Panossian: Church on the Dash

People always say they go to Armenia to get in touch with their roots. Me, on the other hand, knew the ayp, pen, keem (ABC’s) by heart by the time I was four and recited Armenian poetry like it was my job. I learn I’m Armenian every time I tell people my name. King Dertad the First and Mesrob Mashdots were supposed to be my heroes. And I never realized that Santa Claus was not from Mount Ararat (which, obviously, is in Armenia) until someone told me in the 5th grade.

I am an Armenian American, but I always considered myself more Armenian than American. Strangely when I first went to Armenia with the AGBU Yerevan Summer Intern Program in the summer of 2007, I felt anything but Armenian.

 

Do my Kate Spade’s offend you?

Yerekhek (young people), welcome to Armenia! Now, don’t draw any attention to yourselves more than you already do. Your curfew is at 1 a.m.—sharp.

No excuses. Agcheegner (girls), if you notice, there are no women walking around at night. You may do so during the day but make sure you have an escort. And whatever you do, do not smoke anywhere on the street. Yerekhek, bedk eh hasknak, you have to understand how not to be too loud when you’re out. People will stare and when they do, don’t stare back! You won’t fit in (since you’re American) but you should at least try.

Those Kate Spade sunglasses make you look so American.

Why are you listening to your ipod nano on your way to work when most people don’t even have jobs to go to? Heels, ladies, heels will make you look more Armenian. Women here love them. They wear them in different styles and sizes, outrageous colors like neon orange, and the higher the better—they give the illusion of being above the oppression they’re under.

Look both ways before crossing the street, then look again. Madmen are driving in Soviet cars that look like old rotting lunchboxes, but they are fast and will fly by you without warning.

Welcome to church number 3 out of 45. This church was built in the year 365. Watch out for the priest in the Lex. Just ignore the army men standing over there. They’re just doing their job.

Welcome to church number 12. This church is called Etchmiadzin Yegeghetsi. Don’t sit down. It doesn’t matter how tired you are. Stand up. When you exit the church, do it with your back facing the door and make a cross, but before you go, make sure to buy a candle to light for your loved ones. Look around you. Here we have church number 43. This church was built in…

***

“Look around you…” Vartan said.

Vartan was my friend from the computer lab in our dorm at Yerevan State University. The divide had already been established between my group members, the Yerevan Summer Internship Program interns, and the Armenian locals—between western Armenians and eastern Armenians. I didn’t want to succumb to it, or wanted to break it, whichever it was, so Vartan and I went out to lunch together.

I asked him what people thought of Armenian Americans. “What makes us so different since we are all Armenian?”

“They think you’re crazy,” he replied shamelessly. I didn’t take offense to his brutal honesty. Instead I was genuinely curious as to why it felt like there was a paparazzi following us everywhere we went.

“Why? Because we look different?”

“Look around you…” he said.

I saw two men dressed in black sitting together, not saying a word to one another, only staring inside their cups of coffee, as if the cups contained a hidden message they would find if they looked long enough. The women at the cafe were beautiful and skinny, with red lipstick and long fingernails. It seemed as though they were staring at me the same way the men were staring at their coffee, trying to figure me out, or trying to figure out my intentions behind having lunch with a “deghatsi” (local). Many people were sitting at tables alone, and nobody looked at them or said anything because that was just a way of life. When they weren’t looking over at our table, they were staring blankly into space, as if their bodies were physically present but their minds were somewhere else. For the first time I wasn’t frustrated by the looks, but saddened by them.

“People have nowhere to go,” Vartan continued, as he took another puff of his cigarette. At only 23, Vartan was a chain smoker like many of the men in Armenia. He kept offering me cigarettes, I guess to show that he was different from the rest, which he didn’t really need to prove (taking me out to lunch when I was wearing an army skirt and a tank top, with my hair in a messy ponytail and my Kate Spade sunglasses, was proof enough of his daring nature). But I never viewed smoking as a sign of liberalism or an open mind. I never thought that it was a symbol of rebellion or being “bad.” Instead, I saw it as a form of escapism and loneliness, something to fill up the time, something that makes you feel connected to others. And the more I looked around, the more people I saw smoking; and even the women who didn’t do it, looked as though they secretly wanted to.

“They sit in coffee shops during the day, sipping on the same cup of coffee for hours because they either can’t afford another one or don’t want to move,” Vartan continued. “They just sit there with an expressionless face, almost sad but not quite, more hopeless. And then they look at you, you order food in large quantities, you’re out whenever you want, wearing whatever you want, saying whatever you want, laughing and talking over coffee. That’s crazy to them. They see women going out at night and they stare, not because it’s bad, but because they have a mind that is, what do you call it, kotz (closed). They see you walking around in casual clothing and hair that’s not done and the women stare because women are supposed to look pretty and made up at all times.”

I knew it wasn’t Vartan’s intention, but I couldn’t help but feel a sense of shame for being an American. Suddenly I felt the urge not to stare back but to apply lipstick to show them that I was no different. I felt the urge to take them on a trip to the Starbucks on Astor Place at 2 a.m. to show them our loneliness and poverty. It is true that I am not homeless in New York or poor in Armenia, but I do know what it’s like to feel alone and helpless.

“Americans have problems, too,” I said. “They just don’t look inside of coffee cups or at the world to find the answers. They pay psychologists to take care of them.”

“What is that word?” Vartan asked.

“Psychologist?” I asked.

“Yes, how do you say it?”

“Psych-ah-lo-gist.” I helped him sound it out, as I usually did with English words he tried to pronounce.

“What does it mean? Psychologist?”

I didn’t know the word for it in Western Armenian, much less the Eastern translation. The dialectal differences often made it hard for us to communicate. I mastered a few key words and phrases in Eastern Armenian, but would often use them incorrectly, and when I did, it always seemed inauthentic, as if I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t. What I liked about Vartan was that he never made me feel like less of an Armenian for speaking in the Western dialect. Instead, he asked me how to say certain words in my dialect, in English even. His general curiosity and honesty intrigued me. When it seemed like many locals just wanted me to spend money, Vartan offered to pay for my meal with the little money he made. For some reason, there was still a part of me that felt the need to prove myself to him.

“They are like doctors, but for the mind…” I continued.

Vartan made no comment or gesture that gave me any indication that he understood what I had said. It seemed as though I had lost him again. The table separating our chairs seemed like it was growing larger and any effort on my part to close the gap seemed hopeless.

I looked around, in the hopes that one of the people sitting alone had moved, or that the men dressed in black were talking to each other, or that the woman in pink would let out a laughter that would fill the whole room with hope. However, nothing had changed, except for the subject Vartan and I were talking about.

Vartan started asking me what I was doing at the university. I told him teaching English. Most people took one look at me to guess my age and then got surprised by this comment alone, but Vartan didn’t look at me or say a word.

He lit up another cigarette, took a few drags, with that familiar far-away look on his face, ashed it, and repeated this process until the awkward silence made me continue speaking.

“I am teaching creative writing…short stories.”

“Oh you’re teaching story writing? My level of English is okay. I wish I knew more. How much are they paying you there?”

“They aren’t paying me,” I said as I examined the bottom of my coffee cup.

“You’re doing this for free?!?” It was the first time I saw Vartan show any emotion. “Why?”

“Because I want to help my country.” I looked up, hoping he’d see the Armenian dream in my eyes.

“Ohhhh!”  Vartan put his cigarette in the ashtray and gave me a high five.

The church was built in that coffee shop, summer of 2007.

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Nayiri Panossian

Nayiri Panossian is an Armenian-American teacher living in New Jersey. She graduated from Rutgers University with a major in English and minor in Psychology. She then earned her MA in English Education from New York University. Nayiri is an active member of the Armenian community, teaching Armenian in churches in her community. Although she remains loyal to her roots within the Diaspora, she is also consistent in her efforts to help and strengthen ties with her homeland. She has volunteered in Armenia —with the AGBU Yerevan Summer Intern Program teaching Creative Writing at the American University of Armenia, and with Birthright Armenia and the Armenian Volunteer Corps. Nayiri is currently a high school English teacher in the Bronx. She lives with her son in New Jersey.
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42 Comments

  1. This article has absolutely nothing to do with the truth. I moved from the States to Armenia several years ago, and I actually do not know what Country this woman is writing about.

  2. reciting poetry and memorizing alphabet doesnt make you Armenia. Its the HOKI and SER of Armenia and Armenians. the devive betweeen east west south or whatever is as strong as u made it. all the superficial negative stuff u noticed is because u think that way.

  3. As a 20-something diasporan Armenian woman myself, who lived in Armenia as a summer intern, I have to say that Nayiri’s piece expressed fairly accurately, and quite elegantly, the typical diasporan reaction.  It may be unfortunate, readers (especially those from Armenia, who have a completely different perspective) may not agree with it, but it’s there.  I don’t think we should be criticized for it.  If anything, we should talk more about it, and try to understand each other’s viewpoints.

  4. I’m not from Armenia. I was raised in the US. Most people dont see what Nairi saw because they can break through the initial shock. Also Nairi only refers to the Yerevan lifestyle. lets talk about it in a productive way and come up with answers not just attack.

  5. I just read your article “Church on the Dash” and loved it.  It is beautifully written expressing your true feelings about Armenia, your Armenian-ness, the church, the young generation, and the general environment and culture in Yerevan analyzed by a young Armenian woman who visited and worked there as a volunteer. 
     
    I was in the midst of a meeting in Santa Monica in California, and when I came across your piece, I started reading the first few paragraphs and couldn’t stop and continued reading till the end.  This means that you succeeding getting my attention and probably the attention of all your readers, which is an evidence that you are a talented writer.  I hope you continue writing and publishing your works because you have a bright and promising future.  The next step is to publish a book and hopefully by a publishing house that could disseminate your work widely.

  6. I am not a young person, but I enjoyed reading this article. You gave a very detailed description of an encounter, walking us through various stages of emotions that surround us because of all of us being Armenian. I like all the detailed descriptions, that make us think we are literally there, and experiencing what you experienced.

  7. As they say here in the States “You have seen nothing yet” ! Isabella.
    Residing somewhere is no guarantee to grasp certain situations, innuendos, social and cultural manifestations. What part of  ”I want to help my country.” I looked up, hoping he’d see the Armenian dream in my eyes” did you not understand??? When the author ends her article by constructing a “church” in the Homeland and you do not comprehend it, maybe you should avoid commenting about multi-layered, complicated stuff.
    It’s so easy for simple-minded people to stamp negativity on a writing or speech, for they are not aware of the TRUE forces of patriotism.

  8. To realize that this young Armenian-American women writes so effectively, without mincing words, writes as she sees the elements hidden beyond the seemingly ordinary situations, writes and doesn’t care to please this or that, and all the rest, makes me say; “Abris, Nayiri Panossian!”
    Throughout my multiple trips to Armenia, I have been in similar situations. There is not even a negative note in this article. It’s realistic, sincere, and uplifting.
     

  9. Yes, we all know that our beloved homeland has a lot of problems – a newly independent nation in the volatile Caucasus will have to have a lot of problems. We also know that a thousand years of cultural, spiritual and genetic damage as a result of Turkic, Semitic, Persian and Bolshevik rule – cannot be fixed in a few short years. Having said that, what Armenia needs is forward looking, progressive, objective and patient sons and daughters – not self-centered whiners. The entire tone of this article is condescending, self-righteous, shallow, self-hating and narrow minded – to say the least.

  10. very well said Avetis. with all due respect i’m sure Nairi made an effort but either was “kotz” minded herself or was not ready to deal with “helping her country” because she clearly is not helping.

  11. Dear Nayiri,

    Your article raised my hope and sense of pride, to see our upcoming generation  expressing themselves so honestly and up to the point about disappointing and aimless life of young armenians. I am personally observing every year, about what you wrote.  In Vartan’s case, I think he wasn’t quite honest about his behavior. Being 23 years old, he certainly knows russion and term Psychology which has same meaning and almost same pronunciation in russian (Psikologi) could not have been strange to him.

    Obiously Leo and Isabela need to reform themselves and some one should asked them, what was their contribution to the Armenian cause. Generally talk is cheap, but negative statements is worthless.

  12. Dear Nayiri,

    Thanks for taking the time to write about your impressions of our homeland. Some of your observations/interpretations are accurate, some are not. And I have to agree with Avetis that the main problem with your article is that your tone is very condescending. While Armenia and Armenians have lots of problems, you seem to look down at them and think that your way is the only right way.

    – “Your curfew is at 1 a.m.—sharp.
     No excuses. Agcheegner (girls), if you notice, there are no women walking around at night. You may do so during the day but make sure you have an escort.”
    This is, probably, the most absurd of your observations. It is totally inconsistent with what others say, what I have seen and lived myself, and what guidebooks and statistics suggest. And what’s the implication exactly? Armenia is not safe or Armenians are so backwards that women are not supposed to go out alone?
    Where in the world do you see people, particularly, women walking in the streets after 1 am alone? I have seen women coming out of bars and strolling in the streets in Spain, elsewhere in Europe and, still, I don’t think they were alone. Who goes out that late at night alone? It’s not even fun.
    Tell me please where in the US we have people walking in the streets late at night, alone or in groups? In some parts of NYC, I guess? Where else? I am dying to know. It’s not even in the American culture to walk in the streets at night. It’s also very unsafe. You live in New Jersey, right? How often do you walk around in Newark during the day, let alone at night? How about Bronx? Central Park, late at night?  
    Women in Armenia absolutely do not have go out with escorts during the day and even late at night. I have no idea where you got this ridiculous information. My 67 year old relative goes to the opera, concerts, theater alone, and comes back home very late, alone. She goes to work, does her errands, and walks around in the streets, all by herself. I know a plenty of women, young and old, who move freely around Yerevan pretty much any time of the day. I have been out past midnight in Yerevan and the streets were full of people, as in Europe. It seemed very safe and normal. So no, Armenians are not surprised to see women in the streets and it is very safe.   
    I am sure you will be surprised to find out that Lonely Planet describes Yerevan as a very safe and pleasant place to walk around, sit in cafes and restaurants, and spend time in. You will also be surprised to learn that Armenia is ranked among the top 10 safest countries by the UN, based on real statistics. Elementary school children ride the public transportation with no problem. They even do some minor grocery shopping to help their parents while they are at work. I have seen this only in the safest and most advanced countries in the world, excluding the US, unfortunately.   
    – “Heels, ladies, heels will make you look more Armenian. Women here love them. They wear them in different styles and sizes, outrageous colors like neon orange, and the higher the better—they give the illusion of being above the oppression they’re under.”

    I have to agree with this one. Women do not wear comfortable shoes in Armenia, and it’s bad for their feet. I am not sure though why you need to make fun of them. It’s really none of our business who wears what, right? In case you didn’t know, high heels make a woman look sexier and more elegant, which is why Victoria Beckham wears extremely high heels 24 hours a day. Does she want to give the illusion of being above the oppression she is under? Do you feel annoyed by her love of heels or you make an exception for her? Well, she is not a poor Armenian, she is British, which means she must know what she is doing and it is the right thing to do for her but not for Armenian ladies. FYI, Americans are not exactly admired around the globe for the fashion sense, their omnipresent white sneakers, T-shirts, and baseball caps. Check some travel forums and you will see for yourself. And again, you will be surprised to know that Lonely Planet suggests tourists to put on something nice when they attend the bars in Yerevan. You know why? Because the authors think that “most Armenians dress well.”
    “Look both ways before crossing the street, then look again. Madmen are driving in Soviet cars that look like old rotting lunchboxes, but they are fast and will fly by you without warning.” – I agree with this one. Nobody observes traffic rules and regulations. It annoys me, too. It’s much worse in Italy, actually, and in many other countries, but that’s no excuse. As for the “rotten lunchboxes,” maybe that’s the best they can afford. I don’t see any reason for sarcasm.
    “This church is called Etchmiadzin Yegeghetsi. Don’t sit down. It doesn’t matter how tired you are. Stand up. When you exit the church, do it with your back facing the door and make a cross, but before you go, make sure to buy a candle to light for your loved ones.”  — I am sure you did not have to do any of it. Nobody would force you. I have visited Armenian churches without putting a candle and exited facing the door with no problem. And if it is customary to do those things, I don’t see how it could cause you hardship. I am sorry, but you are whining about very minor things. You can’t enter Italian churches wearing shorts and with bare shoulders. Every visitor observes these rules because when you are in Rome you do as the Romans do. I hope you don’t think Italians are backwards or below Americans. Do you observe or would observe their rules with not complaints? I took a few pictures at a Portuguese church last summer and was asked to make a donation in return. Would it be a big deal for you? I guess, it would, if you complain about having to put a candle.
    “Those Kate Spade sunglasses make you look so American.” Perhaps, this was a compliment. “You look American” IS a compliment in Armenia. And, trust me, as poor as they may be compared to you, they have seen designer sunglasses and some of them wear them. They do stare and check your clothes, which I find disturbing, but putting yourself together before you go out is not a negative thing. It’s a positive thing.
    Nayiri, I am sure there were a lot of positive things you could write about. I am sure you can do another article, focusing on the positive this time. Take inspiration from Kristi Rendahl. Her articles are very realistic without being sarcastic or condescending.
     
       
     
     

  13. I think your response was some what of an insult. Other than women need to be escorted during the night, the rest of her articles was not baseless, specifically about young armenians. We have to be open to discuss our view points and express what was observed. sweeping under the rug, most certainly is not a solution.

  14. wow, I didn’t think my article would create this much controversy because i’m not really making an argument in the article- I’m just simply revealing a story of my first time in Armenia. it’s not something that is right or wrong- it is what it is through my eyes (and I’m sure through the eyes of many other young Diasporans who first traveled to Armenia). The judgmental attitudes (on both sides) and cultural differences/shock should be exposed, especially for people to understand each other better and come together on a deeper level.

    All the “rules” mentioned were given by our program coordinator upon arrival (escort, included). “Heels, ladies, heels” and “those kate spade sunglasses make you look so American” were not actual comments made, but impressions I got and two of many reasons I had felt like an outsider. I speak sarcastically about churches because we had been taken to various churches and historical sites, which were all beautiful and meaningful in their own way, but we did not get much of a chance to understand and explore real-life issues, such as war, poverty, women’s issues, social inequalities, and injustices in the church system. Many of these issues kept hidden in Armenia in order to maintain the status quo, but if more “sons and daughters” both in and outside of Armenia talked openly about them then maybe we would see a change.

    Many young Armenians traveling to Armenia for the first time think they will fit right in, but this is not the case. Through this story, I’m hoping to show others that it will take much time and effort, along with an open mind and ability to adapt, to show hayastantsis that we not only have the same Armenian blood running through our veins, but that we all have the same goal– and that is, as is simply stated, to help our country. Whether or not Vartan knew the definition of psychologist or not is inconsequential. He started to define me as someone on his side and that was my ultimate goal.

  15. I agree this article was very condescending and shallow. Fledgling Armenia with all its troubles, domestic and foreign, does not need this type of destructive criticism – especially from a diasporan that has been raised in USA. What Americans like Nairi need is a little depth and objectivity.

  16. It is with great dismay that I am reading the letters posted on this blog.  A literary piece of work written by Nayiri Panossian has become a vehicle for readers to express their patriotism, their love for the homeland or to give lessons to the author, thus being condescending themselves.
    There is nothing condescending in Ms. Panossian’s piece of work.  If we look at it as a literary work, or a script for a short movie, we may realize that it is a pretty successful work of art.  The mere fact that so many are either enthusiastic or deranged by this article is proof that it touched the reader’s psyche.  An unworthy article would have left people indifferent.
    This said, I don’t know why, we, Armenians, always need to give lessons to the young generation, instead of letting them discover themselves and their homeland their own way.  I don’t understand why Nayiri Panossian needs to see and to show the positive things in Yerevan.  A creative writer is not, and should not, be an activist or a preacher for a good cause.  That would be detrimental for any piece of art.
    When I read Ms. Panossian’s work, I felt elated.  I found the article very well written, funny and sad at the same time.  It seemed to me that through the lens of a camera, a moment, a mid-day in 2007 was captured and kept for eternity.  Without any hint of condescension or negativism, Nayiri’s work reflects a feeling of alienation, a quest for reaching the other, an unveiling of others as well as her own self.  She exposed her true feelings with wit and literary skill.
    It is sad to notice that we have become a community of readers who have no grasp of literary concepts, and set patriotic and feel-good ideas as a precondition for a successful literary work.
    My only hope is that Ms. Panossian takes these letters as a challenge and continues depicting anything she wants.

  17. We all know the homeland has a whole lot of troubles – that is why individuals such as myself take self-destructive and counterproductive behaviors amongst Armenians very seriously. While you well-fed “proud” Armenians of the diaspora sit in your warm homes and criticize and make ridicule, realize that in a blink of an eye Armenia can disappear yet again. The diaspora has a right to participate in nation-building – but they don’t have a right to ridicule, criticism and/or attack the homeland for whatever reason. Armenia is not the diaspora’s lab experiment.
     
    What Armenians in the homeland have managed against all odds is a miracle in itself. Had Nayiri’s beloved American Empire been forced to endure even a tiny fraction of what Armenia has been enduring, there would first be widespread cannibalism and then, the US would simply disappear. No matter how one looks at it, this article is very condescending and shallow and it reeks of anti-Hayastantsi sentiments. No wonder why Haysatantsis tend to distrust/disrespect diasporans…
     
    Like it or not, this is the Armenia history has dealt us. If you call yourself an Armenian, then partake in its development without whining.

  18. Well said Avetis, Gina, Izabella, and Leo.

    It is the duty of all self respecting Armenians to build up the Homeland, and not to fall into a cycle of separating Armenians.  Even if those around you try divide Armenians, don’t fall into their game.

    I hope the author’s impressions change for the better on her next visit to Armenia.

  19. again thank you Avetis. I dont credit the author so much as a talented and contraversal person as she herself does and her friends commenting here do. her tone follows Armenia Weekly which is very anti-Hayastantsi and in the state departments pocket.

  20. Dear Miss Panossian:
    I enjoyed very much reading your description of your first visit to Armenia, and your attempt at making sense of what you experienced.
    Yes, Yerevan is one of the safest cities I ever lived in, but that doesn’t stop house-mothers from being over-protective and warning their wards about any potential danger (whether physical or moral) exagerating them for maximum effect.
    When we returned from Yerevan in 2003 my wife kept boasting that, from all the cities where we had lived, she felt safe “walking in downtown Yerevan alone in the middle of the night”. Not that she regularly did that, but simply that she had done it and felt relaxed and safe doing it.
    Kudos to Miss Panossian for volunteering not once, but twice, in Armenia and best wishes for a very successful career and many more returns to Armenia. Next time you come, please visit us on top of the mountain in Yeghegnadzor.

  21. Abriss Nayiri,
    For a nice story from a young Armenian’s perspective of her first visit to Armenia.
    Amot,
    For defending yourself to those who comment negatively on you or your piece. Your creative writing is your artistic work and people need to respect that. If they cannot, then that only shows how “kotz” they are.

  22. I think the article over all is negative, and this kind of thinking affects our armenian psychology or Hogebanutjann. At least you should mention that Yerevan is more attractive than BX, BK, QU or SI. People like this complain too much that’s why all young people in Armenia want to leave the country, they think that it is easy every other place. Nowhere is easy, except when you watch some Hollywood movies. Nairi, at least do you get it that we/Armenian guys are gentlemen and we ready to pay if necessary. I am conservative and I judge people not because how they look like, but the content of their character. There is some good values both in American culture and in Armenian culture and I intend to choose both… Anyway, I hope your second tour will be more attractive, and you will meet some English speaking Armenians, or Americanized Armenians…

     

  23. Leo you are totally off the base. No one asked you to express your political views. What Armenian weekly believes has nothing to do with this article. I do  not know where did you get the idea, that Armenian Weekly is anti hayastantsi. I suggest, if you do not have something positive to say, just don’t say it. You are just an opinionated person.

  24. Avetis, I just don’t hear whining.  I hear a slice of life from ‘one’ person’s point of view.  That’s all. Not an expose’, not a news report, not a history, not a travelogue.  Just a little essay depicting one person’s culture clash and wish to bridge the gap and help her nation.  What we see here is the impact of the Genocide and years of Soviet influence on our people.  If we are sincere in ‘pulling together’ for the sake of our community, then we should try to be prepared to be less parochial and more open minded.  There are differences between us depending on where we were raised, but we can still embrace each other as fellow Armenians despite it.  I focus on the writer’s wish to connect to each other and help build the nation.

  25. WOW! This is some response.
    For what it’s worth, I read Nayiri’s piece as a genuine account of what she experienced in Armenia and how she felt about the people and the idiosyncratic things she came across. In no way did I read her article as condescending or patronising to Armenians living in Armenia. Like somebody said above, I found myself wanting to read on after the first paragraph. Either this says something about the quality of her writing or I’m easy to please.
    Armenia has a lot going for it and we should embrace all the positive things that are happening there. Likewise, if there are bits that can be changed for the better then let’s raise the topic and talk about it. This is not a competition.
    One final thing: this article is written by an educated and informed Armenian-American woman who has taken time out of her life to learn more about the land of her forefathers. More importantly, she is trying to make her contribution to improving Armenia in the best way she knows how. She is then documenting her experiences for readers of this publication. Asge aveli?She should be heartily congratulated for what she is doing.
    Keep up the good work Nayiri. Excellent stuff!

  26. Did most of you read the same article I did? What negativity are you referring to? Nairiyi did a wonderful job of describing the “ground conditions” as she encountered them. I too visited Armenia with my family (including a son and daughter, both adults) about 3 years ago. Frankly I ran in to many more frustrating and bothersome experiences than Nairiyi. Yes, the women are bothered if they walk alone at night. Yes the men all appear to be chain smokers. Yes the women dress like hookers and think that’s high fashion. Most disturbing of all is the attitude that if you are not a Hayastanzi you’re not a real Armenian — they deny this but all on our tour got the same feeling. Still, I look forward to going back as soon as I can. I loved the country and the people (especially those refreshing kids!). Those dilapidated churches, the mountains, the sweet cold water, and ARARAT, they all call me. They draw me like a powerful magnet even though my parents were from eastern Turkey. I applaud Naiyiri for her honesty and most especially for her going back not once but twice to volunteer her services to our fledgling Republic.  How many of you who are quick to criticise her article have visited Armenia recently much less volunteered to help the country? Sure there’s a lot wrong with our country, that’s to be expected, but with people like Nairiyi helping out and questioning the status quo there is a bright light shinning at the end of the tunnel (and I don’t mean the one that leads to Dilijan).

  27. The fundamental problem I see here is a clash of cultures. Despite how much American-Armenians want to feel “Armenian”, they are first and foremost Americans by culture and by mindset. America is a massive global empire with over two hundreds years of continuous history. Armenia is a newly independent embattled republic landlocked in the Caucasus that just woke up from a nasty hibernation that lasted about a thousand years. Thus, it’s natural that there will be more differences than similarities between Amerikahais and Haysatantsis. Had Nairi been born in Armenia, she’d probably have the highest heels in the country… Had Michael Mirakian been born in Armenia, he’d probably be serious chain smoker… I guess it would be too much to ask of you Amerikahais to show a little more depth and objectivity. Sadly, Armenia continues being the abstract fairytale land you read about in books as a child. Wake up and realize that Armenia is a real nation. And as all real nations, Armenia has real problems. If you call yourself an Armenian, participate in nation-building, participate in – constructive – criticism. If that’s too much for you people, than simply stay out of Armenia and keep your mouths shut. Armenia has enough problems without you pampered whiners adding to it. It’s very sad that we don’t have an American diaspora that is competent and understanding.

  28.  I appreciated reading Nayiri’s perspective on her trip to Armenia. There is power in the diversity of our experiences if we are able to digest them. Boyadjian’s comment struck home. We must understand the impact of our geo-political experiences of the last 100 years. It is naive to think that all Armenians are fully aligned culturally. At the core of our existence are the Armenian values and common history that has shaped who we are. But on the surface are the sub-cultures that we have all experienced or been influenced by. For those of us in America, there is the western blending with our ancient culture. In Armenia, the lingering effects of the genocide and the Soviet culture are dominant. The Armenians in France have been influenced by a European culture and who doen’t believe that the Armenian communites in the Middle East aren’t in some way influenced by the regional culture.
              We need to embrace our commonality and appreciate our differences as an opportunity to grow. For most Armenians from the diaspora, our concerns are either identifying with our roots or preserving them. Assimilation is a major concern. We build churches, clubs and schools to build identity and do our best to pass this to our children. Our personal lives(career etc) are mostly outside of the Armenian community. A great deal of our Armenian life is from Friday to Sunday when we morph from one end of the hyphenation to the other(American-Armenian).
                For Armenians in Armenia, assimilation is not the issue. They live with the language… they are on the land. The issues are personal… my career, my job, my families’ future.. will it be a place I can have a future?
                  What can we do as diasporan Armenians? If you believe what I just said, we need to help people have a future…. the quality of the economy…of their life. We need to look at what motivates them and less our romantic notions. Build Armenia and give those children a reason to have hope.
          

  29. Avetis
    I see your point. There certainly is a clash of cultures and perhaps more than with Armenians from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, etc. Maybe I would have been a chain smoker and Naiyiri decked out in sky high heels. I doubt very much that I could possibly have tolerated what caused the fate of poor Zaruhi or condoned the senseless deaths of so many of our Armenian Army youth at the hands of their superior officers. Having lived here in the USA it’s very difficult for me to imagine how our brothers and sisters live under those demoralizing conditions of poverty and corruption. I admire their spirit and patriotism for wanting to stick it out. But that doesn’t mean I should be complacent about the status quo. Things have got to change in Armenia and relatively soon. Perhaps the next 20 years will produce conditions more conducive for outside businesses and monies to be attracted there. I’m sure if there is work for more people things will dramatically improve for everyone. First the climate and attitudes have to change. You can start by welcoming ALL Armenians as stake holders in the new Republic. Naiyiri HAS done something about it. She’s volunteered her services for two summers. She’s lived with the locals and not just visited them. Is that a whinner in your book?

  30. Baron Mirakian.
     
    Please don’t bring Zaruhi in this discussion. That’s ridicules! See my comments about her death. They are self explanatory. However, you mean to tell me that abuse of women does not occur here in this modern, progressive and God fearing nation we call America? How many millions of girls end up into prostitution? How many women are drug addicts? How many are alcoholics? How many are runaways? How many are killed annually by their husbands, boyfriends and pimps? Is this what gender equality means?
     
    Are you people here delusional. As backward and Asiatic as some Armenians act in Armenia, compared to America, Armenia is actually a safe haven for women.
     
    I am seeing a lot of treasonous and destructive sentiments regarding Armenia on this board. Our so-called oligarchs are a nasty outcome of the Soviet Collapse. They are essentially the by-product of the Levon Ter Petrostein years (who had become a puppet of the West). Nevertheless, as with all financial/business elites of this world, within a generation or two they will disappear and their off-springs will settle things down. Even now, there is a governmental campaign to gradually clean house in Yerevan. We have sen some very positive results. Namely, the new mayor of Yerevan who just happens to be a well educated serious businessmen and a capable technocrat. I don’t want to make excuses for our gluttonous compatriots in the homeland, but you people need to be realistic and objective enough to realize that what is currently happening in Armenia is natural – from a historical perspective. Throughout history, all nations, even the best in the West, have traveled more-or-less the same bumpy path to peace and prosperity.
     
    Thus, Armenia needs political/social evolution and not a Western inspired revolution! Armenia is not the diaspora’s lab experiment!
     
    Open your eyes and realize that a vast majority of Americans lived in abject poverty for well over a hundred years before they got their act together in the aftermath of the Second World War. You want to see nasty criminals running a country? Look up “Robber Barons”. You want to see exploitation, discrimination, slavery and genocide? Look no further than your American history books. Senseless wars in the name of plunder? That’s America! You can can find all this and more – right here in the good ol US of A. You don’t even need to go back into history to see massive lawlessness and corruption in this nation. Just look at the Pentagon, the White House, the Federal Reserve, Wall Street, the oil lobby, the Jewish lobby, the defense industry, pharmaceuticals industry, mega corporations, the CIA, the international banksters… They are all currently robbing this nation of trillions of dollar annually. When (not if) this nation falls apart (it’s not too far off in the future) – our friend Naiyri and company will literally become – fresh meat – for their neighbors.
     
    Our so-called oligarchs, as nasty as they are, pale in comparison to the wealthy 10% in this country that controls over 90% of the wealth. Americans seriously need to wake the hell up from their American dream…

  31. I don’t think we should generalize one person’s opinion. I do not think that there was a clash of civilizations or clash of cultures. Although she did not express her “political correctness”, but I do appreciate her honesty. I think she lucks World Wide Experience. There is some traditional family values, traditional moral values that you can learn from Armenia. Europe (including Armenia) is different than USA. In USA the time is money, you can not have four hours lunch and two hours coffee that is why we go for “drive thru“, while in Armenia time is not money- this does not mean that people are hungry that’s why they enjoy their coffee for two hours. Churches in Armenia is free, only you have to pay for a candle which will cost you 20 cents . While American-Armenian churches demand money every time you go to them or they send you letters asking for donations, by the way NY cabbies drive more crazy. Of course, it is always difficult to change your environment and try to adapt quickly. Even when you depart from one state to another, you still have to adapt. Intrinsically American system is more complex. I think she just had a hard time because of her language skills, and Nairi What did you do that they though you were crazy?????

  32. This writing is what it is, the authors feelings and outlook on Armenia, given the fact that I interacted heavily with Birthrighters all summer I can say that some of this is really her unique experience and it should be simply given that much weight, and not represented as the outlook of westernized Armenian youth that travel to Armenia for the first or second time to conduct work. I can confidently and happily say that allot of my friends have had great experiences on the same program, I encourage Nayiri to continue her efforts in Armenia, and eventually find her place at home.
    As far as deghatsees, speurkahayes, armenian american, soviet armenians, hnchags, dashnaghs, chootags, knights of this, knights of that, knights of templar, who even cares anymore, its the 21st century theres 8 million armenians lets stop the divide and work towards a common goal to better our homeland and live here together united.
     

  33. Avetis —My well meaning Armenian Brother,
    Abuse of women, corruption, stupidity, and intransigence are evident all over the world and the USA is no exception. I’ve complained about it here, in Armenia and in many parts of the middle east as well. You seem to have a passionate hatred for the USA. Why? Do you resent our prosperity? My parents came here with virtually nothing and managed to take advantage of the opportunities here to build a comfortable life for us first generationers. Throughout that time they still managed to send whatever they could for needy Armenian families, first in the middle east, then in Armenia. What would the conditions be like in Armenia and Karabagh if Armenian Americans, French Armenians, Lebanese Armenians, etc. didn’t send food clothing and money to help out the new Republic before and after the earthquake? Yes, we have a right to make suggestions and  also insist on changes. If the Hayastansi don’t want to hear it, don’t accept the help! By referring to us as “you people” you exemplify precisely the primary problem — you don’t consider anyone Armenian except those living in Armenia — that has to change! So do many other things if our homeland is to have any hope of being ranked along with the other great cities of the world.  I wish the new mayor of Yerevan much success in his initiatives, and I only have the best of wishes for success and improved conditions for the homeland. As for you, please don’t fight me brother, both of us really want only the best for OUR country.

  34. So the tsumani subsided !
    Fortunately, we saw some intellectuals with precise diagnosis, due to their knowledge of history, unwavering love of truth and analytical mind.
    What we also obseved are SOME people wearing gears of Hayastan or Spiurk and … fencing. The loved one is Armenia – of course, Armenia! Yet they are ready to kill each other “to help Armenia”….
    What was presented by Nayiri Panossian was merely a literary piece, a “slice of experience” of a young Armenian woman during her volunteer work in Armenia. Written with skill, humor, and depth. In literature nothing can be right or wrong. No one can object that a given story is not true. Especially based on the premis that they themselves have not experienced it (how ridiculous!) Or that there are negative strokes, only because the writer describes things as SHE sees it. No, no one can dictate. This is literature. 
    Some of these volunteers spend their own money, their vacation time, specifically their knowledge and expertise to make a positive input in their Homeland. Don’t suffocate the young Armenians  with your ignorance toward art, and/or with your deeply-rooted insecurities. I couldn’t help visualizing a marsh with purposeless inhabitants jumping merrily at each other’s croaks.
    I wish I’m wrong, but I sensed some kind of pleasure and cynicism among those three Armenian men criticizing a woman. Time to grow up. Or better yet, shut up!
    One even had a ‘discovery’ that Armenia is not Diaspora’s lab. (???) Lab is a place where experiments are conducted and verified. If anything, Armenia is Diaspora’s Fate and Faith. Don’t try to drop poison in our chalice. 
    To end on a merrier note the following is a ‘mirror’. Enjoy!
    Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?  
    DR. PHIL: The problem we have here is that this chicken won’t realize that he must first deal with the problem on “THIS” side of the road before it goes after the problem on the “OTHER SIDE” of the road. What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he’s acting by not taking on his “CURRENT” problems before adding “NEW” problems.
    OPRAH: Well I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I’m going to give this chicken a car so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of the chickens.
    GEORGE W. BUSH: We don’t really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.
    DONALD RUMSFELD: Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road.
    ANDERSON COOPER/CNN: We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access the other side of the road.
    JUDGE JUDY: That chicken crossed the road because he’s GUILTY! You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks.
    PAT BUCHANAN: To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.
    MARTHA STEWART: No one called me to warn me which way that chicken was going. I had a standing order at the Farmer’s Market to sell my eggs when the price dropped to a certain level.
    DR SEUSS: Did the chicken cross the road?
    Did he cross it with a toad?
    Yes, the chicken crossed the road,
    but why it crossed I have not been told.
    ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die in the rain. Alone.
    JERRY FALWELL: Because the chicken was gay! Can’t you people see the plain truth in front of your face? The chicken was going to the “other side.” That’s why they call it the “other side. Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you eat that chicken, you will become gay too. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media whitewashes with seemingly harmless phrases like “the other side.” That chicken should not be free to cross the road. It’s as plain and simple as that!
    GRANDPA! : In my day we didn’t ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.
    BARBARA WALTERS: Isn’t that interesting? In a few moments, we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heart warming story of how it experienced a serious case of molting, and went on to accomplish its life long dream of crossing the road.
    JOHN LENNON: Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together – in peace.
     ALBERT EINSTEIN: Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?
    AL GORE: I invented the chicken!
    COLONEL SANDERS: Did I miss one?
    (And here is the best)
    ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

  35. Hargeli Baron Mirakian.

    I don’t “hate” America – I hate what they (fill in the blank. There are many to choose from) have turned America into. Let’s put America in a proper historical light – without falling victim to Washington’s powerful hype and propaganda. Do you now understand, where I’m coming from? Actually, I hoping that you would have realized this without me spelling it out to you. Having said that, what I hate is irrational, irresponsible, superficial, hysterical, obsessive and destructive attitudes when it comes to our fledgling homeland in the Caucasus. After a thousand years of Turkic, Persian, Islamic, Semitic and Bolshevik rule Armenia today has a lot of problems. It’s our duty to participate in nation-building – without all the whining and complaining and ridiculing. Armenia will have to go through growing pains – like all other nations. We simply to be objective, farsighted, proactive and – patient!

    You’re a good Christian, right? Well, if you one day woke up and found out that your “prosperity” here in the American empire is a result of genocides, exploitations, slavery, child labor, robbery, drug trade, international wars… would you still be happy about your “prosperity”? Everything in life is relative – so is America’s prosperity and its role in world affairs. Moreover, please get down from your high horse. Armenia exists today simply because of its close relationship with the Russian Federation and not because of the rags and canned food we sent them some twenty years ago. While the big talking diaspora is renovating a church or a school or a clinic here and there, the Russian Federation is pumping into the republic billions of dollars worth of arms and investments. When Armenia’s border was threatened by Turks in 1993, it wasn’t the diaspora can came to the rescues – it was Russia. The crucially important atomic power plant in Armenia is not fueled by diasporans.

    I am not fighting you, Mike. I respect you as an Armenian. I respected you as one of God’s creatures. If I come across very irritated, its simply because I am very frustrated at how naive, how disconnected, how ignorant and how self-centered we Armenians have become, especially here in the United States.

  36. What is most surprising is that the ones advocating open-mindedness, patience, and understanding seem to be doing the most to undermine those very principles. It is very telling about us as a community how a frank recollection of a new experience becomes interpreted as a condescending attitude towards the hayastantsi lifestyle. It seems that some commentators automatically categorize both the authors and others brave enough to voice their opinions into preconceived subdivisions ( such as pampered condescending amerikahye, irate hayastantsi expat, belligerent dashnak patriot, naive mislead spyurkahye far removed from the realities on Armenian ground, complacent intellectual etc…). Why, instead of taking the article at face value for what its worth, would one consider criticizing the attitude of the category into which the author was erroneously placed. Want to vent your frustrations, go start a blog, a website, gain a social media following etc … why do it here?
    Even if we concede that the tone of certain parts of the article was critical. Why can’t it be? From the article and her subsequent comment it’s beyond clear that she is an open minded, patriotic and above all compassionate Armenian who wants nothing more than to help. Instead of nurturing and emphasizing those qualities, why choose to attack what you interpret her attitude to be?
    Why compare America and Armenia just to point out the difference in lifestyle, attitudes, and upbringing? It doesn’t need to be brought up or repeated. One would hardly think that the lives of the people growing up in each would be the same! Nevertheless, if they remain Armenian at heart, and in mind, and committed to doing good then they are entitled to their choice of how to improve their nation or homeland be it by criticism or otherwise.
    Let’s try to be a little more constructive eh? We are a nation of builders after all…

  37. Are you serious? so none of the guys in Armenia wear black? and NONE of the women make themselves up and wear heels every single day? WHERE ARE YOU LIVING?? no one smokes cigarettes like its their job there? NONE OF THE LOCALS STARE AT NON-LOCALS THERE? clearly your not living in Armenia. that is Armenia. where respectable young girls do not go out past 10 pm.

  38. -Nayiri
    You have great writing skills and I know a lot of Diaspora Armenians have felt the same way visiting our Fatherland. It`s sad to read the negative comments and it shows how some people don’t even know the reality of everyday life in Armenia. As a Birthright Alumni, I`ve witnessed personally many of the anecdotes you mention, it’s sad but true.
    Keep writing! You are a true Armenian! not afraid to speak out.
     

  39. This was a masterful literary work. It was not a political or sociological commentary, so why are people analyzing it as such and getting their panties in a bunch? Grow up.
    And this “give us your money but not your criticism” attitude towards the Diaspora is one of the reasons for Armenia’s prevailing political and economic backwardness.
    http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/10013/

  40. Finally, something above the usual lameness of Armenian American descriptions of self and the other; well beyond the little perfect speech shaped in endless writing programs aimed at bookwriting as an industry as perfect as ephemeral.
    “Duty?” A writer’s job is not “to help” anybody save the country, the planet, or the nation (whatever it may be), or anything else. That’s why you have politicians, soldiers, priests, and lots of charlatans. It is to give us intellectual enjoyment, mainly in the aesthetic level. If you want patriotic self-glorification, you may read all the propaganda we have been amassing during decades. If you want the “truth,” you may read the Bible or a sociological study. The writer is not lecturing us nor making advocacy. This is a beautiful piece because it just is beautiful, and because it problematizes meaning and the perception of a reality that is not linear (as most of us wished it to be).

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