Pokr Mher Cadet School (photo: PanArmenian by Tigran Mehrabyan)

Poqr Mher Cadet School and the U.S. Civil Air Patrol: Regular Kids Are Leaders

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By Michael Airumian

Special to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator

WASHINGTON —  As I contemplated my trip to Armenia to spend two weeks at the Poqr Mher Cadet School, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Having visited the school for one day during the summer last year, this spring I conducted a fundraising drive to buy boots for orphans who attend the school. I also have been a member of the U.S. Civil Air Patrol since age 13, and understand to a great extent what it is like to be a member of a military style organization. Because of my interest in military history and because what I have seen of this school is impressive, I became interested in finding out more.

There might be some obvious similarities between my familiar Civil Air Patrol and Poqr Mher, and there are clearly some big differences, so I decided not to make assumptions and that it would be more interesting to take a deeper look at Poqr Mher in its own cultural context. On my flight to Armenia, I began thinking up the questions that needed an answer: Why does Armenia need a military educational complex for 6th graders? What similarities does this school share with Civil Air Patrol and how is it different? How will this experience give me a better understanding about both of our countries’ ideas about the next generation? Preparing to leave for my adventure at Poqr Mher, I thought about my fundraising efforts over the past year. I want to make a difference in the lives of others and my stay at the school could help me improve my future fundraising efforts.

Much information about Armenia’s recent military history can be found to answer the question “Why does Armenia need this school?” According to Robert Avetisyan, who is the Permanent Representative of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic to the U.S., and someone I have met on numerous occasions:

“In 1988, Nagorno Karabakh (NK), a historically Armenian land and autonomous entity in the Soviet Union, petitioned the Central Government in Moscow asking to be reunited with Armenia. The Soviet Union and Azerbaijan denied Nagorno Karabakh’s appeal for self-determination. The situation escalated to conflict, as Azerbaijan resorted to pogroms and military aggression in an effort to suppress Nagorno Karabakh’s action. This violence was followed by the 1991-1994 Azeri-instigated war on the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR), which claimed thousands of NK casualties and destroyed an estimated 80 percent of Nagorno Karabakh’s economy. In the summer of 1992 Azerbaijan placed about 50 percent of the NKR territory under military occupation. Since the cease-fire Agreement of 1994, the conflict awaits final, peaceful, and equitable resolution through direct negotiations.”

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Right now, Azerbaijan, a country founded on racial segregation, war crimes and genocide, also happens to be an ally of the US, and has a military budget greater than the entire Armenian government’s budget. Almost every day, snipers from the Azerbaijan side break ceasefire treaties and open fire on Armenian soldiers and innocent civilians. In March, three soldiers who were the same age as my older sister were killed by sniper fire where they were guarding the border between Artsakh and Azerbaijan. It remains a dangerous situation for the sovereignty of the nation of Artsakh. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan is not the only worry for Armenia. Turkey, another ally of the United States, is imposing an illegal blockade on Armenia and not allowing the country to prosper. I have learned a lot about one thing, that there are usually reasons below the surface that make governments decide on their choices, whether it is about education or military might or even basic survival.

One of my reasons for being so interested in this cadet school is because it ties in so nicely with my Civil Air Patrol experience. They both train and teach the youth valuable leadership skills, but that is just scratching the surface. I wanted to dig deeper to explore what the similarities and differences are between the Civil Air Patrol and Poqr Mher.

Civil Air Patrol is a program for kids aged 12-21 in the United States with three missions: to train members in aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services. Last year, several graduating seniors earned scholarships to the Air Force Academy in Colorado. If a member decides to enlist in the Air Force, he or she can enter as a higher rank than a regular basic airman. Cadets also get hands-on training flying planes. According to the Civil Air Patrol website:

“In the late 1930s, more than 150,000 volunteers with a love for aviation argued for an organization to put their planes and flying skills to use in defense of their country. As a result, the Civil Air Patrol was born one week prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Thousands of volunteer members answered America’s call to national service and sacrifice by accepting and performing critical wartime missions. Assigned to the War Department under the jurisdiction of the Army Air Corps, the contributions of Civil Air Patrol, including logging more than 500,000 flying hours, sinking two enemy submarines, and saving hundreds of crash victims during World War II, are well documented. On July 1, 1946, President Harry Truman signed Public Law 476 incorporating Civil Air Patrol as a benevolent, nonprofit organization. On May 26, 1948, Congress passed Public Law 557 permanently establishing Civil Air Patrol as the auxiliary of the new US Air Force.”

Our weekly Civil Air Patrol meetings try to capture the ideas that the original members had as they created our group from the beginning. We do focus on development of knowledge, teamwork, leadership qualities and physical fitness, but the most important thing we do is practice acting in public service. The program is all about shaping future leaders of the Air Force and the world.

Poqr Mher, on the other hand, is a military-style boarding school located on the outskirts of Yerevan. It was established by the Armenian government in 2001 and is funded by the state, but it is a private, non-profit organization and is not run by the government. All of the usual school classes are taught, along with military education and development of leadership skills. All students participate in martial arts and physical training and they are extremely good at it. This training includes strategy, combat, leadership and much more. Over 265 6th to 12th grade students attend school at Poqr Mher. Approximately 20 percent of the students are orphans. 109 boys graduated from the complex during 2005-2009 and 53 of them entered college. Their mission is to train excellent sergeants and to prepare these cadets in several ways to be officers in the Armenian Army. But the school is not only important to the kids, but also to the country. Right now, Armenia is in desperate need of good, well-trained officers to defend its borders.

Topics: army, children

So the two-week session is ending and I have some thoughts that I have brought back from my experience. The main reason for going to Poqr Mher this year was to have a firsthand experience at a place where everyone works hard and adapts to the environment, and to better understand one piece of this Armenian life. As I made my way into Armenia, and then to the school, I did not want to have too many ideas about what was the “right way of doing things.” Through traveling and living with a host family for the past two summers I’ve realized that things will never be the same way twice. When you think you have it all figured out is when you could not be more wrong. I thought it best to do a lot of watching and listening to see if I could catch on quickly.

The best part about preparing to visit the school was coming up with the questions to try to answer. I can say that it overall was not too surprising. The school is a very special school. Students do go there to learn, and the students are regular kids. The difference is that is clear that there is a lot of discipline that goes into being really good at what they do.

My adventure at Poqr Mher has led me to keep asking the question, “What can we do to help?” It has strengthened my wish to help the school however I can. I know that sometimes as a kid I may not be taken as seriously as an adult, but I will continue to take my power point presentation to more groups. Even if there are not many donations, at least the Fresno Armenian community will know about this school and the hard decisions that Armenian citizens and even kids have to make to continue safeguarding their borders. My hope is to do our part to improve the school so that they can turn out even better and brighter students than ever before.

Seeing all this firsthand now leads to an even bigger question. Reading books and discussions in our family made me think about Armenia’s place in world politics. In order for a nation to protect itself, it needs to be strong in many ways, not just military power. Armenia needs to stay strong by having allies, having a population large enough to keep an army, having a good economy, holding on to territory and not letting the borders get taken, and having good political leaders. The conclusion that is easily made is that Armenia needs to put plans in place to get rid of the old corrupt politicians. It also should not ignore the fact that it is especially weak in some of those other areas that are listed above and the politicians now in power need some of that training for themselves. It is always strange to be an observer in another culture, but I can say that I am confident about this and that my impressions of Poqr Mher make it easy to believe that the new generation of leaders will succeed because of the leadership training they are receiving in this school today.

(Mikhael Airumian was born in Silver Spring, Md. He attends high school at Waterford Kamhlaba United World College in Mbabane, Swaziland and expects to graduate in November 2018.)

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