(Canada, AVC ‘12)
The reason I took months to start writing my first blog was because I simply didn’t know where to begin; I’m completely lost for words and at the same time I feel like I’m going to burst because I have so much to say, so many stories to share; it’s a strange feeling. My experiences were brilliant, unique and unforgettable (These words are such understatements). I’ll simply say that those 18 weeks in Armenia were the best times of my life. I took some 22,000 photos and over 500 videos, which I go through partially everyday, so I could re-live my time in Armenia and be able to bare the distance until I can return again soon.
Having said that…I still don’t know where to begin.
11 April , 2012…
I was very excited to be coming back to my fatherland for the second time; I remember sitting in the plane thinking about Gayane and Avetis (Avo), my homestay mother and brother to be. I was thinking about how it would be to live with total strangers for months. What if we don’t get along? May be I should have gotten my own place? Then I started thinking about my work placement. I got so excited; I couldn’t wait to see what they had in store for me. I was assigned by Jenya at the AVC office to work with Professor Artak Hambarian, the dean of the Engineering Department at the American University of Armenia (AUA). I started thinking about the different type of projects that they might have for me and what kind of work I would be doing during the four and half months. My mind started to wonder away; I started day dreaming about all the adventures that I’m going to have with my friends, Saro and Tigran whom I had missed so much. I thought of visiting Artsakh for the first time and my heart immediately started to pound; little did I know, I would be visiting Artsakh twice during my 18 week stay in Armenia. I thought of how it would be and painted a picture in my mind, when suddenly I felt my chest being pushed back into my seat and short moments later the plane was off the ground. Half way through the trip I was overwhelmed with strange feelings. At first I was excited about landing in hayrenik, but my excitement slowly dissipated. It felt like I wasn’t going away to Armenia, it felt like I was returning home from a faraway place. I was puzzled. That wasn’t how I felt the first time I travelled to Armenia. What had happened? Where has all the excitement gone? I didn’t find the answer to that question until I actually arrived in Armenia. Still no excitement, I was “just happy to be home” is what I responded to the question “how do you feel?” from my childhood friend of 19 years, Saro, who was picking me up from the airport. I didn’t know at the time why, but I never have a higher sense of belonging than when I am in Armenia. I don’t feel that way about any other place, not even for the country in which I was born and raised, nor the place I currently live in, which I’ve been residing in more than half my life.
Ten hours after I landed, I had to wake up by no choice of my own. It was 5:00AM and I was heading to a military base with my friend Saro. I promised him that I would take photographs and videos of him parachuting out of a helicopter. We got to the base at 7:00AM. It was a bit chilly and rainy, so I had my winter jacket on. We stepped out of the car and the first thing I saw was mount Ara staring back at me. It was rather wide and had several peaks, I closed my eyes and I took a deep breath. The fresh smell of thyme (uorts) filled my lungs; that was my first nostalgic moment in Armenia since 2008.
Later that afternoon, I returned home to my homestay family and told them all about my experiences from earlier that day. They were as excited in hearing it as I was in telling it. Although Avo worked every single day of the week, we still had some time at home to bond. Since I worked seven minutes away from my home (I timed myself speed walking), I would come home for lunch. Avo would follow shortly after my arrival and he would always ask me, “Araz jan surj kxmes?” ( “Dear Araz, will you have some coffee”-Armenian super espresso coffee). If I answered Yes, then we would simply proceed to our usual drinking. If I decided not to have coffee that day because it would have been my second or third espresso, he would convince me that I should have one anyway by saying: “Tsavt tanem, de im het ches xmel” (“Well you haven’t had one with me”). He is only a year older than me, but I look up to him as an older brother and, as such, I have a special respect for him. It is now the 30th of July and it is Avo’s wedding; he is getting married to a beautiful Armenian girl named Nune. I was invited graciously and I had a seat at the “Friends” table among a bunch of Avo’s close friends. They poured me a glass of Armenian cognac and we drank like we were old buddies. As it is always done at weddings and for good friends, we had many toasts to Avo’s and Nune’s health. “Kenats”, we cheered on many occasions, and down it went. We got into deep conversations, talked about our views about Armenia and what my take was thus far through my journey, when suddenly the dhol and zurna (Armenian folk instruments) started playing and the conversation was cut short. Within minutes everyone was on the dance floor and the rest is history. It was a wedding full of rich Armenian traditions and it brought me that much closer to my culture and to my fatherland, Armenia.
Yes, Armenia is small, it’s wonderful, old and wise, Armenia is beautiful, full of life and has so much to give; some say it’s “broken”, it’s full of problems but I say show me a place that is free of problems? Armenia is mine, mine to fix, mine to take care of and shed sweat for. Through my Birthright Armenia experience I have learned that if I dare to identify myself as an Armenian then I have a debt to pay to Armenia. We don’t get to call ourselves Armenians for free. I have a duty, which is to help my fatherland not simply by throwing money at it but by taking that extra step, by making sacrifices so we can have a stronger and prosperous Armenia for all of us; or else, in some near future, we may look back and regret that we didn’t fight hard enough for Armenia. The Assyrians failed to protect their Assyria and where are they now? If you meet one by chance, you’ll hear them say “We used to have a great empire and a great civilization”. It doesn’t matter what we HAD, it is what we HAVE and where we are moving towards which will ensure the survival of Armenia and its future prosperity. Everyone’s way of helping could be different. As long as we are making a visible difference, then we are moving forward and paying our debt little by little.
I like to end this little short story by thanking the entire staff of Birthright Armenia and Armenian Volunteer Corps for making my journey possible. I owe you my gratitude. Thank you Birthright Armenia executives, thank you Arpine, Asqanaz, Diana, Jenya, Marianna, Sevan and Tania “jan-ner” for your hard work, your immense patience, the unforgettable excursions, the awesome forums and the great Havaks. A special thanks to Saro Saryan for being so kind and a gentleman for opening his home to us on our trips to Artsakh. I also want to thank Suren for being an awesome friend to me and to the rest of the Birthright Armenia volunteers. Our trips wouldn’t have been the same without all of you. I will cherish those 18 weeks with you guys forever and I’m looking forward to making new memories with you soon.