BY FLORENCE AVAKIAN
ST. NERSESS SEMINARY, NY----In the bucolic peaceful surroundings of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, two outstanding students from the Sts. Tarkmanchatz Armenian Secondary School in Jerusalem’s Armenian Patriarchate enjoyed the Armenian Christian spirit with fellow students in the summer conference there. This is the eighth successful year that students from Jerusalem have participated.
We’re here for one purpose – for our Armenian heritage,” says 17-year old Layan Najarian. “We pray in the same language, sing songs and dance together, and have a special communication.” For 16-year old Talar Hagopian, “It’s like finding our lost brothers and sisters. We had heard of St. Nersess, but living the experience is ten times better.”
Both Talar and Layan were specially selected by the Sts. Tarkmanchatz school faculty for their excellent academic achievements to travel to New York and participate in the St. Nersess summer program for youth.
It was eight years ago that the program was initiated by Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, Dean of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary who with great enthusiasm directs and guides the project. It has been in effect through the generosity of several benefactors.
This year’s main benefactors were Russell and Susan Kashian of Wisconsin, and Neil and Renee Ferraro of Massachusetts. Also supporting the program were Glen and Kristin Dabaghian of New Jersey, Keith and Karyn Bilezerian of Massachusetts, Greg and Meline Toufayan of New Jersey, Stepan and Kristi Findikyan of New York, and Gabriel and Sophia Ovanessian of New York.
The two student’s stay at St. Nersess was not only a learning experience where they took part in Bible studies, lectures, group discussions, and daily worship in the St. Nersess chapel, it also included singing, dancing, a day at the New Jersey shore to nearby beaches. As Talar nods in agreement, Layan gushes, “We will share many memories of St. Nersess and take them with us to the grave.”
The two students also had the opportunity to meet with the Primate of the Armenian Diocese (Eastern) Archbishop Khajag Barsamian during his visit to the High School summer session in which they both participated.
EDUCATION AT A HIGH LEVEL
Through the 84 years of its existence, Sts. Tarkmanchatz Armenian School has been known for its very high level of academic excellence under the direction of its principal, the Very Rev. Fr. Norayr Kazazian, and a roster of excellent teachers. It diverse curriculum includes Armenian history, language, culture, as well as a full list of studies in mathematics, physical and social sciences, history, and languages – Armenian, Arabic, English and Hebrew. “Religion is also very important,” relates Layan. “We always have prayers in the morning before going to our classes.”
Both Layan and Talar are graduating next year, and will leave with memories that will last a lifetime. “Sts. Tarkmanchatz is like a huge family of about 140 students, including about a dozen Christian Arab students. It’s a wonderful place with great education, and a peaceful atmosphere with strong discipline, no bullying, and no enemies,” comments Layan. Talar adds, “It’s like a warm and inviting home, but on the other hand, there’s no privacy. Everyone knows everyone’s business, but at the same time,” she added that the Armenian convent is a safe haven for all who live there.
They point out that the Armenian Patriarchate and the Armenian Quarter in the Holy Land which has existed for more than 1400 years, is where about a thousand Armenians currently live out of approximately 3000 Armenians still in Israel and the West Bank today. They are happy that there is a new and younger Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Nourhan Manougian who we hope will help secure the future of the Armenian presence in the Holy Land, even with all its difficulties.”
Both students are the best of friends. Layan is a member of the Hommenetmen, and Talar belongs to the Hoyetchmen. On April 24, all the teenagers and those in their twenties, and thirties of both political parties “stood as one, marching together with many posters,” says Layan with pride. “And the younger generation does many activities together,” adds Talar.
Talar whose father is an electrical engineer, in interested in pursuing studies in biology and psychology at Hebrew University or in Armenia. Layan whose family owns a bridal shop in Jerusalem, was born in the Armenian Quarter. She hopes to study psychology, politics or interior design at the American University of Beirut or in Armenia.
For both Talar and Layan who feel “very lucky” to be of Armenian heritage, and have loving families, the future will always involve working with and helping Armenians in Jerusalem and wherever they live.
At the end of the conversation, Layan commented, “Our experiences at St. Nersess were not only a learning experience with wonderful instructors, but a strengthening of our faith through the daily prayers in the chapel every day.” Talar added, “We will continue our unforgettable connections we made with our American-Armenian friends.”
And with his typical enthusiasm Father Mardiros noted, “It is always such a pleasure for me to witness the growth and excitement that the students of Jerusalem’s Sts. Tarkmanchatz School experience by participating in the St. Nersess Summer conferences. They leave here inspired and having gained new friends. The relationships begun here between American-Armenian and Jerusalem-Armenian young people will last a lifetime.”