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Sylvia Iskenderian

THE DAY "ARMENIA" CAME TO SYDNEY
The overcast sky was threatening rain. The weather had been playing its usual tricks all week. Storm clouds relentlessly played havoc, elevating the anxiety of the venue organizers.
The Australian National Maritime Museum was set to receive yet another vessel that was circumnavigating the world. This one however, was different; it was the first time that an Armenian yacht, with an all-Armenian crew after sailing half around the world, was arriving in Sydney.
The news of "Armenia"s voyage had stirred the imagination of the Armenian people in Sydney, and everyone was anxiously anticipating its arrival.
The crew began their voyage three years ago on board wooden replica of sailing ships used in the Ancient Armenian Kingdom of Kilikia "Cilicia". Around the years 1080-1375 AD.
The ship aptly named "Kilikia" journeyed through the Mediterranean Sea and the west of Europe, retracing the trade routes taken by the ancient mariners of this once great maritime nations.
Over the last ten months the crew had begun another expedition this time on a new yacht named "Armenia". Casting anchor in places where the Armenian people have ventured throughout history, places the Armenian spirit of adventure, as well as the wrath of history, has led them. Their mission was to sail to all four corners of the world to visit everywhere Armenians have built communities, churches, schools and left the footprint of the Armenian Diaspora.
The expedition has already travelled through the Mediterranean, the Panama Canal and the straights of Gibraltar; sailed through the Caribbean, Cape Horn, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; visited the North and South Americas, encountering wild and stormy seas; and just missed Japan’s latest devastating Tsunami.
Along the way they visited all the Armenian communities who have warmly welcomed the heroes of this magnificent expedition - now "Armenia" had reached Australia…
The crowd had started gathering at the Australian National Maritime Museum’s foreshore. People were arriving from everywhere. Families with young children, couples with babies in prams, elderly parents, college students, Armenian school children dressed in their school uniforms accompanied by parents and teachers.
Delightful little boy-scouts and girl-guides who were bussed in from various districts looked totally bewildered and overwhelmed by the commotion, while being ushered to stand in line in readiness to welcome the crew.
The Armenian community had come out in force to welcome this unique sailing ship, and Sydney’s maritime museum had never seen so many Armenians crowd its foreshores.
The umbrellas were poised in case it rained. The weather did not light up, and eventually the rain came down in buckets, just enough to drench everyone. For the sake of safety, and much to the disappointment of the organizers, it was decided that the official part of the ceremony should be conducted indoors, in the National Maritime Museum’s great hall.
However, as if by a miracle, after weeks of rain, suddenly the sky opened up at 11.30 am - just as Yacht "Armenia" appeared in the distance!
As it made its way closer to Darling Harbour "Armenia" was in full view of the spectators. A bold, sleek, elegant royal blue sailing boat, just 22meters In length, its unique sail, sewn specifically to represent Armenia’s tri-color flag, was folded and draped around its massive 30 meter tall mast.
"Armenia" had just entered Darling Harbour and was heading toward the lighthouse at the end of the Australian National Maritime Museum grounds. Following behind "Armenia" was a large flotilla of yachts and motorboats that had gone out to the Sydney Heads to welcome and escort her into the Harbour.
From a distance one could clearly see the distinctive Armenian Cross painted on the hull, the Armenian Alphabet alongside, and the ancient Armenian Symbol of Eternity nestled in between the two.
It was as if those three powerful symbols of the Armenian people were guiding this vessel, on this extraordinary journey, alongside the crew, on a special mission of their own; A mission to protect the crew of this unique boat, and a mission to reach out and touch the Armenians far away from home; To let them know that those three symbols are part of the essence of Armenian existence. That they are still alive, and they will survive for eternity.
The burgeoning crowds had now reached nearly two thousand. At the first sight of this vessel the spectators become jubilant and the atmosphere became euphoric. Unexpected feelings of emotion and a sense of pride overwhelmed everyone.
Suddenly a quite murmur erupted into a loud chant. In a spontaneous chorus the crowd, chocked up with sentiment they began to sing the Armenian National Anthem. A lump caught in my throat. There was not a dry eye around. It was truly an incredible scene. No one had anticipated this spontaneity and this emotional outburst. It was unbelievable.
In the fifty years since the earliest Armenian migrants arrived in Australia, Armenians had never experienced such a magnificent display of pride and elation. The day culminated with a wonderful ceremony of speeches, dance and festivities, the like of which Sydney Armenians have rarely seen. April 30, 2011 is a day that will remain in the memory of those who were present.
This memorable day was reminiscent of the early days of this community. The vibrant active days, when this community was young, and was in the process of building a great society. However, those days did not last. As the years went by many future dreams subsided, indifference and apathy took over, and a struggle to survive as a "community" has become a desperate race.
However, the crew of Armenia not only inspired us all but gave us a new awakening. They made us realize that we have a culture to cherish and keep. They showed us that Armenians belong to one of the great civilizations and an ancient maritime nation. It is imperative to continue to teach the young about their heritage and the millennias of history. Much credit goes to "Yacht Armenia" and its eight-member crew. Captain Samvel Karapetyan, Armen Nazarian, chief mate; Hayk Badalyan, Engineer; Samvel Babasyan, cameraman; Mushegh Barseghyan, boatswain; Vahagn Matevosyan, Seaman; Sargis Kuzanyan, cook, radio engineer; and of course with the leadership of Dr. Zori Balayan, doctor, author, activist and adventurer; who’s foresight and spirit of adventure has motivated the whole community to work together as one.
The Armenian community in Sydney is grateful to the management and staff of the Australian National Maritime Museum for their graciousness, generosity and support on this very unique and historic week. Without their assistance this special welcome to yacht "Armenia" would not have been such a successful.
We wish "Armenia" and its crew a safe journey and "kherov parov" return home to Armenia.