An LA Armenian Becomes a Moscow Armenian… just for the Summer

As our Moscow Summer Intern Program wraps up this weekend, one participant, Garo Yaghsezian, takes a look back at what made his time as a temporary Muscovite so wonderful:

My name is Garo Yaghsezian, and I am from Los Angeles, California. I attend Loyola Marymount University where I study Political Science and International Relations with an emphasis on the Middle East. I study different political and cultural aspects of diverse countries, people, and cultures that inhabit this world. So what can I say about Moscow?

Well, once you look past the mess and dirt that is expected of a city with this large of a magnitude, you truly start to see…well, more mess and dirt. I guess you are waiting for a “just kidding,” right? Well, I’m serious and I’m even trying to maintain some decorum on the issue. The only thing that is making my summer in Moscow not only enjoyable but also rewarding is the fact that I am here through MSIP.

Personally,

I am not fond of the city; what I am fond of, however, is the amazing Armenian youth and program volunteers who reside in it. In the past 4 weeks, I have not only met fellow Armenians participating in the internship, but I have also met a strong knit and active group of local Armenians who have shown me a different side to the same culture. They are always willing to join and participate in our events, sometimes with even more enthusiasm than some of our interns. We laugh, we joke, we dance (not so well I might add). But most importantly, we realize that there is nothing more important than forming a strong bond with our fellow Armenians.

In the beginning, the internship was the main reason I came to Moscow. I wanted to experience life in the working world. I was so interested and eager to work in an international company that I thought anything else I got out of the program was just an added bonus. I didn’t realize that my internship would fall second to an even greater reward. Being able to experience living in a different country with fellow Armenians from around the world is an amazing opportunity. We are different, but at the same time we understand each other on a deeper level. We realize that, although we might come from the US, Canada, France, Bulgaria, or London, we are first and foremost Armenian.

During these six weeks, we have a jam-packed schedule. Our week usually starts off with Armenian dance class. Although our looks say otherwise, if you were to judge us on our dancing skills, we are the farthest thing from being Armenian. I guess that trait skipped a generation. Apart from being rhythmically challenged, we still enjoy learning Kochari and dancing to traditional Armenian music. Russian Language class is our second activity and is that a trip. I thought learning French was a challenge. Nevertheless, we always put our best foot forward and try our best.

Our voyage to St. Petersburg was amazing. It was our time to unwind, relax, and experience Russia’s “Northern Capital.” It was an interesting and educational trip, filled with sightseeing at Peterhof and Hermitage, boat rides along the Neva River, and Vartavar with locals at the Armenian church.

All in all, I’d like to thank the special people I have met through this program, interns and volunteers alike. You guys made it possible for me to look past this city and truly enjoy Moscow. A special thanks to our coordinators, Lusine and Lilit, who have put in an absurd amount of time and effort into making this program an unforgettable experience. We are eternally grateful for all your hard work..

YSIP Interns’ Memorable Journey to Artsakh

Bella Arutyunyan, a student at UCLA, is participating in our Yerevan Summer Intern Program now. Read on for her touching and exciting experiences with local youth during the group’s recent visit to Karabakh:

One of the best experiences this summer was getting the chance to get out of the city and take a four-day trip to Artsakh. Everyone kept telling me how beautiful the wilderness was going to be and how much I was going to love it. In all honesty, however, I didn’t necessarily think I could find any connection to a piece of land and a people I didn’t know much about. I knew about the war and the ongoing conflict and had heard lectures about the struggle. But if there is one thing I’ve learned from being in Armenia, it’s how important it is to see things with your own eyes because stories alone aren’t enough.

My favorite part of the entire trip was when we went to Gandzasar. The scenery was beautiful just like all the other monasteries we visited. But that’s not what made it special. While sitting on the ledge and enjoying the view we spotted a group of about 8 kids. We asked them what they were doing there and they told us they were participating in a “jambar” [camp].This was my first time hearing “bar-bar,” the dialect spoken by locals and although I had been warned about it, I was still taken back at my complete lack of understanding. They were able to also speak in Eastern Armenian and after a few more minutes of speaking to them, a crowd began to form. They were excited to hear that some of us were from Los Angeles, and kept asking about Hollywood where the movies were made. We laughed, and told them it wasn’t that great. One of the girls was playing music on her phone and the alpha male among them, Narek, asked us if we had heard the music. We asked him to show us his dance moves and without hesitation, a circle formed and he began showing us “tectonic” dancing. This was some crazy dancing and really entertaining for us all. A couple of other boys joined in and also started break-dancing. It didn’t take much longer after this for their shyness to fade along with any walls separating our worlds. We followed them to their campsite, which was directly adjacent to the church. There were at least 50 kids there. A soccer match began with the boys and those not participating cheered their respective teams on. I went over to the opposite side where the kids were cheering. The amount of positive energy spewing out of them was incredibly contagious. Instead of only supporting their friends, they chanted “USA” and “AGBU” for our interns.

I asked them to sing for me and without any reluctance they joined hands and began to sing “Yerevan Erebouni.” I swayed along with them and Narek asked me to tango with him to the song. My cheeks were burning from smiling so much at this point. A larger crowd formed and they continued singing songs. One boy in particular, David, brought chills down our spine with his amazing voice. He stood there proud, with a sense of maturity and understanding way beyond his 10-year old frame. He sang “Shushi Yerkuh” [Shushi’s Song] solo with the rest of the kids holding hands and swaying along. Our group was in awe with their cameras in hand trying to capture the magic of the moment.

I asked if I could see where they were staying and they excitedly grabbed hold of my hands and made me run with them for the tour. They showed me their dorm style rooms and then took me to the kitchen. In true Armenian nature, I was offered fresh nazook and chocolate milk. We then went upstairs to their activities room. A few games of checkers began and the rest of the kids started showing us their dance moves again in the “discotech.” Within five minutes a dance party broke out. It was 4 p.m. and 90 degrees but that didn’t stop anyone. I definitely hadn’t seen anything like this before. Nor had I been around kids with so much life, or as I like to say, “jigar.” They were also really interested in our Ray-Ban sunglasses. They kept asking if they could wear them for pictures. They posed with their arms crossed and tilted the camera to a 45-degree angle when taking the picture, typical of any 13 year old. One of the interns also realized how excited they were by the glasses and gladly presented hers to Narek, the boy who won everyone’s heart with his charisma.

I wish I could explain how happy I was during the two hours we spent there. We weren’t doing what was on our planned schedule but no one minded. We told our coordinator we wanted to stay there with the kids. It was apparent how much everyone was enjoying themselves. Sitting back and listening to them sing and watching the boys play soccer against the backdrop of the amazing scenery with the church bells ringing is an image I never want to leave my mind. It was silly but my eyes couldn’t help but water up. In that moment, I remembered why I had wanted to come to Armenia so badly and how much I had to learn from these kids and the people here. It made me realize the importance of connections like these and the joy to be shared. These kids were not kin, but could very well be our little brothers and sisters. Artsakh finally became a real place to me. The stories and the lives that were affected by the continuous struggle came to life. The importance in coming here was not just to see the beauty of the land but also to get to know the people. It may have been a short experience but it was definitely a defining one that I’m so thankful for one that allowed me to a form a connection with the land and the people of Artsakh..