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BIRTHRIGHT ARMENIA ALUMNI NEWSLETTER

WINTER 2017


TABLE OF CONTENTS A Year of Records................................................................................................................................3 Gyumri 365............................................................................................................................................4 Alumni Around The World.................................................................................................................5 Endeavors in Armenia........................................................................................................................6 Pathway to Armenia...........................................................................................................................8 Alumni Wine Night..............................................................................................................................9 Staff Corner.........................................................................................................................................10 Weddings & Babies..........................................................................................................................11 Blast from the Past Play Along.....................................................................................................14 Look Who Won the International Rubery Book Award............................................................15 A Couple of Alumni Couples...........................................................................................................16


A YEAR OF RECORDS As we get ready to welcome in the new year, we want to reflect on what transpired in 2017. As an organization we aimed high, stretching upwards while standing on our tiptoes, to not only reach but surpass our goals. We experimented with more ways to reach our desired targets in multiple ways and languages, we collaborated with international programs at the college level, and more deeply researched new opportunities, homestays, interesting forums and unique excursion spots to visit and so much more. All of this while delivering high-quality programs were known to 222 participants, who represented 30 different countries. You should have been with us for the largest excursion EVER to Meghri a few weekends ago, with 92 people on the mountain top! This makes 2017 a record year for us. Every so often we tweak the program to get it to move in the best intended, impactful direction. This year was no exception. Here we’d like to share with you a few important adjustments made this year: 1) Starting January 1, 2018, our minimum age for eligibility is 21. This will make us more of a professional internship program for new college graduates, rather than a program you do as an undergrad. There is, however still a wide window of 11 years in which one can do Birthright, as our maximum age stays unchanged at 32. 2) As of this fall, the Gyumri program has been operating as a year-round program. Its popularity as a summer month job placement destination has grown since its inception in 2007 to make it our first 365 days a year opportunity outside of Yerevan! Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia, is in revival mode, rebranding all of its cultural, historical and artistic offerings, traditions and events. As such it makes for a fabulous and rewarding place to volunteer. We’ll have double digit numbers of participants based in Gyumri throughout the winter months. Looking ahead to early 2018 we’ll have new, exciting initiatives to launch that include the long-awaited BR Connect mobile app; expansion of the “Next Step” Alumni Grant program; the newly revamped Ambassador Program in seven regions; alumni leadership awards; and a mentorship program for in-country alums to work together with BR/DH volunteers. Until we connect again, our BR/DH and AVC teams wish you and yours a very happy, healthy Christmas and New Year. Here is to productivity, perseverance and prosperity to our Homeland and all of our communities around the globe!

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GYUMRI 365 Incredible Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia, is now the location of our second full-time program. What was once a summer only program now offers our volunteers with internship/volunteer placements, Armenian language classes, forums, homestays, excursions and the great Gyumri hospitality 365 days of the year. We’ve been successfully ramping up to

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increase our homestay family options and expand possible job opportunities into more sectors. So while you’re talking up experiences in Armenia to friends and family, spread the news and share this link.


Alumni Around The World Not one, not two, not three… BUT FOUR of our alums had screenings at Lincoln Center in New York City as part of the “Armenians in Film” series hosted by AGBU in November! Avo Kambourian (2009), who volunteered with Bars Media Documentary Film Production Studio and Manana Youth Educational Center, has been keeping busy! He released his documentary series on Armenian American artists called Echoes of Survival, which you could check out here. In addition, he has worked on Bad Reputation, which is about rock star Joan Jett’s life and started a new job at The Hollywood Reporter as a video editor for their Roundtables series.

“It still represents our vision/interpretation of Armenia’s spirit.” – Anahit “We met so many amazing people and characters, but really felt that Levon embodied the spirit of a country we called our home for many years.” – Emily

The story of LEVON is fairly evident in the short film made by our alums, Anahit Yahjian (2011) and Emily Mkrtichian (2011). The two worked on creating it in the fall of 2013, while living in Yerevan. Levon: A Wondrous Life has screened at AGBU events in the past and continues to do well online. Raffi Wartanian’s (2007) short documentary about oud master Ara Dinkjian was presented. He created this film in April 2015 in Istanbul for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Raffi volunteered with numerous jobsites ranging from environmental NGOs to youth programs, including Shirak International Union in Gyumri. To check out more of Raffi’s work, here is his website.

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Erik Aznauryan (2016) from Moscow, currently a Bioengineering PhD student at ETH Zurich, was recently inaugurated as Chair of the Next Generation council within the Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST). Erik is excited to announce to fellow alums that you now have a representative in this very exciting organization. Here you can find more info on the foundation and council. This summer, Chris Boyajian (2016) and Ashot Khudgaryan started Vira, a company that focuses on connecting Armenian startups with mentors in the United States. Chris, originally from New Jersey, met Ashot at his first work placement just four days after arriving in Armenia. Their mission with Vira is to further advance the growth of the technology sector and empower Armenian entrepreneurs by providing them with the networks and resources they need to succeed. Learn more about Vira here. Nanor Momjian (2008) from Beirut, was sent to the Canadian High Arctic for summer field work. She was located at Cape Bounty Arctic Watershed Observatory (CBAWO) (74º55' N, 109º35' W). The field program coordinates research in order to model watershedbiogeochemistry in changing permafrost landscapes. Nanor’s thesis project focused specifically on understanding carbon sources and the sinks in an Arctic Watershed. In order to conduct this research, she collected water and soil samples from the studied watershed for 60 days. It is unsure if she is the first Armenian to have gone that far north, but to date she is the first Armenian to have worked on this specific site. Alumna Karine Vann (2013) has recently joined the editorial staff of the Armenian Weekly. As a Birthrighter, Karine’s jobsites included AYB school and Tsiatsan Children Development Center for three months. She then stayed in Armenia for three years working for local and international organizations, including ONEArmenia, PicsArt, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and USAID. As the new assistant editor Karine hopes to bring coverage and awareness of cultural and environmental issues in Armenia during her tenure at the Weekly. Check out this article to read about her plans for the paper and feelings on joining the publication.

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Endeavours in Armenia With her passion for aviation, Tatevik Revazian (2010) moved to Armenia from Denmark this summer to assist with possible solutions to the challenges faced by the aviation industry in Armenia. She has been working for FLYR Inc., a San Francisco based finance and data science company that applies the power of predictive analytics and machine learning to the world of travel. Currently the company is hiring a team in Armenia to build the “next generation” revenue management system for airlines around the world. She is also the co-founder of Airesvalley, an initiative whose goal is to map every Armenian involved in the aviation sector. Cole Sterling Tashjian (2016) has been living in Armenia ever since finishing his five months of volunteering. He will soon launch Armenia’s latest luxury sneaker brand, Areni 1 Footwear. Inspired by Armenia’s 5,500 year-old legacy of shoemaking, Areni 1’s fashion-forward models will be handmade using high-quality leather in Yerevan. The shoes’ design is also inspired by Armenian history and culture. You can check out Areni 1 Footwear on Facebook soon. Alexander Azizian (2012) loves boba so much he figured what better than to open up his own stand. Lupin boba, with high premium products imported from the US, is the only real bubble tea in Armenia. Instead of using powdered/condensed milk, Alex uses local milk and honey from rural villages, putting emphasis on quality. Lupin smoothies are also made with the same concept. The name comes from the hit anime Lupin the Third, which is displayed on the screen at the shop along with novelty items. Having operated for three months on Komitas, Alex has decided to focus on rebranding and then reopening on a wider scale. Be sure to follow Lupin boba on Facebook for updates regarding its reopening and new location. It does not have to be bold I just did that so you make the change from it being all caps. Entrepreneur Aimee Keushguerian (2015) saw the potential for economic growth and the fast pace of cultural change, and moved to Armenia in 2017 to be involved in the Armenian wine industry. She is now operations manager of her family’s sparkling wine company called Keush, which is the first wine company in Armenia to produce traditional French method, sparkling wine and sparkling rosé. Keush is now sold in 12 countries. Aimee co-founded Zabel Wines in 2017 and serves as its Directing Manager. Zabel Wines comes from rare or lost Armenian indigenous grape varieties. The company does special releases from experimental micro-vinifications. In addition, a little over a month ago- she founded her own wine company Zulal Wines, which she will be launching in spring 2018. She loves living in Armenia because she says there are few places where you can live and be a part of building a nation. You can find her in the wine bars in Yerevan, most likely drinking… wine. 7


PATHWAY to ARMENIA

The Pathway to Armenia Program was launched in 2013 with a total of four participants. Now, nearing the end of 2017, we have had a total of 38 alumni taking part in this program. Just this year we have had a total of 11 participants, and you can read about some of them below. Erica Vartanian (2016) moved to Yerevan from the US last June. She has been working at Impact Hub Yerevan, her Birthright jobsite. Despite having to experience another Yerevan winter, she is thrilled to be back and wouldn’t have been able to return without the support of the Pathway program. Araz Kekejian (2016) from Lebanon stayed on immediately after 10 months of volunteering. She is currently working towards receiving her masters in Data Science at the American University of Armenia. In addition to her studies, she is a freelance math tutor. Alejandro Zakarian (2015) volunteered in the tourism sector and COAF as a language tutor for seven months. He returned to Armenia for a summer vacation with his mother, who was visiting for the first time. Alejandro was planning to return to Argentina in November, however he was offered a Spanish Language instructor position; he took the job, purchased a home and acknowledges it was having that support from the Pathway to Armenia program that triggered him to think about long-term residency in Armenia. Alina Gotcherian (2017) came to Armenia for the first time as a Birthright participant. Her plans were to volunteer for just under three months, which then turned into six. Immediately after volunteering, she was offered a position at TUMO. “Staying at the Pathway to Armenia house greatly helped make the transition possible”, she stated. 8


Alumni Wine Night With over 1,400 alumni in our worldwide network, 91 of whom currently live in Armenia, it was high time to get together for a glass of wine‌ or two. This year alone we welcomed seven more volunteers into our in-country alumni community. On October 25th the entire BR and AVC staff, along with 32 alums gathered at Mirzoyan Library for an evening to reconnect and reflect. Alums shared news about their projects/work and life in Armenia, conversed on a variety of topics and enjoyed fellow alums live musical performances. To add to the family feel, we had Linda Yepoyan visiting from Philadelphia as well as Antoine Terjanian and his wife Sheila, both AVC alums from 2002, who made the trip to Yerevan from their Yeghegnadzor home. Whether our alums are here for the long haul, on vacation or a quick business trip, we always love to hear from you and what you are up to, so please let us know you’re here.

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Staff Corner Since the last newsletter was circulated, we’ve had quite a few important staff related changes that we think you’ll be pleased to learn about. Meet Hasmik Hayrapetyan, our Director of Marketing for Birthright Armenia and Armenian Volunteer Corps. She holds a master’s degree in Journalism and Media Management from the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs in Tblisi. With over four years of experience in marketing and communications, Hasmik has worked in private and public sectors, most recently having worked with UNICEF Armenia as a communications consultant. Her passions lie in photography and poetry. You could reach Hasmik by emailing her at hasmik@birthrightarmenia.am. It is with great pleasure that we announce the addition of Ani Nina Oganyan (2013) to the BR staff as our Alumni Program Coordinator. Ani Nina volunteered at the Women’s Resource Center and TUMO in 2013 and has been clamoring to return ever since. She’s a University of California Berkeley graduate, has roots in Los Angeles and is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to anything related to the entertainment industry. You could reach her by email at aninina@birthrightarmenia.am. She will be delighted to connect with each and every one of you! We are pleased to announce an addition to the AVC staff, Sona Martikyan, as Program Assistant. Sona is completing her Bachelor’s degree in English and Communications at American University of Armenia (AUA). She is also the co-founder of AUA’s Volunteer League, which is the largest undergraduate student club at AUA. Although Sona is working part-time in our offices to keep up with her current studies, she’s 100% vested in our mission.

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A year-long program in Gyumri requires a full-time coordinator to run it! That person is Sona Harutyunyan, our Gyumri program coordinator, who has a bachelor’s degree from Gyumri State Pedagogical Institute in Foreign Languages and a master’s degree in Crisis Management from the RA Crisis Management State Academy. Sona is thrilled to be working with our fall group of volunteers and all newcomers scheduled for arrival. If you would like to reach Sona, email her at sona@birthrightarmenia.am.


Weddings and Babies

Six Weddings, Eight Married Alums and a couple of Twins!

Alumni marriages are taking place faster than we can find out about them, but those taking place in Armenia are hard to keep a secret from us. This past summer, we had a record number of weddings in Armenia, six in all, two of which were alums marrying alums. Join us in wishing all eight betrothed a happy and healthy life together. Alum Sarkis Rshdouni (2008) was born and raised in Syria. He moved to Armenia in the summer of 2012 to continue his education in history at Yerevan State University. While California-raised alumna Ani Carla Kalafian (2014) was going through a transitional time in her life, she’d decided to volunteer in Armenia for a couple of months that eventually turned into a stay of several years. The two were introduced by a mutual friend in December 2014 and the rest is history that resulted in a very special wedding day celebrated in Armenia. Their Arordi or Neopaganism (aka Pagan) wedding stemmed from their beliefs and commitment to the greater heritage and history of Armenia, before Christianity. Therefore, Garni Temple served as the perfect ceremonial structure.

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Arthur Dolmajian (2009) from Canada, met local Jemma Safaryan soon after moving to Armenia. They married on August 5, 2017 and currently live in Yerevan. Attending the wedding was the first ever visit to Armenia for Arthur’s parents and family. Since the first time Maral DerSarkissian (2009) visited Armenia at the age of 14, getting married here became one of her lifelong dreams. She was lucky enough to find a partner who was dedicated to making that dream come true. Maral and Ara Rostomian met in high school, though they didn’t start dating until several years after. Maral was pursuing her PhD at UCLA, as Ara was in medical school there at the time. Six years later, on July 22, 2017 they were married at Sanahin Monastery in Armenia surrounded by guests who attended from all over the world. Having come to Armenia from Jordan, Garo Serpekian (2015) has always wanted to gather his family in Armenia. Tying the knot on July 20th gave him the perfect opportunity to do just that. Syuzanna Shahnazaryan popped into Garo’s café, Muklimandil in Stepanakert, exactly a year ago, which is how the two met. Now, post wedding, Garo closed the café and moved to Yerevan where he is currently working as an organizer in the tourism sector while Syuzanna completes her residency in cardiology. Edward Casabian III (2005) and Anoush Rima Tatevossian (2004) got married in Armenia on August 19, 2017. They met in New York City after Anoush read about Ed in the BR/DH Alumni newsletter and emailed him. After many years of friendship, they started dating in 2014. Edward and Anoush both love the traditions of Armenian weddings and the idea of getting married in a place so important to them inspired the idea of having the wedding in Armenia. Surrounded by 160 guests from all over the world, many of whom had never been to Armenia, the village of Geghardir at HyeLandz Eco Resort and at Geghard made their special night magical. HyeLandz and Modd Weddings made everything come together in a spectacular fashion, including an entrance via donkey! Since the wedding, Anoush continues to work in international relations while Edward is taking a year off after working at Uber in New York City for the last six years.

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Vrej Haroutounian (2010) wed local, Lianna Osikyan, on July 25th this past summer. The couple first met during the holidays last year. They felt Armenia was the most convenient location to host their wedding since Vrej had been living here for a few years and Liana was born and raised her. Family and friends attended from all around the world. “Planning the wedding was very easy and we’re happy with our decision” he stated. Currently, the couple lives in Armenia while Vrej is working on his PhD and Lianna works as an accountant.

Babies Born October 11th, 2017 just 10 minutes apart, Kailey and Bradley are the twins of alumnus Jamie Kolar (2013). Although they haven’t been to Armenia yet, they did get to visit while in Jamie’s tummy when she was 16 weeks pregnant teaching first aid in villages as part of her Aid to Armenia organization. George Mihran and Henry Hagop were welcomed on November 16th, 2017 by alumna Colette Elliott (2005) and her husband Brenton. “Our hearts now beat outside of us” stated Colette.

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Blast from the Past A lot has changed within the Birthright and AVC programs over the years. But one thing that has been consistent is the high quality programming our staff accomplishes each and every year. Their faces may be familiar to some or all of you, but can you figure out who is who on our staff by reading the descriptions below and then matching it with their baby photo? A. I am one of three sisters. I have traveled to 21 countries. I make stuffed animals. Who am I?

B. I love cats. I take film photos. I knit and sew. Who am I?

C. I have lived in Prague. I read Tarot cards. My birthstone is a wine cork. Who am I? D. I have never finished a Snickers bar. I dress as if I still work at a bank. I speak fluent sarcasm. Who am I? E. I love foxes. I ride my bike everywhere. I am a twin. Who am I?

H. I am bald, but have a lot of hair. I love khash. I am a blacksmith. Who am I? I. I was born in Vancouver. I have lived in four different countries. You could call me ‘four eyes.’ Who am I?

K. I own three cameras. I love yellow flowers. You can find me at Bureaucrat Cafe & Bookstore. Who am I? 14

F. I was born in Yerevan. I believe in ice cream. I have fire red hair. Who am I? G. I speak very fast. I love cartoons. Ms. Positive is my nickname. Who am I?

J. I am a pianist. I have lived in Iran for a year. My favorite sport is racquetball. Who am I?

L. I love coffee. I do movie editing. I usually wear long jackets. Who am I?

A. Diana | B. Nina | C. Ruzanna | D. Hayarpi | E. Gohar | F. Ani Nina | G. Lusine | H. Hayk | I. Tania | J. Sevan | K. Hasmik | L. Sona


Two Alums Win the International Rubery Book Award and Donate Prize Money to Birthright Armenia

Lena Maranian Adishian (2006) had a very special idea about how to commemorate the centennial of the Armenian Genocide in 2015: an online educational initiative that spanned a website and social media campaigns via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Reddit. She recruited fellow AVC alumnus Nareg Seferian (2002), who currently lives in Armenia, and the two put together the 100 Years, 100 Facts project. Lena was managing the nuts and bolts including the website and online posts, as Nareg contributed content, research and writing, with input from Lena. 100years100facts.com grew into six languages as it published one hundred write-ups on Armenian history and culture from April 24, 2014 - April 24, 2015 to make a whole year of celebrating, learning, and sharing the rich Armenian

heritage as the legacy of its darkest days was marked through religious, academic, political, artistic and other kinds of activities. But why stop with the internet? After hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world - including all fifty of the United States, Turkey, Armenia, and, well, everywhere else, Lena and Nareg decided to convert the website into a commemorative self-published volume. Impact of an Ancient Nation is a non-profit publication, with all proceeds from sales directed toward covering costs, with the final remainder slated for donation. Lena and Nareg were recently very happy to learn that Impact of an Ancient Nation won the non-fiction category of the International Rubery Book Award based in the UK for 2017. As this whole project has been a non-profit initiative, the prize money had to be directed somewhere. It was a no-brainer for the two that Birthright had to be it. If it had not been for the wonderful work that Birthright Armenia and AVC carry out, Lena and Nareg would never have even met in the first place, to say nothing of the wider connections BR/AVC provide, plus the deeper engagement with Armenia as a country and the Armenian tradition more broadly. Our thanks to Lena and Nareg for their generous giveback, which we promise to put to great use.

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A Couple of Alumni Couples Emily and Alex Gubbins, both from the United States, volunteered in Armenia for six months in 2016-2017. With backgrounds in teaching and languages, together they returned in August with one-year contracts. Emily, who is fluent in Spanish, is splitting her time between AYB School where she is an English teacher and Dasaran. am where she is continuing the work she had started as a volunteer. Alex, who is a published poet, is teaching at AUA.

Lisa Giragosian-Iskikian and Barkev Iskikian volunteered in Armenia for two weeks last June through AVC’s Professional Corps program. They decided to move to Armenia from the USA in March. Lisa, who was part of the 2004 pilot group of BR/DH volunteers, is a speech therapist. She is currently teaching English and involved

in a number of other projects and initiatives, including serving as a board member of HDIF-USA. Barkev is working as a programmer and communications systems specialist at Monitis.

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Birthright Armenia Winter Newsletter 2017  
Birthright Armenia Winter Newsletter 2017  
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