By Ara Yeretsian
The Armenian Heritage Cruise (AHC) did it again! From Jan. 17-24, nearly 1,000 Armenians enjoyed 7 days of 24-carat fun on board the MSC Divina. The amenities were excellent; the food great; and the entertainment truly superlative. The weather was also perfect, the sea calm, and the navigation unimpeachable. We visited Falmouth, Jamaica; Georgetown, Cayman Islands; Cozumel, Mexico; and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas. The beaches were hospitable, and the water just right. It is a spiritual experience to be with so many Armenians determined to have fun and accommodate one another. After nearly 12 trips, I still feel uplifted every time. The cruise has been a yearly event for 18 consecutive years, and another one is planned next year in 2016, starting Jan. 9—on a new cruise line, with new destinations.
The cruise offers you the chance to see long-lost friends—people you have not seen in a long time. You meet extraordinary individuals from many places. Sometimes, they speak Armenian with funny accents and use expressions reflecting their countries of residence. You witness the unique ways they preserve and invigorate the Armenian identity. From North America, South America, Australia, Europe, and the Middle East, they display their pride of their adoptive or birth countries, while joyfully waiving the tricolor flag and singing “Mer Hairenik.” Obviously, they want to be on this cruise because they love being Armenian.
The Armenian Cultural Association of America, Inc., which runs the cruise, successfully delivers a true “Armenian experience.” You can take dance lessons and dance daily to Armenian music played by live bands. You can take lessons in speaking Armenian, and you can sing patriotic songs. You can participate in tournaments of tavlou and belote. You can also laugh to Armenian comedy; this year, there was the talented Kev Orkian from Great Britain. There were no dance groups this time, and many people were unhappy about it. AHC, make note of that!
Then, there is also the fun of intellectual stimulation. AHC arranges for exciting lectures and discussions while at sea. This year was no exception.
There was the very interesting presentation by Osep Sarafian on his work with the Armenian Social Investment Fund (ASIF). A successful, retired architect, Sarafian quietly and single-handedly collects large sums of money from quiet donors. These donations are matched 9-9.5 times for every dollar by the World Bank. With every penny accounted for, the money is used to build or repair community projects (mostly in rural Armenia)—such as roads, water pipes, and schools—under Sarafian’s architectural supervision. Sarafian successfully demonstrated that it is possible to help Armenians directly, with effectiveness and efficiency, notwithstanding the negative reports of corruption.
On a related subject, Gohar Palyan spoke about the Fuller Housing Center in Armenia, which provides interest-free loans to improve living conditions of people in abject settings, for example, in metal shipment containers called “domics.” Volunteers from abroad help finish half-built homes and restore broken structures, mostly in the rural landscape.
Roxanne Makasdjian from San Francisco spoke with contagious energy about a project that leads schoolteachers to live up to the California state mandate to teach students about the Armenian Genocide. She described the Genocide Education Project, which provides educators with materials and resources to teach the subject properly. To learn more, visit www.teachgenocide.com.
Armenia’s Ambassador to Canada Armen Yeganian spoke about political, economic, and social issues in Armenia. His son Gevork, just released from his two-year military service, spoke about life in the Armenian Army.
Dr. John Bilezikian of Columbia University in New York gave two excellent and lucid lectures on calcium, vitamin D, osteoporosis, and nutrition.
Ken Hachikian, who heads the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), gave an exceptionally clear talk about the relationship between the political realities of the U.S., Armenian Genocide recognition, and the question of reparations/restitution. He described the worldwide networking between ANCs and interested Armenian organizations.
There were other presentations as well, including by the Armenian Relief Society and the Knights of Vartan.
All were heavily attended and were followed by lively discussions that continued long after.
Without a doubt, the AHC is a different kind of a meeting point for Armenians. For an entire week, guests can see the real diaspora right in front of them—a mosaic of cultures, talents, entrepreneurial creativity, and achievements—all beautifully enveloped by a very palpable, common Armenian identity.
You can only imagine the lively discussions around the dinner tables…
Hooray for the Armenian Heritage Cruise!
Ara Yeretsian, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist from Munster, Ind. He received his medical degree from the American University of Beirut in 1972. He trained in his specialty under Dr. Garo Aivazian in Memphis, Tenn. He is married to Rosy Hovanessian; they have two daughters and six grandchildren. He has written extensively on Armenian issues.