Destination: Punta Cana and AHC Armenian Week in the Caribbean

Boston is cold in the winter, especially early on a mid-January morning when heading to Logan airport for a flight to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. The cold quickly becomes a distant memory as we land – mom, Ara and I – on a seasonably warm, sunny day in the tropical paradise.

Our little family was quickly ushered through the airport and out into the sunshine for the drive to the Hyatt Zilara & Ziva, headquarters of Armenian Heritage Cruise (AHC) Armenian week and our home for the next several days. Dressed in our winter clothes, we were almost uncomfortably warm, although this was no cause for complaint as we were quite happy soaking in the heat to soothe our cold New England joints.

Hyatt Zilara & Ziva (Photo: Pauline Getzoyan)

The Hyatt all-inclusive resort came into view, and we felt the tension slip away as we absorbed the beauty surrounding us. Palm trees everywhere, luscious greenery and flowering plants in vibrant colors, capped off by the white sands of the beach and turquoise waters of the Caribbean greeted us. We were able to enjoy these sights thanks to the warm and smiling hospitality of the resort staff. All who greeted us were anxious to make our check-in process as seamless and pleasant as possible – and they succeeded.

Shooshig Aghjayan and Pauline and Ara Getzoyan enjoying Armenian music on the beach from a shady spot (Photo: Tamar Kanarian)

The most welcoming sight for us, however, was family – my brother and sister-in-law (George and Joyce Aghjayan) came around the corner with big smiles clothed in beachwear that we were anxious to emulate. Oh, we’ve seen each other and celebrated holidays together at home, but the feeling of meeting up here…in the warm sunshine…on a long-awaited getaway, was heartwarming. After two years without any travel or time away, we were giddy with excitement, not only to enjoy the tropical paradise, but also to join our fellow Armenians in this celebration.

The Getzoyans’ goddaughter Aline Killian (left) and friends at one of the dances (Photo: Tamar Kanarian)

This year’s event attracted diaspora Armenians of all ages, including many young families. It was clear from the smiles and enthusiasm of both parents and children that everyone was having a great time. As the families swam and splashed in the pools and ocean, danced to the music of all the entertainers, and played beach volleyball, new friends were made and old acquaintances and friendships were renewed and revisited.

Beach volleyball (Photo: Tamar Kanarian)

Speaking of catching up and young families, we were thrilled to hear that our cousin Stephanie and her family were in attendance. Such a treat, especially since the Killian family includes our two godchildren, Aline and Ara. Between smiles, hugs and laughter, the feeling was overwhelming – finally, the chance to reconnect under the umbrella of Armenian week in Punta Cana. The sense of community with Armenian friends and family we had not seen in months warmed our hearts throughout the week.

A sunrise in Punta Cana, 2022 (Photo: Ara Getzoyan)

A typical day during this year’s AHC Armenian Week began with an awe-inspiring sunrise over the ocean waters (if we arose early enough) and a scrumptious breakfast quickly followed by beach and/or pool time. While on the beach, the committee organized activities for everyone’s enjoyment, such as a beach volleyball tournament that boasted seven teams of participants of all ages from many different cities. The traditional and ever-present tavloo (backgammon) tournament drew 20 serious competitors and admiring spectators. One day on the beach, Shant Massoyan had a special children’s concert geared for the youngest guests. Then, Massoyan and the All-Star Kef Band, along with DJ M-Kay, played for enthusiastic dancers who kicked up the sand as Armenian music was heard all around the resort.

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During the course of AHC Armenian Week, several cultural events were held, including a meet and greet with the Armenian Relief Society (ARS). This afternoon gathering offered the opportunity for ARS members from around the world to connect with each other while learning about the projects and activities of the ARS of Eastern USA from Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Angele Manoogian. Manoogian explained the ARS programs supporting the families of fallen soldiers from the 2020 war, along with ongoing support to Lebanon and Syria, student sponsorship and the Youth Connect Program.

Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Angele Manoogian presenting on the ARS

Offering an opportunity to get out of the sun for a little while, Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) executive director Aram Hamparian discussed “The Armenian Lobby: What’s Next?” Hamparian offered background information about Armenian immigration to the US following the Armenian Genocide and the rise of Hai Tahd (Armenian Cause) work. He reminded us that Armenians who came to the US, like many immigrants, felt the push and pull of maintaining culture and identity while pursuing the opportunities offered in their new country. At the same time, there was an evolution of Armenian involvement in US government affairs, as it became very apparent that the sympathy and compassion offered to Armenians during and post-Genocide would not lead to action targeted to save our homeland. “Sympathy is good; it’s sometimes necessary to save lives, but insufficient to save your country,” Hamparian said. Hai Tahd evolved to include lobbying for justice for the Genocide, along with a free Armenia (azad Haiastan). Hamparian explained the power dynamics in Washington, DC in relation to the grassroots activism of the ANCA, using the 2019 Genocide vote as an example of successful Armenian advocacy after decades of work. He concluded by outlining the ANCA’s priorities following the 2020 war, stressing the existential crisis the homeland is facing. “If during the Cold War the goal was freedom, or if on the Genocide issue it was justice, today it is literally survival,” Hamparian explained.

ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian presents “The Armenian Lobby: What’s Next?” (Photo: Tamar Kanarian)

The highly-anticipated showing of Ani Hovannisian’s award-winning documentary “The Hidden Map” capped off the cultural events of the week. Hovannisian poignantly set the stage for the screening by sharing her upbringing at the feet of survivors who recounted their horrific stories from the Armenian Genocide. The film follows her journey to her ancestral home in Western Armenia where by chance she meets Scottish explorer Steven Sim. Intrigued by his decades-long lone exploration and documentation of ancient Armenian sites and relics in present-day Turkey and a shared desire to uncover “The Hidden Map,” Hovanissian and Sim embark on the journey together. Their travels and discoveries are shared in the emotional documentary. While I did not look around the room during the screening, finding it impossible to look away from the film, I know that my eyes were not the only ones filled with tears as we all went on the road with the unlikely pair to uncover our painful past. “The people there are our living link to our past,” said Hovannisian as she explained that what is seen in the film is not ancient history. “There are Armenians there; there are Kurds, and there are even Turks, who are hungry to lift this burden of the ills of the past, of the wrongdoings of their ancestors,” she continued. Hovannisian expressed that she met people there who need us to care. “It’s a living story. It’s a continuing story. We need to keep it and ourselves and them alive and connected,” she concluded to appreciative applause.

Ani Hovannisian (Photo: Tamar Kanarian)

At the end of each sun-and-fun-filled day, we were treated to the musical stylings of world-class musicians including Massoyan and the All-Star Kef Band, Kevork Artinian, Armenchik and his band, as well as DJ M-Kay. The music went late into the night, bringing everyone to their feet dancing, singing along and taking pictures with the entertainers, friends and family. As we returned to our rooms, satiated from days full of Armenian cultural traditions and beach activities, a final treat was the view over the ocean of a stunning full moon that occurred during AHC Armenian Week. “Brighter times are ahead, and it is truly incredible that in today’s environment, so many Armenians from all over the world are gathered in Punta Cana,” stated AHC chairman Jim Kzirian as he thanked everyone for their participation and support.

AHC Committee members (Photo: Tamar Kanarian)

You might wonder what there is to do at the Hyatt Zilara/Ziva outside of the Armenian activities. The all-inclusive resort has multiple pools and hot tubs in addition to the beach at your feet. Towels are plentiful and umbrellas and huts abound to keep everyone safe from the sun’s rays if shade is what you crave. There’s also a water park on the property that is open for all guests to use, including many slides of all sizes for the adventurous and a lazy river for those seeking something more sedate. On the beach, kayaking, sailing and paddle boarding are available, and the water is calm enough to make these activities accessible, even for the novice. The on-site spa offers a variety of services for anyone looking to be pampered, and the gym is both large and well-equipped with everything devoted to guests’ fitness. Finally, there are multiple restaurants offering a wide selection of menu items for the discerning palate, as well as full bar service. All of this is accentuated by the first-class, courteous service of all the staff at the resort.

If this has piqued your interest in next year’s AHC Armenian Week in the Caribbean, reserve your room now and join us from January 13-18, 2023 for another incredible week at the Hyatt Zilara & Ziva.

(Photo: Tamar Kanarian)
Pauline Getzoyan

Pauline Getzoyan

Pauline Getzoyan is editor of the Armenian Weekly and an active member of the Rhode Island Armenian community. A longtime member of the Providence ARF and ARS, she also is a former member of the ARS Central Executive Board. A longtime advocate for genocide education through her work with the ANC of RI, Pauline is co-chair of the RI branch of The Genocide Education Project. In addition, she has been an adjunct instructor of developmental reading and writing in the English department at the Community College of Rhode Island since 2005.

1 Comment

  1. Fantastic write up Pauline and so happy you all enjoyed! What a great change from this New England weather! Looks really pretty! A friend of mine from work vacationed there too recently!

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