Archive for the ‘ACYOA | FAR Partnership’ Category


[ACYOA / FAR Partnership]: Hand in Hand: Building relationships. Bridging a gap.

December 23, 2010

By Katrina Shakarian

ACYOA and FAR are thinking out of the box. Over the past few weeks the organizations have joined forces, producing a unique initiative that seeks to transform the relationship between Armenia and the Diaspora by opening up the channels of communication between youth in Armenia and in the States.

The initiative is called Hand in Hand, and its objective is to build a connection between young Armenians. One of the ways we can do this is by offering each other a new perspective. Armenian-Americans are curious about life in Armenia. We want to know about everything from pop culture to the nuances of the day to day. Young people in Armenia are just as curious about the lives we lead abroad. Until now, however, there have been very few opportunities for the average person to access that kind of information. In response to this growing demand, our committee is harnessing social media forces to bridge the gap between Armenians across the globe, setting the stage for an unprecedented exchange of ideas.
The first step in this project — an art supply drive — is in the works. Currently, 27 parishes across the U.S. have mobilized on behalf of FAR’s Children’s Support Foundation Center (CSFC) by donating supplies to provide the center’s children with an outlet for creative expression. The next step will be to connect and build a relationship with the children through technology like blogging, as well as an exciting multimedia presentation that Hand in Hand will be releasing to the public in January. This short film will document the art supply drive in action; it will introduce the ACYOA and members of our committee to the children at CSFC. In turn, FAR will be equipping the center with its very own media lab. Once armed with cameras and software, the children will be able to create their own multimedia presentation about life in Armenia and release it to the public this spring. 

Children of the Center


Credit: Felix Arustamyan


[ACYOA / FAR Partnership]: New York Church Has Success in Gift Drive.

December 22, 2010

By Olivia Derderian

The senior ACYOA of St. Gregory the Enlightener in White Plains, NY, has participated in the Hand in Hand art supply drive since November 7. A box for donations that was placed in the narthex of the church filled up throughout the month of November. For the Christmas season, the ACYOA teamed up with the Women’s Guild to set up a Giving Tree, on which ornaments display the names of the specific items needed for the drive. Parishioners pick an ornament and agree to buy whatever is specified.

Hand in hand4

Credit: Olivia Derderian

Hand in Hand has already collected many toys, hats, gloves and toiletries, among other items. They are excited about what they have gathered and they will continue to participate in this wonderful event. 

Hand in hand 3

Hand in hand5

Hand in hand

Credit: Olivia Derderian


[ACYOA Dispatches]: Closing – Reminiscing a Life Changing Trip to Armenia.

September 30, 2010

By Paul Derderian

I came to Armenia expecting to see all of the famous sites I had heard about in Armenian School and Sunday School. I expected to get more advanced culturally and spiritually. When I arrived in Armenia, it felt like I had dreamt it all up in my head. It had been everything I had expected and more. The feeling of being in Armenia and the sight of Armenian lettering on the signs along with hearing the language everywhere was very fulfilling to me. It could not have been more of a fantasy becoming a reality. I left Armenia knowing more about my history, faith, language and everything else which makes up my culture.

There were many memorable parts of the trip: visiting churches, monasteries, the beautiful landscapes, the food, etc. Climbing the mountain in Lake Sevan was a great experience for me. It was one of the most physically demanding things I ever did in my life.

Sevan by Arman Ayrapetyan

Credit: Arman Ayrapetyan

As we reached the top of the mountain, the feeling of satisfaction and beauty overwhelmed me. The views on top of the mountain overlooking Lake Sevan and the rest of the mountain range were indescribable.

Sevan by Arman Ayrapetyan  1

Credit: Arman Ayrapetyan

Going to Armenia was one of the best experiences of my life and it has changed my life in so many ways.


[ACYOA Dispatches]: Closing – Reminiscing a Life Changing Trip to Armenia.

September 29, 2010

By Katrina Shakarian

Traveling to Armenia has made it real.  It’s important for all diasporan Armenians to make a pilgrimage there, at least once in their lives.  When you’re finally standing on the land of Hayk, descending the stairs into St. Gregory’s pit, or feeling the cool winds of Sevan disheveling your hair, there’s a curious energy in the air.   You may dismiss this “energy” as the romantic ramblings of an “artasamantzi,” prancing around Armenia, hopping from vank to vank, — her pockets full of dollars, and her rose colored glasses firmly on, conveniently filtering out all the ills of this fledgling state.  But try not to dismiss it.   Listen carefully, because that energy is our ancestors speaking to us.  Itis their spirits that have succeeded in bringing these third and fourth generation sons and daughters of Armenia together, on the plains of Ararat, thousands of miles from the manicured lawns that their parents nurse in exile.  No matter where you trace your roots to, Adana, Van, Sassoun, or any other place currently outside the bounds of the modern Armenian state, Armenia is YOURS to come see, hear, feel, touch, and taste.   In Der Tateo’s words, “This is all your legacy.”


Credit: Katrina Shakarian

Armenia will not fit into any cookie cutter image you’ve created abroad.  It will both surpass your expectations and sometimes fall short of them.   But I promise you, you will fall in love with this country.   You’ll fall in love with every canyon, every mountain peak, and every winding road that snakes its way through the Armenian high land.  You’ll be completely seduced by the smell of lavash freshly baked in a tonyr, the taste of tomatoes grown on the plains of Ararat, and wine cultivated in Areni.  You’ll fall in love with the quality of the sun on your skin.  It just feels different here.  It feels ancient—holy, in fact.  You’ll be humbled by the devotion of our ancestors, as you hop from vank to vank, and run your fingers along the crevices of century old khach kars. 


Credit: Katrina Shakarian

You will inevitably feel connected to this land, when you sit and experience the same badarak that takes place in churches in Beirut, Paris, New York, Glendale, Watertown, or wherever else the tides of history have swept you.   You will be both enlightened and unsettled by conversations about identity, language, reparations, remittances, and history.  Don’t fight those long talks. They’re bound to happen when Armenians from around the world find themselves at the same table, in the same café, desperately trying to communicate their point in a minimum of three languages, and when necessary—charades.  Most importantly, you will find both inspiration and pride in the resilient spirit of our people, who continue to withstand many hardships.

I want to thank Der Tateos Abdalian for building bridges between Armenia and its diaspora.   I’d also like to thank the ACYOA and FAR for creating our itinerary, and making our homeland accessible.  


[ACYOA Dispatches]: Closing – Reminiscing a life changing trip to Armenia: A Call to Action.

September 16, 2010

By Katrina Shakarian

ASP 2010 had a packed itinerary.  We were out and about, dodging from one corner the country to another, on a daily basis.   Our trip was an excellent balance between historical and culture sites, and those that are currently facilitating its growth and development.

For instance, the group became familiar with a number of Fund for Armenian Relief’s (FAR) initiatives in Armenia.  We spent our week in Gyumri volunteering at a FAR soup kitchen, which serves Gyumri’s elderly population.   We met recipients of its college scholarships in Yerevan, and toured its information technology center in Gyumri.  It’s important to witness first hand, how these programs are functioning and supporting the population in Armenia, particularly when most of their funds come from the diaspora.   It’s a way to confirm that our funds are indeed being used as we intended them to be. 

As we went from site to site, learning about the country’s social dynamic, and the population’s different needs, we began to ask ourselves: What role can I play in strengthening this country?  That’s why a trip to Armenia becomes more than just a means of satiating one’s spiritual and intellectual curiosities, it becomes a call to action. 

Upon returning to the states, ACYOA members answered that call by committing to supporting FAR’s Child Support Center in Yerevan.  This center is unique.  It’s the only one like it in Armenia, and in the entire Caucuses region.  Opened in 2000, it serves at-risk children throughout the country.  Armenia, like many countries in the former soviet space, plunged into poverty after 1991.   As the economy crashed, and borders flew open, then closed, many of its societal problems grew two and three fold.  Of course, children are amongst the most profoundly affected by such upheavals, and amongst those least able to protect themselves.

The center exists to support children who are victims of sexual abuse, trafficking and prostitution, and poverty and abandonment.  They also seek to protect children who have fallen into a life of delinquency and have are victims of child labor. 

Children at FAR’s Child Support Center

FAR Children Center

Credit: FAR Staff

According to director Mira Antonyan, very few children in Armenian orphanages are actually parentless, orphans.  Rather, they are victims of abuse and abandonment.  Until recently, the government’s approach has been to send these children to orphanages.  The center for Child Support offers an alternative to this long withstanding practice.  They offer a child-focused approach that aims to heal and rehabilitate children.   They work with families, with the hope that many of the children in their temporary shelter can eventually return to their own homes.   Antonyan said, “65% of its cases are reunited with their families.”   In cases where family reunification is not possible, they place children with foster families.   Another service that they offer is an abuse hotline.  Anyone who has witnessed or suspects abuse, can report their concerns to the center.  Its staff is ready to both reach out to and receive children in its facilities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

There are quite a few obstacles that stand in its way; Armenia’s fledgling foster care system, for one.   About “300 families are waiting to receive children,” said Antonyan, yet the government is unable to compensate them for child-care expenses.  Armenia’s social safety nets like welfare, Medicaid, and non-profit social service agencies are in their most rudimentary stages, if they exist at all.   Couple the virtual absence of such safety nets with widespread unemployment, and the root of the problem continues to fester.  Many families cannot adequately support their children.  These are the circumstances that produce the social orphans sitting in the child support center, asserts Antonyan.  The solution she declares is “supporting vulnerable families,” which the current economy and government cannot adequately do. 
Among the centers most immediate needs are mental health and social work professionals who can support the center’s staff and the children they serve.   The ACYOA is currently forming a committee to support FAR’s Child Support Center.  They will be spending the next few months creating and implementing a plan of action. 


[ACYOA Dispatches]: Profile – Katrina Shakarian.

August 8, 2010

By Levon Lachikyan

Although she was born in New York, Katrina Shakarian, 24, has visited Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh three times. Her mother is from Stepanakert and her father is from Tehran. They met in Armenia, where they married and later decided to move to the USA. Katrina grew up hearing stories about the beauty of far away Armenia — the slopes of Biblical Mount Ararat and the amazing people.

She improved her knowledge while attending the St. Martyres Armenian school growing up. “Studying at the Armenian School was very essential to my fate. Thanks to that, I can now read, write and speak Armenian,” Katrina said.

She was 16 when with she, along with her mother and brother first visited her ancestors’ country. That visit was followed by a second trip through a “Land and Culture” program, during which she spent a month in Shushi, Nagorno-Karabagh, and volunteered in construction.

As a member of the ACYOA Pilgrimage Program, she visited her homeland for the third time and had an opportunity to get acquainted with many other Armenian-Americans. Katrina especially enjoyed her one-week stay in Gyumri, during the course of which she and her friends contributed to the construction and renovation of the local Ounjian School and helped out at the Gyumri Soup Kitchen.

During our conversation Katrina shared her impressions: “Gyumri is a very old and ancient city. I was more impressed by the local people, however, who have suffered because of the 1988 earthquake but still continue to believe in the future.”

Although the pilgrimage is over, it will continue in the hearts of its participants. Katrina will keep in touch with her new friends and aim to contribute to both her community and her motherland.

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Credit: Levon Lachikyan


[ACYOA Dispatches]: Profile: James Balakian.

August 5, 2010

By Levon Lachikyan

James Balakian, son of the famous American writer Peter Balakian, visited the land of his ancestral roots for the first time during the recent Armenian Church Youth Organization of America’s (ACYOA) service pilgrimage, which was held in July.

Born in London in 1988, James graduated high school in Hamilton, New York, and earned his degree in American history and political science from Bucknell University in May 2010.

Born in Teaneck, New Jersey, Peter Balakian is the author of five books of poetry, as well as the PEN/Martha Albrand Award winner “Black Dog of Fate” and the national bestseller “The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response,” winner of the 2005 Raphael Lemkin Prize. 

In elegant, moving prose, “Black Dog of Fate” charts Balakian’s growth and personal awakening to his family’s history and the horrifying aftermath of the Turkish government’s continued campaign to cover up one of the worst crimes ever committed against humanity. The book is dedicated to Balakian’s two children, Sophia Ann and James Gerard.

“Before my visit, Armenia was just imaginary for me. I am greatly impressed by the nature and architecture of the country. I am happy that I could find new friends,” James recounted.

The trip offered James the opportunity to travel throughout the country and see various cities. “Yerevan is a modern city. Gyumri has more of an older culture and is full of Armenian spirit. It is a welcoming town and people of Gyumri are friendlier. Gyumri seemed closer to me.” He also urges people who are planning to travel to Armenia to visit Gyumri, which suffered severely due to the 1988 earthquake.

This trip was what James described as his “first taste” of Armenia. He will, indeed, visit this wonderful country again. 

James with Grandma Noune
from Gyumri’s Soup Kitchen

James with Gyumri Soup kitchenbeneficiary Grandma Noune  

Credit: FAR Staff


[ACYOA Dispatches]: Trip to Armenia Becomes a Character Building Experience.

July 28, 2010

By Levon Lachikyan

When Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) established the American Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA) in 1946, his aim was to join the two directions of the new Armenian-American generation’s education – Christian and Armenian.

The 2010 ACYOA ASP Group


Credit: FAR Staff

Pursuing the same purpose, the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) has been organizing pilgrimages to the homeland in recent years. This summer, the ACYOA’s Armenia Service Program (ASP) partnered with FAR to focus volunteering efforts on FAR projects in Gyumri. During the trip (June 29 – July 20), the ASP group worked at FAR’s Ounjian School, which is undergoing renovations, and at the FAR Soup Kitchen, which serves Gyumri’s elderly community.

The group leader was the Rev. Tateos R. Abdalian, director of department for the Mission Parishes of Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern).

FAR’s Shirak Branch organized a very interesting itinerary, which allowed the youngsters to meet with their peers or with adults.

Fr. Tateos and the ASP Group
at FARs Children Center


Credit: FAR Staff

The one-week of volunteer work in Gyumri and the travel throughout Armenia ensured opportunity for the ASPers to know Armenia from inside. They were fascinated by Gyumri’s architecture and met with families who had been living in temporary metal shelters for the more than twenty years since the earthquake hit. They listened to the wonderful music played by the children of Octet Music School, who must study in temporary shelters as well. At the same time, the ASPers witnessed the outpouring of support for the students of the Ounjian School. With great attention they listened to the stories of the soup kitchen beneficiaries and were surprised when, for instance, they learned that 73-year-old grandma Noune has been living without electricity for nearly 22 years since the earthquake struck.

Young construction group

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ACYOA Group photo in Ounjian	School resized.JPG

Credit: FAR Staff

All this brought them closer together. During this trip, they lived just as their peers in their homeland, celebrating the “Vardavar” holiday and spending a wonderful day under the arches of the Marmashen Monastery.

ACYOA ASPers hailed from the East Coast of the USA – New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and so on. Among them were James Balakian, son of outstanding writer Peter Balakian, Nickolas, grandson of famous benefactor Nazar Nazaryan, among others.

Please read all their stories on our blog.
(Please scroll down after clicking the link)


ACYOA group Bus_resize.JPG

Credit: FAR Staff


[ACYOA Dispatches]: Khachkars.

July 26, 2010

By Katrina Shakarian

Our week in Gyumri is behind us. We’ve since visited the Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries in Lori Marz. We continued onto the town of Dilijan, where ASPers toured Goshavank monastery.  From there, we visited the village of Noraduz and Lake Sevan. Noraduz is a cemetery that was in use between the 7th and 17th centuries.  Currently, it houses  largest collection of Khachkars in a single location.  Khachkars are a distinctly Armenian art form. From a single slab of rock, craftsman carved out a rectangle. They’d adorn it with a cross, surrounded by intricate patterns. Many of them tell stories.


Credit: Katrina Shakarian

Khachkars were commissioned to commemorate events like a birth, or death. Today, Armenians adorn their tombstones with pictures of the dead; a trend that emerged during the Soviet period. Traditionally, however, Armenians who could afford it, placed Khachkars on top of their graves. It took at least 4-5 months to carve one.

During our visit, we weaved in and out of the stones, now overgrown with tall grass and weeds.  We stopped to examine the patterns etched into each one.  Apparently, no two Khachkars are alike. 


Credit: Katrina Shakarian


[ACYOA Dispatches]: Vernissage.

July 23, 2010

By Katrina Shakarian

Vernissage is an open air market near Yerevan’s Republic Square. It’s open for business on Saturday and Sunday. ASP-ers spent their last Saturday in Armenia scouring its stalls for keepsakes to take home. In just a few blocks you can find paintings, sculptures, needlepoint work, backgammon boards, jewelry, posters, electronics, carpets, coffee sets, woodwork, ceramics, books, and much more. It’s overwhelming to make your way through the market. We spent the afternoon dodging its crowds and negotiating prices in our distinct “Armenglish” dialect.

Needless to say, we all left Vernissage with full hands and empty pockets.

Impressions from Vernissage






Credit: By Katrina Shakarian