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2009 Azat Campaign Wraps Up

From the 6th to the 30th of July, 2009, eight young people from the United States, Canada, England and Armenia took part in the Land and Culture Organisation's July campaign in the village of Azat, near Vardenis in the Gegharkounik region, south east of Lake Sevan in Armenia. The group worked on renovating the gymnasium of the one school in this small village, which has around a hundred inhabitants.

Starting work around nine-thirty each day, the volunteers undertook the gruelling tasks of hauling sand, rocks, gravel and blocks for building, as well as working on walls and tiling.

The Azat boulder assembly line
photo: Neiri Lanman

"We mixed cement, built scaffolding and helped out the single ousta we had.", said group leader Sam Tahmasian, a project manager from Burbank, California, using the local terminology for 'master craftsman'.

The group would generally be at work around nine-thirty each day, with a lunch break past noon, and a return for the second round of the day's work from two to five.

"After work we'd either go hiking the mountains nearby, play soccer with the villagers, or have some other activity with the kids. Sometimes we'd have a hard day and just return home and spend time with our host family and their lovely children.", Tahmasian added.

Azat village – with about twenty families, and twenty-four children enrolled in the school – has already been the focus of LCO campaigns for the past two years, with work on classrooms and corridors at the school in 2007, and clean-up and archaeological work in 2008 at the ruins of the local church, including the discovery of buried mausoleums and khachkars (Armenian 'cross-stones').

Working on the walls of the gymnasium's bathroom
photo: Sam Tahmasian

The volunteers this year ranged in age from mid-teens to mid-forties, with most still pursuing their studies. For many, it was their first time in Armenia, and apart from the very unique Land and Culture experience of rural life, the volunteers witnessed the breathtaking natural beauty of the homeland, alongside visiting historical and religious monuments at Sevan, Dilijan, Makenis, Noravank, Khor Virap, Garni, Geghard, as well as joining Birthright Armenia/Depi Hayk on an excursion to Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh).

"The experience changes the way you see things, the way of life over here compared to life over there. Plus, the teamwork aspect of working and living with different people just helps you grow.", said Nareg Abrahamian, an apprentice of mechanics from Toronto, who was in Armenia for the first time.

"You end up mixing with people you normally wouldn't,", added Anoush Gasparian, a high school student from London. "Most of the time, I'd be at the cafes, and hraparaks (public squares) in Yerevan, around narrow-minded Diasporans, so this offers an alternative view of Armenia, which Diasporans don't often experience."

Hasmik Turshujyan, a local volunteer pursuing her master's in German, agreed. "It was a big life experience, interacting with different people. I've been to the Sevan area, as I have relatives there, but I'd never been to such a rural place, cut off from everything. But everyone was so nice.", she said, giving a thumbs-up sign that said it all.

A birthday treat for Anoosh like no other
photo: Kenar Yegyayan

The Land and Culture Organisation's July 2009 campaign included –

Nareg Abrahamian, a student from Toronto, ON,
Anoosh Gasparian
, a student from London, England,
Robert Khachikyan
, a student from Abovyan, Armenia,
Neiri Lanman
, a student from Los Angeles, CA,
Alla Sargsyan
, a professional from Yerevan, Armenia,
Sam Tahmasian
, a project manager, from Burbank, CA,
Hasmik Turschujyan
, a student from Yerevan, Armenia, and
Kenar Yegyayan
, a designer from Burbank, CA.

LCO's work in Armenia will continue in August, with a group from France carrying on the long partnership of Land and Culture with the regional hospital in Shoushi, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh).

  • "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