BY CATHERINE YESYAN
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being at the opening ceremony of a day-camp at Proshyan village about 12 km outside of Yerevan. We arrived at around 11:30 a.m. at the village. Our driver took us directly to the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) center where boys and girls were playing in front of the two story building.
This was the second year that AYF Youth Corps had put together a week-long day-camp for kids ages 6 to 15 at the village. The camp was in the memory of Karot Mkrtchian, a Proshyan son, who had sacrificed his life in the war 20 years ago.
Kevork Parseghian, the director of the center, welcomed us and told us we were right on time. They were just about to start the opening ceremony by taking the kids to the main square of the village where Karot’s bust was erected.
The leaders and counselors of the camp gathered the kids in rows according to their heights and together we all proceeded on foot towards the square which was right at the corner.
Just before entering the square, I had a chance to chat with Nareh Kupelian, one of the camp counselors. She explained that all 14 counselors, between the ages of 20 to 27, were college graduates from the United States and had come to Armenia as volunteers for AYF youth corps program to help coordinate day camps in villages throughout Armenia and Artsakh.
The group had arrived a month earlier from the US and had already organized two-week long day camps in four different villages. This was the last camp that they were going to coordinate. Before assembling all in Proshyan they worked in groups of seven.
As we entered the square I was pleasantly surprised to see how tastefully it was landscaped, with a lawn in the center and white rose bushes surrounding it. Karot’s bust was visibly placed in the middle
With the kids lining up in front of Karot’s bust, the counselors began to recite patriotic passages to heighten the energy level and encourage the kids to respond. Watching the scene, with the colorful flags waving in the background and kids chanting, stirred up my patriotic emotions.
The kids each received a long-stemmed white carnation, to place at the foot of Karot’s monument. But before flower dedication, they sang the Armenian National anthem, which integrates the theme of sacrificing one’s life to free the homeland.
We all grew up with the reverberation of the words of our national anthem, but the meaning of the words had never been so striking to me than at that moment when I stood there in Proshyan square at the foot of Karot’s bust, and listened to the kids sing in Armenian: “Everywhere death is the same. Everyone dies only ones. But lucky is the one who is sacrificed for his nation.”
Karot is one of an estimated 4000 soldiers missing in action. The last time Karot was seen was June 13, 1992, when he was fighting in mountains of Artsakh at the age of 28. Karot was the commander of his troop and his friends and subordinates remember that he refused to retreat in that intense fight in the mountains… Nobody has heard from him since then.
Every year on June 13, Proshyan village comes together to remember him and to make sure he is not forgotten, hoping that one day he will return. He, alongside other Karots, sacrificed his life to fulfill our dream of a unified Armenia and Artsakh.
I should admit that I was very impressed by the whole affair. I had not expected to see such an orderly procession and such neat buildings and landscaping in a village. Later, I learned that Armenians from the Diaspora have been responsible for rejuvenating the village.
The building that houses AYF has been there since the Soviet time. The two-story center was renovated recently and has a gym/recreation room with showers. The center provides weight lifting, boxing and marshal arts training as well as a folk dance classes.
It was gratifying to see how the Proshyan AYF center, under the tutelage of Parseghian, is working hard to build future leaders with strong patriotic dispositions. Parseghian has moved from Pasadena, California to live in Armenia to fulfill his father’s dream who was an Armenian Genocide survivor.
I’m so glad I had the pleasure of being there and meeting the leaders, who work day and night for the Armenian cause. This was another layer of our homeland that I was not aware.