Shoushi's Aram Manoukian Summer Camp : when dreams become bridges
In 2004, Haytoug and Ayda Shamlian, along with their then 10-year-old daughter, Dessyl, and 4-year-old son, Badrouyk , passed briefly through Artsakh during a lengthy visit of the Motherland.
When they came back, among other aspects of this truly life-changing trip, Shoushi had left a special mark, taken a permanent place, in their hearts and minds...
During this first and short encounter, they were profoundly affected by the situation of the children of Shoushi. The whole population of the city is in a constant daily struggle, facing various and grave difficulties, but the children's status is a special cause for concern and sorrow. Also, the preservation of Shoushi, its true rebirth and reconstruction, depend upon them, the subsequent generations... Actually, everything depends on the children...
Haytoug and Ayda were born in Lebanon and in their early youth they moved to Canada with their families.. They met each other in Montreal, during the meetings and demonstrations pertaining to the Artsakh Movement.
Ayda works in scientific research, completing her PhD in neuroscience. She also paints and is a graphic designer. Haytoug is a practicing lawyer. He also writes articles in various newspapers and magazines, and is the author of four books, three of which are poetry volumes in Armenian (with the latest two published on Artsakh soil). Since their teenage years, both of them have been continuously active in the Armenian communities of the Diaspora, in various fields. Dessyl and Badrouyk have received an Armenian up-bringing, from the moment they were born...
After that first and brief contact of 2004, it was imperative for this family to return to Shoushi. But no longer as visitors...
"We felt obligated, responsible, towards Shoushi. We had to go back in order to do some work there, to serve, to extend our small contribution to the unique population of this unique city, our participation to their extraordinary efforts and struggle", remembers Ayda with the same enthusiasm and emotions as the first day.
And indeed, they did return… The following year, the project of a children’s summer camp which they conceived, prepared and organized, was implemented in a room of what had been the Shoushi University and which, at that time, was badly damaged and practically abandoned. The project was implemented for an uninterrupted duration of two weeks with the participation of 39 children. Ayda and Haytoug found some of those children by wandering in the streets of the demolished city and, taking them by the hand with infinite, affection and solicitude, invited them to the classroom. Many children came by themselves in the next days, presenting themselves in small groups, cleanly dressed, well-groomed and washed, with their hair neatly brushed. With their life-filled eyes and shining smiles they took their place in the Summer Camp and in the hearts of its founders, and thus started the fabulous dream which had become reality.
Since those days, the “Aram Manoukian Djampar” of Ayda and Haytoug has taken place every summer in Shoushi, with their direct work and execution. The number of participating children has grown constantly, and reached... 485. The number of participants is limited only for financial reasons and some practical considerations.
As a summary presentation, the “Aram Manoukian Djampar” is founded on the following principles, objectives, motives, considerations, ideas and intentions :
- With regular presence, serious work and efforts on the ground, on the soil of the Motherland, to affirm and transform into tangible reality the fundamental concept of "One Nation, One Homeland, One People, One State" by building, preserving and consolidating authentic and permanent bridges, between the two indissociable components of the Armenian World, namely, Armenians living in the Diaspora and the population of Armenia/Artsakh;
- With an understanding of civic responsibility, unconditional civil mobilization and pan-armenian call of duty and a sense of urgency, to essentially devote oneself to and actually serve the Armenian Cause, the fundamental Artsakh Question being its most prior, immediate and current forefront, battlefield and first-line;
- By way of work and - literally - sweat, to demonstrate that the love of the Motherland is not just empty words; it is not merely distant speeches and slogans, but constitutes an objective of existence, a meaning and cause of life, integral commitment and dedication; the whole, especially, with perseverance;
- To express a minimal acknowledgment and gratitude towards the Armenian martyrs who committed the ultimate sacrifice in order to liberate Artsakh and Shoushi, and to try to be worthy of their supreme devotion, to value their extraordinary accomplishment, to provide a meaning to their sacrifice, and to continue, complete and finish what they started;
- To implement the spirit of solidarity with the population of the Homeland and to assist notably the population of Artsakh and Shoushi, by contributing in a minimal and elementary way to the improvement of their lives and, by doing so, to participate in the reemergence, recovery and reconstruction of this miraculous country which constitutes the current Homeland of all Armenians around the world;
- With regard to the new and upcoming generations, to ignite and maintain the fundamental, traditional, original and noble Armenian values, by fully reaffirming the cultural, moral, spiritual, national and human authentic Armenian identity, through a process of reinvigoration of Armenian consciousness, self-confidence and self-esteem;
- With a humanitarian, humble and serene approach, to share, to give, to care and to provide, to love, comfort, sympathize and serve, always believing in Good, whatever the hardship and difficulties may be, beyond all temporary disillusions and continuous challenges. To help ourselves so that God helps us.
- To protect and promote the fundamental rights of children, by providing them with the ability to confront present and future difficulties, while at the same time insuring their current and elementary well-being and preserving their rightful childish, carefree and spotless joy of life;
- To try and inspire other individuals, families and organizations to create and implement similar projects, considering that the Motherland requires the full supportive capacity of all Armenians, in this historically unprecedented, crucial and critical phase where she stands right now;
- Implemented over a period of three weeks (including weekends), the daily program of the Summer Camp is founded on the notions of culture, arts, nation and faith, and includes numerous playful and instructive events, various athletic games, a class of cultural expression, three meals, science experiments in an amusing form, movies, and a special session of handicraft and artistic activities.
Each and every day of the Camp, along with their feelings of joy and satisfaction, the children take home the original works of arts and crafts which they put together during the day.
At the end of the Camp, all the material used for the program (partly brought from Canada and partly purchased in Yerevan and Stepanagerd) is fully distributed to the children, in addition to other gifts. As a souvenir… until the following year.
During their month-long stay in Shoushi, Haytoug, Ayda, Dessyl and Badrouyk eliminate any differences, detachment or distance, they bring down all the walls, they immerse themselves completely in the surroundings, and they fully become an integral part of the population of the city; they become active and responsible citizens of Artsakh. With this understanding, with the sense of responsibility that it entails and, most importantly, with a wide and authentic acceptance by the locals, they thus become participants in the general life of Shoushi, with its various events, developments, social or civil matters, etc.
Needless to say, the participation of the children to the camp is entirely free of any charge whatsoever.
The current yearly budget, on average, on the basis of 400 participants and over a 21-day period (to be adjusted accordingly, since those parameters are variable), revolves around 28300$, detailed as follows :
Goods and Materials : 6500$
Transportation and accommodation : 8300$
Meals : 6000$
Gifts : 2000$
Payroll : 5000$
This calculation does not take into account the suspension of this household's work income during their absence from Canada, for a minimum of 1 month (the program requires an indispensable preliminary phase of organization and administration, on-site).
This basic budgetary presentation would have implied that the duration and the number of participating children depend upon the available financial resources. However, in reality, through various means, by managing the available resources and by supplementing them as much as necessary, Ayda and Haytoug have succeeded in implementing a "no child shall be refused" sacred principle, without ever making any concessions with regard to the superior quality of the materials, the menu and the services, - as can be seen throughout the contents of this website - ...
The first two years, Haytoug and Ayda provided all the necessary funds for the Aram Manoukian Summer Camp of Shoushi with their own financial means exclusively.
Subsequently and since then,
- they have been receiving the spontaneous, generous, significant and recurrent support of a large number of their relatives and friends, in the form of monetary donations, covering (in average) 50% of the direct financial portion of the budget; said donors are all duly acknowledged on this website.
- Nareg Haroutunian has placed the entire infrastructure and facilities of his Naregatsi Art Institute Centre of Shoushi at the full disposal of Haytoug and Ayda, for any and all purposes regarding this project.
Without the above-stated support, it would have been difficult for Haytoug & Ayda to continue this mission for all this time, expanding it to its current level, this Summer Camp having developed into an institution in Shoushi.
For more information, details and a lot of pictures, please take the time to visit fully the present website.