BY CARNIE ARMENIAN, participant of AYF-YOARF Eastern USA’s Camp Javakhk
Our first jampar of 2016 is in full throttle in Akhalkalak, a historically Armenian town in Georgia since Armenians resettled here from Erzerum during the Armenian Genocide. Our first 3 years of camp we had a presence in Akhalkalak and Akhaltskha, adding Dzalka and Ninotsminda last year. As the committee and counselors had prepared for 120 campers, we are pleasantly overwhelmed and overflowing with over 160 campers-our highest number to date! With campers between the ages of 6 through 15, the program is continuously expanding with demand by the local youth and organizations, as we hold camp in 4 towns and villages throughout the Armenian territories of Georgia.
Following meetings with the local Armenian Relief Society and community leaders, our eight counselors who have come together from Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, and Canada prepared tirelessly for our first day of camp with the like cause: a successful camp in educating the youth of Javakhk on topics such as historically monumental Armenian women, Armenian inventors, Artsakh, our history that has shaped our people, current events, and most importantly the Armenian Cause.
Our first day of Camp Javakhk began with a welcoming ceremony at the newly-renovated Youth Center of the Armenian Relief Society. Our campers’ day began at 9:30 am with a prayer by Der Yeghisheh Haroutounian who ensured campers and parents that, “we are here in Javakhk, we will continue to be here, and we will continue to become stronger.” Harkeli Karine Tatevosyan from the local Armenian Relief Society, who has ensured the continuity and success of camp over the last 5 years, then welcomed the group and introduced our counselors; Carnie Armenian (Boston), Garin Bedian (Boston), Puzant Berberian (Los Angeles), Ari Boghossian (London), Vahe Boghossian (London), Arman Ghaloosian (Toronto), Ani Khachatourian (Boston), Dickran Khodanian (Los Angeles).
Our typical day at camp continues through 5 pm where we educate the Armenian youth of Javakhk on topics and activities including Armenian songs, Armenian dances, arts and crafts, athletics, and more. Morning lessons are divided among three age groups where lessons are taught each at their own pace; thus far, we’ve discussed the Agos newspaper, Hrant Dink, Lisbon 5, Nor Zartonk, as well as health, exercise, and general sanitation. Afternoon activities were then divided in mixed age groups of red, blue, and orange where the importance of leadership and team spirit amongst the camp is stressed. Currently the blue team is leading the camp competition in soccer, steal-the-bacon, and dodgeball; however song competition will determine a clear winner!
Our counselors have come together in Javakhk with the purpose of developing ties and forming stronger connections with the Armenian community outside of our nation’s rightful borders, sharing our love for Armenia and its people. As our objective is to host a successful camp for the youth of Javakhk, we simultaneously have formed friendships with the local counselors who not only participate in our daily camp schedule, but have chosen to give their time to us to share their rich community and surroundings of Javakhk. Yesterday, our new friends took us on a trip to the nearby town of Ablar, where we hiked among endless fields of green, visited a church in ruins and a small shrine, and ended the evening with a picnic adjacent to a small lake. It is not only the children we look forward to interacting with, but our peers whom we feel we’ve known for years. By the end of our 3 weeks in Javakhk, Georgia, we will have met well over 600 children, and in the years to come, we will continue to strengthen our relationship, share our knowledge, and move forward in creating a new Armenia.