Posts Tagged ‘gyumri shanty towns’


[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)


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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


[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 9 – Temporary Shelters in Gyumri.

July 20, 2010

By Katrina Shakarian

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian

The earthquake that struck Armenia in 1988 left 25,000 people dead, and thousands homeless. Today, 22 years after the disaster, many families are still waiting for the government to provide those who lost their homes with an apartment. In the wake of the disaster, the government distributed metal containers to house the homeless. Although they were supposed to be temporary, they’ve become permanent staples in Gyumri’s landscape. Thousands of families have made their homes in these metal bins, and an entire generation of children has grown up in Gyumri’s sprawling shanty towns.

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian

FAR’s Gyumri staff took us on a tour of one such area. We weaved in and out of metal containers and makeshift yards.The roads are unpaved and dusty. We stopped and talked to people who live there. In true Armenian fashion, one couple invited me into their shelter for coffee. Armine Stepanyan and her husband Harutyun Amirkhanyan have lived there for five years. They have one son, Garlenchik. According to Armine, her in-laws, who were victims of the earthquake, did receive an apartment from the government, but they were forced to sell it to cover medical bills. This is a familiar story in Armenia, where most people cannot afford to visit the doctor or pay for their medicine.

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian

Like many men in Gyumri, Harutyun is unemployed. His family survives on disability payments he receives because of an injury he sustained while serving in the army. The disability payment, or monthly toshak, is 20000 dram (roughly $55 per month). With that money Armine purchases a gas tank for cooking, and flour to bake bread. Although they have running water, the family uses it infrequently. Armine saves water in empty soda bottles and leaves them out in the sun. When they warm up, she uses the water for washing dishes or showering.

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian

Armine and Harutyun’s story is one of many in this sprawling patchwork of rusting bins and containers. As important as it’s been to tour Armenia’s museums, monasteries, and national monuments, it’s also been important to witness the realities of daily life.

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian