“As I stood on top of Ararat, I felt like I was in my mother’s lap”

“My dear Dzovag…I have two requests. First, when you climb to the top of Ararat, talk to Ararat so that it knows that it’s not the only displaced one, and that its sons and daughters haven’t kept silent and won’t keep silent as they make their claims. Secondly, I ask you to bring me soil from the top of Ararat so that I’ll keep it close to my heart.” These were the words that leader of the Armenian Diocese of Damascus, Bishop Armash Nalbandian addressed to 9th grade student of Lebanon’s Sahagian Levon Meguerditchian College Dzovag Keoshkerian, who recently climbed to the top of Mount Ararat with the director of the College Nazo Jerejian.

Dzovag and Nazo Jerejian are currently in Armenia and gave an interview to Hayern Aysor.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Jerejian, how was the idea of “To Ararat For Sahagian” born?

Nazo Jerejian: I climbed to the top of Mount Ararat for the first time last year. It was there where I decided that I would definitely climb with my students the following year. At first, I wanted to take a group of five students, but I lacked sufficient funding.

This is a big step and is like a big lecture. The main purpose of Armenian schools of the Diaspora shouldn’t only be to teach students the Armenian alphabet, but also to instill in them the feeling of patriotism. This initiative and other similar initiatives serve as an example of advocating patriotism, Visits to Ararat or other historical sites help students get connected to everything more quickly, feel patriotic and establish a direct connection with the Armenian people, language and the history and, why not, even grow up with a healthy lifestyle.

I’m more than happy that we were able to accomplish the goal that we had set for ourselves last year. Dzovag completed her assignment very well and made our school famous. This wasn’t easy. It took a lot of courage, and we did it.

I hope this serves as a driving force for many and that many others express the desire to  not only climb to the top of Ararat, but also visit other historical Armenian sites.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Jerejian, why did you choose Dzovag?

N. J.: During a school event, I noticed how she danced and moved athletically on stage. I asked around and found out that Dzovag not only dances, but also attends gymnastics classes. I thought to myself-Dzovag can climb to the top of Ararat, even though she is still 13 years old. We had never heard about a 13-year-old girl having climbed to the top of a mountain, but Dzovag took the risk and succeeded.

Hayern Aysor: Dzovag, how did you feel when you found out that you were going to blimb to the top of Ararat?

Dzovag Keoshkerian: When our school’s director told me I was going to go mountain climbing and that I was going to climb to the top of Ararat, I got very happy and immediately told my parents, and they also agreed.

We trained a lot in Lebanon, climbed to the highest peak in Lebanon, that is, Kurna As Sauda (3,038 meters). We climbed to the top of Mount Aragats and learned how to respire.

Hayern Aysor: What did you feel as you were standing on top of Ararat?

D. K. It was 7:30 in the morning. I felt like I was in my mother’s lap. It was so beautiful. The air was so clean. It was a pleasure to see all that is sacred for all Armenians with my own two eyes. I felt very calm on top of Mount Ararat. I had dreamed of this for many years, and I was happy that it turned into a reality.

I would like to add that when I was in Baiazet, Ararat looked different. I didn’t see the beauty that we Armenians see from Armenia.

Hayern Aysor: Dzovag, how did your life change?

D. K.: Whereas I would only sit and dream of climbing to the top in a week or two days or the next day, now I can say that I finally climbed to the top.

Hayern Aysor:  Did you believe you could do it?

D. K.: Only after I trained did I believe that I could turn my dream into reality. I felt that I could do it. I would like to tell my peers that if they work hard, they’ll definitely achieve their goals.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Jerejian, before climbing to the top of Mount Ararat, you and Dzovag met with the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, Catholicos Aram I of Cilicia and the Minister of Sport of Lebanon. What was the purpose of these meetings?

Nazo Jerejian: It was mainly for propaganda so that they would know that there was a school named Sahagian Levon Meguerditchian School and that a 13-year-old girl was courageous enough to climb to the top of Ararat. The news spread in the presses and on the Internet. Many people got to know not only Dzovag, but also her school.

Hayern Aysor: Dzovag, the leader of the Armenian Diocese of Damascus made a beautiful request, asking you to speak to Ararat. Did you?

Dzovag Keoshkerian: Yes (smiling-ed.), I did. I told Ararat that it wasn’t alone, that it was our mountain and that it’s always with us and always on our minds.

Hayern Aysor: Did it “listen” to you?

D. K.: Indeed.

Hayern Aysor: Did you bring a handful of soil with you?

D. K.: The leader of the Armenian Diocese of Damascus is my maternal uncle. He has always advocated patriotism. He was very happy when he found out that I was going to climb to the top of Ararat and asked me to bring him some soil, and I decided that I would definitely go and bring him the soil.

Nazo Jerejian continues:

When we reached the top of Ararat, Dzovag reminded me of her uncle’s request. The two of us went down to the small area looking towards Armenia where the ice had melted, and Dzovag placed a handful of soil in her bag with her small fingers.

Hayern Aysor: Dzovag, was that the only “request” that you had “taken” with you to Ararat?

Dzovag Keoshkerian: No, many others had asked me to bring them stones, and that took us a long time. The school’s director placed the stones on his shoulders and brought them down.

Hayern Aysor: How was the view from Ararat?

D. K.: It was very beautiful. We could see Armenia, that is, Khor Virap Monastery and Mount Aragats.

Dzovag is silent as Mr. Jerejian continues…

When we climbed last year, the weather wasn’t good and we couldn’t reach the top. We only climbed nearly 5,000 meters. This year, the weather was great, and we even stayed on the top without hats or gloves. We went down a little to take soil, came back up and took photos. We could see Armenia clearly. Yerevan was in the distance. It was an inexplicable feeling.

Hayern Aysor: How long did it take you to reach the top?

N. J.: It took us four days. We climbed 1,000 meters every day. We were accompanied by Gevorg Gasparyan from Armenia. There were French-Armenians and Armenian Americans joining us. They were all over 35, and Dzovag was the youngest. She was in that atmosphere without her peers for nearly a week.

Hayern Aysor: Dzovag, what was the most difficult for you?

Dzovag Keoshkerian: I was always talking with my family and feeling their presence. The only difficulty was that when we had climbed 4,200 meters and it was already midnight. I felt cold and had problems with respiration.

Nazo Jerejian: She wanted to stop, but we encouraged her.

Hayern Aysor: Dzovag, did you feel the power of Ararat?

D. K.: I did. It was as if I wasn’t the only one climbing to the top of Ararat, but my whole environment. It was as if my family and friends were climbing with me. When I reached the top, I felt that I had done a small “deed” for my homeland.

I’ll be in Armenia until late August.

Hayern Aysor: Is this your first visit to Armenia?

D. K.: Yes, it is. My brother came last year and was very happy when he returned. He showed me quite a lot of photos, and I already had a picture of Armenia. I pictured Yerevan to be a very sweet city with clean districts.

In Lebanon we are members of club and grow up in an Armenian environment. When I came to Armenia, I felt that I was in a more Armenian environment.

It’s calm and safe in Armenia. Even if your mother isn’t with you, you can even spend the night outside.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Jerejian, do you think Dzovag has changed?

N. J.: No, Dzovag remained the same kind, clever, modest girl with willpower. I made the right choice, and she met my expectations. Now Dzovag has another dream, and that is to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Interview by Lusine Abrahamyan

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