The voice of my ancestors

The Voice of my Ancestors

“I hear the voice of my ancestors calling my name. The voice of my ancestors is within me. I am the voice of my ancestors.”

I wanted to reconnect with my ancestral roots. Like many descendants of survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, I was born, raised, and lived outside of Armenia. It was time for me to change that. So I searched and found Birthright Armenia and applied to join its sister organization, the Armenian Volunteer Corps. I picked Gyumri as the site of my one-month volunteering mission after I learned about its history and met and was inspired by one of Gyumri’s natives.

I told my fellow volunteers in Gyumri that I wanted to find “the key to the Armenian spirit”. I spent a whole month volunteering, but also on the lookout for that key.

In Gyumri, I taught various software development topics at D-Link Gyumri where I met some brilliant engineers. I delivered a number of technical presentations at the Gyumri Information Technology Center where I met some smart students. I taught conversational English at Instigate where I met some serious but also fun professionals, many of whom became friends. And I held a number of conversational English sessions at the Real School where I met some wonderful and respectful teenagers. In all my students I saw firsthand the brilliance of the Armenian mind and potential Armenia has in its people.

I spent many hours at the dinner table with my loving host family, Vardan and Sussana. They told me stories of harder times and survival. The earthquake. The fall of the Soviet Union. The war to liberate Artsakh. The 90s. In them, I felt the love and experienced the hospitality of the Armenian family. I saw perseverance, wisdom, and strength in their eyes.

I enjoyed my Armenian language lessons with my fellow volunteers, Tina and Razmig, and our wonderful teacher Ms. Anahit. In her, I felt the love for our beautiful language. She helped us prepare to celebrate the life of Hovhannes Shiraz, the Armenian poet. At his home and museum in Gyumri, we held an event where we recited many of his poems. There I felt the depth and richness of our Armenian culture.

With 13 other Gyumri volunteers, I spent many hours eating, talking, walking, dancing, laughing, and even discussing some serious topics. We talked about who we were, why we were there, and where we were headed in life. We talked about our Armenian identity and voiced our concerns but also our hopes for our nation. In many of them, I saw the eagerness to find our purpose, something bigger than ourselves.

While in Gyumri I joined a local traditional dance group called “Hrayrk”, which means “inner fire”. I liked the people, the dances, and the songs. It was ultimately there where I felt that I found what I was looking for. All of us were dancing together in a circle. All of us moving together to the same beat. All of us smiling at each other, enjoying the music, the energy, the form, but more importantly and perhaps very simply, being there, being present. Through those melodies and dance moves, I felt my ancestors speaking to me. My ancestors created and danced those dances for thousands of years. Those dances were their way of expressing themselves, of celebrating life, of worshipping their gods, and of preparing for battle. At that moment, it wasn’t just us dancing. It was all my ancestors present there, dancing through us and with us. At that moment, I heard the voice of my ancestors calling my name. Their voice was within me and I was the voice of my ancestors.

My one-month volunteering in Gyumri is over, but I know I will go back to Gyumri.

Come volunteer in Armenia via the Armenian Volunteer Corps. You will meet some wonderful people and leave with great memories. And if you have Armenian ancestry as I do, you may also find what you are looking for. You may reconnect with your ancestral roots.

Shant Dashjian
USA, 2019

April 23, 2019