This summer was one of the greatest of my life thanks to an amazing group of interns and our beautiful homeland. The AYF Internship in Armenia program allowed me to connect with Armenia and its people in a much deeper way than just going there as a tourist. Working and living in Armenia for 10 weeks gave me new insight into the lives of our people.
I have been an active member of my local Armenian community from an early age. I attended Armenian school and Camp Haiastan and joined the AYF when I was 10 years old. I feel embedded in the Armenian-American community; my family has had roots here since my great-grandparents fled the Genocide. The Armenian community in the US, especially in Watertown, is strong and has been for decades. I have always felt connected yet somewhat distant from present day Armenia. However, the AYF internship allowed me to connect with our homeland in a way that I have always wanted. At times, during our first few weeks, I felt a bit like an outsider especially since I don’t speak Armenian very well. However, as time went on, I became comfortable walking the streets of Yerevan, taking the metro and saying hello to people. Over time, it felt a lot more like home.
I worked at the Women’s Support Center, where I did research for two ongoing projects. One project was aimed at pinpointing gaps in gender equality issues in Armenia. The other assessed the potential for the implementation of programs that involve men in combating negative gender stereotypes and preventing gender-based violence. This summer, I learned a lot about the current climate surrounding women’s rights and issues in Armenia. I’ve learned that domestic violence in particular is a pressing issue in Armenia, and cases have dramatically risen since the pandemic and the 2020 war. The Women’s Support Center does good work in helping fight for gender equality and assisting survivors of domestic violence. I am grateful for my time at the Women’s Support Center as I learned so much from this organization.
One of the most impactful weeks for me during this internship was our trip to Artsakh. This was my first visit, so I was grateful for the experience. It was emotional and eye-opening to see the impact of the war and meet the people who have been affected. It puts things into perspective when you are there, seeing for yourself, the physical and emotional damage of war. During our visit, we spent time with the AYF youth in Marduni and Vank, which were the highlights of the trip for me. The people of Artsakh and Armenia deserve to live in a free and independent land, and we in the diaspora must continue to support them.
As I met other young Armenians from Artsakh, Javakhk and Yerevan, I realized how different our lives can be depending on where our ancestors ended up after the Genocide. These encounters also underscored the beauty of connecting with people who grew up differently from me because we have this same shared love for our land and culture. It was amazing to have this experience with my fellow interns. During dinner one day, we were all sharing which village in Western Armenia our ancestors were from. A few people had some relatives from the same region or village. It was a surreal moment to think that our family members may have known each other and here we were, all living in Armenia for a summer together. Now more than ever, I encourage the youth in the diaspora to continue their support for Armenians and Armenia’s independence. I highly recommend the AYF Internship program and all other opportunities that allow you to connect and give back to our homeland. It was an experience of a lifetime.