Posts Tagged ‘expats in armenia’

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[Dispatches From Armenia]: The Genocide Memorial and Museum.

July 17, 2010

By Erin Henk

We’re back in Yerevan, taking a couple days to see the sights and visit more of FAR’s projects. Under the blazing mid-morning sun we headed to the Armenian genocide memorial and museum. I’ve visited memorials before and I have to admit that they are either hit or miss for me. Some I find incredibly moving (the Vietnam memorial in DC) and others just leave me slightly disappointed (World War II memorial). And while I was eager to see the genocide memorial, learn more, and pay homage to the lives lost, I was unprepared for just how much it was going to affect me.

Genocide Memorial

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Credit: Erin Henk

At first, we stood mostly silent in the shadow of the 12 bowing pillars that encircle an eternal flame, a sign that this black mark on history remains as life continues. Inside, our museum tour guide, poised, straight-faced, and thorough, led us through each display, which chronicled the events leading up to the genocide, the horror of which it consisted, and its afterward. I can’t remember the last time I felt so moved.

Genocide Memorial

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Credit: Erin Henk

As I listened to each piece, waves of emotion coursed through me. I felt disbelief, rage, compassion, sadness, and shock all at once. Why is this horrific historical event hardly touched upon in the majority of American schools? Why is this event still denied to this day, perpetuating more animosity and hatred between people? What would ever motivate some people try to eradicate the existence of another? Why why why did the whole world remain silent? And why does the same cycle continue to happen to this day? I know that these are not unique questions and thoughts. But seeing that that memorial and museum with my own eyes conjured up these feelings in a very real way. All at once I felt one step closer to a culture and a people I’m trying to learn more about each day, and I hope that through my work and studies I can somehow be a citizen who doesn’t remain nor accept silence. As cliché as it sounds, I hope to be someone who makes a difference in some small way. So, once again, to my wonderful travel partners and everyone in Armenia who I’ve had the privilege to have met thus far: Thank you thank you thank you. Thank you for teaching me, exposing me to new thoughts, and re-awakening my passion.

As always, I’m eager for more.

Genocide Memorial

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Credit: Erin Henk

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[Dispatches From Armenia]: A Visit to Gyumri.

July 16, 2010

By Erin Henk

I’ve spent a little more than a year learning about FAR’s programs, its mission, its people, and its history in order to complete my writing and editing assignments. I must have referred to the devastating 1988 earthquake that hit Spitak and Gyumri dozens of times in various press releases, brochures, emails, etc. And yes, I’ve always known that the earthquake was a horrifically devastating event whose impact did not get erased with time. But like watching the news from Haiti or Hurricane Katrina, you know it’s terrible, but you’re still removed.

Today we woke in Gyumri and started the day with a brief tour of the city led by Marina, FAR’s Project Manager in Gyumri, who pointed out the destruction lingering from a two decade old natural disaster. Factories destroyed, shut down, along with a source of income for so many. The equipment, most of which was inherited from the days of Soviet rule, was lost and unable to be replaced. Buildings reduced to rubble have remained so for more than 20 years. Other buildings and homes are now abandoned. Makeshift shelters meant to be temporary dwellings have since become permanent homes. We pass by all of these and it’s haunting and sad. A brief loss of mercy from Mother Nature can set forth a lifetime of toil and suffering.

Gyumri Impressions

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Credit: Erin Henk

Unemployment in Gyumri hovers around 80 percent; one third of its population left for places like Russia and the U.S. after the earthquake. Remittances from relatives far away truly help keep the economy afloat. It’s not fair. But this also isn’t a place for pity. For as much as it appears to have been forgotten by the rest of the world, this is not a city totally abandoned and left behind. There is movement and all of us on this trip have the privilege of witnessing it with our own eyes.

Gyumri Impressions

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Credit: Erin Henk

Our first visit was to GTech, the Gyumri Information Technology Center, which offers post-graduate training in computer engineering and web technology, and ultimately opportunity. It’s another place I’ve tried to describe in various materials over and over. Seeing it with my own eyes, however, just changed my perspective completely. In just five years, GTech has led to changes in the economy, and has enabled more residents to gain the valuable skills they need to find jobs at IT companies in Gyumri and Yerevan, and take on contractual assignments from abroad. When their own community supports them, they support it right back. For the first time, it really clicks for me. Like the effects of the earthquake, GTech was always an abstract notion for me. But after standing in the actual building and hearing about the program from the people who work with it every day I’ve learned something totally new.

GTech Staff

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Credit: Erin Henk

Later, we visited the Octet Music School, which is literally composed of makeshift trailers filled with recycled furniture. The practice rooms are bleak, the walls thin and bare. It’s another place I’ve written about using scant details. And I never was able to imagine how it was possible to teach student music in such an environment. But it is possible. These children desperately need better resources at their hands. They need a true school, but their dedication and passion is such that poor conditions don’t stifle their creativity and talent. I’m so glad I was fortunate enough to see that with my own eyes.

Bary gisher.

A Practice Room at Octet

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Credit: Erin Henk

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[Dispatches From Armenia]: Saghmosavank, Kazak, and Ashtarak.

July 15, 2010

By Erin Henk

We have had the privilege of seeing the drama of Armenia’s landscape unfold before our eyes and it has certainly grabbed a hold of me. Today we got to depart from the cosmopolitan streets of Yerevan and delve into the dramatically sloping hills and cliffs of the Armenian countryside. At Saghmosavank we stood at the edge of a gorge, gazing out over a sheer drop down to where the River Kazak cuts through. My quasi fear of heights didn’t get in my way too much as I soaked in the strong sun and gazed out at the surreal scene before me. Next, many of us tested our bravery by climbing up rocky footpaths to the top of the Ambert fortress in Ashtarak to gaze out into a dramatic valley below. To watch the land change from smooth highways into craggy cliffs with hairpin turns is absolutely amazing, even if they summon car sickness because these long rides also unravel stories from my fellow travel companions.

I love learning more and more about their previous experiences in this land or the impressions of those who are visiting for the first time. So, more to come.

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Credit: Samantha McQueen

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[Dispatches From Armenia]: A Visit to FAR’s Office.

July 14, 2010

By Erin Henk

First full day in Armenia. After breakfast and strong coffee, we set off for FAR’s office, just a short ride away from our hotel. Over the past year, I’ve become quite well acquainted with FAR’s programs — or at least with their general scope. Today, however, I finally had the chance to see the faces and shake the hands of the staff members I’ve only previously met through Skype or email since my time with FAR began.
 
Sitting in the conference room, we were briefed on initiatives like Continuing Medical Education, child protection, GTECH, and FAR’s water project in Karabagh. But the highlight was the testimonials from program beneficiaries who sat in the room with us and told us how FAR, or HOF (“Hye Ognutian Fund” or Armenian Relief Fund, as FAR is known here in Armenia) has impacted their lives.
 
Gohar talked about how the Gulamerian Scholarship Program has helped her pursue her dream in education. It has funded five years of her university studies and she is on her way to becoming a dentist. Alexander, another Gulamerian scholar, is now studying at the Fine Arts Academy in Yerevan, where he majors in graphic design and participates in art exhibitions. Some like Hikaram are even doing their part to disseminate the spirit of volunteerism throughout the country by helping out in FAR’s summer camps.
 
Then, at the most touching point of the meeting, three young women Lusine, Lilia, and Anna, gave a heartfelt thank you to one of my travel companions whose father’s newly implemented scholarship program has enabled each of them to pursue their studies in music, chemistry, and pharmacology. She wasn’t the only person in the room who was visibly touched. Others around the table had tears in their eyes from their stories. I was certainly moved by the connection and the reminder of the powerful impact people can have on each other’s lives. My excitement for learning more about these programs and those they help has grown immensely.

As Arto said, this trip is indeed a chance to get to know Armenia from the inside. He is undoubtedly correct.

Lusine, Lilia, and Anna,
gave a heartfelt thank you

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Credit: Erin Henk

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[Dispatches from Armenia]: Arrival.

July 13, 2010

By Erin Henk

I have set my bleary eyes upon Armenia at last. After two plane rides, hours upon hours of travel, and forging acquaintance with my new travel partners, the adventure has officially begun. It was the first day of the 2010 Young Professional Trip to Armenia which I joined to get acquainted with the country I will be staying in for the next couple of months.

This group is tied through the anecdotes and traditions of their Armenian parents and grandparents. As a non-Armenian, I am the observer, reveling in the new lessons they are quickly teaching me about what Armenian community and camaraderie truly means, along with significance of things like khas and lavash. Yerevan is a bustling, colorful city.

Tomorrow we set forth for more.

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Credit: Erin Henk’s Family Archive