Cruising Armenian Style

By Barbara Haroutunian

Armenian Heritage Cruise IX–sponsored by the Armenian Cultural Association of America Inc.–sailed from Ft. Lauderdale–Florida on January 15–2006 for a seven day Southeastern Caribbean cruise. Almost 1400 Armenia’s boarded the beautiful Costa Cruise Line’s premiere cruise ship–the Costa Mediterranea. Among the passengers were a great number of young adults and families with children. The destinations of the cruise included–St. Maarten (Dutch) and St. Martin (French)–Tortola–British Virgin Islands–and Nassau–Grande Bahamas.

The air was filled with anticipation and excitement because this was going to be a week all about meeting new people–attending cultural programs–listening and dancing to Armenian music–eating good food–and having fun in the sun. Armenia’s came from all over the world: Armenia–England–Lebanon–Egypt–Mexico–Belgium–Australia–Holland–Karabagh–and Canada. The United States was also well represented with people from almost every state in the country. Many people met relatives–friends–and classmates after years of separation.

As in previous years they were proud to see the Armenian flag flying majestically next to the Italian flag. Armenia–a small–land-locked country had its flag flying on a ship on the high seas. Each guest received a very useful red–blue–and orange tote bag along with a smaller matching bag–from the ACAA and Travel Group International. At each port we could easily identify the Armenia’s carrying the colorful bags.

Everyone was given a tricolor ACAA Heritage Cruise cabin key card; this card gave each guest entry into all the Armenian activities for the week. Every morning the announcemen’s of the daily activities were presented in Italian–English–French–German–and Armenian.

On board the ship were Right Very Reverend Vicken Aykazian–the Diocesan Legate of Washington DC–and Ambassador Vardan Barseghian of the Mountainous Karabagh Republic. Every day the Rt. Very Rev. Vicken Aykazian with the assistance of other Clergy on board conducted the Armenian Morning Service in the chapel which was always filled to capacity.

Every night at least three bands performed in various rooms on the ship. Arthur Apkarian and his band from Montreal–Canada–the Richard Berberian Ensemble featuring Mal Barsamian–and Steve Iskenderian with the Ararat Band featuring Armen Sevag on violin. On Sunday evening there was a reception welcoming all the guests. Introductions were made and information provided about the week’s events by hosts George and Shakeh Basmajian. This was followed by an Armenian Talent Show comprised of cruise participants willing to share their talents with all on board.

The next two days were spent at sea. Many sat by the pool all day enjoying the wonderful tropical weather. Others jogged–played bingo–listened to lectures–or watched Armenian movies such as [Ararat–Vodka Lemon–The Armenia’s of Lebanon,] and [Muron]. For those who did not venture out of their cabins–the cruise provided Armenian song and dance programs 24 hours a day on two of the ship television channels.

In the mornings–there were Armenian conversation classes conducted by Ara and Arevig Caprielian of New York. Margo Kaftajian of Dallas–Texas taught Armenian dance classes. Many different styles of Armenian dance were taught such as the Tamzara–Shoorch Bar–Haleh–and other Armenian line dances. Guests could also register for the Tavlou and Belote Tournamen’s under the direction of Antranik Boudakian and George Basmajian. The athletically inclined participated in the 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament under the direction of Haig Berberian.

There was a special table for the Armenian Heritage Tour 2006–where people could register for 14 day tours to Armenia with optional excursions to Western Armenia and Karabagh. Lena Guebenlian–Business Manager of the Hairenik Bookstore was busy every day selling traditional Armenian products including Armenian CD’s–movies–books–and artifacts on the ship. The ACAA provided a special Tea Reception for the Armenian Relief Society.

Every morning the ACAA hospitality desk was open for assistance. The Armenian Heritage Cruise IX had something for everyone. After dinner on Monday there was a Singles/Mingles Cocktail Party. This is where singles could meet and hopefully mingle. So far there have been five weddings as a result of the ACAA cruises. This year there an engagement ring was given at the beaches of Tortola.

After a wonderful day at the beach of St. Maarten–there was an ACAA Gala Cocktail Party sponsored by the Travel Group International and the ACAA Armenian Heritage Cruise Committee. Everyone enjoyed complimentary champagne and cocktails. At dinner that evening–guests enjoyed a unique Armenian menu that included hummus–tabouli–lamb chops–chicken kebob–boulghur pilaf–and pakhlava.

The next day–the ship docked at the British Virgin Island of Tortola. This is a mountainous island with lots of vegetation. One of the restauran’s by the beach put up a sign that read–"Welcome Armenian Heritage Cruise." Almost 1000 Armenia’s enjoyed the sand and surf while listening to Armenian music provided by one of the restauran’s at the beach.

On the third day at sea–Anne Samuelian–ACAA Cruise Ambassador created an "Armenian Festival Day" pool party. Prizes were awarded for the best Armenian tricolor outfit–red–blue–and orange. There was also an Armenian dance contest. This has become an annual event and people came prepared with originally designed outfits and special dance steps to compete in the contest.

The last stop was beautiful Nassau–Grande Bahamas. For those who needed to do some last minute shopping–there were some duty free stores. Others went to the Atlantis Hotel on Paradise Island–a truly magnificent hotel with fantastic gardens and aquariums.

Each day there were speakers and programs about relevant Armenian subjects. There were presentations on:

1. Armenian Name Etymology: The popular writer and editor–Garabed Kasbarian presented a lecture on Armenian surnames. Known in many circles as "Uncle Garabed" or CK Garabed–Kasbarian has been researching the origin of Armenian names over the years. He explored the interaction of Armenia’s with other languages in the formation of Armenian surnames.

2. Hamazkayin Cultural Association Tea Reception and Program: A reception was held for members and friends from all over the world.

3. Forum of Literacy and Media: Distinguished guests Boghos Kupelian–Armenian author of several famous novels; Aris Sevag–editor of the Armenian Reporter; Appo Jabarian–editor/publisher of the USA Armenian Life; Archbishop Vicken Aykazian and Diocesan Legate in Washington DC discussed the future or demise of the Armenian Press/Media.

4. Kohar Symphony Orchestra Presentation: The Kohar Symphony Orchestra and Choir recorded in Beirut–Lebanon in 2002. This DVD features a stunning visual and symphonic performance by the Kohar Symphony Orchestra and Choir–conducted by Sebouh Apkarian.

5. Nouritza Matossian: In a powerful solo performance–London-based Nouritza played Gorky’s four beloved women. The drama of his rise to fame as an artist and his suicide against a backdrop of music and images mesmerized the audience. Her performance based on her acclaimed biography–[Black Angel: The Life of Arshile Gorky]–was the inspiration for the movie [Ararat].

6. The Armenian Royal Costume Show: The San Francisco Armenian Relief Society and the KZV Armenian School presented an artistic show of authentic Armenian royal costumes. This vast choice and wealth of costume design influenced the image of the Armenian people throughout history.

7. Dottie Bengoian: Known as the Armenian Queen of Wit–this versatile Armenian and English speaker entertained the audience with her down to earth humor. She told a story of growing up as an Armenian in America.

8. ANCA: Doug Geogerian–Executive Director of the ANCA Eastern Region US office in New York City gave an informative presentation regarding the mission of the ANCA in the United States and its function.

9. Armenian Patriotic Songs in Concert: On several evenings–everyone listened to their favorite patriotic songs sung into the wee hours of the morning.

10. Sofia Melikyan: Hailing from Yerevan–Melikian gave two piano concerts on selected works by Armenian and Western European classical composers.

11. Camp Haiastan Program: Camp Director Roy Callan gave a special presentation on the AYF Camp Haiastan which has been an "Armenianizing" experience for our youth for over 60 years.

12. Town Hall Meeting with Ambassador Vardan Barseghian: Ambassador Vardan Barseghian of the Mountainous Karabagh Republic (MKR)–now representing MKR in Washington DC–held a town hall meeting.

The Armenian Heritage Cruise fulfilled and surpassed its mission "to foster better relationships for the Armenian people." All committee members working on the cruise were volunteers and worked to enhance the Armenian people worldwide. Proceeds from the cruise are donated to the Armenian Cultural Association of America–Inc–a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that primarily assists in Armenian research–cultural events–and provides assistance to Armenian language newspapers. There is no other event in the world that brings Armenia’s together for seven full days of fellowship and camaraderie. Cruising in Italian is "Magnifico," but cruising with Armenian Heritage Cruise is "Uskancheli."

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