15 August 2004

Hamazkayin Forum 2004

Mrs. Tamar Der-Ohannessian of Abu Dhabi sent to the readers of AZAD-HYE the following report about the “Hamazkayin Forum 2004”:

The Hamazkayin Forum 2004 took place during the weeks of July 12 - 31, 2004. It was the 10th anniversary of this program and around fifty Armenian University and college students from 10 different countries took part this year. The "Forum", as the organizers have named this event, is actually an intensive exposure to Armenian culture and history, with first hand experiences and hands-on workshops. The program consisted of one week in Lebanon and two weeks in Armenia.

Lebanon was chosen for being a thriving cultural and religious Armenian center. Visits and lectures were organized by the Beirut Head Office of Hamazkayin, giving the participants an idea about Armenian life in one of the most important cultural and social centers of the Diaspora. The students had the privilege of having an audience with His Holiness, Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia, who also invited them to ask questions.

Other prominent scholars were also featured as lecturers and moderators. Visits to Armenian establishments, monuments, important Lebanese historic sites and a memorable weekend in Aynjaar gave the students a condensed outline about Armenian life in this country. Most of them continued the journey on to Armenia for the rest of the program.

During the two weeks in Armenia, the participants fully lived the Armenian experience on their native land.

They had all joined the "Forum" from different parts of the world, bringing with them their own ideas about being Armenian and what Armenia meant to them. Some were natives of Armenia and Karabagh, coming from Yerevan, Spitak and Shoushi. Others came from large Armenian communities such as the USA, Canada, Argentina, Cyprus, Lebanon and Syria, where some have attended Armenian schools, and for whom being Armenian has been a daily event. There were also some, who came from cities like London, Paris or Geneva where growing up as Armenians needed an additional effort. However, they all had one thing in common: the search for their roots and the yearning for their true identity.

The Hamazkayin "Forum" was the ideal setting for this quest, providing them with the perfect set-up to look for answers to their questions with their own peers. The natural way instant friendships and bonding developed among the participants was remarkable and showed the importance of this program.

Daily lectures and trips to historic sites, monasteries and museums provided the students with tangible examples of Armenian culture and history. The visit to Etchmiadzin was also memorable because it gave them an insight into the practicing Armenian Church. Viewing Mount Ararat for the first time resulted in an uproar in the bus few if any mountain on this earth can boast. Even dinners became an Armenian experience, where they dined and
danced to Armenian music.

The program, which was meticulously put together by the Hamazkayin Forum Committee and the The Hamazkayin Office in Yerevan, consisted of:

A. Lectures on subjects ranging from the discovery of the Armenian Alphabet to such current issues as the relations of the youth in the Diaspora and Armenia.

B. Workshops and visits to cultural establishments. Some of the centers visited were: The Sayat Nova Ashoughagan Ensemble, the "Paregamoutiun" Dance Ensemble and the Cadence Ensemble.

C. Sightseeing in Yerevan and its environs.

D. Sightseeing trips to Garni, Geghard, Noravank, Khor Virab, Haghardzin, Ampert and other important monasteries and sites of historic importance.

E. Visit to the Etchmiadzin Cathedral and the Museum.

F. Visits to various museums, accompanied with explanations and lectures.

G. Lectures and tours of the Yerevan State University and the Armenian University of Armenia.

H. Theatre and musical performances.

I. A visit to the Special Forces headquarters of the Armenian Army and a demonstration.

J. Special interest groups such as The Newsletter “Pari Louys Forum”, folk dancing, a website group and a talent show group.

K. A general knowledge contest and a talent show organized by the students themselves.

The Forum website was particularly important for the parents at home, who could follow the progress of the program through pictures posted there daily.

A special visit was planned to the village of Aramous. The group was the bearer of good news for the dilapidated school of this village. The Committee of the Forum had obtained a substantial sum for the renovation of the school, earmarked for bringing water and electricity to the school, building restrooms for the 600-plus students, and renovating the classrooms. It was very moving to see many students gathered in the school courtyard to greet the Hamazkayin group with the traditional salt and bread and flowers. The interaction between the Forum participants, the students and the teachers of the village was immediate. The participants had in turn brought many presents for the students of the school.

Mrs. Sella Tenjoukian, the Hamazkayin Forum Chairperson, announced the news of the donation for the renovation of the school. She stressed the importance of saving the villages in Armenia and encouraged the Diaspora students to take an active part in bringing their help to this village. The Forum participants, gathered around the school-children and teachers, promised to come back and teach subjects like English, math or computer to the young villagers.

It was indeed a pleasure to see how actively the participants took part in all the activities and daily programs. The schedule was quite hectic and days were long, but everyone was determined to make the most of their visit. Lectures were well attended and sightseeing trips generated a lot of enthusiasm. Friendships were strengthened, national pride flourished and
many were determined to return next year.

The students appreciated the fact that it was a rare privilege to attend the programs and meet the prominent lecturers and performers, something which is normally inaccessible to the mere tourist.

Evaluation forms were handed out for participants to express their views and to make their opinions heard.

All in all, this was another success story for the Hamazkayin Forum, which, throughout its ten years of existence has seen more than five hundred participants, some of whom have indeed returned in the capacity of monitors and supervisors. This is really a highly commendable program that instills in all the participants a spark of patriotism and pride.

Tamar Der-Ohannessian
August 12, 2004
Abu Dhabi

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