On May 25, 2011, I visited the Youth Center of Akhaltsikhe together with Martyna Skura, EVS volunteer based in Akhaltsikhe, Samstkhe-Javakheti, where she works for the local women’s organization “Women’s Hope”. A sunny evening gave us a good opportunity to meet with a bunch of young Armenians, find out more about the Youth Center and discover the Armenian heritage surrounding the center under their enthusiastic and well-informed guidance.
Upon our arrival at the Youth Center around 6 pm on Wednesday, May 25, 2011, a crowd of boys and young men was standing in front of the gate, smoking cigarettes, chatting and laughing, simply enjoying their daily community meeting. In a room of the Center, some girls and women were rehearsing Armenian songs around a piano – mainly for the purpose of local church services.
Armenian youth come to the Center every day. Getting there is easy for all – it is located in the center of the town, in a rather large, old building which was rearranged into a community center to offer space and facilities for community meetings and youth activities.
Almost every day, youth can attend Georgian and/or Armenian language classes, as well as Armenian dance and/or music classes. They also have access to computers and internet for free. In such a small town where private houses remain the main places dedicated to meetings, the Center also offers to youth another space for gathering and dialogue, outside of the family circles.
On that day, EVS volunteer Martyna Skura and I, soon joined by Czech EVS volunteers Jana Kowalova and Tomas Czyz, met with Vova, Ono, Tiush, Ashot, Eduard and their friends, all of them being young Armenians from Akhaltiskhe. Between the Russian, Georgian, Armenian and English languages, we managed to communicate fairly well during several hours and a good Georgian supper.
Under their guidance, we visited the Armenian Church as well as the Memorial of the Armenian genocide marked by an Armenian cross, called “Khachkhar” in Armenian, both located on the hill just above the Youth Center. This informal Armenian heritage tour brought up a range of historical and regional issues going from the migration of Armenians from Turkey, back then, to the migration of Armenians to the Russian Federation nowadays – all topics were discussed in a very friendly and open manner.
Among the new friends we made, Tiush is the only one who does not live permanently in Akhaltsikhe. He was born in this very town, but moved to Yerevan with his family when he was 6 years old. If he is definitely proud to be Armenian and to live in Armenia, and hopes to go and work in Russia, he told us – and tells everybody whenever he can – that for him, the region of Akhaltsikhe remains the best place in the world.
Nb: the Akhaltsikhe Youth Center was named after Charles Aznavour, famous Armenian-French singer whose family came from Akhaltsikhe.
Many thanks to Martyna, Jana, Tomas, and especially Vova, Ono, Tiush, Ashot, Eduard and their friends with whom I spent time in Akhaltiskhe and thanks to whom I have become more familiar with the reality of the local Armenian community –
The Akhaltsikhe Youth Center has a website. Unfortunately, it seems not to be working at the moment. Let’s hope it will be functional again soon!