FAR Young Professionals Trip to Armenia is Life-Changing

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Fund for Armenian Relief
630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Contact: Edina Bobelian
Tel: (212) 889-5150; Fax: (212) 889-4849
E-mail: edina @ farusa.org
Website: www.farusa.org



NEW YORK, NY -- "I'd never actually gone somewhere that felt more like 'home' than home does! To arrive in a country you've never set foot in, yet feel such an amazing 'sense of belonging' is simply overwhelming. You walk around and you feel like you are from there - you literally feel like you belong there."

This heartfelt appraisal is from 25-year old Los Angeles lawyer Aleen Khanjian, one of 30 young professionals who traveled under the auspices of the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) to Armenia and Karabagh for 14 days in June 2005. Organized by FAR Projects Director Arto Vorperian, the group (ages 23 - 45), met their professional colleagues in the Motherland, visited many aspects of life there, including schools, senior centers, soup kitchens, orphanages, historic monuments, cultural programs, and had a special meeting with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian to discuss political issues.

Vorperian, who has led these pilgrimages for the last nine years, enthusiastically relates that the FAR Young Professionals Trip "keeps the youth Armenian-oriented, close to their Armenian roots, and prepares them as FAR's next volunteer generation. Invited to participate are young professionals from every different Armenian church, political organization, and social association. Almost all who made the trip - many for the first time, go to their Motherland as Armenians assimilated in the American way of life. They come back as full and active Armenians," he declares with understandable pride.

For Karoun Charkoudian, a 26-year old geologist from Houston, Texas, the trip changed her perspective on her life, career and goals. "I was surprised that I could connect to the Armenian people," says Karoun whose family is from Eastern Anatolia. "As a result of this connection, I could really appreciate their way of life. They enjoy every day, every meal. They really value friends, family, and social connectedness. Their value system turns our value system upside down," she says with emphasis. "It was tough to come back. I wanted to drop everything, and move there."

Twenty eight-year old Karni Baghdikian is also thinking of relocating there eventually. Karni who works in both advertising and media development in Hermosa Beach, California, called the experience "mind-blowing. It was very emotional, overwhelming," especially his visit to the Genocide Memorial Dzidzernagaberd, and the historic monument after which he is named.


He is especially appreciative that he took the trip with the Fund for Armenian Relief. "We not only saw the beautiful monuments, buildings, and cultural centers of Yerevan, but we also visited the schools, orphanages, and senior centers of the country where FAR is so heavily involved with assisting. Their work in helping those who are in need was inspiring. And seeing first hand the work of FAR for those in need made you think how you can be of help to this amazing country." He has advised his father who owns day care centers and nurseries in New Jersey, to go and see how he can bring his expertise there.

The question of how to help her Motherland has also been on the mind of Maral Najarian, a 28-year old pharmacist from New Jersey who took the trip with her husband, James. "For people in our age group, it's easy to get lost in the American culture," she says reflectively. "Seeing the old monasteries in Armenia, and the Yerablur cemetery where many freedom fighters are buried, made me discover who I am, where my people came from, and the price they had to pay for their faith, their land and their culture."

Maral's visit to Hripsime's tomb in the confines of the magnificent church which bears the martyred saint's name "connected" her even more as a woman. She pays tribute to the role that women played in Armenian history, especially the saintly figures. The natural beauty of Armenia, and the "simple life of its farmers who live with basic necessities" also deeply impressed her. "We get so lost in the American society, and take so much for granted. It's crucial to see where we came from."

As with Maral, thoughts about the cumulative history of Armenians around the world stayed with Aleen Khanjian long after she returned home. Seeing both the bustling city of Yerevan with its modern cafes, shops and buildings, as well as the obvious poverty of villagers in the rural areas proved a bittersweet experience for her. "And just like me, those individuals who are simply 'surviving,' know and understand that Armenians have always struggled, perished, bled and persevered through battle after battle over their culture, their religion, and their language. My ancestors gave the ultimate sacrifice, over and over and over again, so I could be, feel, speak, remain, and call myself 'ARMENIAN!'"

The FAR trip "is definitely a life-changing experience," gushes Aleen. "Traveling with the FAR organizers made the entire experience so worthwhile. I'm looking forward to seeing my traveling companions again and again so we can relive the exhilarating emotion of our unique experience."

The tenth Young Professionals Trip to Armenia and Karabagh will take place in June 2006. Currently, FAR with all trip participants is forming an alumni organization so that they can not only relive the feelings of their extraordinary trip, but also inspire others to join this unique family of friends visiting Armenia and Karabagh with FAR.

Founded in response to the disastrous 1988 earthquake in Armenia, the Fund for Armenian Relief, headquartered in New York City, has benefited several million people in both Armenia and Karabagh, channeling more than $265 million through a wide range of projects in emergency relief, medical aid, economic and social development, education, construction, agriculture, and the arts. FAR, one of the preeminent relief and development organization operating there, is dedicated to realizing the dream of a free, democratic, prosperous, and culturally rich Armenia.

For more information on the upcoming Young Professionals Trip or to send donations, contact FAR at 630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016; telephone (212) 889-5150; fax (212) 889-4849; web www.farusa.org; e-mail far@farusa.org.

-- 12/9/05

E-mail photos available upon request.

CAPTION1: FAR organized a meeting with Armenia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartan Oskanian for the 30 young professionals during its two-week trip to Armenia and Karabagh.

CAPTION2: As they traveled across Armenia's countryside to see historic monuments, the young professionals stopped at the new Garden of Letters, installed in honor of the 1600th anniversary of the Armenian alphabet, developed by St. Mesrob Mashdots.