‘Ready to Fight for Armenia’: A Remembrance of Maral Melkonian Avetisyan

When I Wake Up

When I wake up I look forward
to a good day.

When I wake up I look forward
to telling more people about Armenia. 

When I wake up I look forward
to fight for Armenia.

When I wake up I look forward
to tell people to help Armenia.

When I wake up I hope a child
from Armenia gets food.

When I wake up I look forward
to no more genocide.

I got up. I am ready to fight
for Armenia.

– Maral Melkonian, age 13
AYF Washington D.C. “Sevan” Juniors
The Armenian Weekly, April 20, 1996

***

‘Ready to Fight for Armenia’: A Remembrance of Maral Melkonian Avetisyan
(Jan. 12, 1983 – April 13, 2015)

By Elizabeth Chouldjian

Words invariably fail when we seek to speak of the tragic loss of a young friend and a comrade-in-arms in the pursuit of strengthening the Homeland and advancing our collective Cause. And so, I turn to a poem printed in the Armenian Weekly on April 20, 1996, composed by Maral, herself, to offer an early glimpse of her passion and pursuit for justice.

Maral Melkonian (Jan. 12, 1983 – April 13, 2015)
Maral Melkonian Avetisyan (Jan. 12, 1983 – April 13, 2015)

In “When I Wake Up”—written less than 5 years after the re-establishment of an independent Armenia and just 2 years after the tenuous ceasefire that would end the fighting in Artsakh—13-year-old Maral Melkonian issued a challenge to the Armenian nation—a Zartonki Gotch, if you will—to fight for a democratic and economically vibrant Armenia, where our children can flourish and live in a world without genocide.

It is this simple truth, this clarion call, that she would live by for the rest of her life.

But, her friends and family knew that from the start.

Born on Jan. 12, 1983, in Silver Spring, Md., Maral was always the delight of her parents Ara and Haikanouche Melkonian and older brother, Raffi. She attended St. Catherine Laboure from Kindergarten to 5th grade; St. Martin Catholic School from 6th through 8th grade; then graduated from Good Counsel High School and received her Bachelor of Arts in English language and literature in 2007 from the University of Maryland, College Park.

But her heart was always in Armenia and the Armenian community, scampering as a toddler in the Soorp Khatch Armenian Church Arabian Hall, attending and graduating from Hamasdegh Armenian School, and devoting her volunteer time to organizations including Homenetmen, Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), AYF Camp Haiastan, Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), Armenia Volunteer Corps (AVC), and Birthright Armenia.

She led by example from the very beginning, holding multiple executive positions in the AYF D.C. “Sevan” Juniors and “Ani” Seniors and attending Camp Haiastan both as a camper and a counselor.

In Homenetmen, she inspired fellow Scouts as a khmpabed and traveled to Armenia in 1998 and 2002 to participate in the worldwide jamborees. In 2006, she would return to the Homeland, this time through the AYF, AVC, and Birthright Armenia, to spend the summer working with children at the Naregatsi Art Institute in Artsakh and the Khnko Aper Children’s Library in Yerevan. In 2007, she went back for a second consecutive summer, this time as director of the AYF Armenia Internship Program.

Upon her return, as she explored career opportunities, Maral interned at the ANCA. On the first day of her volunteer time at our D.C. headquarters, as we were coming up the stairs to our third floor offices, Maral shared, “In my years in the AYF, coming to meetings, I would listen to you and Aram [Hamparian] talk about efforts to get U.S. assistance to Armenia or demand justice for the Armenian Genocide, and I’d ask myself, ‘Are we really making a difference?’ Now, after these past summers in Armenia and Artsakh—working with the kids, speaking with the people—I get it. I know how important this work is, and I want to be a part of it.”

Maral shared those precious moments in Artsakh and Armenia with community, friends, and family in the U.S., and continued her steady and consistent stream of volunteer efforts all for the furthering of nation and Cause. She was an ardent advocate of the Armenia Volunteer Corps and Birthright Armenia, encouraging everyone she met to take the opportunity, travel to Armenia, and give back to the Homeland.

In time she would meet and marry a true kindred spirit—Tigran Avetisyan—and they, together, would embark on a journey of faith and fulfillment that would brighten the lives of all who knew and loved them.

Our community and nation hoped to cherish and grow with Maral through the decades, inspired by her smile and can-do attitude, but fate had other plans. Our Maral would leave us on April 13, 2015, just weeks before the Armenian Genocide Centennial—a milestone in the battle for justice that held such great meaning for her.

At her wake, surrounded by hundreds of friends and family members who had gathered to share their love and pay their respects, it was the poignant words of her brother, Raffi, that touched one and all. Raffi explained that when Maral learned of her illness, she turned to those most dear to her and said, “I’m sorry to put you through this,” and immediately sought to put all at ease.

That is the Maral that we will always remember—the selfless, thoughtful, blessed soul, who put family, community, and nation above all else, whether at age 13 or 31.

The Melkonian and Avetisyan families are encouraging all who loved Maral and wish to continue her good works to support the ANCA Endowment Fund. Donations in Maral’s memory may be mailed to ANCA Endowment Fund, 1711 N Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20036 or offered online at www.anca.org/inmemoryofmaral (please cite Maral Melkonian Avetisyan in the “comments” section).

So many have already joined the Melkonian and Avetisyan families through generous contributions to the ANCA Endowment Fund, including Mr. & Mrs. Ohannes and Chouchan Aghguiguian; Mrs. Jeannette Alemian; Mr. & Mrs. Steve and Sarine Altan; Mr. & Mrs. Kevork and Shoghik Altounian; Mr. Daniel Apelian; Mr. & Mrs. Simon and Sose Arabian; Mr. & Mrs. Chaha and Ani Araklian; Mr. & Mrs. Garo and Vrejoohie Armenian; Mr. & Mrs. Ara and Ani Asatoorian; Mr. & Mrs. Sebouh and Maro Asatoorian; Mr. Artavazd Avetisyan; Mr. David Avetisyan; Mr. Tigran Avetisyan; Mr. & Mrs. Bedros and Stella Bandazian; Ms. Michelle Barsamian; Mr. & Mrs. Veh Bezdikian; Birthright Armenia; Mr. Jake Bournazian; Mr. Steve Canning; Mr. & Mrs. Oscar and Eleanor Caroglanian; Ms. Elizabeth Chouldjian; Ms. Marale Damirjian; Mr. Sahag Dardarian; Mr. & Mrs. Dion and Lucy Davitian; Mr. & Mrs. Hamo and Mirra Dersookian; Ms. Elizabeth Direnfeld; Mr. & Mrs. Edward and Sosse Dombalagian; Miss Natalie Doudaklian; Mr. Haig Eskandarian; Mr. & Mrs. Missak and Ani Festekjian; Mr. & Mrs. Peter and Lilian Festekjian; Mr. & Mrs. Raffi and Kristin Festekjian; Mr. & Mrs. Yeprem and Talar Festekjian; Mr. & Mrs. Voskan and Anik Galooshian; Mrs. Seda Gelenian; Mr. & Mrs. Richard and Alleen Ghazaryans; Ms. Christine Hannett Garner; Mr. & Mrs. Nader and Sophia Hawit; Mr. & Mrs. Chris and Tsoghig Hekimian; Mr. & Mrs. Zohrob and Lorrie Hovsapian; Mr. & Mrs. John and Ardemis Jerikian; Mr. & Mrs. Sarkis & Sonia Kasbarian; Ms. Talar Kasbarian; Mr. & Mrs. Vartkes and Ani Keshishian; Mr. & Mrs. Vicken and Ani Khatchadourian; Mr. & Mrs. Norayr and Sossy Khatcheressian; Dr. Sevan Kolejian; Mr. Aret Koseian; Mr. & Mrs. Chris and Karina Krikorian; Mr. & Mrs. Dave and Isabel Kubikian; Mr. & Mrs. Jim and Nora Kzirian; Mr. & Mrs. Dickran and Paulette Lehimdjian; Mr. Bob Marsteller; Mr. Boghossian Meguerditch; Mr. & Mrs. Ara and Haygo Melkonian; Mr. Khajag Melkonian; Mr. & Mrs. Raffi and Medea Melkonian; Mr. & Mrs. Armen and Taleen Moughamian; Mr. & Mrs. Krikor and Maro Moussessian; Mr. & Mrs. Areen and Maria Movsessian; Mr. & Mrs. Sebouh and Michelle Nahabedian; Mr. Ara Nahapetian; Mr. & Mrs. Hratch and Linda Najarian; Mr. & Mrs. Maurice and Vartouhi Najarian; Dr. & Mrs. Guiragos and Sossy Poochikian; Ms. Nayiri Poochikian; Mr. & Mrs. Sevag and Natalie Poochikian; Mr. & Mrs. Rudi and Rita Shafakian; Ms. Jemma Simonian; Ms. Ojenee Simonian; Ms. Yeran Simonian; Mr. & Mrs. Martin and Sylva Surabian; Mr. & Mrs. Andre and Karineh Tarpinian; Mr. & Mrs. Haroutun and Nevart Tatarian; Mr. & Mrs. Kevork and Suzy Tatarian; Mr. & Mrs. Philip and Hakinth Terpandjian; Ms. Rita Terterian; Mr. & Mrs. Michael Torosian; Mr. & Mrs. Hampar and Mary Vartanian; Mr. & Mrs. Chuck and Sema Yessaian.

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Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles written and submitted by members of the community, which make up our community bulletin board.
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