BY ALEC BAGHDASARYAN
Last month, I was fortunate to attend the South American Homenetmen Navasartian Games in Argentina. I was part of a group representing the Homenetmen Sipan – Burbank Chapter at the games. I am sure every person, who knows anything about soccer, would be wondering about the sanity of taking a Homenetmen Soccer team from the USA to Argentina to play in a tournament with players from Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Chile. These countries are soccer powerhouses. For many kids growing up in these countries, soccer is second to none. Realizing that winning on the court, however, is not the lone objective of these games, and that all athletes attending the Navasartian Games are winners, on October 8, 2014, thanks to the generosity of Timmy Mardirossian, the Homenetmen Sipan – Burbank Chapter’s soccer team became the first Homenetmen team from Northern America to participate in the South American Homenetmen Navasartian Games.
Our team made up of the following players; Christian Der Gregorian, Ara Margoosian, Vardan Adzemian, Gurgen Adzemian, Argin Haghoubian, Varaga Zeinali, Eric Hartoonian, Tomik Baghoomian, Ishkhan Setagayan. Our team was coached by Albert Eskandari, assistant coach was Shahen Hartoonian, Robik Khodadadian was assisting the coaching staff with their needs and Timmy Mardirosian as the team sponsor.
At the airport we were greeted by true Homenetmen-akans. It is amazing how an organization can instill in its members from throughout the world such an intimate feeling towards a fellow Homenetmen-akan and towards Homenetmen. It was as if Eduardo, the head of the Regional Homenetmen Committee, was one of the members of the Massis Chapter in the San Fernando Valley, or the Ararat Chapter in Glendale.
The experience of our players dealing with other athletes was no different than the one experienced at the airport. As it happens with all Homenetmen games, athletes start talking, laughing, and forming friendships that will certainly last for many decades. On their part, our team players made us proud since, as true Homenetmen-akans, their demeanor was exemplary on and off of the court. Our athletes grew fond of their South American counterparts asking to take pictures with them, cheering them during the games, and exchanging gifts as a reminder of their friendship. Their popularity was boosted by the fact that, from the very first game, they proved themselves to be worthy opponents to the teams with which they competed. In fact, they became the team to beat for the championship. I may be biased, but I believe they were the best soccer team at the South American Navasartian Games, and, as such, they were able to beat every team they played, and proudly brought the Championship Cup back to the Homenetemen – Sipan Chapter. In addition, Vardan Adzemian, one of our players, was named the most valuable player of the tournament.
The hotel where our chapter members stayed was about 30 minutes from the Homenetmen Agoump. Our team was transported to the center every morning by bus, where we spent our time in between games, enjoying the Homenetmen Center’s facilities. The Homenetmen Center in Argentina is the largest that I have seen since the Ararat Center in Tehran. It includes two full-size swimming pools, indoor and outdoor soccer fields, tennis courts, many other playing fields, indoor and outdoor restaurants, and a number of meeting and conference rooms. I was told that Armenians of all ages come to the center to play backgammon, chess and rummy with friends, or simply sit at the cafeteria or an outside seating area to chat and enjoy one another’s company. Of course, as fellow Homenetmen-akans, and, especially, as first time visitors to the South American Homenetmen games from the USA, we were always treated kindly by all Armenians from different participating countries. Everyone was pleasant and courteous, and spent time chatting with us about our community in Los Angeles, and shared information with us about their own communities.
The most memorable events were the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, when each country’s participants entered the gym carrying their respective flags, while singing and marching to patriotic songs. These are the times that you appreciate the true power of the Armenian Diaspora. You appreciate the hard work of the Armenian leaders that have kept these communities alive since the 1920s and 1930s in geographically distant South American countries. These are the leaders, who work hard to organize the Navasartian Games, and bring Armenians together to share in their common heritage, and learn about our rich culture and treasured values. It is at such well-organized and joyous celebrations that one cannot help but remember the part of the William Saroyan’s famous saying “… then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”
Bravo to Argentina’s Armenian community, which has thrived for so many decades as successful citizens of their country, while remaining true to their Armenian heritage, and keeping an undying love towards Armenia in their hearts. Of course, the Argentinian-Armenian community is no different than any other Armenian community when facing challenges such as assimilation and acculturation. No challenge is more apparent than the youth’s inability to speak in the Armenian language. I wish the leadership of the Argentinian-Armenian community all the best in addressing their challenges. I am confident in their abilities, knowing that they are hard at work looking for ways to address all challenges, in order to keep their community alive, while ensuring that the youth remain engaged with the local Armenian community and our homeland.
This article will not be complete without mentioning that the trip was made possible thanks to the kind sponsorship of Timmy Mardirossian. In fact, the Homenetmen Burbank-Sipan Chapter is named after this benefactor’s family. Timmy has sponsored other trips for chapter members in the past. He is a true community leader and a successful business person, who, along with his wife Seda, always finds the time to help Armenians of all ages, but especially Armenian youth. Timmy’s interest during these games was not the score of the game, but rather the importance of the youth bonding with one another, in addition to having a chance to learn about each player’s plans for their future education and careers.