After being uprooted from ancestral lands for various reasons, Armenian refugees were scattered and formed an Armenian diaspora. In order to ensure that the Armenian’s in these newly formed communities stayed together one of the fundamental steps was to unite them by creating Armenian Centers [Ակումբ-Agoomp] for them to collectively spend time together. These centers were made up of three pillars: national, moral, and ideological ideals. Their main achievement would have been the virtue of fighting against the threat of cultural assimilation. Most of these centers were built by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and within its different organizations, were able to create impacts in communities from the Middle East to the America’s. Since the founding of each center, many generations of youth have passed through the buildings taking with them a sense of volunteerism, an aspiration for service, and the instillment of national pride. Countless humanitarian projects were planned and carried out within those same walls. Those same walls where meetings took place to strategize a way to keep these Armenian communities together and to build foundations of repatriation back to the homeland.
I never understood the importance of an Agoomp until I got to Akhaltskha as a participant of the Camp Javakhk Program. A bright green building with cracks everywhere, an uneven playground, hard and broken benches, and shattered windows. This is where our Jampar was taking place. On the fourth day, I caught one of my kids, a thirteen-year old boy named Saroukhan staring at the building, while children were running after a ball behind him. I thought he was bored, so I went over to tell him to go play with the ball with his friends. Saroukhan said he does not want to and that he is in a midst of examining the building. I laughed a little and asked about his findings. Saroukhan had come to a conclusion that there is no way with this many cracks, the building can handle a 2.0 magnitude earthquake. He said that in a matter of seconds the building will be dirt. He asked to come back with me to Los Angeles to talk to some of my friends to become sponsors for a new building. I laughed and we parted ways. Two hours later, we walked into an USAID [United States Aid from the American People] sponsored Building that we were partly using. The two story building equipped full speed wi-fi internet had marble floors, working fans, comfortable chairs, and was far more larger. We were about to get into the classroom for the daily lecture, when I asked him what he thought about this building. He looked at me with a smirk and said “I don’t care, it is not ours.”
Under these Ակումբ-s the Javakhk kids have found the pride of our nation, the glorious history of our ancestors, and the powerful call of our ideal. Saroukhan made me realize that it is truly the Armenian people’s home. Underneath the physical appearance, the Center is a source of spirit, a place to inspire a new generations, and a place to feel at home. We used this building for 12 days and made eternal memories that are engraved in our hearts, but Saroukhan and his friends will be using this Center for years to come, getting inspired and in turn inspiring. As long as the center is filled with Javakhktsis who remain clinging to their moral traditions with such fervor and conviction, they will end up making the center a rich and a luxuriant place regardless of its exterior.
I did not go to Javakhk thinking I would make a difference in people’s lives. Who am I kidding? I could hardly make change to my own life. But, now that I look back, I am glad I was able to be a part of collecting more than 75 Javakhktsis and remind them there is a piece of land with an unremarkable external appearance waiting for you as your genuine home. Such buildings cannot be destroyed by ordinary storms and can stand still during the blows of an enemy. A place like this that is made up of steel and guarded by our martyred heroes from heaven. A place where the new generation that is ready to carry on the torch light the walls of a fortress. The adolescents, youths, elders, laborers, and intellectuals of Javakhk will enter the building and make up the castle of knights who will carry out the dream of a free, independent, and united Armenia.
From another bright green Agoomp [in Glendale],
U. Verginie Touloumian
Counselor, Camp Javakhk, Akhaltskha