On an unusually quiet day at the office of Land and Culture Organization, staff member Rubina Markosyan shows a guest letters from volunteers who have spent parts of their summers in Armenia over the past 14 years.
“Summer, 2003, Shushi, day two, on the way to the hospital. I’ve come here for myself, just for myself. There are no patterns here and no times, no leaving and returning. I am a complete continuation. Many different people are trying to speak the same language. Now, I feel happiness with my hands and fingers,” one of the letters says.
This summer LCO celebrates 15 years of connecting Diaspora and Armenia through programs that turn holidays into missions for volunteers.
“The earthquake became the reason for Land and Culture to enter Armenia. Before, the Soviet government would not allow it,” says the president of Land and Culture in Armenia, surgeon Gevorg Yaghjyan. “After the disaster, Diaspora Armenians were finally allowed to help their native country.”
In the summer of 1989, LCO brought 40 volunteers to the village of Gogaran, near Spitak, to repair earthquake damage.
“Land and Culture was the first which by bringing volunteers to Armenia was showing them not the beautiful Yerevan with its hotels and restaurants, but the country with its villages, its land and churches,” Yaghjian says. “People were becoming bound with their own country unknown to them before, by understanding its problems and needs.”
Project coordinator of the Armenian office Raffi Niziblian explains the name.
“These words symbolize faith. It is only on its native land where national culture can develop in its best way. No culture can exist long if it doesn’t have roots in its land.”
in the land and roofs over houses.
Over the years some 600 to 700 volunteers have spent up to two months working in Armenia.
Among its projects, LCO has reconstructed schools and churches, built homes for refugees, made fruit-drying rooms, repaired a cultural home, kindergarten, book store, hospital. For the past seven years, the work has also included Karabakh.
This year, about 40 volunteers are expected to work in Karabakh and Vardenis.
Among LCO projects in its 15 th year, Niziblian says, will be the reconstruction of a school in Shatvan. For four years, LCO volunteers have helped reconstruct a hospital in Shushi. This year the surgical ward will be restored.
Niziblian says Karabakh has become well acquainted with LCO.
“I’ve been to Karin Tak so many times
that I consider myself Karintaktsi,” he
In fact, two years after Niziblian and his wife, Lara, worked with LCO on a church in Karintak, they took their children their to be baptized.
“That was a great happiness for us,” the director says.
Like Raffi and Lara, some LCO volunteers end up moving to Armenia.
“They start working here investing in their own country, carrying out their own projects and also by cooperating with Land and Culture. People stay here despite the country’s difficulties,” says Yaghjyan.
school in Shatvan will be repaired by LCO
Cafesjian Foundation director of public relations
and events Madeleine Minasyan is one of them.
She first came to Armenia in 1996 as a volunteer.
“From the very first moment I felt I was at home and my future has to be here,” Minasyan says. “I called home and said I wasn’t coming back. My parents asked me that I at least go back and finish my studies and only then to return.”
Minasyan moved to Armenia in 2001 and went from LCO volunteer to public relations director of one of Armenia’s most active philanthropic organizations.
“Land and Culture gives Diaspora Armenians a chance to get acquainted with a wonderful country which later becomes a part of their soul,” Minasyan says.
LCO was established in 1977 in France. Part of the aim was to preserve cultural landmarks in historical Armenia. The first LCO volunteers worked on restoration projects in Iran and Syria.
Volunteers pay their expenses and donate their time. LCO itself is maintained through Diaspora donations.