 1998

Ayf 70th Anniversary celebration featuring harout pamboukdjian. philadelphia pA, 2003

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Ayf Senior Olympics grand ball. Boston MA, 2001

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maida kaderian. Chicago IL, 2004

Steve vosbikian. Washington DC,

Apo niziblian. Washington DC, 2005

Onnik Dinkjian. Washington DC, 2005

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The Ayf providence Varantian Chapter celebrates 2nd place at the grand ball. Washington DC, 2005 harout pamboukdjian has become a staple in the Olympics friday night dance. Chicago IL, 2005

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montreal Kermess evening at Sourp hagop Armenian School. Montreal, 2005 karnig Sarkissian sings Armenian revolutionary songs at Ayf Senior Olympics. Chicago IL, 2004

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Oud legends John bilezikdjian (left) and John berberian perform at Armenstock: kef for kerry festival to rally support for then Democratic presidential Candidate John kerry. Franklin MA, 2004

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wednesday nights at the Middle East CafĂŠ were Armenian and Arabic music night, featuring garo papazian on the dumbeg. we went every week for two years and often met Turks sympathetic to our ďŹ ght for genocide recognition and open to share culture similarities. Cambridge MA, 2000

norayr kartashyan plays the Armenian duduk at Ayf Olympics. Washington DC, 2005

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April 24 protest at the Turkish Embassy. Washington DC, 2006

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n the early 90’s, after several decades of protests and rallies for recognition of the Genocide, Armenians started to make friends in the US Congress who carried the fight into Washington. Every once in a while, there would be a hearing to discuss a resolution. While there was a fight underway lead by lobbyists earning millions of the Turkish government’s dollars, it rarely made news. Thus passed the Genocide in Rwanda, and now Darfur. It became time to scream. Congress and the media became our targets, and it was no longer just an Armenian fight. In the early 2000s, I started to work for the Armenian National Committee of America, leading the grassroots battle. We saw the issue raised into the spotlight with its torchbearers. Samantha Power won a Pulitzer Prize for A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Peter Balakian hit the New York Bestsellers list with Burning Tigris. Atom Egoyan released his genocide-themed film Ararat. System of a Down was gaining international attention and didn’t shy away from speaking up, while Carla Garapedian carried their message further with her film Screamers. FBI translator Sibel Edmonds spoke out to Vanity Fair about the cover-up of wiretaps of Turkish bribes to elected officials, including then Speaker Dennis Hastert. America’s own Ambassador to Armenia John Evans dissented from US policy and spoke publicly about the Armenian Genocide, immediately losing his job. We took the fight to the doorsteps of each Genocide-denier and each lawmaker. The more pressure they put on us, the more determination and support the cause rallied, discrediting each lie, one at a time.


the f rontline T RuT H IS o N o uR SID E

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protest at the Republic of Azerbaijan’s Embassy, face-to-face with counterprotesters. Washington DC, 2006 Serj Tankian speaks to a reporter from The Los Angeles Times during a protest at the Turkish Embassy on April 24. Washington DC, 2006

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protest at the Turkish Embassy during pm Erdogan’s visit. Washington DC, 2005 protest at the Turkish Embassy on April 24. Washington DC, 2006

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Thousands gather in Times Square for the Armenian genocide 90th Anniversary Commemoration Rally. New York City, 2005

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former Armenia prime minister vardan Oskanian and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speak at the millennium Challenge compact-signing ceremony. Washington DC, 2006

The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds a conference on US relations with Azerbaijan. Washington DC, 2004

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The Armenian International policy Research group (AIpRg) meet at the world bank to discuss Armenia’s future. Washington DC, 2004


The near East Section of the library of Congress presented an Armenian lecture on US-Armenian relations with a panel of all first five Ambassadors, including recently fired John Evans. Washington DC, 2007

Economists and scholars of all backgrounds gather at the world bank for the Annual AIpRg conference. Washington DC, 2006

Armenian parliamentarian Shavarsh kocharian speaks at the AIpRg conference. Washington DC, 2006

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peter balakian, author of new york Times bestsellers Black Dog of Fate and Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, takes a moment to listen to a genocide survivor. Washington DC, 2004

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lead actor in the Atom Egoyan ďŹ lm Ararat David Alpay attends the annual Armenian genocide Observance on Capitol hill. Washington DC, 2006


Serj Tankian and John Dolmayan of grammy Award winning band System of a Down speak to mainstream news outlets on their three-day campaign in washington for recognition of the Armenian genocide. Washington DC, 2006

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filmmaker Carla garapedian and AnCA Executive Director Aram hamparian introduce her documentary ďŹ lm Screamers on Capitol hill. Washington DC 2006

Samantha power, author of the pulitzer prize winning book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, speaks at the national Conference on Social Studies on the importance of genocide education, seen here with AnCA activists karine birazian and Serouj Aprahamian. Baltimore MD, 2004

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karine birazian mans a booth on educational material for the Armenian genocide at the nCSS Conference. Baltimore MD, 2004


former Democratic presidential Candidate John kerry speaks at the Armenian genocide Observance on Capitol hill, reiterating his support for proper recognition of the Armenian genocide. Washington DC, 2005 Armenian national Committee of America summer interns volunteer at Campaign headquarters for former Democratic presidential Candidate John kerry. Washington DC, 2004

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now Speaker of the house, Representative nanci pelosi reaďŹƒrmed her commitment to passage of the Armenian genocide Resolution in the house. Washington DC, 2005

Representative frank pallone speaks at a Sudan genocide vigil in front of the white house. Washington DC, 2005

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AnCA western Region Director Ardashes kassakhian walked the halls of Congress gaining support for the genocide Resolution. he was later elected as glendale City Clerk in a heated campaign. Washington DC, 2003

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AnCA Executive Director Aram hamparian speaks at the Armenian genocide Observance on Capitol hill. Washington DC, 2005

TOp Armenians join Africa Action leaders and former DC Delegate walter fontroy in a protest for action on the Sudan genocide. Washington DC, 2004 bOTTOm new york Senator Chuck Schumer speaks at the Armenian genocide 90th Anniversary Commemoration Rally in Times Square. New York City, 2005

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Serj Tankian meets with Representative mcCotter to discuss ways to push the genocide Resolution forward. Washington DC, 2006 Serj Tankian chats with Representative Adam Schi during the Armenian genocides Observance on Capitol hill. Washington DC, 2006

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Serj and John join the Richmond Armenian community in urging their Congressman Eric Cantor, former Chief Deputy whip, to take solid action to put the resolution to a vote. Washington DC, 2006 After months of requesting meetings, Serj by chance crossed paths with Speaker of the house Dennis hastert in the halls of Congress, using the opportunity to push for a vote on the resolution. Washington DC, 2006

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henry morgenthau III speaks at the Armenian genocide Observance of his grandfather’s commitment to stopping the Armenian genocide as Ambassador to Turkey at the time, and the importance of recognition and justice. Washington DC, 2005

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The community turns their attention to survivors of the Armenian genocide at the Capitol hill Observance. Washington DC, 2006

Armenian genocide 90th Anniversary Commemorative Rally in Times Square. New York City, 2005

former AnCA government Aairs Director speaks with genocide survivor levon kaftarian at the April 24 protest at the Turkish Embassy. he didn’t miss a single year until his passing away recently. Washington DC, 2003

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Serj Tankian at the April 24 protest at the Turkish Embassy. Washington DC, 2006

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Into the forests of barz leech (Clear lake). Dilijan, 2008

S

o many people ask me how I finally made the decision to move to Armenia. The day came when I realized that today is as good as any. I had no ties or commitments, only the potential to follow a path that was wide open. After a very intense April 24th week in Washington, I packed my bags, visited Paris for a few days, and landed in Yerevan with a new, clean slate and lots of friends to hit the ground running with. Within the first week, I started a PR firm with a friend and fueled a lifestyle that felt like a finish line to a lifetime search for a home. Each day and night was filled with concerts, cafés and restaurants. I lived a fantasy, surrounded by my closest friends who all felt the same. Each year since 1994 saw a wave of diasporans moving in and building bricks. So many were starting companies, firms and NGOs. The familiar feeling of carefree summers and life-changing experiences were turning into serious endeavors and firm commitments that would drastically change the face of Yerevan. Meanwhile, we had more chances to dig and find natural wonders off the beaten path. Part of my mission became planting the seed to soften the steps for my family and friends who followed. I wanted to share the best of Armenia with everyone. Nothing came close to my parents’ visit. My mother’s second time (since 1989) and father’s first time in Armenia, all the dreams I had since my first visit in 1994 saw light. All the things I wished for my father to do and see, he finally did. The battle for identity faded, I was home.


repat movement BREAkING T HE FINISH LINE

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passing mount Arararat. Ararat Valley, 2007

lory hovsepian at ancient Armenian caves. khndzoresk, 2007

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The hiking crew with Julie Sauret. Yenokavan Canyons, 2007


Driving through the herd. Lachin Corridor, 2007

maro Siranosian swims in ice water. Yenokavan Canyons, 2007

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my father at noravank monastery, 13th cen. Vayots Dzor, 2007

mom and Dad at khor virap monastery in front of mount Ararat. Ararat Valley, 2007

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friends from the US and Canada embark on one of the best camping trips ever. A lost cell phone (mine), camera down into ‘the place where donkeys go to die’ (eshoon sadgadz deghuh), a boulder to the head, and smashed teeth (again mine), this was the most destructive trip, yet we were sad to see it end. Yenokavan Canyon, 2007

After a night of no sleep, I joined a group of diasporans from beirut and Dubai for a day at barz leech. we got stuck with a flat tire for hours and Rostom kouyoumdjian had a chance to finally sleep in mother nature’s lap. Dilijan, 2008

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Open ďŹ elds along the m12 highway. Syunik Region, 2007

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Sourp hripsime church, 17th cen. khndzoresk, 2007 Datev monastery, 17th cen. Datev, 2007

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St. grigor lusavorich church, with old goris caves in the background. Goris, 2007


karahunj (Stone hendge) believed to have been built before those in great britain. Syunik Region, 2007

ghazanchetsots Cathedral, 19th cen. Shushi, 2007 geghard monastery, 13th cen. kotayk Region, 2007

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garni pagan Temple, 1st cen. kotayk Region, 2007

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ghazanchetsots Cathedral. Shushi, 2005

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Shushi bazaar, run down and abandoned, in the beginning stages of reconstruction. Shushi, 2005

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“A free Artsakh (Karabagh) greets you.� Lachin Corridor, 2006

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Zontik (trans. umbrella) waterfalls. Southern karabagh, 2007


In the center of Shushi reads, “A united Armenian people’s land can never become the land of others.” Shushi, 2007

Captured Azeri tank, turned memorial. Shushi, 2007

Collected car plates from Azeris during the war, turned memorial wall. Gandzasar, 2007

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The village streets of karin Dag, just below Shushi. Nagorno karabagh, 2007

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Extended family member Anoush at her village home, prepares a feast. Their side of the family repatriated from Iran to Armenia in the 1940s during a mass repatriation movement back then. Hoktemberian, 2007

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Our family’s village neighbor raises a toast. Hoktemberian, 2007

TOp Construction at Shushi museum. Shushi, 2007 bOTTOm family funeral for my grandmother’s sister. Hoktemberian, 2007

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A bird watching nook and cafÊ at the base of the valley towards noravank monastery. Vayotz Dzor, 2007 lEfT Dilijan’s unique style. Dilijan, 2008 RIghT A rundown factory shack. Tavush Region, 2007

This Dilijan museum recreates the environment of traditional Armenian homes for tourists. Dilijan, 2008

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lake Sevan. Sevan, 2007 (TOp) 2008 (bOTTOm) A river runs through the yenokavan Canyon. Yenokavan, 2007

barz leech. Dilijan, 2008 hagop the frog at barz leech. Dilijan, 2008

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The Club Restaurant. Yerevan, 2006

M

usic may be the second most important thing in my life, family being first. Since the first chance that came to me, I’ve been following bands around, shooting their live performances. The first twenty years of my life could be defined by digging my roots to discover my identity, turning to Khatchadourian, Komitas and Sayat Nova as cultural pillars. But we have witnessed an evolution over the last decade that has chipped from those pillars to create something new. I’ve witnessed my peers dust off a history text book culture of preservation, only to breathe life and innovation back into it. We are once again an evolving culture with some of the best talents redifining our limits, taking the sounds of our past to the rest of the world. It seems the duduk has spread like wildfire in Hollywood films and CNN reports (from where I’m sitting). Music from US-based System of a Down, Russia-based Deti Picasso and Lebanonbased Guy Manoukian incorporate hints of Armenian melodies in their otherwise unrelated music. Bolis-born Arto Tuncboyadjiyan and the Armenian Navy Band have developed a style of Armenian jazz that has made waves around the world, including Turkey. World-renowned classical guitarist Iakovos Kolanian has collaborated with Mikis Theodorakis, composer of Zorba the Greek and living Greek legend, to fuse Armenian and Greek music into one. In Yerevan alone, I’ve seen locals, diasporans and non-Armenians all come together on one stage. It is the best language we have to communicate with the world.


cult ure evolution RED EFINING ARM ENIANNESS

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Serouj Aprahamian, aka Midus, is known world wide for his unique breaking style. philadelphia pA, 2005

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TOp gaya Arutyunyan from moscow-based Deti Picasso travelled with her band to play in her homeland. Yerevan, 2007 | www.detipicasso.com bOTTOm new-york based rock band Granian, with lead garen gueyikian, playing at The bitter End in Soho. New York City, 1996 | www.killthealarm.com

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Dzovinar melkoumian performs at Stop Club with The Beautified Project from london. Yerevan, 2007 TOp The Beautified Project lead singer and guitarist Andre Simonian at Stop Club. Yerevan, 2007 | www.thebeautified.com CEnTER narek pogosyan, lead singer and guitarist of lA-based rock band Slow Motion Reign, performs in Armenia. Yerevan, 2007 | www.slowmotionreign.com bOTTOm Erwin khachikian, performing in Armenia with Slow Motion Reign, is now on tour with Serj Tankian. Yerevan, 2007 | www.serjtankian.com

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lead singer narek of yerevan-based rock band The Bambir (2nd generation) performs at The Club with a nighttime theme. Yerevan, 2006

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gyumri-born mher vartikyan of Sakvoyage performs at Stop Club. Yerevan, 2006

Solo artist gor mkhitarian from vanadzor, Armenia performs at a pub in boston. Cambridge MA, 2005 | www.gormusic.com

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The Zoo, featuring trombonist David minasian, a repatriate from nyC, Simon Dolmazyan, and matthieu Dubois, perform at the French Terrace on Abovyan Street for the ďŹ rst ever FĂŞte de la Musique in yerevan (International french music festival). Yerevan, 2007

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Arto Tunรงboyadjiyan and the Armenian Navy Band perform during the 2007 golden Apricot film festival. Yerevan, 2007

The Armenian Navy Band perform at the Avant Garde Folk Club. Yerevan, 2006

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yerevan-based Time Report performs at a Jazz festival on the Cascade steps. Yerevan, 2007

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Tigran Suchyan jams with yerevan’s best jazz musicians at Club 12. Yerevan, 2007

The Zoo cellist Simon Dolmazyan performs during FĂŞte de la Musique. Yerevan, 2007

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The national Chamber Orchestra of Armenia perform in the national Assembly gardens for the Annual kenats festival. Yerevan, 2007

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The national Radio and Tv Sympho-Jazz Orchestra performs at the national Opera house with pop-star mister x. Yerevan, 2006

lEfT Aram gharabekian directs the national Chamber Orchestra at the kenats festival. Yerevan, 2007 RIghT Opera singer Anna mayilian performs with mister x at the national Opera house. Yerevan, 2006

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greek-Armenian renowned classical guitarist Iakovos kolanian collaborates with greek legend mikis Theodorakis, composer of Zorba the Greek, on a new recording. Athens, 2008

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mister x performs at the national Opera house. Yerevan, 2006 | www.misterxmusic.com

Dholists perform at the national Opera house with nunĂŠ yessayan. Yerevan, 2006

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Armenian pop-star nunĂŠ yessayan puts on a spectacular show at the Opera house for may 28 celebrations. Yerevan, 2006 | www.nune.am

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lebanese-Armenian composer guy manoukian, world renowned for collaborating with wyclef Jean and Shakira, performs for the ďŹ rst time in yerevan with a mixed band from Armenia and lebanon, including international popsinger lucina. Yerevan, 2008 | www.guymanoukian.com

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Internationally renowned pop-singer lucina sings with guy manoukian at the Opera house. Yerevan, 2008

lebanese maestro lubnan khalil conducts the Armenian philharmonic Orchestra’s violinists during the guy manoukian concert. Yerevan, 2008

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Aramo jams at the Malkhas Jazz Club. Yerevan, 2008

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levon malkhasyan, owner of the Malkhas Jazz Club. Yerevan, 2008

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Serj Tankian of System of a Down. Washington DC, 2005 | www.systemofadown.com

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northern boulevard. Yerevan, 2008

Armenia comes with millions of different definitions. What we have today is a modern Republic, and a Diaspora, all with our eyes on our collective future. My time spent in both has exposed many perspectives that lead me to one conclusion: we are a nation in motion. Armenia is the oldest surviving nation in the world, but it has chosen a path of rebirth in the last sixteen years of independence. Armenians from all over the world are discovering each other and finding the common thread that ties us together, while discovering that we all come from different backgrounds of struggle, prosperity and values. This ancient culture of three thousand years is now face-to-face with a new era. Crime and violence are just as real today as potential and hope. Ambitions, both good and bad, exist everywhere and those who are ready to endure all the obstacles will be the ones who prevail in defining Armenia’s future. Though independence was born of a shattered nation, Armenia has seen rapid growth, seemingly without regulation. We are often our own enemy, but as I’ve seen throughout my life, comfortable complacency is the cause of apathy. We have a long road ahead to weed out the cancers of our society, and as history tells us, we always answer to the calling. Each new-born child with a fresh start to life, each diasporan I see walking on their land for the first time, shine light on new hope and potential for a modern age. I believe the best pages of Armenian history have yet to be written, as a nation and our impact on the world.


a moder n armenia W HERE D o W E G o FRo M HERE?

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Republic Square at Christmas time. Yerevan, 2007

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Swan lake turned ice-skating rink. Yerevan, 2007


A modernizing Zvartnots International Airport. Yerevan, 2006

The Cascade Steps during a Jazz festival. Yerevan, 2007

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former president of nagorno karabagh Arkhady ghoukassian, former president of the Republic of Armenia Robert kocharian, and many other high ranking oďŹƒcials follow the lead of barkev Srpazan (Archbishop) into ghazanchetsots Cathedral to mark the occasion of the 15th Anniversary of victory and Shushi liberation Day. Shushi, 2007

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TOp Soldiers celebrating Shushi liberation Day, some of whom were recently featured in the documentary ďŹ lm by vardan hovhannisyan, A Story of People in War & Peace. vardan won the Tribeca film festival award for Best New Documentary Filmmaker in 2007. Shushi, 2007 bOTTOm Shushi residents pay their respects to vazken Sargsyan, slain in the Armenian national Assembly. Shushi, 2007

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Tens of thousands gather in Stepanakert’s Republic Square to celebrate victory Day. Stepanakert, 2007


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political Campaign posters for parliamentary elections were spread across the country, even in remote villages. Yerevan, 2007 TOp Small town political campaigning. Sisian, 2007 bOTTOm Sisian’s registered voter roster list was posted at the local community center. Sisian, 2007

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Thousands gather in freedom Square to protest, just days after the murder of Agos Daily editor hrant Dink in Istanbul. Yerevan, 2007

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Zori balayan speaks at a rally for hrant Dink at freedom Square. Yerevan, 2007 head of the heritage party RaďŹƒ hovannissian and his wife, Armine, attend the Annual kenats festival Concert in the national Assembly gardens. Yerevan, 2007

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women’s Coalition for peace in the South Caucuses conduct a march in yerevan to stop violence against women’s. Yerevan, 2006

At the march, protesters hold signs that read “Where are you women?” Yerevan, 2006

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hundreds gather in Republic Square during a US Senate hearing on the ďŹ ring of Ambassador John Evans to show solidarity. These images were immediately sent to the hearing to display Armenia’s dissatisfaction with the ďŹ ring. Yerevan, 2006 April 24 marchers draw attention to the global concern for genocide. Yerevan, 2007

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ARf youth march to Dzidzernakabert Armenian genocide memorial on the eve of April 24. Yerevan, 2007


ARf youth from all over the world gather to march on the eve of April 24 to the Armenian genocide memorial and pay respects to the victims. Yerevan, 2008

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Robert fisk, reporter from The Independent, gives a lecture at the American University of Armenia. Yerevan, 2007 minister of Justice Davit harutyunyan speaks at an AIpRg conference on the issues of dual citizenship, with AUA professor vahan bournazian on the panel. Yerevan, 2007

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RaďŹƒ niziblian, Director of Deem Communications, (left) introduces Screamers documentary ďŹ lm director Carla garapedian at a press conference. Yerevan, 2007 AIpRg and the European Stability Initiative Director Tigran mkrtchyan introduces US representative to the OSCE minks group matt bryza at a conference on black Sea regional security. Yerevan, 2008

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This military hospital is receiving modern equipment and renovation opportunities, partially through my father’s group, The Armenian American health Association of greater washington. Yerevan, 2007

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Dentistry in Armenia is known to be very advanced due to early privatization. many are traveling to Armenia just to have work done for a fragment of the fee they pay in their own countries. Yerevan, 2007

Street children ďŹ nd refuge at Orran, a for youth from poor homes, initiated by Armine hovannisian. Yerevan, 2008

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Downtown Yerevan, 2006

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Residents by the Cascade Steps enjoy balcony seats to daily concerts while down below, many enjoy the widely popular Studio CafĂŠ for its prime location. Yerevan, 2007 TOp Arthur Ispirian gives a magical one-time jazz performance at Jazzve. Yerevan, 2007 bOTTOm lebaneseArmenian repatriate Sam Samuelian, owner of Square One Restaurants and several real estate ventures, enjoys a perfect summer night with friends like family (us). Yerevan, 2007

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The local autobody shop in Dilijan where our flat tire was fixed. Dilijan, 2008 Documentary film director of Genocide in Me and my roommate, Araz Artinian enjoys a relaxing Sunday afternoon in Zeitun before enjoying a feast prepared by lebanese Armenians. Menu: tongue, brains and snails fresh from karabagh. Yerevan, 2008

Armenians flock to lake Sevan shores on a beautiful summer Sunday. Sevan, 2007 Vernissage, an open flea market in central yerevan, greets tourists year round on Saturdays and Sundays selling arts, crafts and latest creations. Yerevan, 2008

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TOp A new years party at Square One. Yerevan, 2008 bOTTOm Deem Communications’ ďŹ rst Annual winterfest parade marches down Abovyan Street to the Republic Square. Yerevan, 2007 A wedding fashion show reveals a national obsession with weddings. Yerevan, 2006 national Athletes carry the torch to open the 4th Annual pan Armenian games. Yerevan, 2007

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Thousands of Armenian youth from across the globe gather in yerevan to compete in the 4th Annual pan Armenian game, an opportunity for unity and broadening of the Armenian nation. Yerevan, 2007


M

y Armenian-American experience is just one of ten million similar stories around the world. When I reflect on the years of my life, each story has a symbolic impact on my reactions to life. One of the most important lessons I learned when I first moved to Armenia is to really view someone’s perspective from their shoes, not just in their current situation, but with the several decades of societal influences that led to their convictions. Each Armenian community has endured different benefits and difficulties. Armenians in the current Republic still struggle to find security in their daily lives and in their future after decades of a Soviet system that was at the very least, bread on the table. In Lebanon, decades of history left Armenians defending their place in Lebanon, with constant fear of war and instability. France has been an accommodating host to Armenia’s immigrants, embracing the culture. But few have managed to maintain the language and traditions over years of assimilation. In the US, there is a rainbow of experiences. I was born and raised in Washington, DC. Politics was part of my life because it was in my backyard. My father bought a house based on its proximity to the nearest Armenian church and Sunday school. Though my involvement became self-motivated, it is the introduction to the community that drew me in. However, de-

spite early experiences of clashes with my other school peers, the familiar American lifestyle exists deep inside my identity and becomes very clear when I share stories with Armenians from around the world. My values are a bizarre mix of American idealism and Armenian determination. My appreciation for civil rights and the democratic process started with education on the Armenian genocide and participation in a democratic-structured AYF. But those ideals were strengthened within the American system. Fighting for recognition of the Armenian Genocide is not just a battle for justice for a horrific crime in our own history, but part of a global effort to end the cycle of Genocide everywhere. Many of the culture clashes I had in the US seem to exist in Armenia in a different form. It is clear that I stand out here as well, a symptom of a dual-identity. My American lifestyle either inspires or confuses people, depending on their perspective. It’s ok. They confuse me sometimes, too. So what defines my nation? It is a mixed identity; the best memories and ideals of both America and Armenia, and everything that came before me. It’s the pride and knowledge that I am part of several things far greater than me. With the history of thousands of years and my ancestors before me, I humbly step into a limitless future.

With the history of thousands of years and ancestors before me, I humbly step into a limitless future.


This book is dedicated to my late grandmother

Nazig Gregorian

MY DEEpEST GRATITuDE... Mom & Dad for being the authors of my life, for planting the idea of this book in my head before anyone else, and for making it possible fifteen years later. My family for a lifetime of endless support. From LA to DC to New York to London to Iran to Armenia, you are all the most colorful and wonderful people in my life. The Deem Communications staff for moral support, tireless work to assist in the production of this book, and for two years of loyal professionalism to realize a mutual vision.

Arsineh khachikian Ayf Senior Olympics. Washington DC, 1985

Aram Hamparian, Elizabeth Chouldjian, Chris Hekimian, Ken Hachikian and the entire staff at the Armenian National Committee of America. Your uncomprimizing fight for justice inspires thousands around the world to follow your lead. Raffi Meneshian, Ed Marques, Shakeh Tashjian, Alishan Mansourian, Rostom Kouyoumdjian, Sam Samuelian, Araz Artinian, Raffi Niziblian, Karen Mirzoyan, Trish Allen, the Kirkwood Printing team, and all my dearest friends for giving me the courage of expression. All the music, artists, teachers and leaders who inspired me everyday. And the Armenian people for adding spice to my life and my nation.

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My Nation: The Trails & Trials of an Armenian Repatriate