Leaving sunny Southern California for another taste of Armenia

I was originally scheduled to stay in Armenia for a month, that was back in August of 2023. I left sunny Southern California for another taste of Armenia’s breathtaking highlands, rivers and rich history. The incredible AVC staff welcomed me with open arms and offered me serval different options for placements. I knew I had a great desire to work with children, so I chose The Kharberd Specialized Orphanage, an organization supporting children with varying disabilities. Most of these children are in wheelchairs and are unable to speak, however we found our own unique way to communicate with one another. There I was responsible for feeding these sweet angels’ breakfast and lunch and taking them out into the courtyard for some fresh air and to enjoy the gentle breeze. We would habitually sit under the lush grape vines, listen to music and watch videos of the Pacific Ocean on my phone. The way their beautiful almond-shaped eyes would light up in amazement is something I will keep close to my heart forever.

Following my time at the Orphanage, I then enthusiastically participated in military/first-aid training with VOMA, an NGO that aims to strengthen its military defenses. I also was selected to be the voice for AUA’s 2023 year-end review video by their communications team. 

During this time, sovereign Armenia was bustling. The cafes and restaurants in Yerevan were always full. Music could be heard from nightclubs and pubs as you walked past. Citizens and tourists flooded the streets to enjoy the crisp autumn weather prior to the upcoming winter months. However, the situation in Artsakh during this exact same time was a nightmare, to say the least and things were about to get much worse

September 26, 2023, I (along with 2 other volunteers) made the instinctive decision to head to Goris (ground zero) and catapult ourselves into the chaos that will forever be a part of our history. 120,000 Armenian citizens of Artsakh were forced to leave their homes, their lives, their everything during this modern-day Genocide and exodus that began on September 19. I was just one of a handful of volunteers to arrive on that day, which happened to be hours before the first bus of displaced Artsakhtsis arrived. Coincidentally, Arina Zohrabian, the director of AVC, called me on route that day. Once I explained to her where I was going and reassured her that I would check in with her frequently, she asked me to observe and report back as to what the critical needs were. After relaying some information over the next few days, volunteers from both AVC and Birthright began to arrive in Goris for the much-needed support and assistance. Almost immediately following this, AVC/BR decided to create a Rapid Response Team to aid and assist the displaced residents of Artsakh, which included working in conjunction with World Central Kitchen. I would like to believe that I had a hand in the conception of this team and its ability to reach out to as many displaced Artsakhtsis as possible. 

The Fresno Bee equals Full Circle

 

After returning from Goris that horrifying week, I was approached by TAP (The Armenian Project) through AVC, to write an essay about my eyewitness and volunteer experience during that traumatic time. I submitted my story and was told they would send my article to multiple news outlets in hopes that one of them would pick it up for publishing. Well, it was picked up by and published in The Fresno Bee. The Fresno Bee. I must mention, I don’t believe in coincidences but rather that everything happens for a reason. That being said, this was a huge full circle moment for me. Why? Let me explain; I was born in Fresno, California. I don’t remember much but I do have a couple of memories of walking through my father’s apple orchards, sitting high up on his shoulders and plucking apples off the trees and trying to sneak a bite before he caught me. Tragically, at the age of 3, my father was shot and murdered by two masked men during an armed robbery of his convenience store in Fresno. To this day, the perpetrators have not been held accountable for his murder, which means it’s a cold case. An ice-cold case. His story and obituary were both published in The Fresno Bee. I never would have thought that the only child of Vahan Terterian, my father, would also have an article published in the same paper. Two different worlds, two different circumstances, but both cataclysmic events. Maybe this was his way of helping me get the story of Artsakh out to the world. Maybe he knows something I don’t. Maybe he’s trying to tell me, to tell us to remain hopeful. Whatever it is, I’m listening. Sure, I didn’t know him for very long, but I do know we share the same passion; helping others by way of volunteering, explained to me by my Horkoor. I guess the saying “I am my father’s daughter” is true regardless of how much time he physically spent being my dad. You can read my full article here. I was also asked to do an interview for The Armenian Weekly, which was an equally huge moment for me. You can read that publication here.

 

One Way Ticket to the Homeland

 

The 5 days I spent in Goris changed me. I had a crystal-clear vision, an “ah-ha” moment if you will. I quickly realized that there was absolutely no way I could leave Armenia, at least not for an extended period of time. I returned to the states (how I will refer to Los Angeles from now on) for 2 weeks in mid-November, not only to use my original round trip ticket but mainly to pick up warm clothes for the winter. I met with most of my friends and family and explained to them my indescribable urge to be in Armenia. During my short stay in the states, I had one very important place to go; my mother’s gravesite. My mom was and still is the most important person in my life. No one else’s opinion of me, of what I’m doing, of how I’m doing it matters to me except for hers. I sat down next to her and began to contemplate whether I was making the right decision or not when suddenly remembered a conversation we had shortly before she passed where she said to me, “Stace, my darling, I just want you to be healthy and content.” Content, a state of peaceful happiness. My eyes filled with tears, and I knew in that moment, no matter what I decided, my mom, my best friend would be alongside me every step of the way, and that was precisely the green light I needed.

Since my return, I have been volunteering with AGBU (also a partner with AVC) with multiple initiatives/programs. The staff at AGBU Armenia, including a few who worked at the AGBU Artsakkh office, have become very dear and very valuable friends of mine. We’ve travelled to almost all the regions in Armenia, meeting with hundreds of displaced families, delivering and distributing heaters, blankets, food boxes, clothing etc… In December of 2023, we participated in several Christmas parties along with wrapping and handing out thousands of presents for both local children and those from Artsakh. The joy, the giggles and laughter we were able to offer these children will never be forgotten. It truly is better to give than to receive.

 

My Love Story 

 

All of this has led me to believe that I am in the right place at the right time, that both my mom and dad are forever my guardian angels, guiding me safely through this unpredictable journey and that AVC was my catalyst for falling more in love with Armenia then I already was. The road will be long and far from easy, however I am determined to make it happen. If there is a will there is a way. Remember, it’s never too late to find your purpose in life; the thing you are passionate about. For me it’s repatriating and finding a tangible way to strengthen my Homeland. My grandmother used to always quote this one Bible verse, (among many others and I can hear her reciting it now), ‘faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.’ My love for Armenia, for my displaced brothers and sisters, its wonderous beauty, its thousands of years of struggle, was the motivating factor for my not so difficult decision to come, stay and call Armenia my forever home.

Joining AVC can be the nudge you didn’t know you needed to finding your passion.

To my non-Armenian friends curious or on the fence about coming to Armenia, come, come experience the endless beauty, unmatched hospitality, genuine charm and magical mystery of this breathtaking country. Come and fall in love.

To my fellow Diasporans across the globe, HET ARI, COME HOME, Armenia needs you.

April 19, 2024