ARMONK, N.Y.—For the 12th year, outstanding students from the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s Sts. Tarkmanchatz School joined their counterparts at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary for its Summer Conferences for youth.
This year, four Jerusalem students were afforded unique opportunities to interact with their Armenian-American peers, strengthen their Christian faith, and experience the special New York environs and flavor.
The project was initiated by the Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, and realized by the generous contributions of major donors. This year’s main benefactors were Russell and Susan Kashian (Muskego, Wis.), with generous support by George and Lorraine Marootian (Franklin Lakes, N.J.), Vicken and Rosette Arslanian (Englewood, N.J.), Joseph and Kristine Casali (Ramsey, N.J.), Gregory and Meline Toufayan (Saddle River, N.J.), Glen and Kristin Dabaghian (Ramsey, N.J.), and Keith and Karyn Bilezerian (Wrentham, Mass.).
Flower in Our Lives
The four exceptional students were 17-year-olds Ike Demirjian, Hagop Hagopian, and Sevana Hekimian, and 15-year-old Serena Karin Bush, all of whom spoke with great praise for their student life at Sts. Tarkmanchatz and its principal, the Very Rev. Fr. Norayr Kazazian.
Several comments about Father Norayr reflected their love and admiration for him and his leadership of the school, which Ike called “very supportive.” The students praised the principal for advancing the school’s educational programs and its facilities, and for being “close, friendly, kind, caring, and principled” with the students. “Sts. Tarkmanchatz has been a beautiful flower in our lives,” declared Sevana.
Ike Demirjian, who grew up in Tel Aviv and moved to Jerusalem two years ago with his family, “loves Jerusalem and Sts. Tarkmanchatz,” where he has served a student council president, and started a basketball team that he coaches. He has decided to either gravitate toward engineering “because I love making things and am very creative,” or medicine “in order to help people.”
Born in Jerusalem, Hagop Hagopian comes from a family whose genocide experiences involved his paternal grandmother’s escape from Eskishehir, and his maternal grandparents’ from Marash. He sees medicine as his future work. He plans to stay in Jerusalem, attend Hebrew University, then go to the Medical University in Yerevan. Having family in Armenia, and a sister studying medicine there, he has visited Armenia nine times and especially loves Artsakh’s “nature, endless green mountains, and its weather.”
Sevana Hekimian’s family came to Jerusalem through a journey that involved her paternal grandfather and his uncle from Musa Ler escaping the Armenian Genocide, going to Syria, Jordan, and finally an orphanage in Jerusalem’s Armenian Convent. There, his grandfather met his future wife at the Homenetmen Club.
Sevana plans to study economics and accounting management at Hebrew University, then live and study in Armenia, “because it’s time that our generation should be the ones to make the country brighter.” She traveled to Armenia in 2013 with the Ari Tun (Come Home) program where young Armenians from around the globe stay in local volunteer homes and interact with the local population. “When I got to Zvartnotz Airport, something touched my heart. It was comfort,” she said.
Serena Karin Bush, whose father is German-American, hopes to be a psychologist or to work at the United Nations. “I want to make a difference in the world and help mankind advance in peace.” Her mother’s family is from Marash and Caesarea; they survived the Genocide and came to Jerusalem after a long trek from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. In the summer of 2015, she traveled to Armenia “to see my homeland. It was extremely overwhelming. Artsakh was just beautiful and breathtaking, but anger brewed inside of me when I went because my people are getting killed over what is rightfully ours.”
Illuminations at St. Nersess
“Before coming to the St. Nersess program, my faith was not so strong,” confessed Sevana. “Here I have been going to my room, talking to God and feeling comfortable.” For Serena, “it has been so refreshing, being more exposed to the outside world from the very traditional atmosphere” in Jerusalem. Though she still has questions, she has become “more strong” in her faith.
For Ike, it has been an experience of “thinking out of the box, being more open. Everyone is so energetic, so enthusiastic, so Armenian. You can feel it. I have made so many friends.” He said he had attended many programs before this experience at St. Nersess that have helped him in life. This new exposure “will stay with me forever. I am now more confident, more social, and more independent.”
Hagop, who had a “burning desire” to come to the St. Nersess summer program “to learn more deeply about Christianity,” the experience has “greatly strengthened” his faith. He plans to stay in Jerusalem because he “wants to be helpful to the next Armenian generation in Jerusalem.”
Hagop expressed a strong desire that Armenian-American youth also deepen their knowledge of the Armenian language. “In our history, we have fought for this. Christianity and our language are integral to our survival.”