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Armenian teens get to see their homeland

A group of 28 Armenian teenagers, some from Watertown, recently got to visit Armenia as members of the Homenetmen Organization. (Courtesy Photo)

By Christopher Loh/ Staff Writer

Friday, August 18, 2006 – Updated: 10:20 AM EST

For a group of 28 Armenian teenagers from Watertown and other Boston neighborhoods, it may have seemed impossible to get to their motherland for a 10-day camping trip, but thanks to the Homenetmen Organization, that dream came true.

“It is something read in schools and seen in pictures,” said 22-year-old Aram Kayserian, a Homenetmen troop leader. “But being there, you get goose bumps.”

“It’s a great experience for them,” said 26-year-old Jiro Iskenderian of the teens. “Seeing the motherland is a surreal experience. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The Homenetmen Organization promotes the Armenian-American culture through Scouting and athletics for all ages.

“We want to show them the right path in life,” Iskenderian said. “Organizations like this help kids stay focused.”

Each individual chapter is split into separate groups which, in turn, is given a leader.

Ten chapters make up the Eastern United States region; other regions include Australia, South America, Canada and Europe.

While the organization is coed at the group level, it is single-sex from the ages of 7 and up.

The organization is in 10 regions across the world, with a total of 99 chapters.

The Boston chapter alone has approximately 350 members.

The nonprofit organization boasts two marquee events, one for Scouting and one for athletics, every four years.

Scouts take part in the World Wide Scouting Jamboree held in Armenia since 1994.

This year’s jamboree was the eighth in the organization’s history and gathered more than 650 Homenetmen Scouts from all over the world, including France, Australia, Syria and Canada.

“It’s amazing to see that somewhere across the world there are people doing the exact same thing you’re doing,” Kayserian said. “It’s amazing to unite like that. It was very easy to click with people.”

Iskenderian said people have married through meeting in the organization.

“There was a couple who met at the jamboree, and now they’re married,” he said.

“We did a lot of community service,” Iskenderian said, freshly home from the trip earlier this month. “There was an earthquake in 1989. We went to the center of where the damage was the most and helped the community to clean up schools and nursing homes.”

The group also visited the nation’s capital as well as other sites before finally bunking down on Mount Arakadz to camp and scout for a few days.

“Everyone goes there wanting to make lifelong friendships,” Iskenderian said. “With that mentality, it’s a smooth transition into meeting new people.”

The athletic side of the organization has its own sort of jamboree as well every four years.

Last summer, Homenetmen members gathered in Greece to have a mock Olympics.

Iskenderian said soccer and basketball are the best events for the Boston chapters.

Both events are produced by fund-raising efforts.

It costs approximately $2,000 to send one Scout to Armenia for the Jamboree, most of which is raised through various events such as comedy nights and breakfasts, so the cost to the family is nominal.

Approximately $15,000 was raised for this year’s trip.

“We call each other brother and sister and we mean it,” said Kayserian. “It’s really like meeting family.”

Christopher Loh can be reached at cloh@cnc.com

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