Why did Armenia not feel like Armenia to me this time?
That is the question I have been trying to answer for the past few days…
Could it be because I did not go sightseeing?
Could it be because I did not meet many new Armenians from other regions?
Could it be because most our time there was spent (ill-advisedly, in hindsight) going to bars and discos with the people we came with?
Could it be that Armenia—where I once thought I would settle down to build a life—is now a more of a place I might live after retirement, if that?
Let’s take a step back…
After walking around the streets of Yerevan and meeting some of the locals, I began to think more about this country and the state it is in, and whether I could see myself moving there. Most of the locals I met, hearing I was from America, pleaded with me to help them figure out a way for them to go to the States—to (in their view) gain a better life.
I felt great sadness when these people spoke about the troubling times in Armenia and what they saw as a lack of a future for themselves.
I did not have an answer for them. I do not know what the future holds for these people in Armenia. And, to be honest, I don’t know if anyone does.
I met a man whose family moved to Armenia during the Lebanese Civil War. He explained to me how they did exactly what many Syrian-Armenian families are doing now. According to him, his family was “fooled” into thinking Soviet Armenia offered a better life for them and said it was sad how Syrian-Armenians are being “fooled” into believing that, too. He said he could not wait until his children finished school so that he could join the rest of his family in the U.S. I had no answers for him, either.
I met a worker at one of the cafes who asked how he could come to the U.S., even going as far as asking (several times) one of the ungerouhis with me to marry him so that he could go back to the U.S. with her. He explained that he works two jobs, one of which is preparing hookahs for cafe customers, and said his situation is far from ideal. Again, I did not know what advice to give to him.
I met a taxi driver on my trip to the airport. He wanted nothing more than to move to Seattle, Wash., to drive trucks for a living. He drew an extended analogy (which revealed as much about him as about the situation in the country) about how the government is like the father of the family, the opposition is like the wife, those in coalition with the government are like the grandparents, and the people are like the kids. The father sets the rules for the household, he said; the wife does not always obey those rules, but is convinced that in the end she must; the grandparents always agree with the father; and the kids are too young to have a say. He made a comparison to how, in the middle of the night, the kids wake up having soiled themselves and wait for the government to help, but neither government nor opposition agrees to come and “save” the people from their sad state. He said we are the kids, in a soiled state, and there is no one here to help us. On so many levels… I did not know how to respond.
I honestly hope that sharing these encounters does not deter anyone from repatriating to the country. I hope that we, the Diasporan Armenian youth, understand that going to Armenia should not consist of only going to the bars and discos, but rather doing something there that will give back to the people. We obviously cannot bring everyone back to our respective countries and set them up with a nice-paying job and a nice home, but surely we can begin making their lives in Armenia better by helping to improve the quality of their lives and, in that way, perhaps helping them choose to remain in Armenia.
I learned a lot on this trip. I’m embarrassed about the minimal work I did at a soccer clinic hosted by Girls of Armenia Leadership Soccer (GOALS), and I would like to apologize to the people I could have helped and done more for during my stay.
I want to encourage all those going to Armenia, and all those who are still there, to find a way to get more involved with the country and its people. Personally get to know them. Use the many organizations, in Armenia and the Diaspora, that offer opportunities to become more familiar with the country.
The opportunities to better Armenia exist. Let’s come together to make it happen. Find your passion, help others to discover theirs, and let’s come together to help make a positive change for our people and our nation.