". . . I know that when I reflect back on this experience I will feel ecstatic about the work we accomplished–the things we saw–and the bonds we forged."
–Hovig Saghdejian–Ayroum 2003
By Shant Minas
Hovig Saghdejian volunteered on the Land & Culture Organization’s July 2003 Campaign in the village of Medz Ayroum–a small village near Armenia’s northern border. As 13 volunteers living in one small house for the course of the campaign–we came to know Hovig very well in a very short time. Hovig’s sense of hunor–piercing intelligence–sharp wit–positive attitude–warm heart–boundless energy–amazing work ethic–and party-hearty personality were both unique and unmatched.
No description of Hovig can begin without due respect for his unmistakable sense of humor. Throughout the four weeks in Armenia–Hovig made people laugh in a village where laughing did not come easily. There were diaspora Armenia’s from all over the world–as well as many locals–all of whom had very different ideas of what funny was; yet–Hovig made us all laugh all the time–the kind of laugh where you find yourself holding your stomach from the pain of laughing too hard–and laughing just as hard two days later as you recall the same joke or witty observation.
Hovig could communicate equally well with locals as with the volunteers–perhaps better than anyone else in the campaign. His Western dialect was a non-issue; Hovig adjusted his accent so that locals and others could clearly understand him. Understanding even the heavily accented dialects of some villagers was a welcome challenge for Hovig. Moreover–typically volunteers whose roots are in Western Armenia tend to have a more difficult time developing an immediate affinity for the land–the locals–and the culture in a far-off village. Not so for Hovig–who felt right at home from the start. He loved the villagers–respected them–honored them in toasts and speeches–and humored them in his prototypical way. They gladly returned the favor to Hovig. He was arguably the most popular–well-liked personality among our villager friends.
Hovig was a most positive-looking individual. In the toughest of times–Hovig always maintained a positive–cheery outlook–his light–humorous disposition–and optimism was contagious. We all picked up from Hovig’s good spirits. He was a close companion to us all; his warm heart was also contagious. He spread his friendliness and love around the village and made the campaign a happier place.
His work ethic was second to none. Even on the hottest–most tiring of days–Hovig would be found taking up the most difficult–taxing of jobs at the worksite. If there was a physical challenge–Hovig would be first in line ready to take it on. He was not one to shy away from a difficult task but rather would volunteer for them. Part of his willingness to accept the tough challenges in that campaign came from his excellent work ethic. He was there to serve his people and gladly accepted the task.
It is never a complete description of Hovig if no mention is given to his love of parties and the good life. For almost one month in Armenia–Hovig and the heart of any party were inseparable. Hovig always attracted a crowd to a party with his generous smiles–poetic toasts–patriotic chants–knee-slapping humor–and brilliant personality. He never refused a good drink or sat out a meaningful toast. For Hovig–life was a celebration.
Hovig displayed some very remarkable characteristics; he was equally at ease singing a patriotic Armenian fireside chant as he was reciting an original urban rap score. He balanced the well-integrated–liberated American thinker and the tradition-bound Armenian better than anyone else.
In conversations with Hovig–one would readily note his anxious willingness to serve Armenia in more significant capacities in the long run. Hovig was destined to serve the Armenian people proudly–both his community in Fresno and in Armenia–as Hovig was a born leader. His departure is a tragic loss borne by the entire Armenian race.
Words cannot describe the spirit of Hovig Saghdejian. He was among the greatest–grandest of men–Armenian or not. We will live with our fond memories of our departed friend deeply embedded in us–for Hovig was an unforgettable figure who made a deep and positive impact on his friends and family. We are all better people for having known Hovig Saghdejian. The world became a duller place with his unfortunate passing.
Hovo–thanks for the memories G.