President of the Armenian community of Udmurtia: “We will continue to support our compatriots in Artsakh through different programs”

By creating their “small Armenia”, the Armenians living in the distant Udmurtia can, with their example, state that Armenians around the world are capable of preserving their national identity and staying true to their roots.

In an interview with Hayern Aysor, president of the “Urartu” Armenian community of Udmurtia Mnatsakan Arakelyan said the Armenians of Udmurtia had succeeded thanks to their unity, understanding and pro-national efforts, which have helped them gain a good reputation in Udmurtia.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Arakelyan, when was the Armenian community of Udmurtia established?

Mnatsakan Arakelyan: The Armenian community of Udmurtia was established in 1994.

In the beginning, there were 1,700 Armenians living in Udmurtia. More and more Armenians started moving to Udmurtia after the year 1994.

Currently, there are 3,830 Armenians living in Udmurtia, of which 2,830 are citizens of the Russian Federation, while the rest simply have temporary citizenship. I must say that the prevailing majority of the local Armenians are involved in construction. Some are public servants, while others have their own businesses. There are many Armenians from Javakhk and Artsakh, as well as people from Armenia.

Out of all the Armenians, 95 percent read and write in Armenian. Unfortunately, the remaining 5 percent have lost their identity and have even changed their last names from Poghosyan to Poghosov, from Ayvazyan to Ayvazov, etc.

Hayern Aysor: How does the community preserve the Armenian identity?

M. A.: After the establishment of the community, the major issue for all of us was the establishment of an Armenian school. We were concerned about keeping Armenian children from the danger of assimilation.

For that purpose, in 1995, we opened the Ruben Melikyan Armenian Sunday School.

The school has 11 branches in different districts of Udmurtia and teaches Armenian language, history, literature and the history of Armenian religion. The teachers have also participated in the Training Course for Teachers of Armenian Language and History and Organizers of Education, which is part of the “Diaspora” Summer School Program of the RA Ministry of Diaspora. Overall, there are 83 students.

The community has created the “Urartu” Armenian Dance Group and a football team. In 2005, we even opened an Armenian cemetery where over 60 Armenians are resting in peace.

We also organize meet-and-greets. Armenian students come together, organize discussions, ask questions and make proposals. We sing Armenian national songs and perform Armenian dances.

The parents of the young Armenians also attend the meet-and-greets. After the events, the youth feel more patriotic, have a deeper love for Armenian national tradition and improve their Armenian. This helps them refrain from assimilating in the foreign environment.

We believe our power lies in the youth. There are over 250 Armenian students pursuing their studies at various universities in Udmurtia.

Overall, the major purpose of the community is to help the Armenians of Udmurtia preserve the Armenian roots, culture and literature. We celebrate all the holidays, including Easter, New Year, the Armenian Vardavar Water Festival and other holidays.

For instance, in 2015, the Vardavar Water Festival gathered up to 1,500 Armenians. Representatives of the Armenian communities of the Russian cities of Kazan, Rostov-na-Don, Perm and Ufa visited Udmurtia.

When we received 1,260 people (including 9 Armenians) from Ukraine last year, we lent a helping hand, providing them with clothes, shows and other domestic items.

In Udmurtia, all the Armenians are equal. We don’t place any discrimination so that they are not split into two.

We also often visit orphanages and take different items with us.

Hayern Aysor: Diaspora Armenians marked the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide with different commemorative events. How did the Armenian community of Udmurtia mark the Centennial?

M. A.: We had started preparing for the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide back in 2012.

One of the major events was the construction of the statue of a woman escaping the Genocide with her deceased child in her lap and the duplicate of the statue. The statue was made by a Georgian sculpture upon the order of the community. We also issued a special coin dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide in the form of that sculpture.

Generally speaking, the commemorative events became historic for us and gathered representatives of almost all the nations of Udmurtia, including the Russians, Udmurts, Tatars, Jews, Greeks and Kazaks.

Fist, we closed the Gorky and Pushkin Streets (nearly 12 km) and held a protest for two hours. We approached the building of the State Council of Udmurtia. The members of the council also joined us and showed that Udmurtia also condemns the Armenian Genocide. The next day, the local presses touched upon the march and talked about the unity of the Armenian nation.

Despite the unfavorable climate, nearly 1,240 people participated in the demonstration, including 6 ministers of Udmurtia, representatives of 17 nations, guest clergymen from the Russian Orthodox Church and the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, with whom we reached the Saint Gregory the Illuminator Church. On that day, we also held a ceremony of sacrificing of lamb and ended the commemorative events with a performance of the Armenian song “Dle Yaman”.

We also made the films “We Won’t Forget the Year 1915” and “Image of the Community”, which were dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Arakelyan, I believe the presence of the Church is a major precondition for preserving the Armenian identity, not forgetting Christian values and ensuring the partnership between the community and the Church in the Diaspora. Does the Armenian community of Udmurtia have a church?

M. A.: I share your opinion. Construction of an Armenian church is a priority issue for all us members of the community. The consolidation of the Armenians of Udmurtia around the church will truly help strengthen the bonds between the Church and the community.

After building the Armenian school in 2009, in 2010, we launched construction of the church with the support of President of Udmurtia Alexander Volstov, who transferred 2,500,000 Russian rubles to the community. We invited him to the elections for president of the Armenian community. When he saw 800 Armenians gathered in one place, he was amazed at our consolidation. He admires the spirit of the Armenians and definitely wanted to do something to help us in some way.

A Muslim acquaintance of mine told me he wanted to place a stone on the church building during construction. Can you imagine? Instead of one stone, he placed a series of stones and inspired many with his example. Several officials became motivated and started placing stones on the building to help the builders. Now, jokingly and seriously, we say that the church was also built by the Urmurts, Georgians, Tatars, Tajiks and other nations. The Tajiks brought seedlings for 100 roses and planted them around the church. Now the Armenians of Udmurtia are impatiently waiting for the opening of the church this fall.

Hayern Aysor: Armenian communities of the Diaspora supported Artsakh and the Armenian people during the four-day Artsakh war. What did the Armenian community of Udmurtia do to help?

M. A.: The first time the Armenian community of Udmurtia helped Artsakh was during the years of the struggle for Artsakh’s liberation.

When we heard about the large-scale military actions that Azerbaijan had unleashed, we panicked, gathered in the churchyard to discuss and understand our future actions and stood united as one to help Artsakh.

Nearly 200 Armenians gathered. Some people, even elders volunteered to go to Artsakh.

We brought different kinds of military equipment for the army of Artsakh during our visit to Armenia. We also visited Artsakh, met with various officials, had discussions and understood what kind of assistance Artsakh needed.

We didn’t miss the opportunity to see our heroic soldiers on the border. We witnessed their courage, fighting spirit and willingness to fight for their homeland.

When I return to Udmurtia, I will continue motivating the members of the community so that they keep supporting our compatriots through different programs.

Interview by Gevorg Chichyan

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