BY EDDIE HOVANNISIAN
From The Armenian Weekly
After I graduated from high school, my mother continually pushed me to apply to be a counselor at Camp Haiastan, but I always found a reason to disregard her persistence. I finally gave in (as it turns out, one of the greatest decision of my life) in the summer of 2014.
Well, three summers later, and I found myself coming back to this wonderful place. It’s difficult to watch the passion of Armenian Americans for their Armenian culture wane, but it is comforting to know that we have places like Camp Haiastan that consistently bring together Armenians from all over, even those who do not have strong connections to their Armenian heritage. Camp teaches them that the impact they can have in their communities is what matters, and that they can work to further the Armenian Cause.
Coming to Camp Haiastan allowed me to help lead Armenian youth and give them the opportunity to find their passion and love for Armenian culture and their heritage, and I am confident that many of the campers and young staff members will do the same as they grow older. As General Karekin Nejdeh said, “If you want to see the future of a nation, look to its youth.” Camp Haiastan nurtures the Armenian youth and helps them develop into not only amazing Armenians but also amazing individuals.
To be frank, I was skeptical of the “Armenianness” of Camp Haiastan and the influence it has on the campers and staff, but boy was I mistaken. This camp is at least as Armenian-oriented as any Armenian camp and makes sure that Armenian song, dance, food, and history are presented to the campers and staff in a way that will motivate them to learn more about their Armenian identity.
Camp gives our youth a chance not only to find their Armenian identity but also to learn to cherish and care for it. Moreover, it brings together groups of Armenian youth who will assuredly become lifelong friends. I am confident that in my brief four summers at Camp, the friends I have made here will always remain close friends. These new relationships that Camp creates is what I find so compelling.
The opportunities Camp Haiastan gives to the campers and staff are myriad, and I would urge that every young Armenian take advantage of these life-changing opportunities.
As a fourth-year staff member, I wanted to pass on many of the lessons I was taught to the campers, but first I had to understand the answers of two questions. Who am I? Where am I from? My father is a Fresno boy, and my mother was born and raised in Detroit. As I try to make these two distinctive personality types coalesce, I find myself turning in circles. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and immediately embedded in the Armenian community. My Armenian culture was easy to attain and maintain, given the circumstances, and I did not have trouble learning the Armenian language, dance, literature, music, etc. But it was the deeper, more innate characteristics of my Armenian identity that I had trouble finding. Who am I? Where am I from? My father made sure that those questions would never wane from my consciousness. At first, the answer to each question was simple to me: I am Eddie Hovannisian from Los Angeles. However, the answers to those questions are of course more complicated than that.
History can never be forgotten, otherwise it would not be history; and without history, who are we as Armenians? And so, I am Eddie Hovannisian from Bazmashen, Kharpert, Kghi, Ordu, from the Plain of Garin, the great-grandchild of Kaspar and Siroun, Hovagim and Khngouhi, Satenig and Kevork, and Dikran and Verkin. That is who I am. So I try to teach the campers the important lessons my parents have taught me: to never forget who you are and where you and your family came from.
Although many of the campers, and counselors, may not necessarily know the names of the villages of their forefathers or even the names of their great-grandparents, Camp does indeed ignite a lingering passion in the campers. They will learn who they are and where they came from, that I guarantee. Song night is when we especially see the campers embrace who they are. Singing heghapokhagan songs individually, in groups, and as a whole, campers sing with emotion and passion to continue Armenian traditions. Camp Haiastan is a cultural hub that teaches the Armenian youth who they are and where they come from; and, more important, it teaches them to never forget their Armenian identity and purpose. Just as it has helped me push myself to become the best Armenian and the best person I can be.
This is my last summer as a staff member of Camp Haiastan, and I hope to pass on everything I have learned to the youth and contribute to preserving and enriching the Armenian culture and cause.
Who am I? I am Eddie Hovannisian, head counselor of the Camp Haiastan staff of 2017.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The title of this article is from a poem by Armenian writer and statesman Avedis Aharonian.