Sahagian: Of Departure and Endurance in Armenia

Special for the Armenian Weekly

YEREVAN, Armenia—The nightly breeze in Yerevan hits me, blowing my long hair in different directions. My bald friend is indifferent, and begins to explain his frustrations with some of the ideals we’re raised with in the diaspora. “Our parents raised us to love a conceptual Armenia, which they had never even seen,” his voice bellows. It is one of those times when I keep quiet and listen. “But this is the Armenia we have now,” he finally sighs and, opening his arms wide, breaks into a dance. There are crumbling structures around us, or new high-rise buildings that are empty most of the year. In the middle of them is my friend in his trance. I watch on from a conceptual distance, knitting a thread to link us to this somewhere in time.

The next day I meet another friend, for whom the thread has burned out; she has apparently stayed too long in Yerevan, growing to despise this “small village” where there are no real friendships, this village that has kept her isolated from true relationships and family abroad. I hold back my words, but my face betrays the depth of my disappointment. I shouldn’t judge, I tell myself. I myself am on the outside looking in. I swallow her bitter truth as she begins to untie herself from the thread of the homeland. “I’ll come back to visit on occasion,” she says and walks away.

With this baggage of hope and loss swung over my shoulders, I tread into a village on the slopes of Mt. Aragatz, and bend down to drink from a natural spring. Kids rush over, ready to interact with me, whom they call Ashkharh desadz mart (a man who has seen the world). My eyes spot one face whom I deduce to be the leader, but he insists on presenting himself in Russian, while I try to divert our conversation back to Armenian. He gives me the victory in this linguistic struggle, but talks of his intent to travel to Russia. His friends switch their gaze between me and him, not knowing where the thread ends or if it even begins at all. One of us is already gone, the other following.

My taxi driver reveals his family hailed from Sepastia, as did mine—a long lost city of ours currently in central Turkey. We connect on our shared background before he delves into the politics of the Caucasus and Russia’s intent to slice up Georgia. I ask about his and his family’s fate, putting aside the fate of our neighbors. “I’m here for now. We’re all here. I’m too old to move.” The thread has snuck around him, latching on for the moment. I get out of the car with a weathered faith in the thread, which seems to be failing to hold us firmly.

The quiet walk home is shattered by the cries of beggars, whose countless wrinkles expose their old age. These grandmothers and grandfathers reach out their palms, yet I shy away. I’m embarrassed and disgusted with myself. The fury boils within me at this reality that has stripped every sense of their honor and respect. And I’m an active instrument of that reality, as I hurry my steps and turn into an alley away from their pleas. How could they ever expect me to be deserving of the thread that binds us?

Past midnight and quite drunk, I stumble into a fast food joint and pick a seat in the farthest corner, convinced that nobody can detect the intoxication in my roaming eyes. But the group in front of me does not mind; they are laughing and enjoying this late-night leisure. I realize that they’re Armenians from Iraq and Syria, countries engulfed in the flames of extremist infernos. They’ve left behind homes, communities, and churches—now destroyed, only to be recited as historical references.

They are now in this small corner of a republic they’ve heard about since childhood. Here, they are free of fear, free to live and laugh, simply free. Perhaps it was the alcohol, or something true, but their laughter hinted at the thread softly beginning to knit itself once more, from one person to the other. Slowly, patiently, faintly. A conceptual thread or a real thread, for a conceptual Armenia or a real Armenia.

It is then that I understood that whether it’s a romanticized Armenia or the real Armenia you discover by first landing at Zvartnots Airport, this small mountainous land—lacking natural resources, blockaded on both sides, facing economic hardship, always vigilant to keep its borders safe from renewed war, slumped in social and political difficulties—this small mountainous land is the most important piece of real estate we share.

Here, the door is always open: to come…and to go.

Apo Sahagian is a Jerusalemite-Armenian musician of alternative Armenian folk music. He also holds a degree in government, diplomacy, and strategy.

Apo Sahagian

Apo Sahagian

Apo Sahagian is a Jerusalemite-Armenian musician and writer.
Apo Sahagian

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  1. At least I didn’t have to read about British people. But the self-absorption and vanity remain.

    Nobody cares about your hair or the tortuous path in your story that brings the reader there in the lede, no less. Yes, you are a world traveler.

  2. Apo,

    To begin with, Yerevan is not a village. It happens to be a big city, just like Boston, Madrid, or St. Petersburg. And just because you were unable to find “real friendships” in Armenia’s capital city, does not in any way signify that real friendships cannot be found in this particular city. On the contrary, there are many great friendships to be found in Armenia’s capital city. As a matter of fact, although I’ve lived in America for almost my whole entire life, I can honestly say that the best friends I have, are over in Yerevan.

    • I lived in San Francisco for three years, unless you are a habitual drinker, living in a big city can be a very lonely experience. The fact that people in Yerevan are lonely shows how much it’s developed.

    • Where did you get the impression that “people in Yerevan are lonely”? On the contrary, Yerevan is a very lively place and its inhabitants are very sociable, as opposed to America’s cities which are quite unappealing and unfriendly.

      In terms of development, Yerevan has developed enormously since Armenia’s independence back in 1991. Many new things have been built in Armenia’s capital city over the past 23 years. It’s now a combination of beautiful “old Yerevan,” as well as beautiful “new Yerevan.”

  3. The threads that weave together in Armenia are quite tangible for me. In Yerevan a year ago, I met long lost relatives from Aleppo, and in less than a month I will be meeting relatives from Australia, some of whom I have never seen. Something different draws each of us to Armenia, but in this sun-baked mountainous land, we find common ground.

  4. Excellent, very touching and well written article, Mr. Sahagian. Thank you for describing your experience so well, and for your beautiful conclusion.
    Come and visit us in Yeghegnadzor next time, and feel the real Armenia.

  5. If Mr. Sahagian didn’t have a good time in Armenia’s biggest and most interesting city, then exactly what sort of a good time is he going to have in the village of Yeghegnadzor? After all, how can a guy who’s into drinking and hanging out with those sleazy British chicks, possibly have any appreciation for a country as historic and cultural as Armenia?

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