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First Days in Shirakamut

On Tuesday, July 18th, the LCO (Land and Culture Organization)/OTC (Organisation Terre et Culture) volunteers headed off to two different campaign sites.  One group of 17 LCO/OTC volunteers went to north to the Shirakamut village to work on renovation of the historic Tchitchkhanavank Monastery, and another group of 11 volunteers went south to Yeghvard to finalize the 17th Century Sourp Astvatzatzin Church project. Throughout these two months of July and August, approximately 60 volunteers will be working in Shirakamut, Yeghvard, as well as in Goris.


All the volunteers are a great group of people.  They have been bonding socially and while they have been working. We have a mix of English, French, and Armenian being spoken.  They have formed a communal family. The first day was an adjustment to the sites, sounds, and smells of village life, but now they have adjusted and are taking in the experience.  LCO-USA President Haig Manjikian, Campaign Coordinator Hilda Manjikian, and Public Relations Lena Kaimian accompanied the volunteers to the Shirakamut campaign site to get them settled in.

Group Preparing Work Site

Our historical archaeologist from Yerevan, Arman Nalbandyan is overseeing the renovation project and directing the volunteers' work.  On its first day, the group really did an amazing job clearing out the area in preparation for the excavation and renovation work.  Arman was impressed of what he thought would take two - three days, the group accomplished in just one.  Now they will proceed to the next phase of leveling the surrounding grounds of the church, further clearing of the northern side of the compound in order to expand the perimeter walls, and turning over the tombstones which will reveal ancient artifacts. As they were clearing the area, they already began to find bones and pieces of ceramic.  Any historical artifacts will be put aside for the archaeologists and experts to review. Volunteers will have enough time to accomplish their mission of renovating this historical site, while still having time to enjoy each other and the beauty of the Armenian countryside.  After their first day at work, they enjoyed a picnic outdoors by a stream where local village men prepared a traditional Armenian barbecue "khorovadz”.

The village of Shirakamut, formerly named Nalband with a population 3,000, is located in the Shirak Region near the epicenter of the 1988 Spitak earthquake.  The people of Shirakamut are a mixture of original villagers and Armenians that came from Erzerum and Kars speaking a more Western Armenian dialect.  Tchitchkhanavank, whose interior has a cross shape, has historical significance as this 13th Century church was founded on a plan of Christian cross of the 7th Century, as well as a pagan fire pit on the monastery’s compound.  They have already found Byzantine coins and Arabic writing on the wall, which was done in order for them not to destroy the Christian place of worship.  LCO has been excavating this site since 2008 with this being the second summer with campaign volunteers.

  • "There are experiences you shape and then there are experiences that shape you. The LCO Campaign of 2007 in the village of Azat offered me invaluable perceptions into the realities of my fellow Armenian brothers and sisters in a way only a true immersion program can. I urge everyone and anyone who might feel an inkling of belonging to this fascinating country, people, and history to sign up with the campaign immediately. I smile just thinking about what you have yet to experience."
    Noushig K, Azat 2007, CA, USA

  • "Coming back from a 4-day trip to Kharabagh really felt like coming back home, with our family waiting to greet us outside our house. That's when I realised just how attached we'd grown to the place, to our family, to the other volunteers"
    Anoosh Gasparian, Azat 2009, London UK

  • "I went to this trip with no expectations, and came back with a great appreciation for our country.  Life in the village is surreal, the food is beyond delicious and the people are incredibly nice. It was a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget!"  Sam Tahmasian, 2009, CA, USA
  • "LCO is an amazing concept. It introduced the deprived Diasporan to their land and their people. It is a wonderful introduction to Armenia and something every young man or woman should experience."
    Madlene Minassian Ispirian, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, Yerevan, Armenia

  • "My most memprable experience was being so warmly taken care by an old village couple, receiving gifts from them, giving them gifts and establishing bonds."
    Naira Der-Kiureghian, Ayroum 2003, CA, USA

  • "...I know that when I reflect back on this experience I will feel ecstatic about the work we accomplished, the things we saw, and the bonds we forged."
    Hovig Saghdejian, Ayroum 2003, California, USA

  • "Dolma is made with mum's careful instructions, grandmothers eyes found on the faces of children, songs of Ararat are as familiar as the Khachkars dotting the landscape. If it smells like home, looks like home then it must be home."
    Datevig Simonian, Shadvan 2004, California, USA

  • "LCO experience was a revelation for me. It gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons both personally and professionally. One of the most important experiences of my life and an important factor in determining my future goals."
    Lara Aharonian, August 1999, August 2001, Montreal, Canada.

  • "I formed strong bonds with my volunteers, and the difference in backgrounds was refreshing. It was interesting to hear the points of view of different Armenians from other areas of the Diaspora."
    Aramazt Kalaydjian, Shoushi 2003, NY, USA

  • "I loved the simplicity of life in the village, the fresh homemade food is wonderful; that people are the friendliest and most hospitable... the children have the most beautiful faces..."
    Sophia Balakian, Shadvan 2004, New York, USA