Trailblazer Armen Aroyan: 20 years and winding down
Published: Wednesday December 07, 2011
Watertown, Mass. - Adrina (Goshgarian) Kletjian remembers the time when she toured Western Armenia some years back with guide personified Armen Aroyan.
She had purchased a piece of pottery from Avanos - land of her ancestors --- and wanted it shipped back home to Boston. The parcel arrived shattered to bits, breaking Adrina's heart like the package in her hands.
"I was devastated," she recalled.
The remorse didn't last very long. She placed a call to Aroyan explaining the circumstances and on the next trip abroad, Aroyan visited that same outlet and purchased a similar product.
"He had it shipped right to my home and it arrived intact," recalled the woman. "Leave it to Armen to do something like this. He's helped so many people like myself discover their roots and connect us to our ancestry."
Aroyan made his most recent stop at an event under the auspices of St. Stephen's Church and organized through the efforts of Sona and Charlie Aslanian, who've made two trips with the tour facilitator. About 150 people turned out, many of them previous Aroyan adventurers.
"He displays his tenacity when trying to find a remote village for the first time, usually with success," said Charlie Aslanian. "But not before many stops to ask for directions. Arriving at your destination is the ultimate reward and Armen has been rewarding his fellow travelers for quite some time. He possesses all the required skill, patience and attention to detail you need to get the mission accomplished."
On this afternoon, Aroyan's mind was like a mechanical encyclopedia, working overtime without a hitch.
For two hours, the tour guru went through a vivid travelogue showing one image after another. Not a note in front of him. It was all recall as he pored through towns, villages, experiences and names of people who solicited his services from a California-based operation.
Places like Morenig, Shepig, Govdun and Zak are not exactly household names or places you'll necessarily find in a Collette Tours guidebook. Nor would they typically appear on a seasoned traveler's list of places to see.
But to an Armenian living in the Diaspora, they are very special places. They are the ancestral homes of family --- the old neighborhood you might say.
Some say his farewell tour is imminent. Aroyan agrees.
"Two more trips, maybe three," he admitted. "But, yes, the end is in sight."
This comes from a man who has made 60 trips to Historic Armenia and Cilicia over these two decades while escorting more than a thousand guests. In all, some 600 villages have been encountered. Two Kurdish drivers (father-son) answer every call.
Among his more recent personalities was clarinet virtuoso Khachig Kazarian, who played his instrument inside churches and the foothills of Mount Ararat with a dancing entourage exuding its spirit.
What's his secret? Really no secret at all.
"It's all a matter of being in the right place at the right time and having faith in God for guiding me," Aroyan said. "There's no problem in finding people who will go. The desire becomes a fulfillment of a dream they didn't think possible. It's all about passing a heritage from one generation to another."
Since Aroyan caters every trip to the specific needs of his clients, those who join his Armenian Heritage Tours come away with an exclusive feeling. It's the personal attention that makes for a more meaningful pilgrimage.
"It's all custom-planned," said Aroyan, who recalls his first junket in 1991 with 20 folks aboard. "Even though we may visit the same places, it still becomes a unique adventure every time."
Ed and Maryann Kazanjian have been with Aroyan twice (2009 and 2010) and came away so enamored, they're now giving presentations of their own throughout the country. They packed ALMA twice and recently filled the Andover Public Library. Both agree Aroyan was the inspiration behind their every move.
"Armen Aroyan is a facilitator," says Ed. "He has all the contacts. Nobody else can find these villages the way he does. When he retires, I can't think of anyone who could do a similar job. He'll put in a 14-hour day to fulfill everyone's wishes. It's exhausting but he's willing to make the sacrifice. He truly believes it's his calling."
Kazanjian said he's put hundreds of hours into creating DVDs of his trips and giving proceeds to worthy charities in Armenia
"Armen Aroyan has helped find cousins, parents and grandparents," added Maryann Kazanjian. "He has an infinite capacity for names and places. Speaking multiple languages doesn't hurt his cause, either. He likes to surprise people on trips with an imaginary hat of tricks. He waits ‘til you get to a certain location before telling you it's the origin of your family roots."
Aroyan ended his presentation with several awe-inspiring scenes of Ararat.
"My dream is for all Armenians to see this mountain from the Turkish side," he said. "Many churches are being restored now and not being used for mosques. It offers us some closure to see this."