There have been a few articles published and online discussions taking place on the subject and concept of Tebi Yergir: “toward, or to, the country/Motherland/Homeland/Fatherland.” Lately, the term is about repatriation: Tebi Hayastan—a political, social, and forward-looking Tebi Yergir.
There is another kind of Tebi Yergir. This one more cultural and something a bit more, dare I say, soulful or spiritual. It is a longing for an ideal Armenia, the Armenia and Armenian ideals instilled in us by the first generation in America, the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. When that generation used the word Yergir, they meant the old country. For the folks of that generation I knew, it was a most rural and agrarian Yergir, the villages of the Armenian Highlands. They were referring to places emptied of Armenians, places that existed only in their memories. Mostly, they were children who had survived and many whose parents and siblings had not. They were my grandparents’ generation. They created community and raised my parents’ generation, who in turn raised my generation. That community and culture, that Amerigahayutiun (American-Armenian-ness), instilled in me and many others that mystical and mythical concept of Yergir.
This soulful, cultural, deep-rooted Haygaganutiun (Armenian-ness) is what makes the old-school church picnics, Camp Hayastan, and the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Olympics so special. These are places we go and gather to, as Saroyan said, “create a new Armenia.” The AYF Olympics is just that. Our Tebi Yergir.
This weekend we gather in Wisconsin. The Racine Armen Garo Chapter is hosting the 84th Annual Olympics in Milwaukee. It is the second time Racine is hosting the Olympics. The first was very well done, and the Armen Garo Team has worked very hard to make this one even more memorable.
The Armenians settled in Racine to work in the factories, such as J. I. Case, in this Midwestern industrial town, so they may be the most old-school Amerigahay community in the country, and the St. Hagop’s Madagh Picnic held annually in June is arguably the best Armenian church picnic in the country. Racine is a great community with great people.
Throwing an Olympics is a Herculean task: an immense amount of work requiring months of planning and preparation, culminating in a frenzied labor of love come Labor Day Weekend. It involves entire communities in the so called bigger chapters: Providence, Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, and, last year’s host, New Jersey.
And though Racine may not have the numbers, there is no bigger-hearted and harder-working community. They are proud to host the Olympics. They are excited to host Olympics. They have been working diligently for over a year to make sure the weekend is the smashing success I know it will be.
In my few years of writing articles for the Armenian Weekly Special Olympics issue, I have found that each committee has one or two stalwarts—tireless, inspiring, and natural leaders who lead by example far more than by authority. Zohrab Khaligian, to me, is clearly that fellow in Racine. He is a great planner and most certainly one of the most tireless, dedicated, and natural leaders I have ever seen… and I include my decades of corporate experience when I say this. He is also selfless, as will be evidenced by the mild scolding I will receive from him for singling him out over everyone else on the committee. Folks on the committee, however, will thank me for having done so.
Looking forward to seeing old friends, making new ones, and taking pride in the organizational skills, athletic abilities, and overall Armenian enthusiasm that the AYFers will bring to Armenia.
So, this weekend, Tebi Yergir is Tebi Racine for us.