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Julie Loosigian Discovers Heritage in Armenia

TheArmenian_Weekly

The Armenian Weekly

Julie Loosigian Discovers Heritage in Armenia

Oct 02, 2010

By: Tom Vartabedian

 

PELHAM, N.H.—For someone who knew little about her Armenian heritage, Julie Loosigian has come a long way.

All this after spending this past summer as a volunteer worker in the village of Yeghvart, right by the Azerbaijan border.

Julie Loosigian admires the mountain region of Armenia.

 

The 21-year-old is into her senior year at the University of New Hampshire, majoring in English and minoring in race, culture, and power, along with African studies.

She figured it was time to learn a bit more about her dad’s side of the family and truly acquaint herself with the country of her ancestors.

 

The fact she was going near Azerbaijan—a country in political unrest—made her a tad uneasy. But those fears were quickly erased upon arrival. Loosigian spent three weeks renovating a village church that had lain in ruins.

“I learned how to survive on my own,” she said. “After my visit, I feel more than half-Armenian and am gaining on my heritage and culture. Ultimately, I’d like to return and make more of an impact in that country.”

One day it was shoveling through a rock pile, then upgrading a sanctuary floor the next. She helped refurbish the interior, repainted the architectural interior, and did abundant landscaping.

“The progress was noticeable,” she pointed out. “Right after we finished, people were coming here to be baptized and get married. Sunday services resumed and the villagers were overjoyed at having their church restored to good health. The joy rubbed off on all of us.”

Loosigian tours Tatev Monastery during a volunteer work assignment this past summer in Armenia.

Loosigian wasn’t alone. She was among 11 volunteers who applied through the Land and Culture Organization based in California. Her commitment was a month’s time away from home, a $750 deposit for room and board, along with a $1,200 plane ticket plus incidentals. The total cost of $3,000 came out of the family account.

What’s more, she gave up a summer job, put her boyfriend on hold, and a family lakeside retreat aside, trading it all for a rich cultural experience.

“Julie has always been a charitable person,” says her mom Lisa. “She’s always raised money for charity on her own so this was a fantastic opportunity for her. We’ve always encouraged our children to become people of the world. This was an investment into her future.”

After three weeks in Yeghvart (population 290), Loosigian spent another week at Yerevan State Medical School, living in a dorm. Her observations in the villages left somewhat of a dour impression: the frivolous way water is used, a lack of economic or employment opportunities, the erratic driving and horrendous road conditions.

The fact she didn’t know the language and relied on a translator was also discouraging.

But what pleased her considerably was how happy, strong, and structured the children happened to be. Their happy faces caused her to smile.

“I learned an incredible amount of how rural Armenia exists and what the country needs,” Loosigian said. “I want to go into international non-profit work and visit Armenia again. I’ve found the best way to discover your roots is to become fully immersed in it.”

In the interim, Loosigian is preparing a presentation of her experience and hopes to raise money for various Armenian organizations, perhaps get other students like herself to make a similar commitment and become an activist in Armenia.

Loosigian has had limited Armenian upbringing, except for her dad Peter and aunt and uncle Arek and Lisa Kalaydjian. Arek is a deacon at St. Gregory Church in North Andover, Mass., where his niece was baptized.

She left for Paris on the morning of her 21st birthday, accompanied by her mom. But that’s where they parted company, after a brief celebration. It was the first time Julie had left home for an extended time period.

Five hours later, she landed in Yerevan and hooked up with the others—all of whom hailed from the West Coast. At Yeghvart, a hotel room was quickly substituted for a modest village abode.

While there, she visited 12 churches, viewed other sites, and got to swim in Lake Sevan. No way did it compare with her summer excursions to Lake Winnipauskee in New Hampshire.

So how does she feel now? No deliberation here.

“Like a total Armenian,” she candidly admits.

  • "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