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15 December 2019
Opening of Sasnashen Youth Center
Published - 3 October 2019

(Photo Caption: from Left to Right) Yn. Talin and Fr. Haroutiun Tachejian, Yn. Susan and Fr. Vazken Movsesian, Fr. Tadé and Yn. Hripsimé Takhmazian in front of the plaque with the names of the fallen service man and a framed piece of the plane which was shot down on September 2, 1958.

By Fr. Vazken Movsesian

On September 29, 2019, with the blessings of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, we ventured off to the town of Talin for the opening of the Sasnashen Youth Center. This was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning and organization across the globe, with limited resources, difficult communications and the challenges of a cold winter that put our work on hold for several months. Nevertheless, the power of prayer, the joy of helping children and our commitment to the project made it a labor of love that was celebrated by a community in this remote part of Armenia.

I have been writing and speaking about the remarkable chain of events that brought about this project. Quickly, the story begins at the height of the Cold War, mid 20th century and picks up when this Armenian priests makes a connection at the US Air Force base in Nebraska with members of the Prop Wash Gang. We shared the story of the US Air Force C-130 60528 shoot down, when in 1958, seventeen servicemen perished as their plane came down in Sasnashen, Armenia. For a refresher on the details, check out my blog from last year.   https://armodoxy.blogspot.com/2018/09/reflections-on-sasnashen-shoot-down.html

Then came a proposal by the members of the Prop Wash Gang: Here’s an amount of money we have collected. Can you see to it that the kids in Sasnashen are helped in some way? I have to admit, when they asked me I had no idea where in Armenia to find Sasnashen. In fact, so obscure is this village of 700+ inhabitants that I could not find anyone, especially taxi drivers in Yerevan, who knew where to locate it either. Finally, thanks to Google maps and my deacon, Hrayr Nalbandian, we made it there. Sasnashen is about 10km outside of the town of Talin, which is about an hour’s drive out of Yerevan. Calling on an Armenian priest,* Fr. Tadé Takhmazian, who serves the population of Sasnashen and nine-other villages, I began to learn about the needs of the community, people and especially the youth. We decided to work on creating a youth center – a safe place for young people to feel belonging, learn, grow and mature in faith as productive members of the community.

*I cold-called Fr. Tadé from a number given to me by one of my clergy brothers who had met him only months early. Note: I don’t believe in coincidences or in chance. I believe in blessings, which I have defined as luck, without the element of chance. Fr. Tadé is a blessing.

We found a house in Talin owned by the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. The house was in need of major repair, but at least it was a space which would serve our purposes. Between Fr. Tadé, myself and a handful of local volunteers we cleaned, renovated, painted and bought furniture to make this house conducive for our youth-center purposes. In July, I went and oversaw the final touches.  At the time I presented an update: http://www.wdacna.com/news/1632/Discovering…-Sasnashen-Village-in-the-Town-of-Talin,-Armenia-A-place-for-kids-to-feel-welcome,-share-and-explore-options-to-maximize-their-potential

And now… September 29, we held the opening of the Sasnashen Youth Center in Talin.

Along with a contingent from our Bible Study group in Glendale we made the journey, 12 time-zones away, to celebrate this new project. We joined the St. James pilgrimage organized by Fr. Haroutioun Tachejian, visiting many of the historic and spiritually significant sites in Armenia. Together, with the St. James group, about 25 of us from America attended this opening.

I was honored to celebrate the Divine Liturgy that morning at the Holy Asdvadzadzin church in Talin. It was the feast day of the Cross of Varak and so I offered an ookhdi badarak and so directed my sermon to the needs of the community and the crosses we all carry.

Following the service in church, Fr. Tadé led us to the newly renovated house and we officially dedicated and opened it as the Sasnashen Youth Center with a ribbon cutting ceremony.  I offered the warmest greetings of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian who has set the vision for our involvement in Armenia at this level. In turn Fr. Tadé thanked the local primate, His Grace Bishop Mkrtich Broshyan, for granting this opportunity for expansion.

For this occasion the Prop Wash Gang sent a shadow box which contains a piece of the wreckage of the C-130 that was shot-down by the Soviet Union. As part of the dedication, the shadow box and a plaque listing the names of the 17 servicemen who were killed on September 2, 1958 now adorns the wall of the Center as a permanent reminder of the tragedy.

We were honored to have with us Maksena Haroutiunyan, widow of the late internationally renown sculptor Martin Kakosian. As an 18 year-old young man, Martin Kakosian was an eye-witness to the shoot down. He was instrumental in the dedication of the original khatchkar which stood as a marker for the tragedy until later, when he designed and constructed the current monument which stands on a hill near the crash site in Sasnashen. Mrs. Haroutiunyan shared a stirring account of what had transpired, recollections that her husband had shared with her, and spoke of the need to never forget the tragedy that befell the servicemen on 1958. She brought pictures and was available to the attendees to discuss the circumstances of the shoot-down.

The one man who initially connected me with the shoot-down of the C-130 60528, the Prop Wash Gang and ultimately with Sasnashen is Larry Tart, author of “The Price of Vigilance” (2001) and “Freedom through Vigilance” (2010).  I’ve never met him in person yet feel a kindred spirit in him. He signs his emails to me “In Brotherhood” and on this day that fraternal bond became very real and concrete. During the opening ceremony I know he was with us. I took advantage of the attentiveness of the group and gave some background to the people on the importance of Mr. Tart’s personal vigilance in this story.

With much excitement and joy we dedicated the house to the education and elucidation of the village children and youth. Fr. Tadé has a magnetic personality and has won the hearts of the children in the villages. Every week he visits the students in Sasnashen and nine other villages in the area. He shared his vision with us; the Center will be a place where children can learn, play, explore their options, and most importantly share and talk with other young people and mentors. We donated and installed computers in the Center to make e-chats possible between the kids there and young people in America. Fr. Tadé is in the process of organizing a line-up of mentors, educators, leaders, workers, businessmen and priests to come to the Center on a regular basis to work with the youth. His enthusiasm was contagious and inspired some of the guests to donate toward the goals of the Center.

Following the opening ceremony, the group travelled the 10km ride to Sasnashen, where we visited the crash-site and the monument. There, we offered a requiem prayer to the 17 servicemen and also remembered Martin Kakosian and Deacon Hrayr Nalbandian in our prayers. May God rest their souls.

We arranged with one of the with one of the local village families to host a lunch/celebration. Inside their house we truly celebrated with food, wine, song and dance. Today, from the midst of tragedy, a new chapter was being opened in the life of the village and in the life of young people wanting an opportunity for a better life. Many of the villagers suffer immense economic hardships. Education and building up self-worth are the cornerstones of this project.    

The opening ceremony, with transportation and meal was sponsored by the In His Shoes ministry. If you would like to aid the young people of Sasnashen through the Center, you may make a one-time donation or sign up for a monthly pledge by visiting our website and pressing on the “Donate Button.” Funds earmarked for the Sasnashen Youth Center will be transferred entirely to the Center.

To learn more and to follow along on all of our outreach programs, sign up for the In His Shoes newsletter, and/or follow us on Instagram and Facebook for pictures and comments about the opening. The Center will soon launch its own FB page and can be followed there as well.

I take this opportunity to thank all those who made this day a reality: Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese, Larry Tart and the Prop Wash Gang of the US AirForce, Fr. Tadé & Yn. Hripsimé Takhmazian of Talin, members of our Bible Study group in Glendale and the In His Shoes Mission, with the Next Step listeners – for their donations and most importantly for their prayers. God bless you all. We look forward to the good works and achievements of the youth, with growth in a spirit of love.