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A Call to Action from Grand Commander Hunan Arshakian and Grand Chairwoman Gloria Korkoian

We are facing serious challenges as we, who are safe and secure in the United States, witness the blockade of Artsakh. In 1916, the Knights of Vartan was formed to assisted the survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Now 106 years later, our brothers and sisters in Artsakh are in dire straits. Over 120,000 people are in this land blockade without access to the outside world.

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Back to the Homeland V

By Asbed David Medzorian, Ararat Lodge #1

The Knights and Daughters of Vartan again beheld the beautiful countryside of Armenia as more than a dozen Knights, Daughters, and friends made the pilgrimage this September for Veratarts Hayrenik V, the Return of the Fatherland.

For some, it was their first time back in Armenia since the Covid pandemic began. For others, it was their first time on Armenian soil and a chance to see the landmarks and landscapes that, up until now, they had known only from photographs and paintings. The trip had been in the planning since 2019. It gave those who attended the chance to see the fruits of their fundraising efforts with their own eyes. We visited the locations where our projects were underway or completed, and we met the people who benefitted from our efforts. During the 8-day pilgrimage, our home base was the Marriott Hotel Armenia in Republic Square. Our Liaison, Gohar Palyan, works in the Knights of Vartan office, which relocated to the Marriott earlier this year. It was at the hotel where the orientation gathering was held on the morning of Saturday, September 18th. Participants were given written material, and the schedule for the week ahead was laid out by our Liaison and Sbarabed Tigran Sahakyan, who was in charge of planning the trip. The afternoon of the first day was spent cruising beautiful Lake Sevan. Our group then undertook the long uphill walk to the two churches overlooking the lake, where a spectacular view of both the water and the surrounding mountains awaited them. Many of us danced the night away that evening at the Parvana Restaurant in Yerevan. The live music, along with a delicious dinner, brought the first day of the Veratarts Hayrenik to a satisfying conclusion.

On Sunday, the 19th, we visited not one or two but four different churches. The first stop was St. Hripsme Church, followed by Holy Badarak, which we attended at St. Gayane Armenian Church due to renovation work at Holy Etchmiadzin. His Holiness, Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, gave us his blessing as he walked into the sanctuary. Following lunch at the Manchanents Center, our group toured the marvels of the Etchmiadzin Museum before visiting the ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral. The day was capped off with a performance of “Three Apples Fell From the Sky,” featuring members of the Artsakh Theatre Company and presented at the Paronyan Theatre. The performance was directed by Karine Kocharian based on the same name book written by Narine Abgaryan.

at the Knights of Vartan School #106

The province of Tavush would be the focus of Monday’s day-long trek to the northeast. The first stop was the churches of the Haghardzin Monastery. Each structure is unique in its simplistic beauty and spirituality. We then paid a visit to the Tavush Village School, one of two schools we visited that day that are receiving support from Sbarabed Tigran Sahakyan. Our group was treated to a dance performance and recitations by the school’s students. Especially poignant was the performance of the Medzorian Children’s Choir of St. Hovhaness Armenian Church in Berd. The choir was named in honor of ND Eva Medzorian and her late husband, NS Jack Medzorian. Both had a chance to see and hear the choir during their last visit to Berd during Veratarts Hayrenik III in 2018. Following light refreshments and a school tour, our group proceeded to the Parents’ Spring Gathering Place for an incredible multi-course outdoor grilled meal. With our hunger satisfied, we traveled to the Aygedzor School, where the entire student body was outside to greet our group and Sbarabed Tigran in particular. Again, there were more recitations along with plenty of music and dancing. We would end our journey to Tavush with a tour of a factory that manufactured and bottled various fruit beverages.

September 21st was Independence Day in Armenia. Our group had a light schedule which included a visit to the Noy Brandy Factory in Yerevan. Once there, we learned about the factory’s history and how the liquor was manufactured and stored. For many, the highlight of the visit came when we were invited to sample some vintage wine from 1944, followed by a tasting of both 5- and 10-year-old cognac. Those who were asked said the ten-year-old cognac went down a lot smoother. That evening, some of our group gathered in the Marriott’s  Cucina Restaurant for a lavish dinner and a bird’s eye view of the massive Independence Day ceremony in Republic Square. Then, some of us ventured outside briefly for an even closer look.

The Knights, Daughters, and their friends went to the bank the following morning. Officials presented a seminar on Banking in Armenia at Armeconom Bank. The presentation covered an overview of Armenia’s financial standing and how investors were dealing with the current economy. The seminar concluded with a lengthy question-and-answer session. Saghmosavank Church and what can only be described as Armenia’s Grand Canyon was next on the itinerary. The incredible view made for a great photo backdrop, as did Alphabet Hill, our next destination. Our group enjoyed having their photos taken in front of the first letter of their name, in Armenian, of course. A tasty lunch followed the fun photo opportunities at the home of ND Anahit Ananyan and her husband. Again, it was an occasion for toasts and animated conversation. That afternoon, we visited a sports school that had been renovated through the support of Gomidas Tahlij. Our group watched the young athletes participating in several sports, including boxing, martial arts, wrestling, and weight lifting. Watching these young athletes perform so well in their chosen sport was genuinely inspiring for all of us.

That evening was a night of glitz and glamour as we joined the invited crowd outside the Jivan Restaurant for the Miss Universe Armenia competition. Our own Sbarabed Tigran Sahakyan was one of the event’s sponsors, and one of our friends from our group, Ruzanna Tarannik, served as one of the judges. The event began with a lengthy video presentation highlighting the contestants’ preparations for the pageant. As the film showed, it was about 5 percent glamour and 95 percent hard work and dedication. The excitement and suspense continued until the moment the final winners were announced and crowned.

Thursday, September 23rd, was a day of remembrance. We paid our respects to the victims of the first genocide of the 20th century by visiting the Armenian Genocide Memorial at Tsitsernakaberd. No matter how many times one sees this hallowed ground, it is always an emotional experience. We first walked to the site of the tree planted by the Knights and Daughters of Vartan in 2018. Those of us there took turns watering the tree. Later, Asbed David Medzorian of Ararat Tahlij carried a wreath offering by the Knights and Daughters of Vartan to the entrance to the memorial. Once inside, we paused and said a prayer at the eternal flame. We then each placed a flower near the center of the memorial and again stood in silence. Later, some of our group stood next to the monument containing the name of the village or city where their ancestors lived before the genocide. After a brief walk-through of the adjoining museum, we departed for the nearby Erebuni Museum and Fortress. As with the churches at Lake Sevan, a long staircase took us to the fortress, which offered a commanding view of Yerevan. Having worked up an appetite during the afternoon, we all enjoyed the incredible dinner at the museum, which was once the home and studio of artist Lusik Aguletsi. After dinner, our group split up into three groups, each with their tour guide, to view the late artist’s impressive lifetime of work, including paintings, photography, costume designing, and even puppet making.

We all went back to school on Friday, September 24th, as we visited Knights of Vartan School No. 106. Principal Marine Vardanyan welcomed us as we arrived. Last year, Nareg-Shavarshan lodge renovated the auditorium along with other repair work and Paros Foundation was the implementing partner. After a look around the lobby, complete with birds and animals, it was time for the main attraction. Students and faculty banded together to perform a play entitled “The Last Teacher.” The show focused on a school where an alleged incident had occurred involving a student and showed how the students trusted their teacher when things became difficult. After the show, we had a chance to meet some of the cast members and congratulate them on their performance.

Also inspiring was our visit to Mer Hoyos or the House of Hope. This home for disadvantaged girls and young women is overseen by a dedicated staff who have given the residents a place where they can feel safe and grow into fine young women who will face life with confidence. They also learn numerous life skills during their time here. NAS Steven Kradjian gave each girl a copy of “Find the Word,” a book of Armenian word games created by his wife, NAD Lisa Kradjian. A mini-concert followed when one young woman performed a classical piano piece while another sang a lovely melody, all to the delight of everyone gathered. Before we said goodbye, we were treated to some delicious fried dough, prepared by the girls themselves.

with the view of Mt. Ararat

On Saturday, September 25th, we went to Geghard Monastery (4th century) and Garni Temple (1st AD). On the way, we stopped to view what was for us, the clearest view of Mount Ararat that we had seen during our trip. At Geghard, our group spent time in the church, which is known for being carved in one rock and also having fantastic acoustics. David Medzorian sang the Hayr Mer, followed by Avak Sbarabed Steven Adams, who sang Der Voghormia. At Garni, we marveled at the ancient architecture of this pagan temple, the only survived Greco-Roman structure in Armenia. Some of us climbed the stairs and stood between the towering pillars, stretching our arms, while others stood at a distance and took it all in. We stayed in Garni and visited the Saribekyan family, whose new house was nearing completion, thanks to the help of the Knights and Daughters of Vartan and the Fuller Center for Housing Armenia.

Veratarts Hayrenik group with the Saribekyan family in Garni

The family has been living inside a metal container for the many years (children were raised here), and our visit marked the first meal to be enjoyed inside what will soon be their new home. We met with all family members, including six-year-old Arman Saribekyan, who enjoyed playing with his new gift Rubik’s Cube while enjoying the attention of all of us. We wish the Saribekyans all the best as they prepare to move into their new home. On the way back to Yerevan, we made two stops. The first was the Symphony of Stones in Garni area. The stunning geological formation was an impressive sight to see and offered countless photographic opportunities. Also fascinating was the art exhibit entitled “Self-Isolation” by New York-based artist Tigran Tsitoghdzyan, which we viewed briefly before returning to the city.

Our final day began for many of us in church. We walked the short distance from the Marriott Hotel to St. Gregory Armenian Church for Holy Badarak. The afternoon was free time for everyone before the evening’s gala banquet at the Megerian Carpet Factory. The festivities began with a reception that featured an exhibit and presentation by the Armenian Artists Project. Then, the Knights and Daughters of Vartan and our friends were given a private tour of the factory and museum before we all sat down to a fabulous dinner. Knights of Vartan Liaison Gohar Palyan welcomed us all and introduced Principal Marine Vardanyan of Knights of Vartan School 106, whose students entertained us all with song and dance performances. We were also serenaded to the music of Komitas. In his remarks, Avak Sbarabed Steven Adams thanked everyone for attending and said that the mission of the Knights and Daughters of Vartan is more critical than ever. He also paid tribute to those who have helped with our efforts in Armenia and those who are benefiting as a result of our efforts. Avak Sbarabed thanked Sbarabed Tigran Sahakyan for his efforts in preparation for this year’s trip and his many other activities on behalf of our brotherhood. Avak Sbarabed also thanked Liaison Gohar Palyan for her work on behalf of the Knights of Vartan and for her help in planning this year’s Veratarts Hayrenik and ensuring that everything ran smoothly. Then appreciation certificates were handed to local partners and dedicated individuals.

On Monday, many of us said our goodbyes. We all saw old friends and made new ones. We hope to see many more of you joining us next September for Veratarts Hayrenik VI. In the meantime, watch for Asbed David Medzorian’s Talking Vartan Video Podcasts from Armenia. Part 2 of “Diary From the Motherland” will focus on Veratarts Hayrenik V and feature both photos and videos from our memorable pilgrimage.