In 2011, U. Verginie and I had the opportunity to visit Javakhk as part of the Armenian Youth Federation Western Region Youth Corps program. This year we both had the privilege of participating in Armenian Relief Society Camp Javakhk program that is modeled after Youth Corps. The idea is to provide underprivileged Armenian kids with the opportunity to learn Armenian history, songs, folk dances, English, and importance of hygiene through a summer camp program.
Returning to Javakhk and running the Camp Javakhk program was unbelievable. It surpassed the expectations that I held in my own mind. The children became my shadow, always at my side, and never letting me walk alone, especially during our camp trips. They became little siblings, and friends who gave me advice (such as Ungeruhi Patil it is time to get engaged and married, you’re late). The local youth who helped us organize the camps became our friends spending hours a day together, even outside of camp. And the women at the center, from the director to the kitchen ladies, always made sure we were fed, sending care packages home with us daily of extra bonchiks, fruit, and konfet (because U. Sahak loved them) and became friends who I would sit with and read their coffee cups.
Throughout the entire program a moment didn’t pass by without thinking about my friends, Allen and Sosé. This program and location are especially dear to our hearts as we lost two of our close friends and mentors on May 10, 2013 in a fatal car accident in Georgia while on their way to visit Tbilisi. Sosé Thomassian-Yekikian and Allen Yekikian were two young, motivated Diaspora Armenians who took the world and its challenges head-on refusing to follow traditional paths. It was with Sosé’s foresight that the A.Y.F. Western Region Youth Corps program was revolutionized in 2008. It was with Allen’s leadership that the program continued to make advancements when he served as Group Leader of the program in 2010. These two individuals gave their heart and soul to the Youth Corps program participating and leading the Youth Corps Council, even after they moved to Armenia, working and strategizing to update the program. What everyone else saw as perfect, they saw room for continual improvement. This passion and drive not only produced results, it inspired so many others.
It was especially hard for me to return to Javakhk, Georgia to participate in a program that they had envisioned and started in our own region in a location so close to their last moments. I can’t get out of my mind how proud they would have been to have seen an idea so small grow and surpass borders to expand into Georgia. How they would have probably come and visited our camp site and told us where we could have made improvements in Allen’s no-nonsense voice. How we would have probably gone to a café when we returned to Yerevan and discussed the entire program from even before arriving to Javakhk to arrival back in Yerevan. How we could start planning for next year, to help connect with even more kids in the homeland. How they would have wanted to see pictures of the camp, churches and local touristic sites that we went to and heard our stories.
Our dear friends may have passed, but they live through all of our work. It is the idea that their dream surpassed boundaries that they may not have even realized. It is with that passion, their passion, that programs such as these in and out of our homeland exist. Their spirit will live through all of our hard work and they will live eternally in our memories. I know they see our work. And I know they are proud to see more young Armenians connect with Armenia, and I’m proud to be a part of that Legacy.
U. Patil Aslanian
Counselor, Camp Javakhk, Akhaltskha