Our April 24th is, first of all, remembering the past with the history of Natasha's ancestors. Our April 24th is also about appreciating what is being done today by our volunteer David who works at the Armenian Genocide Museum. And finally, our April 24th will be a story of the future, through our alumna Lisa’s creation of her family in Armenia.
Natasha Roumian, our 2022 volunteer from Spain, tells us the story of how her great-grandparents survived the Armenian Genocide.
"In the 1890s, my great-grandfather Khachatur was born in Kayseri, under the Ottoman Empire. As a young boy, he was forced to escape during the Armenian Genocide. His father was a carpenter and was able to build a hideaway in the kitchen with wooden boards. They then made their way towards Odessa, traveling from hideaway to hideaway. We don't know much about how they made it, as my great-grandfather never spoke about the Genocide and suffered from nightmares about that time for the rest of his life.
From my great-grandmother, we know that they locked part of my great-grandfather's family in a church and set it on fire with all of them inside.
My great-grandmother Ashkhen was born in Silistra in Bulgaria/Romania, her family having escaped during the massacres and deportations in the Ottoman Empire in the 1880s.
In Odessa, my great-grandparents met and married, and my grandfather Nshan was born in the 1920s in the Soviet Union - a time of struggle and hunger.
Around the 1930s, my family was able to leave the Soviet Union and move to Tabriz in Iran and then finally to Tehran, where my grandfather met Cristina, my Spanish grandmother, and my father Jan and aunt Loussik were born. They eventually moved to Spain, where years later, my parents met, and my brother Danniel and I were born.
This is our story, but sadly it is very similar to that of many descendants of Armenian genocide survivors. We now have family in different areas of the world, forcibly separated in the past, that we still haven't been able to reconnect with - as far as we know so far, in the USA, Bulgaria, and Romania.
I feel proud to be Armenian and wish our family could see my brother and me now, returning to our homeland, reconnecting with our nation, learning more about our incredible culture and traditions, and keeping Armenia alive."
David Hackett from the U.S. is currently volunteering at the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute as a Researcher and Content Editor.
"In my role, I work to help edit and polish academic texts prior to publication in the International Journal for Armenian Genocide Studies. I also pursue my own research project, which is related to diaspora-homeland relations and its impact on the geopolitics of the Caucasus.
Many aspects of the volunteer experience with Birthright Armenia interested me: the opportunity to gain valuable work experience, learn the Armenian language, and meet folks with extraordinary stories all motivated me to apply for Birthright. However, my core motivation for volunteering at Tsitsernakaberd is very personal: my great-grandmother, Varter, was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide who hailed from the Kharberd region and surmounted incredible odds in her journey to reach the United States. Honoring her story and the traumatic experiences of those who survived the Armenian Genocide has driven me to pursue my studies (beginning a Ph.D. in the Fall of 2023) in Genocide Studies and Political Science, and it served as a catalyst that ignited my interest in traveling to Armenia as a Birthright Armenia volunteer.
It's sobering to be here during April. To be here and contributing to the Institute's operation while honoring the memories and experiences of those impacted by the Armenian Genocide is a privilege in itself. However, being here in April carries a deep personal significance for me as a volunteer and diaspora member. Assisting the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in preparing for this year's commemoration activities and spending time on-site to commemorate Genocide Remembrance Day truly feels akin to a culmination of the "pilgrimage" to Armenia."
Lisa Giragosian Iskikian, an alumna from our first group of volunteers in 2004 and 2017 AVC volunteer with her husband Barkev, repatriated with her family to Armenia in 2017.
"I am a third-generation Armenian-American. My Kharpertsi grandfathers were Genocide survivors, and my grandmothers were first-generation Armenian-Americans. A few months after completing AVC in 2017, my husband and I decided to move from California to Armenia. One of the integral reasons behind our decision was wanting to raise our future children in Armenia. We now have a four-year-old son and twin two-year-old daughters.
kids to maintain their Armenian identities is effortless here in Armenia. They
attend Armenian preschools and play on Armenian soil. On weekends, we visit
historical Armenian sites in Gyumri, Dilijan, and Tumanyan. My husband is
active in the local IT sector through work and volunteering, while I am
involved in various projects and volunteer opportunities.Armenia is not just
our homeland but also a vibrant place to live, an inspiring place to grow, and the
right place for my family."
The challenges are still here and must be outmatched only by our resolve. Remembering and understanding the past should only be a source of our nation's strength, never of weakness, driving us to prioritize and commit to Armenia's preservation. There is little time for emotion, only time for dispassionate action.
Sevan Kabakian, Country Director