BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
I’d like to share with my readers a joyful afternoon I spent at the Armenian Navasartian Center in London, a venue where events are held by the whole Armenian community. On Sunday May 31, the center was occupied by ARF (Armenian Revolutionary Federation) to celebrate the Independence Day of the first Armenian Republic which falls on May 28. The center is located at the west end of London.
I was staying at East London and it took me about an hour to travel with the Underground to West London. However when I got to Ealing’s Northfield station, it was a short two minutes’ walk. The Center was just about a few hundred yards away from the station – like a stone throw away. I was delighted to see the genius of my people to purchase a piece of property in such close proximity to the station.
Originally, the event was supposed to be held in a Park, but they changed the plans for it was raining. The event had started at 2pm. I arrived at 3pm, just about the time to start the program.
At the entrance the youth had set up a table, where we could order food. The food was Persian-Armenian. They had a choice of chicken Kebab or beef koubideh (ground beef) with basmati rice and salad. There were also other condiments that you could purchase in pre-packaged containers. I ordered a plate and found an empty chair at a table. As I got situated moments later the mistress of ceremonies, Alenoosh Avanesian Artin took the stage.
The program was opened by Homenetmen London’s Scouts singing the Armenian Anthem. Everyone of them was neatly dressed in their scout uniform.
Then a group of youngsters from the weekly Armenian Saturday school, again neatly dressed in white shirts and dark blue bottoms, delivered poems and patriotic songs in Armenian. I should admit that aside from my best loved poem of Yeghishe Charents, which says (I love the sun sweet taste of Armenia) I did not know the other poems. All of them had lovely words creating patriotic emotions. I jotted down the words, so not to forget them.
One of the poems said, “when I say, Hayastan, my eyes become teary…” Another poem: “Hayastan is my name, Hayastan is my family name. Hayastan runs in my veins.”Then another one, “It gives me pain when I look at the Armenian map because I see how the Ossmanian dogs have devoured our map.” Of course all the poems and songs were in Armenian.
The echo of their voices gave me goosebumps. I saw and heard a crystallized strong patriotic feelings pouring out. After the poetry recital, the Akhtamar Dance Group performed a few Armenian folk dances in their beautiful costumes. And then Benjamin Bouchakjian a member of the ARF Bureau from Lebanon gave an inspiring talk about the importance of remembering the Independence Day of May 28 1918.
At the break between the first and the second part of the program I had a chance to chat with Alenoosh. She was five-year-old when she came to London. Her parents both Armenians from Iran, embraced the Armenian community of London and she was emerged in Armenian culture.
She attended the weekend Armenian school and learned to read and write in Armenian. She also joined the Homenetmen London Scouts and Sports groups and always with lots of enthusiasm participated in similar Armenian events that she was hosting it on that day.
Without even talking to her from her dialect I had already assumed that she was from Iran. I told her that I was amazed how well she spoke Armenian and that my impression was that she had recently come to London and that she had grew up in Iran and had attended Armenian schools there.
She told me ARF had approached her to organize the event and so with the help of her wonderful committee members (Maral Avekian, Erebouni Torosyan, Maren Farra, Leanne Chorekdjian and Alice Kolandjian – all members of the Homenetmen Ladies Basketball Team), some direction from ARF and the participation of Homenetmen London, Saturday School, Akhtamar Dance Group and other organisations such as the AYF (Armenian Youth Federation) they were able to organise and deliver this truly memorable event.
After the break the program was resumed with a quiz related to the First Armenian Republic and Armenian heritage and history. Every table got an answer sheet and the winners received a bottle of Karas wine from Armenia. With questions such as ‘Who were the two Armenian representatives at the Paris Peace Conference where the Treaty of Sèvres was signed?’ And ‘Who wrote “Sardarapat” which was later turned into a popular song?’ the competition was fierce but thoroughly enjoyable for all those who took part.
There were also stalls organized by youth groups. Among them face-painting, makeup for little girls as well as sale of dessert of cupcakes and cookies. My favorite was the delicious homemade Napoleon cake. I also got a tattoo of the Armenian tricolor flag on my face. I was a happy camper…
The people I met that day, young and old, either born and raised in England or outside; some like Alenoosh with her Iranian-Armenian roots and others children of genocide survivors, no matter of background, all congregated there for one reason: To preserve the culture and pass the torch to the next generation.
A big shout out to the Armenian community of London and especially to the ARF which has created a nurturing environment in “Odar Aperoom” (foreign shores) to keep our cultural identity alive and thriving. It is truly heart-warming to see at the threshold of a new era in our history, young people like Alenoosh and her committee members, making all kinds of sacrifices to serve their community and create a sense of longing and belonging.
As I headed back, in the train, I had time to reflect and question myself on how life has been so complicated for us Armenians in the last 40 years. Today the Middle East where most of us come from is falling apart. First it was Lebanon and Iran, then Iraq and now Syria. Today we have disastrous scores in the Middle East and especially in Syria. The situation has gone from bad to worst and it seems our hands are tied, and we cannot do much. And I’m ashamed for that. I thought to myself perhaps this community can serve as a beacon of hope for my people fleeing from fateful situations in Syria. And maybe it does.
Read more about London community in my next column.