Nearly three decades after the devastating earthquake that rocked Armenia, the images of destruction and perseverance of the Armenian people are still seared in our collective memories.
Just like in 1988, when all segments of the Armenian American community came together to provide assistance to our earthquake-ravaged homeland, today the “We are Gyumri” initiative is working hard to ensure that the youth in Armenia’s second largest city are provided opportunities for education and advancement.
“We are Gyumri” was the brainchild of the Armenian Youth Federation’s Orange County Ashod Yergat chapter, which got a much-needed boost and assistance when the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Western US Central Committee guided the effort, which has become a centerpiece of its efforts to revitalize Armenia’s Shirak region through the Armenian Cultural Foundation’s Shirak Youth Committee.
In 2016, the “We Are Gyumri” Committee introduced two significant aspects of its campaign, which was created to have a lasting and positive impact on the youth in Gyumri, Armenia still struggling after the devastating 1988 earthquake.
A fundraising effort was launched to renovate the Gyumri Youth Center, which also serves as the site for the AYF Youth Corps program. Each summer, a day camp is held at the center, where youth can learn basic English, history, songs, perform arts and crafts, focus on computer/IT development, as well as acquire new skills. Upon completion of the AYF Youth Corps program, the renovated youth center provides a year-round program at the facility, while serving as a beacon of inspiration where children can further their social and academic aspirations. Full-time and part-time employees have been hired to help run the year-round youth facility and its programs.
The second component of the campaign is the “We Are Gyumri” Scholarship Fund. This scholarship is intended for residents of the Shirak Region, who have chosen to pursue their undergraduate education in Gyumri. The scholarship offers these young adults the opportunity to pursue their higher education in their native region. Each year, the scholarship fund intends to grant up to $3,000 to students to help complete their education at Gyumri universities.
Ahead of an event the committee will hold on December 6, in time to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the earthquake, the “We are Gyumri” committee chairman, Arto Keuleyan briefed Asbarez on the progress of the committee’s activities and provide some insight about future projects, by responding to questions submitted by email.
ASBAREZ: What are some of the basic functions of the Shirvanian Youth Center in Gyumri?
ARTO KEULEYAN: The Armenian Cultural Foundation’s Shirak Youth Center Committee has focused its efforts on the “We Are Gyumri Campaign,” which launched in 2013 as an initiative by the AYF Orange County “Ashod Yergat” and AYF Juniors Aghpiur Serop Chapters . The campaign was created as a means to have a lasting and positive impact on the youth in Gyumri, Armenia. The Committee was successfully able to renovate and open the Shirvanian Youth Center in Gyumri in July 2016 through the patronage of its supporters. While the Center serves as the site for the AYF Youth Corps program during the summer months, its opening has resulted in a year-round functional program whereby youth can engage in English language, computer, and dance classes, learn history, perform arts and crafts, partake in intellectual games, hold meetings, as well as acquire new skills. In creating a safe and creative environment, youth in Gyumri are able to further their social and academic aspirations through activities offered at the Center.
Asbarez: Why was Gyumri chosen as a focal point of the project?
A.K.: Our Committee operates in the Shirak Region. We selected Gyumri for our first project, the largest city in the region and the second largest city in Armenia. Located in the central Shirak Highland, Gyumri has a population estimated at 150,000 people with a territory of 21 square miles. With remains of fifth to seventh century churches in the city, Gyumri is known to be one of the oldest cities in Armenia. Its rich culture includes some of the most notable craftsmen, artists, scientists and athletes the world has ever seen. Unfortunately, the 1988 Spitak Earthquake left the city in ruin, destroying everything from homes, schools, churches and hospitals. The 6.9 magnitude earthquake destroyed the infrastructure of the city, took lives of over 25,000 people, injured over 19,000, and left over 500,000 homeless. In a very small way we have tried to contribute to the revitalization of the City.
Asbarez: How did the committee choose the site for the Shirvanian Center
A.K.: After a thorough search we found a historic structure that had been destroyed in the 1988 Spitak earthquake. The building that houses the newly reconstructed Shirvanian Youth Center has a storied past. It was built in the 18th century and served as the residence of a well-known merchant. During the Soviet era, the building was used by local law enforcement and later became a depository for the city archives. Today, it is a bustling center that will serve the youth and community of Gyumri.
Asbarez: Please discuss the construction phase of the center. How was the Western Unites States community engaged in the process?
A.K.: In 2014, we launched a campaign focusing on raising Funds to renovate the youth center. We were fortunate to gain the support of our community and raised over $125,000 to complete the construction of the center, Due largely in part to a $50,000 donation from long-time community activists and benefactors, Hacob and Mina Shirvanian for which we are extremely grateful. After a bid process for contractor selection Metsn Erik LLC a Company based in Gyumri was obtained to perform the construction, who completed the project on time and on budget. We would like to express our gratitude to the expertise of Neshan Peroomian, the architectural input by Albert Ajemian and the planning and execution of the entire project by Vaheh Khachatourian. They contributed to the flawless construction operation with dedication, hard work and an unremitting devotion to the success of the project.
As the renovation portion of the youth center was coming to an end, we needed to make sure we properly furnished it and provide the youth with the best computers, televisions, books, school supplies and more. We again reached out to our supporters for their help in hopes of putting our strengths together to finish this project just as strong as we had started. Through the support of our community the Committee was able to raise an additional $35,000 to furnish the center, here again we were blessed with the very generous donation of $20,000 by Mr & Mrs Vahak and Alice Petrossian.
Asbarez: How are the daily activities of the center managed?
A.K.: Our committee tried to fulfill its mission of empowering a new generation of leaders through providing a year-round functional program focused on youth achievements through applied techniques and education, such as Information Technology, language development, cultural enrichment, history, sports, and the building blocks for acquiring new skillsets in a safe and creative environment. Our first program Director Patil Aslanian spent over a year developing new programs and creating a system at the center, we are grateful for her dedication. Gohar Karapetyan a resident of Gyumri is our new Director, in a short time she has been able to start new programs and create activism at the Center.
Asbarez: What is the scholarship program?
A.K.: The second component of the campaign is the launch of the Armenian Cultural Foundation’s “We Are Gyumri” Scholarship Fund,. This scholarship is intended for residents of the Shirak Marz, who have chosen to pursue their undergraduate education in Gyumri. The scholarship offers these young adults the opportunity to pursue their higher education in their native region. Each year, the scholarship fund intends to grant up to $3,000 to students to help complete their education at Gyumri universities. We are pleased to inform that scholarships have been awarded to a total of 12 deserving students, who are residents of the Shirak province. In July 2017, five new qualified candidates were selected, totaling nine recipients for the 2017-2018 academic year, next year we will have a total of 12 Scholarships. Scholarship recipients have focused their academic careers in a variety of fields, including Language Arts, History, Psychology, Applied Arts, and Economics to name a few. We are encouraged by the volunteer work of our Scholarship recipients at the Center.
The annual tuition is $750 per student. If your readers would like to sponsor a student or donate they can do so by sending a check to ACF Shirak Youth Center, 104 N Belmont Avenue, Suite 300, Glendale, CA 91206.
Asbarez: What are the committee’s future plans?
A.K.: The Committee is planning the next Youth Center project in the City of Artik. Artik is situated at the northwestern foot of Mount Aragats within the Shirak Plain with an estimated population of 19,000. We thank the ACF San Francisco Chapter’s unwavering support, dedicating this year’s Fundraiser to the construction of a New Youth Center in Artik. We should be able to open the Center in the summer of 2018.
The ultimate goal of our campaign is to create a lasting positive impact on the youth of the region that is still struggling after the devastation of the 1988 earthquake. Rebuilding their youth center will not only provide the facilities for the program to run year round, but serve as a beacon to inspire the children to further their social and academic aspirations. The We are Gyumri Campaign is now entering its Fourth year. With great vigor, we are working to make sure that every child in Gyumri is given the opportunity to be the best they can be and to achieve their dreams. We are embarking on new projects and offerings more scholarships designed to encourage the youth in Gyumri to further their education without having to leave their region.
Asbarez: Tell us about your upcoming event to benefit the project?
A.K.: Our next Fundraiser is on Wednesday December 6th at 7:30 at the Phoenicia Restaurant, as always we need the involvement and assistance of our Community, we encourage everyone to please come out and support us.
Hours after this article was posted, Mrs. Mina Shirvanian passed away. Mina and Hacob Shirvanian were the benefactors of the Shirvanian Youth Center in Gyumri. The “We are Gyumri” committee expresses its condolences to the Shirvanian family and informed Asbarez that the aforementioned event on December 6 will be postponed.