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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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The Knights of Vartan’s Back to the Homeland VI Mission Trip

The Knights and Daughters of Vartan continued their “Back to the Homeland” Mission Trip for the 6th year. More than 20 Knights, Daughters, and friends joined the pilgrimage on September 18-24th to visit the homeland, their mission partners and projects in Armenia.

The Knights of Vartan Inc. has always paid special attention to the education of Armenians around the world. Numerous scholarships have been given to students in Armenian schools in the USA and Middle East as well as schools in Armenia. In addition, many of the schools in Armenia needed renovation and the Knights of Vartan began projects to make sure the environment in which the students received their education was brought up to date. The Back to the Homeland Mission Trip VI included visits to the schools that were renovated during this past fiscal year.

The first project visited by the group was at the Colonel Vladimir Karapetyan School #3 in Sevan. The Colonel, a graduate of the school, is a hero of the war in Artsakh who died on June 17, 1992 in the village of Madaghis in the Martakert Region while protecting 12,000 Armenians who were forcibly displaced from the Shahumyan Region. The school building is more than 68 years old and has had very few repairs since its construction. This past year, Avak Sbarabed (Grand Commander) Hunan Arshakian renovated a classroom as the start of an ongoing project. This provided a good reason for everyone to visit the school, meet the faculty and discuss possible future projects.

On September 22 the group visited the Aparan Sports School where Knights of Vartan projects are continuing for a second year. This year, with the sponsorship of the Armenian Artists Project, a Knights of Vartan partner, the wrestling room was renovated and a shower was built. The school has 150 students who attend from the town of Aparan and nearby villages. In particular, the Knights of Vartan members were excited to meet Mariam, a12-year-old weightlifter. The group was confident that one day she will be responsible for the Armenian flag being raised at world competitions.

The group at the Aparan Sports School

The Knights of Vartan, in cooperation with the Armenian Territorial Development Fund (ATDF) supported the complete renovation of one of the kindergartens in Aparan in 2017. Since then the kindergarten has been renamed “Knights of Vartan”. In 2018, Gomidas Lodge donated more items for the school’s operation. This year, a new gift was presented to this 110 pupil kindergarten, namely a five-piece new playground where the children can climb, swing and jump. This new project was implemented in cooperation with the Armenian Artists Project (sponsor of the project) and Focus on Children Now (local implementer and contributor).

Group visit to Knights of Vartan Aparan kindergarten, meeting children, opening of new playground wth donors and supporters

The fourth school visited on September 23rd and supported by the organization was the Knights of Vartan Basic School #106 in Yerevan. Nareg-Shavarshan Lodge of Greater Detroit continues to make improvements at this School. During the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the Lodge provided funding to renovate the second floor of its lower school building, specifically, 7 classrooms, the hallway, restrooms and stairway. Since 2018 the Lodge has raised over $95,000 for various renovation projects at the school. The #106 Basic School is the educational home to over 1,000 students. The students, after graduation, enter universities in Armenia and overseas or continue their education at vocational schools. Most importantly, they become good citizens of Republic of Armenia.

Photos from the Knights of Vartan #106 Basic School, ribbon cutting, touring in classrooms, meeting with students

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held with the help of Grand Commander Hunan Arshakian of Gomidas Lodge, Past Grand Commander Dr. Gary Zamanigian and Past Commander Kazar Terterian both of Nareg-Shavarshan Lodge. The group toured all of the renovated classrooms one by one, enjoyed a performance in the auditorium presented by the students and Nareg-Shavarshan Lodge leaders promised that they will continue to renovate additional classrooms.

 It is important to note that The Knights of Vartan Inc. has been involved in school renovations in Armenia since the 1990’s. In partnership with Armenian Territorial Development Fund (ATDF) and other donors, 257 schools have benefitted. Since 2018 a new and direct partnership was started between the Knights of Vartan and the #106 Basic School. During the past four years, complete repair and renovations were implemented in the gymnasium with new windows, net and new sports equipment; complete renovation of the auditorium with leveling up the floor and new chairs; new windows and doors where needed; electric wires were changed in the entire school, electric fixtures were added and more. Some of these repairs such as the windows of the gymnasium or electric wires were never updated since the school was built in the 1960’s.

As in preceding years, the implementing partner has been the Paros Foundation; the school benefits greatly from the excellent work of the Foundation’s skillful and experienced construction managers.

Another heartwarming project for the Knights and Daughters of Vartan is homebuilding with the Fuller Center for Housing Armenia (FCHA). Since 2015 over 30 families built or improved their housing through funding from the Knights of Vartan, one family at a time. The Gevorgyan family raised their three adorable daughters in a metal container (domik). By the end of 2021 they were selected as a partner of FCHA. They worked tirelessly and completed their new home toward the end of summer. Their 4th child, a baby boy was born a few weeks after the family moved into the new house. Prayers were answered so the baby boy will grow up in a proper home. The Knights and Daughters of Vartan members were delighted to share the joy of the Gevorgyan family in their new residence.

The Veratarts Hayrenik delegation meeting Gevorgyan family

The week was extremely busy with additional excursions and making new acquaintances. The Knights of Vartan delegation visited Yerabloor Cemetery to lay a wreath and to pay their respects to fallen heroes of the Artsakh wars. A warm meeting followed with a visit to the Armenian Wounded Heroes Rehabilitation Center arranged by Past Commander Tigran Sahakyan of Mamigonian Lodge. After meeting the soldiers, the delegation learned how they recover from their wounds and get back to a normal life.  A substantial donation was made by the group for the center’s ongoing operation.

NS Tigran Sahakyan (from right) competing with hero Sargis Stepanyan (from left)

The Back to the Homeland Mission Trip also included educational events, two of which took place on Saturday, September 24th. In the morning the group visited the headquarters of ArmEconom Bank to learn about the economic situation and banking system in Armenia. At noon the group members welcomed mountaineer and entrepreneur Gevorg Gasparyan to learn about his 20-time climb to the summit of Mt. Ararat and how anyone interested can join in the future.

Top Row, L to R: Meeting at the bank; Group photo in Aparan Monument; Meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Hambardzum Matevosyan,
Front row, L to R: Presentation about Ararat trekking: The group at the Yerabloor; meeting with Artur Soghomonyan, ATDF Director

The trip concluded with a farewell dinner on Saturday evening. Sixty people including delegation members, local partners, family and friends attended. Because of the recent conflict at the border of Armenia, no celebrations or festivities were conducted. This was the time to get together, talk from the heart, thank our partners and members and share blessings.

The banquet was held at the Megerian Restaurant and began by touring the extraordinary carpet museum and leaning about its history. Then our partner, the Armenian Artists Project presented their online charitable art gallery and the philanthropic projects they have supported from the sales of art during past two years. Representatives of Tavush Schools from border villages were invited to present their students’ entrepreneurship and sell their crafts. As you might expect, trip participants were excited to make purchases made by the young artisans to take back to the USA for their family and friends.

During the banquet Grand Commander Hunan Arshakian presented awards to four long time partners of the Knights of Vartan and to a dedicated Knights of Vartan member: Marine Vardanyan, Principal of the Knights of Vartan #106 Basic School of Yerevan, Ashot Yeghiazaryan, Director of the Fuller Center for Housing Armenia, Artur Soghomonyan, Director of the Armenian Territorial Development Fund, Fr. Aram Mirzoyan, a priest from the Berd Community, and Past Commander Tigran Sahakyan, for his dedication and many years of organizing the Back to the Homeland Mission Trips.

L to R: NS Tigran Sahakyan, Marine Vardanyan, and Ashot Yeghiazaryan accompanied by AS Hunan Arshakian

“We are grateful to our members for joining the Back to the Homeland Mission Trip and for the endless support of many members not present, and to our partners for the dedicated work they do here for our people in Armenia. United, we can overcome all challenges” expressed Grand Commander Hunan Arshakian.

This trip was extraordinary because a few days before its start a war broke out and uncertainty was ever present.  Even with safety a grave concern, the brave participants of the Back to the Homeland Mission Trip VI took their flights to Armenia without hesitation.

May God bless our homeland always and with His blessing may we be able to continue our projects to make Armenia special for all who live there and for all who visit.

Article by Gohar Palyan

Photos by Gohar Palyan and Garegin Yavrumyan