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Diaspora and Armenia Volunteers experiencing the land and culture

Yeghvard/Shirakamut, Armenia – The Land and Culture Organization (LCO-USA), Organisation Terre and Culture (OTC-France) and Yergeer Yev Meshagiut-Armenia annual summer campaign is in full swing.  During the months of July and August 37 dedicated volunteers from Armenia, Canada, England, France, Syria, and the United States have been hard at work restoring two ancient Armenian churches.


This summer, LCO is restoring the 17th Century Sourp Astvatzatzin Church in the Yeghvard village in the southern Syunik province on the border of Armenia and the liberated areas surrounding Artsakh.  This renovation project began in 2007 and will continue until its completion in 2011. Volunteers have been restoring the interior of the church and its altar, as well as clearing around its exterior and digging out khatchkars (stone crosses) and memorials on the church’s complex.  As with many ancient churches throughout Armenia, these religious sites had been closed and neglected during the Soviet period


Ruins of Tchitchkhanavank
The second site is the Tchitchkhanavank Monastery in the village of Shirakamut in the northern Lori Province near Spitak.  Tchitchkhanavank was built on the plan of a Christian cross, typical to the sixth and seventh centuries.  This church was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1926, neglected during the Soviet era, and again suffering destruction by the 1988 earthquake. In 2008 and 2009, LCO began the archaeological excavations, which revealed the church’s foundation along with ancient tombstones and objects of archaeological interest. This summer, volunteers will begin the renovation and construction of the foundation walls of the church. Historical experts, skilled craftsmen, and LCO Board Members are overseeing both restorations.

 This has not been the typical Armenia vacation for the volunteers from the Diaspora and Yerevan or a quiet summer for the local residents.  Volunteers have been living in the village and experiencing the sites and sounds of farm life.  This has given all of them an appreciation of the challenges and joys that rural remote Armenian villages and their residents face. The volunteers have personally become more enriched having had the opportunity to participate in preserving the Armenian heritage and living among the people of Armenia.


Volunteers and Local Children Hard at Work in Yeghvard
For the villagers, they are moved that Armenian youth from the Diaspora have given their time and dedication to a project off the beaten path where they do not have any personal connections, except for being Armenian and wanting to give back to their ancestral nation. The village children especially become energized and excited assisting the volunteers in the work and inviting them to play.  LCO-USA President Haig Manjikian reflected, “Armenia and the Diaspora are a family tree with Armenia being our roots and the Spiurk its leaves.  Both are equally important and need to be nurtured.  If together, we care for the roots, the tree can survive.”


Visting Tatev Monastery
Aside from bonding with the land and locals, volunteers have also been touring historical sites throughout Armenia and Karabakh. On weekends, they have enjoyed excursions to Khor Virab, Zorats Karer/Karahunj, Noravank, Vahanavank, Hovanavank, the regional capital city of Kapan, and other Armenia landmarks restored by LCO such as the Sourp Minas Church in Tatev and Saghmosavank.  In Karabakh, they visited the cities of Shushi and Stepanakert, as well as previous LCO/OTC renovation projects of the community center and schoolhouse of Karintak and the entire third floor and operating rooms of the Shushi Central Regional Hospital.  The village of Karintak played a pivotal role in the securing of Shushi, and the hospital has been serving the health needs of the residents of the region.  In addition, LCO Board Members have been actively searching prospective sites for upcoming campaigns.

Besides the Yeghvard and Shirakamut sites, OTC is participating in a joint venture project with the sister cities of Vienne, France and Goris, Armenia renovating the 7th Century Sourp Hripsime Church near the pagan era caves in Old Goris.  An additional 23 Armenian and non-Armenian volunteers from the Vienne community have committed themselves to this project.


For over 30 years, LCO has been one of the earliest volunteers groups in Armenia and Karabakh working to restore, renovate, and rejuvenate the historical monuments and sites of our nation.  It has performed this mission through its summer campaigns, by volunteers of every age from the Diaspora and Armenia.

To help our mission or join in our summer volunteer program, you may reach us at www.lcousa.org.
  • "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