Helena Cray (Carapetian) is the descendent of an Indian Armenian family. She has lived in India and Iran for a long time and is based in the USA since 1989. Most recently, she returned to her native India as an overseas tour organizer and a coordinator of a travel agency.
She explains to the readers of Azad-Hye about her motivation: "My ultimate goal is to expose the beautiful churches we have in India and definitely bring Armenians from all over the world to meet and familiarize themselves with a culture that is rich in history and to see for
themselves that even in a place like India within a multitude of religions, castes and creeds we have been able to live there all these centuries without the fear of persecution, discrimination and bigotry. We have been given free land by the Indian Kings and nobleman of the past to construct our churches giving us the freedom to practice our religion".
Referring to her grandparents who have been the last caretakers of the Saidabad Armenian Holy Virgin Mary church, Helena says: "They served the church for many many years and I grew up in the compounds of the church. My grandfather was Armenian from Iran, he married my grandmother who was Indian. Last year I was fortunate to have been invited by the Church
committee to attend the re-consecration of the Saidabad church and the honoring of my deceased grandparents. It was a nostalgic event, as each one of my trips has been".
Initially Helena moved with her husband to Iran, where she lived for almost a decade, witnessing the revolution, the hostage crisis and the Iran/Iraq war. In 1989 she moved with her family to the United States. Her husband passed away in 2004. Helena has two lovely daughters, Melina and Narine.
An ex-student of the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy (ACPA), she talks about her feelings when returning back to India after 23 years of absence: "I cannot tell you how
good it felt to be back in a place I have always cherished. Upon seeing the hard work that is going into the maintaining of our churches I felt it my responsibility to bring a population of people from all over the world to share in this large unselfish sacrifice made by Fr. Gulgulian and the efforts and hard work of a group of individuals who consider this their calling as
Helena is a witness of the current situation of the Armenian community in India. She says that the community is gradually dwindling and it will be a great loss if people are not taught and
introduced to an age old Armenian civilization. According to her, foreigners also are interested in the Armenian culture in India. "I have no doubt that non Armenians will also have a great interest in our churches, it is just a matter of spreading the word through the appropriate channels. People all over the world are experiencing the hostility that is gradually taking over the world".
INTERVIEW WITH HELENA CRAY.
- How long did you stay in India and what can you tell us about ACPA life at your
time?I was born in India in 1957. I grew up in the school, although my parents lived in the city I lived at the school and went home on holidays only. Life in the ACPA was okay, not like it is now. We had more strict rules and regulations, we never got to go anywhere. The quality of our food was
very bad as was the quantity. We went to bed hungry and could not concentrate on studying because hunger over took our minds. Our educators were underpaid so we did not receive the best education. We turned to one another for comfort and we grew up to become one large family.
No one was compassionate towards us, not the educators nor the committee members. The schools had a board of directors as did the church but we could not turn to anyone with our pain.
- What was your motivation to work in the tourism sector?Upon visiting India after 23 years and after having lived a life of denial I realized I was wealthier than all the people I associated with. I had had the opportunity of living in a country that
was rich in its cultures, they maintained their spirituality and were the most humble of all human beings. How could I turn away from such wealth. I witnessed the work that was being done by Deacon Tigran and Fr. Gulgulian and the efforts of the church wardens it was then that I decided to do something to spread the word. I felt a sense of responsibility and a sense of betrayal. My responsibility was to bring people to see for themselves what was being done. My sense of betrayal was that I had closed my heart and mind to the earth that had
fed me and the air that I had breathed. It was my duty to showcase this and to bridge the communities of the West with the East.
- Do you believe that we can create Armenian tourism (that is tourism based on visiting Armenian sites) even outside Armenia? Can you explain us the case of the Armenian sites in India?YES! we can - I firmly believe we can, it requires team work, people with the same goals and
plenty of voices to spread the word. We need to make the internet our voice, we need the world wide web to spread our message. We have 5 Armenian Churches, two schools, plenty of properties and a community that is fading away. We can move the older Armenian people who are retired and living in countries where they are alone and have no financial support to Kolkata. They can volunteer their time and contribute towards the schools and the community. I am sure with a little work and research we can delegate somebody to approach the local Chairman and
the wardens with this idea.
- Do you believe the above trend can cover other Armenian communities in the Middle East and elsewhere?Yes I absolutely believe so! We need to come up with a great marketing plan and we can join as colleagues and try and do something. Count me in!
- Who are the clients for such tourist excursions? Can non-Armenian be interested in such tourism?Currently I am targeting the Armenian market, but I am certain non-Armenians would also be interested.
- And now for a classical question: Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?In five years I see myself, with the help of supporters leading thousands of people to various parts of the world introducing them to the Armenians and their ancestors in such countries. We have spent many years taking people to see the grandeur of current tourism but no one is making an effort to show people the old Armenian churches nestled in villages across the world, deteriorating with neglect. People do not hesitate to spend money to visit France, Greece, Italy and Spain … We have our heritage that is being totally ignored.
February 2008 tour of India (Delhi and Kolkata).
A tour organized and conducted by Helena Cray, overseas tour organizer and coordinator of TNI Holidays, to visit the historical Palaces of the Mughal Dynasty in Delhi, Jaipur and Agra and the historical Armenian churches, schools and community in Kolkata, India.
A group of six individuals from the United States accompanied by Helena Cray, a one time member of the Armenian Community of India, visited India from 11-21 February 2008.
There are a total of 5 Armenian churches in Kolkata and its neighboring cities. A boy’s
School, Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy (ACPA) and a girls’ school, Davidian Girl's School in the city of Kolkata.
Last year the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth celebrated its 300th anniversary. No formal celebrations were held because His Holiness Karekin II was unable to attend to perform the ceremonies and blessings.
Official celebrations are being held in November of 2008 for the reconsecration of the Armenian Holy Virgin Mary church in Madras (Chennai).
TOUR OF INDIA.
PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THIS UNIQUE TOUR.
This is to inform everyone that I am organizing a tour to India for November 2008. I have attached a flier for your information and would really appreciate it if you can forward it to
people that you know or think may be interested in going.
His Holiness Karekin II will be re-consecrating the Armenian Holy Virgin Mary church In Chennai (Madras), there will a celebration banquet dinner for the 300th anniversary of the Holy Church of Nazareth too. Delegates from all over the world will be attending and it will be a historical event, yet another event for the Armenians in and from India.
For those of you who have never been to India or for those of you who did and have not been back since, will discover that there has been major changes to the churches and schools and
the Armenian community. It is very nostalgic when you witness the places you saw as a child and it is interesting for those who have not been to India to see first hand what it has been like for the Armenian to live in a culturally diverse country with the freedom to practice their religion and live without the fear of persecution.
I have put together an itinerary which will give you the opportunity to visit not only the Armenian Historical aspect of the country but also the Rich and Colorful History of the Mughal Empire, visiting the renowned Amir Fort, Spectacular Taj Mahal and experiencing the Camel ride into the sunset of the Rajasthan desert.
If I have been able to arouse some curiosity please be kind enough to forward to all your friends, family and acquaintances.
I thank you for your help and support.
Helena Cray. TNI Holidays.
You can see the following photos in the article in our website:
Picture of the recent group which went in India in February 2008.
Saidabad Armenian Church.
Picture of Helena Cray with His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians.
With Armenian Ambassador and Archbishop Aghan Baliozian (2007).
The wall slab was erected honoring Helena's grandparents.