Barlow Der Mugrdechian
Hye Sharzhoom Advisor
Etchmiadzin, Garni, Geghard, Hripsime, Oshagan, Sardarabad, Erebuni, Zvartnots, Noravank, Ambert… exotic names which became a reality for a group of 18 adventurous students from Fresno State as they accompanied Armenian Students Organization advisor Barlow Der Mugrdechian for an exciting and unforgettable 3 week visit to France and Armenia.
Planning for the trip had actually begun two years ago when students expressed a desire to travel to Armenia, a place that they had heard about and seen in slides and video, but never visited. The Armenian Studies Program had previously organized such trips in 1988 and 1990. This year, 2001, the 1700th Anniversary Year of the Proclamation of Christianity as the State Religion in Armenia provided the right opportunity and motivation to actually go. It wasn’t hard to find 18 students to endure the long travel but ultimate satisfaction of traveling to Armenia.
The group spent two nights and three days in beautiful Paris on the way to Armenia. Dr. Dickran and Angèle Kouymjian hosted a dinner in their Paris home, which was the auspicious beginning for the trip. Visits to the Armenian Church of Paris, the Louvre, and Notre Dame were the highlights of the stay in Paris, which passed quickly in anticipation of the trip to Armenia.
Arriving on June 4 in Armenia, on a beautiful cool evening, everyone found it hard to believe that they had actually arrived in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. The 16 days in Armenia were filled with many activities. The goal was to not only see the historic sites but also for the students to understand about life in Armenia.
The first goal was achieved through visits to Lake Sevan, to Gyumri, to Khor Virap, Ashtarak, and other sites. At each location, arrangements had been made for local people to provide added information. Sometimes, experts from the Yerevan State University would accompany the group to add valued insight. Students from Yerevan State University were invited to join, and did join, the Fresno State students on all of the outings.
Two visits to Holy Etchmiadzin offered a spiritual dimension to the trip. On Sunday, June 17, the Feast of Holy Etchmiadzin, thousand of pilgrims gathered at Holy Etchmiadzin. His Holiness Karekin II granted us a private audience and expressed his fond memories of his visit to Fresno State in May of this year. In a special gesture, His Holiness, later the same afternoon, met over coffee with the students, and spoke intimately and directly to the students, expressing his feeling and thoughts.
Visits to the museums of Armenia included the National Gallery of Art, the Saryan Museum, the Matenadaran, the Children’s Museum, and others. Accompanying us on these visits were such notables as Shahen Khachatrian of the Saryan Museum and Dr. Levon Chookaszian of Yerevan State University, who provided expert commentary of the manuscripts displayed at the Matenadaran.
A visit to an Armenia-Poland soccer match, to a practice of the Maratouk Dance group, attendance at the national symphony and a performance of the National Dance Ensemble provided variety and exposure to the people of Armenia. A picnic at Oshakan, the home of Mesrob Mashtots and a picnic at Garni, were memorable in their simplicity, and in breaking bread at these special sites.
The Armenian Martyr’s Monument was one of the most emotionally moving sites visited. Commemorating the Armenian Genocide of 1915, students were overwhelmed by the symbolism of both the Monument itself and a subsequent visit to the adjacent Genocide Museum. Playing basketball at Yerevan State University was a welcome touch of home as the Fresno State students played a team of Yerevan State University students.
Interaction with students was a major part of the trip as the student council of the Yerevan State University Business School organized a reception and get together for the visitors from America. Later, the students of the Department of Sociology at Yerevan State University organized a round-table discussion for the students, followed by a visit to the FAR Children’s Reception Center.
So many memories, so many impressions, almost impossible to express in their variety and impact. What was the outcome of the trip? Not only had students cemented bonds of friendship within their group, but the universal reaction was what can we do to assist Armenia and the Armenians. How can we become more involved with Armenia? These questions will not soon be answered, but they provide insight as to the value of providing a forum for young people to visit Armenia.
The universal reaction to the Armenia trip was that every Armenian should visit Armenia and also become more involved in the Armenian community.