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By NAS Dr. Gary Zamanigian

Avak Sbarabed Hunan Arshakian honored Nareg-Shavarshan Lodge with an official visitation Wednesday, April 12, 2023.  Prior to the lodge meeting, a formal banquet, hosted by the Knights, began with skilled Master of Ceremonies, NAS Vahram Fantazian, calling upon NAS Dr. Gary Zamanigian to offer a toast on this special occasion; a delicious Shish Kebab dinner followed.

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Knights and Daughters of Vartan Visit Armenia, Veratarts Hayrenik IV

(YEREVAN) — Thirty-five members of the Knights and Daughters of Vartan from California to Detroit to New York including newly installed Grand Commander Steven Adams, Grand Master of Ceremonies Dr. Dennis Shamlian and Past Grand Commanders Dr. Gary Zamanigian and Steven Kradjian visited Armenia on a mission trip from September 15-22, 2019.

This was the 4th consecutive “Back to the Homeland” trip. For over 100 years the Knights of Vartan has initiated many projects in US Armenian communities for Armenian Studies, Armenian Research, University Student Scholarships and its members have served actively as leaders in all Armenian Churches and organizations.  Since 1988 the organization has been supporting numerous projects in Armenia as well. In 2016 the organization celebrated its 100th Anniversary in Armenia, and instituted the “Back to Homeland” trips. Not only do they support a number of projects financially in Armenia but they also visit many of these projects and meet the people they helped throughout the year. This allows the members to see the changes they made in the life of the people in Armenia and it inspires them to return home to create new projects.  The result is the creation of a bond between the supporters, partner organizations and beneficiaries.

Each year the number of members, including friends of members joining the group, has been increasing and the list of projects visited during the “Back to Homeland” trip, has increased also. The weeklong trip was filled with many visits to completed projects and to new projects underway sponsored by Knights and Daughters of Vartan.

After an orientation meeting on Sunday morning the group attended church services at Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan.  The delegation then visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial and placed a wreath in memory of our sanctified martyrs.  The Grand Commander, Steven Adams watered the tree planted by Knights and Daughters of Vartan delegation last year on the Genocide Memorial grounds and met with the Armenian Genocide Museum Director Harutyun Marutyan.  The Knights of Vartan’s Centennial Anniversary Yearbook was presented to the Mr. Marutyan.

For more than 25 years the Knights of Vartan (KV) has been renovating and building schools and kindergartens in Armenia through the Armenian Schools Support Project and the Armenian Territorial Development Fund (ASSP/ATDF World Bank).  A kindergarten, renovated by the KV in Aparan, was renamed “Knights of Vartan Kindergarten” with a decision of the local Community Council last year. Now 137 children attend this newly renovated and equipped educational facility. The number of students enrolled in the school increased by 31% because of the enhanced learning environment.  Such facilities are not only providing a good education but they are also preparing the future generation of leaders in Armenia.  The children performed Armenian songs and dances beautifully in authentic Armenian tradition.  Another room was filled with handmade dolls crafted by the children and parents.  The Arshakyan family originally from Aparan, now living in San Diego, provided t-shirts for the children with the KV logo on them.

Because the KV has had many projects in Tavush Province which borders Azerbajian, it was not surprising that the group would take the long journey to visit again. The highlight of the trip was meeting with the Governor of Tavush Mr. Hayk Chobanyan who expressed his gratitude to the organization for making a difference in Tavush Provence and its importance especially with regard to education.  Projects visited in Tavush included an Aygepar village school where the Armath Robotics Laboratory was opened. This border village school has 58 students of which 14 attend Armath classes. They are preparing to participate in a national competition in November.  Commander Tigran Sahakyan of Mamigonian Lodge has supported the “After School Program” in this school for a number of years.

Fr. Aram Mirzoyan, a long-time KV partner presented other projects being supported in the Berd area.

The Knights of Vartan Sports and Cultural Center in Veryn Karmiraghbyur, Tavush Province, which had its ground breaking in 2016 has grown every year. This year the swimming pool was completed and added to the list of facilities operating at the center already (Soccer Field and Outdoor Movie Theater).  The complex serves 7 communities, namely Verin Karmiraghbyur, Norashen, Movses, Artsvaberd, Aygedzor and Chinary with a population totaling 22,000.  The aim is to provide a high level of education for children living in border villages, so that the future generation will be healthy and strong.

The Fuller Center for Housing Armenia has been on the list of KV charities for over a decade. The organization has gifted one or two homes every year.  During the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the organization donated two homes in memory of the late Past Commander Reverend Fr. Dajad Davidian, who was also a very good friend of the Fuller Center Armenia. The KV group was able to visit one of the families, the Mkrtchyan family in Avan village, Aragatsotn Region, where everyone was amazed by the breathtaking view from the house and the garden. The young family (husband wife and two children) finally have a home of their own.  Throughout the years the organization has seen an increase of newborn children in families who received newly completed homes.  Donating such homes to families who qualify raises their hopes for the future and allows them to give their children a good environment in which to live.

One of the special stops in Yerevan was the KV School #106 which received its name in 1995 after a number of KV projects were implemented.  Last year Nareg-Shavarshan Lodge and Zabelle Otyag of Greater Detroit donated the entire cost for the renovation of the GYM and Arshavir Lodge in Worcester donated new equipment. The school, built in the nineteen sixties, was, after previous KV contributions, a good environment in which to learn for the students except for the gymnasium.   Today the old windows have been replaced, a new drainage system and new heating system installed.  State of the art gymnasium flooring over a cement base now are in place instead of warped wood over the ground. The entire construction was implemented by KV partner the Paros Foundation.  The KV delegation had a ribbon cutting ceremony and a beautiful program was presented by the students in their renovated gymnasium.   The group was then invited to the auditorium where the children presented Vartanank Novel by Derenik Demirchyan.  The play was presented in cooperation with the Derenik Demirchyan Museum and the KV #106 School.  Principal Marine Vartanyan expressed her gratitude and hope for continued cooperation with the Knights and Daughters of Vartan.

After the devastating 1988 earthquake in Gyumri, Armenia, the KV responded immediately and over 150,000 USD was delivered.  A number of individual members went to Gyumri throughout the years but this was first time that the “Veratarts Hayrenik” group made such a trip.  Visits to KV projects, museums and a tour of the city were combined.  Two kindergartens were completed after the earthquake and they have been fully operational ever since.  They were part of the ATDF (Armenian Territorial Development Fund) World Bank and the KV ASSP (Armenian Schools Support Project).  Seeing the kindergarten children dancing and singing at these schools filled the hearts of every Knight and Daughter with pride and reminded them of what the Knights of Vartan is all about – to protect the Armenian Homeland and the Armenian Church, to prepare Armenian Community Leaders and to maintain the Armenian spirit.

For over 15 years the Knights of Vartan has provided scholarships to 10 students each year from Yerevan State University and National Polytechnic University of Armenia.  Each of the students selected come from low income families and have high grade point averages.  This partnership has been ongoing and the “Back to the Homeland” group stops at each of these universities every year. For the second year in a row the KV granted Scholarships to two students at the American University of Armenia and the delegation had the opportunity to meet with the new AUA President Dr. Karin Markides.

A group of the KV delegation visited Yerevan Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences where Commander Tigran Sahakyan sponsors an annual scholarship program. This year nine students with high test scores received scholarships and one student received an award as the winner of the essay contest whose essay was presented at the New York Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration in April.

Coming from the Diaspora, it is important to have a connection with the Government of the Republic of Armenia in order to be able to raise concerns and learn about additional opportunities to be of assistance to the country. The delegation had a special meeting with the new High Commissioner of Diaspora Affairs Mr. Zareh Sinanyan.  The group heard first hand about the Commissioner’s future plans, his new vision for Armenia-Diaspora relations and of his priority being recognition of the Diaspora and promotion of a “strong Armenia-strong Diaspora” concept.  A question and answer period followed.

Armenian Independence Day on September 21st was celebrated by climbing Mount Ara and raising the Knights and Daughters of Vartan flag on top of the mountain.  The hikers were amazed by the beauty of surrounding landscape.

Concluding the weeklong mission trip, a celebration with all of the Knights and Daughters of Vartan delegation took place.  Around 80 Knights and Daughters, Mission Partners and friends gathered at the beautiful Megerian Carpet Museum for dinner, a tour and fellowship.  The evening gave the KV the opportunity to acknowledge all of our partners in Armenia, some of whom traveled from border villages to Yerevan to be present at the event.

The “Back to Homeland” IV is over, but as Grand Commander Steven Adams indicated, KV members are leaving back to the USA, but their hearts will stay in Armenia. They continue remember and dream every step they have made and every step will make next year.

Plans for next year’s “Knights and Daughters of Vartan Mission V Trip” have already started – Kal Daree Hayasdan!