We'd like to present you with an editorial, interview and article from the latest issue of Haytoug Magazine, Winter 2011
HAYTOUG is the official publication of the Armenian Youth Federation Western United States (And They Call Themselves As "Your Guerrilla Source For Youth News & Views From The Armenian Community")
- Obligations Rooted in Reality, Editor, HAYTOUG,
- A Crime Unpunished, A Case Unresolved, An Interview with Tatul Sonentz-Papazian &
Counter Comment By Sukru Server Aya
- Have You Climbed Ararat, Lately? by Edna Baghoumian
Obligations Rooted in Reality,
Editorial, HAYTOUG, © 1979-2011 ·
No matter where we may be in the world, caring about the future and well-being of Armenia is an ancestral obligation that we cannot escape. If we are serious about this obligation, we need to be rooted in reality and view the challenges facing our people with candor.
Unfortunately, a sober look at our current conditions is not always the order of the day, even among thoughtful and committed Armenians. Too often, we have a tendency to view our homeland through a sentimental lens; one that is hesitant to confront its uglier hardships.
Thinking honestly about Armenia today means acknowledging the disparities between Yerevan and the rest of the country, as well within the capital itself. It means identifying the disturbing inequity of genders within the country. It means recognizing the widespread poverty, corruption, social injustice, unemployment, and economic exploitation taking place at the hands of a super-rich elite. This is not the nation of our people’s hopes and aspirations.
We need to come to grips with the harsh reality that many Armenians continue to flee their homeland simply because they see little prospect for a better future. They are not leaving their loved ones and native soil behind because they are unpatriotic or lack so-called “Armenianess.”
Rather, they are leaving for the same practical reasons the bantukhts of yesteryear fled the yergir: financial hardship, corruption, lack of security, and a desire for a more meaningful future.
In Armenia’s second largest city, Gyumri—where the AYF has been operating a day-camp for underprivileged kids the last 3 summers—these socioeconomic problems are blatantly evident. Rocked by genocide, epidemic, occupation, repression, earthquake, and economic collapse, the city is struggling to survive and return to its past glory. It is hampered in the process by the absence of basic services, poor infrastructure, widespread corruption, low investment, and a ruling elite that lacks the desire to tackle society’s most pressing problems.
The only way forward is through the empowerment of the masses. Reducing inequality and improving economic conditions requires increasing democracy and public participation. Only by supporting and encouraging genuine democratic impulses for change, as well as assisting in grassroots efforts to heighten consciousness, can we overcome the marginalization of the population which has solidified the dire situation we see today. Mere speeches or appeals to national pride are not enough; serious work needs to be done to improve living conditions, not only in the regions of Armenia, but also Javakhk, Artsakh, and all areas of our homeland.
If this occurs, there is no doubt that the modern-day bantukhts—who, as in the past, similarly dream today of when they can return to their homeland—will flock back to the yergir.
A Crime Unpunished, A Case Unresolved, An Interview with Tatul Sonentz-Papazian
For its Winter 2011 issue, the Haytoug had the opportunity to catch up with Tatul Sonentz-Papazian, a champion of Armenian advocacy in the US who has played a pivotal role in the advancement of the Armenian Cause since as far back as the early 1960s.
After graduating from the Mekhitarist School in Cairo, Egypt, he went on to study graphic design and worked as an illustrator for various newspapers and magazines in Cairo. In 1951, he joined the Foreign Service and worked for the US Information Agency, as an art and publications director. Six years later, he moved to the US, where he was eventually asked to serve as the director of the ARF and 1st Republic of Armenia Archives and editor of the Armenian Review.
He currently directs the Publications Department of the Armenian Relief Society and is working on a book covering the 100 momentous years of the ARS for its Centenary this year.
HAYTOUG: As a veteran Hai Tahd activist, can you take us back to 1965 for a moment and describe the impetus behind the movement that developed during that period? Why was the 50th anniversary of the Genocide such a turning point and what made Armenians suddenly stand up to demand their rights?
TATUL SONENTZ-PAPAZIAN: I was involved in ACIA (American Committee for the Independence of Armenia) activities after its revival by the ARF Bureau in the early sixties. In Vahan Cardashian’s time, this select group of American personalities was trying to secure an American Mandate for Armenia, and it failed because there was no oil in Armenia. Cardashian—the founder of ACIA—was a lawyer married to a wealthy American socialite of New York. Until 1915, he was an attaché on the legal staff of the Imperial Ottoman embassy in Washington DC. When news of the genocide reached the US, he resigned from his post. Being financially secure and well connected, he decided to form a high level lobbying group to promote the Armenian Case. He was the only Armenian on the Committee and served as Executive Director.
As to your question:” what made Armenians suddenly stand up to demand their rights?”Armenians did not suddenly stand up in quest of their rights—there was a period of gradual recovery after the successive traumas of the 1915 Armenocide, the 1920 Kemalist-Bolshevik attack and destruction of the 1st Republic, and the 1930s Stalinist purges amounting to an attempt at “Houshaspanutiun” (the eradication of collective memory, “memoricide”, to coin a word) which almost succeeded in Soviet Armenia—through the re-writing of history, restructuring of the language with the infusion of foreign (Russian) words and changes in orthography, etc.—to wipe out our ancient and more recent memories, replacing them with a contrived history and bogus internationalist values of the “Homo Sovieticus” of a utopian future.
One must also remember Taleat Pasha’s boast in 1915, that he would deliver such a blow to the Armenians, that they would not be able to raise their heads for at least half a century… He was not too far off, was he? Fifty years later, in 1965, after years of low profile yet continuous Hai Tahd work spearheaded by the Delegation of the first Armenian Republic in Europe, and the ACIA in America, a consensus was achieved among leadership circles in both the Diaspora and Soviet Armenia to come out united in quest of our national rights. The momentum generated by the 50th Commemoration carried us all the way to the 60th Anniversary commemoration—achieved, once more, in unity of effort and purpose—as the armed struggle, although somewhat divisive, marked the start of political activism on a global scale—eventually leading to another united effort to liberate Artsakh, alongside a newly independent, though somewhat battered, Homeland.
H. What do you make of the current state of Hai Tahd activity here in the United States? What direction do you feel we need to go towards as a community in pursuing our Cause in the 21st Century?
TSP: Before getting to that, perhaps we should take a look at the events and the policies dictated by Western imperial interests—particularly those of the United States—in the Near and Middle East which, by the way, haven’t changed much to this day. Accordingly, our argument, presented in 1965 and after, was that by not implementing the resolutions of the Sevres Treaty, the just and logical solutions of festering problems were postponed in order to arrive at short-term, colonial arrangements that, in the long run, would pave the road to far more serious crises in Eastern Anatolia, the Caucasus, Mesopotamia and the Middle and Near East. Serious predicaments, as the present crises in the area demonstrate in such a violent fashion. Now, the Kurdish issue is coming to full view, while the Armenian Cause, now dormant in the “six vilayets”, still awaits final resolution in Karabagh. The main reason is that Turkey, the present Turkish state, was allowed to grab and keep former Ottoman holdings, such as Western Armenia, Kurdistan, Hellenic Pontus and Armenian Cilicia by brutal ethnic cleansing methods of massacre, deportation and forced assimilation. Those lands were no more Turkish than Greece, Bulgaria, Syria or Egypt, all former possessions of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, the present Turkish Republic’s bloated boundaries cannot be regarded as historically justified, legitimate—or permanent, for that matter. Let us not forget, that at the time, the US Congress refused to recognize the Lausanne Treaty because Turkey had ignored President Wilson’s adjudication on the Turkish-Armenian boundaries.
As we know, Hai Tahd activity here in the United States was focused mainly on the genocide recognition issue which has not met with success so far. In my opinion, it should have been focused on putting a stop to the on-going genocidal processes that Turkey implements in Western Armenia to this day, instead of commemorating an on-going genocide, sending the erroneous message to the world, that the Armenian Genocide was a tragedy of the past century, and not a crime against universal human rights being committed unchallenged at this time through forced assimilation and conversion to Islam.
This new approach in the prosecution of Hai Tahd can be based on arguments presented below:
It is a universally accepted dictum, that denial is the last stage of genocide; as such, it is the continuation of the genocidal process. Indeed, the Genocide started by the Ottomans in the 19th century and brought to its “Final Solution” stage by the chauvinistic adventurers of the Ittihadist government in 1915, has never truly ceased and—through a process of denials (denial of historical facts, denial of the right to use and teach the mother tongue, denial of the right to practice one’s professed religion, denial of ownership of inherited religious and cultural edifices and monuments) —continues to be implemented to this day against Armenian, Kurdish, Assyrian and other minorities, in the very heart of these peoples’ Turkish-controlled homelands. The denial policy, as you can see, has many facets that need selective attention.
Armenians, by commemorating the 1915 – 1921 Genocide, by setting an on-going annual ritual in remembrance of a 6-year Yeghern, create the impression—both for their own people and the world community—that the Genocide has ceased , and all that remains to be done is to prove to the whole world, that a six year long genocide was indeed committed, ignoring the fact, that cloaked behind a consistent curtain of denial, the genocide—through forced assimilation—was still going on against the forcibly converted surviving Armenians and their descendents still on their native soil, coerced to hide their true identity behind Islamic Kurdish or Turkish names.
Decades ago—particularly during the Nagorno Karabagh conflict, in order to keep Turkey on the defensive, and out of that conflict—the Armenians should have brought up the issue of the human and civil rights of their persecuted fellow countrymen in Eastern Anatolia, throwing a searchlight on Turkey’s total disregard for the numerous articles of the Lausanne Treaty—as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights —to which the Turkish State was and is signatory.
H. Some argue that, now that we have an independent Armenia, we should focus less on the Genocide and more on strengthening Armenia’s economy and statehood. What are your thoughts on this argument?
TSP: Those who bring forth this argument base it on a strictly state-, as opposed to nation-oriented strategic approach. The Armenian nation, at this date some nine million strong, 1/3 of them living within the landlocked and belligerently blockaded boundaries of the 3rd Republic, the remaining majority of 6 million scattered throughout a constantly shifting and unsettled Diaspora, simply cannot accept its present status imposed on it by the Genocide and its aftermath. A status based on multiple crimes of stunning proportions perpetrated against our nation by powers both within and outside the law—by untenable treaties signed under duress with and between rogue powers, often unrecognized, or outlawed at the time, by that same international community that today swears by the ‘sanctity’ of borders shaped by that very lawlessness…
Under such circumstances, the fate of an entire nation takes precedence, in our case, not at all at the expense of the security and welfare of the state, but precisely having that security and welfare in mind. The present landlocked Armenian Republic with its steadily diminishing population in its truncated boundaries, surrounded by predatory neighbors, can hardly be considered a viable haven for the future of the Armenian nation, whose just Cause is very much alive at this juncture of history, when global changes are taking place and the destinies of many nations are to be decided. In such circumstances, it would be nothing short of tragic to give up the fight for our legitimate national rights that have to be secured in order to guarantee the freedom, security and normal progress of Armenia, as a nation state.
H. Over recent months, there seems to be a growing rift between the governments of Turkey and Israel, as well as a strain in relations between Ankara and Washington. What do you make of these developments?
TSP: As I just stated, the world, as we know it, is changing at a great pace towards a destiny as yet unknown. Mighty powers are being brought to their knees while lesser or emerging national entities are maneuvering for their place in the sun. In all these changes there are geographic and demographic invariables to which geopolitics remain anchored.
The rift between erstwhile close allies, Israel and Turkey is the result of the latter’s recently mapped “Neo-Ottoman” posture, where Israel must play the role of perceived ‘enemy’ to give the new ‘Caliphate’s geopolitical image some Islamic credibility in the eyes of the Arab Middle East. Israel is receiving the blows meant for the Western powers—particularly the United States (for its present Kurdish policies), too important a Turkish ally to be openly pummeled by the latter. If all things proceed normally, this new Turkish gambit for hegemony will be checked in time by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran. In all probability, Turkish-Israeli relations will return to their former level, since they remain anchored to geopolitical invariables which, so far, remain unaltered.
Based on the above analysis, I see no permanent impact (aside from shallow diplomatic maneuverings to give credence to a grossly overreaching Turkish gambit) on the basic tenets of the regional politics involving the Armenian Cause.
H. You’ve spoken in the past about the importance for us as Armenians to be socially conscious. How do you strike a balance between, on the one hand, struggling for your national rights and dedicating yourself to your people, and on the other, working for the betterment of all of humanity and showing solidarity with other causes?
TSP: There was a short lived movement initiated by a small group of idealists in the ranks of the ARF, after the establishment of the 1st Independent Republic, to drop the “A” from the initials of the name and to call it Federation of Revolutionaries (“Heghapokhakanneri Dashnaktsutiun”) uniting the efforts of all revolutionaries of neighboring nations and ethnic groups to bring about needed changes in the socioeconomic conditions in the region. Even then, some nationalists had come to understand, that there could be no real—and lasting—progress for one nation when neighboring nations were denied their basic human rights. This truth transcends time and remains valid also today. In that context, in order to work for the betterment of all humanity, obviously, one must show active solidarity with other causes struggling for recognition and justice. The loftiest ideals of mankind are universal in nature, and recognize no racial, religious or cultural boundaries.
H. Is there anything you would like to add or discuss regarding the Armenian Cause that we did not address?
TSP: I’d like to say, that the 1965 recovery of a nation that was left for dead in the sands of the Syrian Desert was predestined beyond the cynical prediction of Taleat. What followed the 50th and what will come tomorrow were, are and will be the fruits of our own efforts exerted under our own responsibility. We went through the crucible and learned a few things. The future will be ours only if and when we learn our lessons well and plan accordingly. We must learn to rely on our own potential—those who rely on handouts from the mighty and powerful will, inevitably, lose their freedom.
Mine was the first generation born in the post-Yeghern Diaspora. Although educated in westernized or western institutions, we still had some immunity against a total absorption by Western cultures and values. Western “liberal” values, particularly in the United States, tend to confuse nationalism with racism, or chauvinism, at best. They tend to promote an “internationalism” that, in essence, refutes the necessity of culturally distinct nations thereby rendering the very concept of internationalism meaningless. My generation, being brought up by survivors of the Yeghern, took a stronger stand on principles that we considered historically essential for our nation’s survival in a world society of many cultures existing in harmony. These issues were relevant then and will remain so if we are to prevail in our present struggle to build a viable future for our presently scattered nation.
Ours was a firm conviction, that the Armenian identity, along with its distinct language and culture, not only had to be preserved, it had to have its place in the sun, not relegated to the dusty corners of libraries and museums, condemned to eventual oblivion. Preservation, “Hayabahbanoum” alone, without development, without rubbing shoulders with the rest of the world, would leave us behind, frozen in time as relics.
We believed, that after all those millennia, there was more than enough energy in our unique culture, as expressed in our language, literature, music, art and architecture, to give us a place of honor in the 20th century and beyond. Today, standing beyond the threshold of the 21st century, I do believe that we have managed to pass that self-assurance, that faith in our destiny, to the coming generations.
Counter Comment by Sukru Server Aya
I was surprised to notice that a person of the age and education such of Mr. Papazian, can be carried so much away from realities and an interview based on total wrongs (if not of blatant lies) and distortions can be published. However, the fact that Mr. Papazian, seems to have been tutored by Vahan Cardashian, and speaks with the usual ARF aggressiveness and slanders, tells quite a bit. There is hardly “any observation” of Mr. Papaizan that is not distorted. There is no doubt that the writer never read the history books by Armenians, such as Katchaznuni Lalaian, Nalbandian, Dasnabedian, Nassibian, Pastermadjian, nor has ever read the free books or essays in this blog. For example::
a. Vahan Cardashian was originally from Turkey, graduate of Robert College, later graduated from Yale University as a lawyer and was employed by the Ottoman Embassy in Washington. He was sent to San Francisco Fair on duty. Mr. Cardashian did not resign, he was caught on espionage and was fired in mid October 1915. (Armenian News, Aug. 1957, P.104). He then set up ACIA with Mr. Gerard former ambassador to Berlin and did his utmost at all times to pressure the US Congress and Senate, with friends such as Senator Lodge. The Lausanne Treaty was not signed by USA on the excuse that they were not at war with Turks, but the true cause was the pressure of the Congress and Senate against the White House. James Barton, head of the Near East Relief, wrote to Admiral Bristol that Cardashian had turned even against him, after that entire he had done for Armenians for years.
Mr. Papazian should first read some of your postings such as 2610, 2624, 2635, 2335, 2187, 3131, 3136, 3115 and learn some facts. It seems that he is totally unaware of Captain Emory Niles and General Harbord Reports, as regards “who massacred whom” (with refinements of cruelty) and he shifts the responsibility on USA, for not taking Armenia under U.S. mandate “because there was no oil”. General Harbord’s report (# 2813) clearly says that US should not take a mandate so far away, which will cause an expense of $ 750 millions over five years and deployment of large amount of troops. Nowhere there is the word “oil”.
Regarding the Sevres Treaty signed by the Ottomans under occupation in mid July 1920 but already rejected by the Nationalist Rebel Turks, this was a dead born fetus. By the time W.Wilson’s border maps, did not even leave Washington in late November 1920, the Armenian Ararat Republic surrendered on Dec. 2,, 1920 at Gumru to Kazim Karabekir’s nationalist army. Shortly thereafter Armenians chose to become a Soviet State and accepted to be part of the Communist Russia; which saved them from further starvation. Does Mr. Papazian know that only in the period June 1918 – Dec. 1920 under the Dashnakist Republic, the Armenian population of Armenia which was 1 million, was reduced by 195.000 because of starvation and epidemics?
These are all written in my books and various essays in the blog, none of which was ever refuted. Mr. Papazian, despite his age and status, seems to nourish his knowledge of “hearsay history” with childish distortions and ARF praising – boasting ballast vocabulary. He is still trying to sell his prejudice based on his shallowness of history”.
When will the A.R.F. members realize (like Katchaznuni) the calamities they brought to the decent – innocent Armenians over the years and they are trying to hide under palavers of “genocide or not telling the true history”?
Have You Climbed Ararat, Lately?,
by Edna Baghoumian
It is mid-August again and the heat may be unbearable here in Yerevan, but it is perfect conditions for climbing Mt. Ararat (elevation 5,137 m/16,854 ft)—the best time of year for such an undertaking. In the past month or so, I have heard of a few groups of climbers who have successfully climbed Ararat and proudly announced their achievement. A bit of controversy has been hitting the online news services, as a result, mostly about the reaction from Turkey. There has been a lot of noise regarding whose flag was up there and what it really represented.
I am no mountain climber myself, but coming from the same background as many Diaspora Armenians, I can well understand the desire and appeal for taking on such a challenge. I wanted to know about the real motivation that drives so many to attempt the climb. Mt. Ararat is certainly nowhere near as high as the Himalayas or as daunting a climb. Even so, one needs to keep the main goal in mind and a burning desire together with sheer strength of will to keep going until one reaches the summit.
I have had very interesting conversations with local friends about this sudden interest in climbing Mt. Ararat. One question, though, keeps coming up: “Why are they so obsessed with climbing Ararat, when there is so much more that they can do, right here, in our homeland?” Is the quest to climb Mt. Ararat, then, simply a travel adventure, or does it represent something more to Armenian mountain climbers?
Here, in Armenia, it is not uncommon to meet repatriates who have a unique sense of mission and purpose. They often start with a set of very ambitious goals and stay in the country for however long it may take to accomplish them. They have a genuine desire to change Armenia for the better. But how about the Diaspora Armenians who cannot make that leap of faith and directly move here? Don’t they have the same attachment to Armenia and nostalgic ties with the motherland through songs, literature and, of course, the iconic image of Mt. Ararat which hangs in most Armenian homes?
For the climbers I met and with whom I have become close friends, the answer seems to be yes. They are the quintessential Diaspora Armenians from Los Angeles, California. They trained for almost a year in order to climb a mountain together.
Their intention was not to climb just any mountain, but to scale the heights of their dream: Ararat. They said that they had “read Ararat, dreamed Ararat and sung songs about Ararat.” It was, for them, a natural progression to want to climb the very mountain that had held such a special place in their hearts and reach the summit of which they would have the chance to see, with their own eyes, the valleys of Western Armenia. They wanted to soak up all that could have, and should have, been part of today’s Armenia.
It is not difficult to lead a team of eight males and three females to Mt. Ararat when you are Baghdik Der Grigorian, Vachik Zakarian and Roubik Mardirosian – veteran mountain climbers. What made this team so unique to me was that they all share the same background. All are Armenians born in Iran, but currently living in Los Angeles. All but the youngest member, Mineh, were members of the “Ararat” Sports Club, an incredibly nurturing environment for young Armenians living in Tehran. Their climbing expedition is aptly named “Ararat 2 Ararat.”
The team’s camaraderie has its roots in their childhood during which time they learned how to follow orders, share a tent, be team players as well as team leaders. Above all, they learned the meaning of what it is to be an Armenian. They grew up together, sang the inspiring national songs that invariably express the longing and desire to see an independent motherland whilst they held onto the dream of, one day, climbing to the very top of Mt. Ararat. On 5th August, this year, that dream became a reality for the eleven member team. Moreover, the eight male members continued on with their climb and reached the summit of Mt. Sipan on the 8th of August.
‘Ararat 2 Ararat’ Members
Baghdik Der Grigorian - This was his second climb to the Ararat summit, a more meaningful journey since his 35 year old daughter was climbing with him. “We were better prepared this year,” he said, “because we had more information in hand which made the whole journey a lot easier; so much so that we even climbed Mt. Sipan!”
“The road is long, going through Georgia, crossing Dogubayazit and then Khars, but very interesting. We had mixed feelings all the way, thinking this land was our homeland. It was incredibly crowded in the second camp which was a rocky and a rough camp. Almost 200 people were camping there. At 4,200 meters, we had to go up to the summit from there and get back. We came across Russians, French, Germans and Iranians. There are lots of mountains that are more challenging to climb, but Mt. Ararat has a special meaning for different individuals.”
“We are planning to create a website for sharing all this valuable information. We had detailed GPS plans. The first two days were not difficult, at all, but the third day was quite challenging. We started at 1.00 am and in five and a half hours, you reach the summit. We were there for 45 minutes then it took another three hours getting down.”
“I believe every young Armenian should do this. Even if they can’t climb the mountain I would suggest they all go to Western Armenia. It is an incredibly interesting place. I’m not an emotional person, I’m more logical. But the first time that I went there, I could not hold back my tears. I have climbed many mountains, but always felt that, for me, Ararat was the ultimate climb because it’s been a dream of mine for many, many years. As for the moment when you reach the summit, I don’t have the words to explain the feeling that overwhelms one. And I had the same feeling when climbing Mt. Sipan.”
“Our success was due to teamwork and having the girls with us made the whole experience particularly special. And the fact that all of us reached the summit together was incredible. It is common practice, when mountain climbing, to raise one’s country’s flag at the summit just to show a sense of pride and to mark one’s achievement.
“This climb of ours has created a tremendous amount of interest. Since we got back, at least four people have approached me to sign up for a climb next year. My eldest daughter is planning to be part of next year’s team. This patriotic desire is healthy and we should not ruin this for propaganda purposes. I have little time for reactionary talk which I believe is counter-productive and does not serve any useful purpose. I am, understandably, saddened to see the state of ruin in which Ani, Akhthamar and other similar treasures have fallen. I hope to see them in a better condition, in future.”
Harmik Baghdasarian – Having just turned 50, he had this to say about the climbing expedition: “It was not just a physical challenge for me. We have lived and been nurtured with the idea of Ararat as a symbol of all that is Armenia so this was something I simply had to do. Every step for me was a memory.” One of the memorable images for me was to see the mountain’s shadow getting larger and larger as we reached closer to the top and turned to look at the Ararat valley. It is just an amazing and indescribable sight. You forget all feelings of pain and fatigue. As you get closer to the summit, you are overcome with this indescribable energy and strength—an adrenaline rush—to reach the very top.”
“We met German and Austrian climbers and they expressed surprise when they learned of our emotional attachment to this mountain. It felt like home to us all and we were fortunate enough to be there and welcome all these guests to our homeland. After we descended Ararat, we crossed Lake Van on the following day and went to Akhtamar Island to visit the Akhtamar Monastery. There, we encountered a group of teenagers aged between 14 and 16 who were holding the tricolor Armenian flag. They were winners of the Hai Aspet’s (Armenian Knight) television contest. They filed into the church to light candles and to sing, but they were turned out immediately by the guards. Naturally, they were very upset because they had gone there to pray. However, they danced the Ishkhan (folk dance) outside the church – nothing was more important to these youths than to pay their respects to their ancestors. I applaud their courage. I felt that they brought some life into the church.”
Roubina Hovnanian-Manouchehri – A 50-year mother of two teenage sons, Roubina had never climbed a mountain, before. “I actually got up every Saturday at 6:30 am and went training for this climb. We exercised vigorously and it was worth it! The funny thing is that I was more nervous and stressed over this challenge than I was on my wedding day. My emotions took hold of me from that first hour in the bus at the start of the trip. Every step was a tear for me, I was overtaken by emotions which I could not control.” All the way going up, I never attempted to look at the summit because the goal being far, you do not want to be discouraged by looking at the distance to be covered. I kept my head low and followed our team leader, Vachik.
I never thought that doing something special like this was something no one else could do. Anyone can do this but even with just ten steps to the summit, I still could not believe that I’d make it. I was so nervous that I could not say I realized that I’d done it until I took the last step up! They tell me that on the way back, I literally rolled down the mountain. I don’t doubt it because I have all the bruises to remind me of it. People were just amazing with their words of encouragement. On the way, we met this man who said, “you have come all the way from America to climb Mt. Ararat. I wish I had a lamb to sacrifice in your honor”.
I asked Roubina if all the tears were tears of exhaustion. “No, I did not feel fatigue or exhaustion going up. But, as soon as I came down to my tent after the climb, I could not control myself and I cried for half an hour, straight, from sheer exhaustion.”
Vachik Zakarian – An experienced mountaineer who celebrated his 70th birthday on Mt. Sipan on August 8th had this to say. “I have been an active member of the Ararat Club’s mountaineering division since I was 18 years old and have climbed many mountains in Iran and in the United States. This was my third climb to Mt. Ararat and my first climb to Mt. Sipan. My friends had a big birthday surprise for me waiting on the summit of Mt. Sipan. My good friend, Greg had been carrying a piece of dry cake (perok) and all other good stuff, all the way from L.A. to the top of Sipan to celebrate my 70th birthday. There were candles and a banner which had “Happy Birthday” printed on it. I was truly touched. I will never forget this birthday.” As it happened, I had a bottle of an Armenian Cognac which added that extra something to this amazing and unforgettable celebration. My journey ended with the climb of Mt. Aragats which I completed on the return trek back to Armenia.
I think it’s high time for me to stop these difficult adventures and stick to more simple and easier climbs. All in all, it’s been a fantastic journey!”
Roubik Mardirosian – This was his second climb to Mt. Ararat and his first to Mt. Sipan. “We had trained well in L.A. and that training paid off. Seven of us had a dream to climb Mt. Sipan as well, and that dream, too was realized! Though it was a much more difficult a climb, this entire journey was an amazing experience which I’ll never forget.”
Greg Sookasian – A first-time climber, Greg had this to say about his experience, “We read and breath Ararat from childhood, but I never imagined that one day I would actually climb Ararat. There was some doubt about my ability to make the climb because of my serious back problems. I bought my first climbing boots, but since I could not complete my first climb in L.A., I had to return them to the shop. But I did not give up! I bought another set of boots and practiced and stuck with it until I succeeded to complete a climb in L.A.! By the time we reached the second camp in Armenia, however, I had serious doubts about being able to continue as my bad back was giving me grief. But, I looked up and the mountain seemed to be calling me so I crawled and limped my way along until I reached the top. I had a mission to track and record every step of our team’s moves on a video camera. I’m proud to say that I managed to record everyone’s arrival on the summit. My next wish is to have my daughter, Alina, accompany me on my next attempt.”
Melineh Saginian – A 50-year old proud mother’s account was moving. “This was one of the most important and difficult decisions made in my entire life. I decided to do this for my father, Sevag Saginian.” Melineh’s father was a prominent member of the Iranian parliament in Iran, prior to the Islamic Revolution. “My father had fought for the Armenian cause throughout his life. However, due to difficult circumstances and his illness, he was not able to see our independent Armenia. Even though I had never, ever, climbed a mountain in my life, I felt that I could climb Mt. Masis and reach the Ararat summit and look towards Armenia from the highest point and let my Dad see our country through my eyes. I’m sure that he now has! We had a great team and excellent team leaders who led us safely to the top. I owe my success in this to our team leaders. And I have to say that if I, a fifty year old female, can achieve this feat after only seven months’ training, then anyone with a strong will and purpose can do the same, also.”
Armen Norhadian – “I did this journey as homage to my parents and my ancestors and for the one and half million Armenians who lost their lives so tragically nearly a century ago,” says Armen, who is 63 years old. “This is my sixth visit to Armenia and when staying in Yerevan, I always try to book a room that faces Mt. Ararat. As I had always longed to see Yerevan from the other side, as soon as I found out that a few of my friends were getting ready for this expedition, I joined in and prepared for this physically and mentally challenging feat. The most memorable moment for me was seeing Alexan Bayanduryan, a disabled one-legged Artsakh War veteran climb Mt. Ararat and to reach the summit. I admire him, greatly and he was an inspiration to us all. Our achievements were humble in comparison.
Mineh Dergrigorian Zadourian – A 35 year old young mother of two, Mineh explains, “My main motivation was to climb with my Dad but as soon as I found out that my aunt, too, was going, I just had to do it! The ability of males vs females in mountain climbing made no difference to me. The only thing that was evident was that we had to work a little harder physically. Reaching the summit with my Dad was something I will cherish for the rest of my life. I would like it if every young Armenian has this experience. It is for each generation to pay its debt to the past generations in their efforts to continue to demonstrate their patriotism. This experience has left a profound impression on me. I now hope that, one day, my two daughters will follow their parents’, grandfather’s, great aunt’s example and take this same journey.”
Unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to talk to nine of the eleven members of the Mt. Ararat climbing expedition. Each one had a unique perspective and a purpose for this challenge. To my surprise they all became very emotional when talking about their journey. Where do all these emotions come from? These emotions run very deep and the team’s sense of pride in reaching its goal—after spending so many years sitting around campfires as young scouts, reading and dreaming of this event—is all too clear to see.
To me, these “brothers and sisters” who had realized their dream, had in a sense “reached the moon!” This particular team of climbers seemed to be saying to the world, “We came, we remembered and we will never forget.” They called it their “bardk” –homage to their motherland, Armenia.