LCO experience is meant to be a working holiday.
Since 1989, the Land and Culture Organization
has been uniting willing workers with worthwhile
projects, giving Diaspora volunteers a summer
of memories in the Motherland.
This summer, LCO divided its program into two
missions. Twenty-five volunteers left July 31
after three weeks, and a second group of 29 picked
up their work the next day and will continue through
As the first group gathered at the Sergey Parajanov
Musuem the day before leaving, the yard will filled
with excited voices in French, English, Western
Armenian, sharing a common conversation about
Some, such as 24-year old Shant Minas of Los
Angeles were making return visits. This was his
third LCO stint. Previously he helped reconstruct
churches in Karintak, Aghdam and Gandzasar. This
summer's work took him to Ayrum to help build
a drying room.
Another group was sent to Shushi, in Karabakh,
to work on water pipes in a hospital.
LCO director Raffi Niziblian is himself a veteran
of the organization's volunteer program. Niziblian
volunteered in 2001, then moved his family here
from Montreal to take up permanent residence and
direct the LCO program.
"The main goal of the organization is to
make Diaspora Armenians get into closer contact
with their homeland by means of the work,"
Niziblian says. "They live in the same house
during three weeks. They eat together, talk with
each other and work together. They go through
difficulties and successes together. Living through
all of that they see the real Armenia."
In addition to the local office LCO has offices
in the United Kingdom, United States and France.
Its work stated 26 years ago by French volunteers
who refurbished monuments throughout the territory
of historical Armenia, in Turkey.
After the 1988 earthquake, LCO began work in
Armenia, building houses in the disaster zone.
Its summer work program is financed by private
Twenty four year old Armen Atmazhyan, from Paris,
is among the group that arrived August 1. It is
his second LCO trip.
year's volunteers included two different
groups, each spending three weeks on projects
in Armenia and Karabakh.
"Every time when I visit Armenia my heart
aches," he says. "For understanding
more deeply the life in Armenia it is necessary
to visit remote regions and realize vital problems
by living there."
Many of the volunteers like Armen say that they
come to their homeland to do something for it,
but what they get here is much deeper.
The program is not restricted to Diaspora.
Yerevan volunteer Lilit Harutyunyan, who was
in the first group and worked in Ayrum, says:
"We worked six hours a day. It was hard but
it was interesting. Girls from Diaspora were especially
active. Even villagers noticed that."
Nor is the LCO program just for the young.
French Armenian Nshan Efeian is 68 and has made
11 visits to Armenia with LCO.
"Armenia was a dream for me that came true,"
he says. "I think that even if I am physically
unable anyway I will come here to do something
for my homeland."
Niziblian says that the beginning is especially
hard, when these strangers with their backpacks
invade remote villages and experience a bit of
"However that kind of difficulties last
for only a few days," Niziblian says. "Volunteers
fill the entire village with their energy. It's
harder when they are parting. Villagers start
to be surprised at the fact that young Armenians
from the other side of the ocean come to take
care of their problems."
The LCO volunteer program defines "working
"Many volunteers are not ready for the manual
labor that they do here," Niziblian says.
"Their hands and muscles start to ache. Scars
appear on they bodies as a result of work. They
work by the sweat of their brow for this land
and that is important."