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Why Did Armenia Not Feel Like Armenia?

 

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?

A view of Yerevan from the Mother Armenia monument. The twin peaks of Mount Ararat are in the background. (Photo: David Sullivan)

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.

27 Comments on Why Did Armenia Not Feel Like Armenia?

  1. Another whiney diasporan discussing a complex subject with blinders on.
    What was the point of publishing this article? The author himself alludes to the fact that he spent too much time at the bar getting drunk rather than on productive endeavors. Perhaps his consumption of alcohol blinded him to the multfacted nature of what developing states like Armenia face.

  2. avatar Areg Gharabegian // August 11, 2017 at 12:49 pm // Reply

    What kind of BS is this? I am baffled what made you to write this garbage. I have been in Yerevan for last eight months and working in the government to improve the situation using my knowledge and expertise that I gained in US. There are bunch of others doing the same in different fields and none of them thinks like you. I suggest that you go to bars and discos where you come from and do not come back to Armenia as there is no need for people like you here.

  3. I repatriated to Armenia two years ago because I consider it my ancestral duty. However, beyond those responsibilities, I can say life in Armenia is eternally more enjoyable than America. And if you make proper plans and acquire the proper skills, you can have a much higher standard of life here than anywhere else in the world. If the people in Armenia took all of the effort they put into leaving and put it into building a future here, they could have the life they dream of in America. I am done having sympathy for those who wish to leave. After two years, and seeing the opportunities which exist here, I consider them nothing short of lazy traitors who abandon their country in a time of war, because they are too lazy to build their own, and have to go live off of the land that someone else has built.

    • You make it sound so easy but do you know their situation? Do you employers judge you based on your age and looks? I have a relative who was a nurse in Armenia. She then left for a different country but was later deported back to Armenia. Now she’s in her early 50’s and no one will give her a job because of her age. And this woman is in good shape and she’s very smart but no one will give her a chance. Another example would be my cousin’s wife. She graduated from university with a bachelor’s in some medical field. She too had no luck landing a job and she really tried. Frustrated with Armenia’s condition, she wanted to leave Armenia for the US but she never won the green card lottery. At 26 she was jobless and was desperate to leave. Now she’s married to my cousin from France. I have a lot more other examples of people who are having a hard time with getting a job but that would be too long. So what I’m trying to say is that in Armenia when you’re over 30 and not beautiful or just not beautiful, you will have it tough. I don’t think anyone would want to leave their motherland and start a while new life elsewhere but desperate times call for desperate measures.

    • Starvation in a cold metal domik gets old after 25 or 30 years. They can never have the opportunities they can have in America because America is a free country. If you want Armenians to stay in Armenia, then you make it into a better country where they will want to stay, not try to escape. Until you do that, you are no one to judge them.

    • Hi Sassoun,
      can you message me on facebook please. My name on facebook is Steve James McManaman.
      Yes hayem, ughaki anuns pokhelem. I like to ask you some questions.
      Thank you :)
      p.s. Also I loved your comment, it resonated with me. Cheers,

  4. avatar Hagop hagopian // August 11, 2017 at 2:30 pm // Reply

    This is another ridiculous fake news Kool-Aid drinking liberal progressive Armenian, thinking that helping the people of Armenia as a diasporan is the solution. We have been “fooled” by all these diasproan organizations into helping Armenia at the cost of neglecting the diasporan Armenians in the Middle East and the rest of the world. By having us dump all our efforts and monies somehow we are helping “Armenia” at the cost of forgetting our roots in Western Armenia and Cilicia. Enough is enough you can dump as much money to a womanizing gambler and they stillRent satisfied or content.
    If these citizens of Armenia want to migrate to the states let them it’s about time the diaspora abandon these ungrateful people and concentrate on demanding our lands back or at least help the diasporan Armenians in the Middle East stand on their feet and help us with our struggle.

    • What an embarrassing and disgraceful comment. Young Armenians (from Armenia and the diaspora) are bravely and heroically sacrificing their lives on the front lines in Artsakh so that Armenia remains on the map, and here you are ridiculously crowing about Western Armenia and Cilicia, which are fantasies unless we first secure what we currently have. You should be thinking about what YOU can do to make Armenia an economically viable society for ordinary, middle class people – so that people don’t desire to leave and can see a future of opportunity for themselves and their children in Armenia. Without the homeland, THERE IS NO DIASPORA. Armenia language and culture will disappear before your eyes. So stop spouting inanities, educate yourself, learn to understand the real situations of people doing what we only dream of in the diaspora – living in a free, independent Armenia – and make a positive difference. If you can’t do that, your input is not needed.

    • I appreciate your input and I think it is needed. I’m not embarrassed by your words. I think you make excellent points.

    • What an divisive comment. I am not even sure you are Armenian, if you are SHAME ON YOU. Who the hell are you to put Armenia in quotation marks? Yeah, you SURE are living in la la land, if you think Turkified and Kurdified “Western Armenia” is Armenia, and what remains of Armenia in the Republic of Armenia is not. What a joke you are, but it is NOT funny! Yeah, Diaspora is so strong that most of the older 3rd, 4th generation had assimilated long time ago and guess what it was not because of “dumping money into Armenia,” as you put it. No matter what it is Armenia that will remain, while Diaspora always assimilates no matter what you do, it is like swimming against the tide which surely breaks you at the end. Oh and Armenians not assimilating in the Middle East is also a myth, they are through intermarriage and even gradual arabization or iranization (not to mention many Armenians there are also leaving for the West), it is just much slower process, but it is happening.

  5. Trying to figure out why the Weekly would print this garbaaage.

  6. avatar Garo Tashian // August 11, 2017 at 5:00 pm // Reply

    hello everyone, I want to start off by thanking everyone for the criticism and am enjoying the spark of comments because that was my intention with this article and I hope fruitful dialogue comes from this. I’d like to just emphasize my main point, I’d like to state again, I do not want to deter anyone from visiting Armenia, I don’t want anyone to leave Armenia, but I want us to do all we can to ensure both, people can move there and people can live there. This article is a reflection piece of my experience this time in Armenia, I did not interview everyone in the country, I just documented the few conversations I had as examples, to emphasize the point that not everyone is happy there or living in ideal conditions. This is the sad truth. I want us to come together and change this reality. Of course there are thousands of people who are happy, who have no complaints, but that doesn’t mask the fact that Armenia’s migration rate is in the negatives, meaning more people are leaving than coming in. I documented the fact that I went to bars and discos to show my peers that it is an embarrassment that I spent my time doing that instead of trying to better OUR country.

  7. avatar Armine Tervizian // August 11, 2017 at 9:03 pm // Reply

    It’s such a shame that such an active and dedicated member of the Armenian community who serves so selflessly as part of several Armenian organizations is being critiqued for HIS honest and personal opinion. We should take this article as an opportunity to move forward together in a positive direction for all Armenians and strive to bring each other together not bring each other down. “Partsrstsir yev partstratsour”

  8. avatar Antranig Kasbarian // August 12, 2017 at 12:34 am // Reply

    I found Garo’s commentary to be honest and sincere. Emigration is a huge problem for Armenia today: On one hand, it drains the country of its human potential. On the other hand, many of those who remain are demoralized. The root causes, of course, are political (although they are manifested in numerous other ways).

    Diasporan efforts to help Armenia are not in vain. But we must continue improving our methods of support/assistance. For one, we must always distinguish between the authorities and the people… the two aren’t one and the same, and in fact there is often a disconnect between the two. For another, we must offer assistance that empowers, that multiples, that ‘keeps on giving.’ Too often, we build things — churches, schools, clinics — then walk away. Engagement is key, in order to replace ‘diaspora as milking cow’ or ‘diaspora as Santa Claus’ with ‘diaspora as strategic partner.’ The latter is hard to accomplish, to be sure, but must be sought out.

  9. avatar Laurence Kueffer // August 12, 2017 at 2:38 pm // Reply

    I visited Armenia during the Karabakh War, life wasn’t a bed of roses in those days either; but, Armenians could see that there was much good things to live for, and plenty worth fighting to preserve.

    What things? These kind of attributes in Armenia: (1) Beholding a homeland environment that immerses us in the world of our Armenian Heritage. (2) Beholding a place that fostered cultural immersion into an Armenian way of life. I could see Armenian historical landmarks, protected and preserved by the State, as opposed to what has been happening in countries like Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. (3) Beholding a resiliency among the local population, and the will to survive, live and prosper. (4) The moral of the Armenian People stood behind their great flag bearers of patriotic determination to make their world a better place.

    Yea, I could go on, and I could also mention the plenty of negative experiences encountered therein. But, what I observe in contemporary Armenia forecasts a breakdown in moral among some segments of the population, based upon economic circumstances. I’m old enough to remember what it was like, before Armenia acquired its Independence, and it wasn’t fun. Prior to independence, Turkey’s “Wall of Silence” sought to deface the Armenia People and silence Armenian Genocide Recognition, while Gorbachev sided with Azerbaijan, in the Karabakh War.

    Before people criticize the government too harshly, don’t forget that Armenia faces threats that don’t encumber so many other countries. Both Turkey and Azerbaijan either want to see Armenia reduced to the status of an Indian Reservation, or they want to see Armenia obliterated from the face of the earth. No exaggeration. Armenia is a landlocked country. Meanwhile Georgia is playing both ends of the deal, cashing in on the Baku/Tbilisi/Ceyhan Oil Pipeline, but at the same time keeping logistical support open for Armenia.

    When people have money they think about how important it is; but, when people don’t have a country, believe me, they do think about how important country is, and the preservation of our cultural heritage.

  10. Because they are sandwiched between hostile nations, named Turkey, Axerbaijan, Russia, but Armenia will survive!

  11. avatar Vahe Baloulian // August 13, 2017 at 4:03 am // Reply

    The opportunities to better Armenia exist. Here is one of them. Move to Armenia, use your expertise and knowledge to help local businesses to find customers abroad, teach young people what you learned in the schools they can’t afford to attend, teach them foreign languages, teach them how not to depend on their corrupt government. Most importantly, make them understand that what the taxi driver said about fathers, mothers and kids is total nonsense. Armenians need education. Just like George Carlin said: If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders. He was talking about the US but these words describe current day Armenia perfectly. You want to make Armenia better? Move to Armenia, help people to be less ignorant, help them become less selfish. If you do that, your kids will not have to write the story you did above.

  12. My cousin worked in 4 places in the US.He had a science degree from a very good American University and spoke English like a native. Those living in Armenia thinking if they go to the US because it is a bed of roses, are bitterly mistaken.

  13. After 101 years of my family living outside Armenia I repatriated to Armenia and i can simply say it feels like home. Like any other country, Armenia has challenges but no challenge is too big for us if we are united and have a positive mindset. Taking the easy road and saying things like “serjig is stealing the money” or “ays yergire yergir che” is not what Armenia needs right now. It is not a matter of black or white.I have met many positive and many negative people since i came here, those who are successful here are the ones that didn’t just sit on their ass and wait for a high paying job opportunity like in the soviet times, they are the ones that go out of their way and create their job. just as the old saying goes “don’t ask what Armenia did for me, say what i will do for Armenia”.

    Also a very important thing i have noticed after living through the “Arab spring” revolutions and following it very closely, is that your enemies will always try to undermine your morale of the population as a first step, creating distrust between people and between the government and make you do the complete opposite of the national interest of your country and make any positive thing sound negative or unimportant, and trust me the same people(Turkey and Qatar) who were behind the “arab spring” are the same people who are behind “the Arab spring” are trying to lower the morale of the Armenians and trying to bring instability. it is like they are reading from the same book. exactly the same characters and the same allegations. Some examples of that would be to hate Russia and sign petitions to stop the mining in that huge amsular mining project or to say that it would be better to spend money on poor people instead of building the world’s longest zip-line. And not surprisingly this article is used as an azeri propaganda piece to show that Armenia is an extremely bad country to live in.

    What did these turkish and qatari funded and planned “revolutions” and “democracy” bring to these countries? nothing but treacherous, more corrupt governments, occupation, death, destruction, civil war and a much worse economy.

    As for Armenians leaving Armenia, i do not see it as a fatally bad thing, because the numbers compared to before are much less than before (-2.11 migrants per thousand population in 2015 down from -12.52 migrants per thousand population in 2010 this is a change of 83.16 %.)
    Everyone have their own problems, people who leave Armenia should not be blamed too harshly. the most important thing is to keep the Armenian identity and one day return to Armenia because there is no place like home and contribute to the country’s betterment with your skills or financially not only by donations, but by creating new businesses and increasing the country’s exports.

    Be positive and contribute to our country as much as you can, if you cannot then do not help the enemies to lower the morale of Armenians.

  14. Armenians can do what they want with their time or money. They have their own lives and families to look after and if they want to leave Armenia the final decision is up to them. Same for diasporans, you can’t force someone to participate in Armenia, or what their level of participation will be. You can incentivize or discuss, but nobody can command someone else on how to live their lives.

    The fact that many are critical of Garo’s post is because he’s probably struck a nerve. Virtually all diasporans I have met hold a skewed view of Armenia (too negative or too positive), neither are realistic perspectives. I’m glad Garo mentioned going out to bars, etc. The reality of Armenia for a diasporan that lives in Yerevan, and hangs out with mostly other diasporans is much different than if one lives outside of Yerevan surrounded by only locals. The experience is also different when a diasporan visits/lives in Armenia on a monthly budget most Armenian’s cannot live on. Anyone would love Armenia if they could budget $500 per month on a nice apartment, warm water and have a full stomach. Finally, we have to give diasporans credit where it is due. Diasporans have been extremely successful post-genocide. Look at our richest and most successful, Kirkorian, Gulbenkian, Manoogian, etc. Mostly all of them are the children of genocide survivors. But today diasporan youth (from the U.S. especially) are 2nd or 3rd generation, growing up in households with high incomes. These diasporans cannot relate to youth in Armenia. They can’t comprehend the poverty, nepotism and corruption embedded in Armenian society. At least the vast majority of them cannot. There is a huge disconnect between the diaspora and Armenia because of these factors.

    I doubt I am the only one with this opinion, and for those who disagree, perhaps they are those diasporans I am referring to. Only each diasporan individual can answer what their role is in Armenia, and question whether they are helping or hurting the situation there. Unfortunately we are already so embedded in ideologies and “-isms”, and too busy pushing our own agendas in Armenia, that we may not even be able to discuss this massive disconnect or efficiently participate in Armenia’s development.

  15. Very shallow article. Not even a passing mention on the crushing geopolitical situation the country has been subjected to in the last 25 years. Sad reflection of the diasporan intellect, which is why I’ll put my trust in the youth of the homeland serving on the front lines over any diasporan youth patting themselves on their hollow patriotic backs. Oh and by the way Garo Tashian, if you want to really gauge the wonderful effect your article has had, sit back and enjoy this. The whole Armenian nation thanks you for it:

    http://news.az/articles/world/124406

    And here’s one you and the rest of your supporters may want to chew on for a bit. 79% or Armenians do not want to leave their homeland.
    https://armeniasputnik.am/armenia/20170807/8203326/armenia-harcumner.html

    And just for the road, think about what these boys go through for their homeland while you’re using your homeland as a doormat:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6De1jcwaEQ

  16. Garo has touched a raw nerve with this article which has produced a good level of debate with some great, mature and thoughtful arguments and contributions, such as those by Lerner, Antranig Kasparian, Laurence Kueffer and especially John which I can fully concur with. These contributions really say it all that needs to be said but here’s my twopence worth:

    To be engaged with Armenia and help in whatever way one can to build a better Armenia must be considered a privilege and a debt as without Armenia (God forbid!) there will be no Armenian nation, culture or language …, nor a diaspora whether in the Middle East, US or Europe to indulge in infantile slogans about Western Armenia and Cilicia, which can only be recovered, if at all, through preservation and strengthening of the state – socio-economically, politically, diplomatically and militarily – which only us the Armenian people, in the 2 Republics and diaspora, can have the privilege to make happen. Stop being a passive/negative observer from afar and get engaged and involved with the only Armenia we have!

  17. Socialism is the problem. Until they resolve to fully abandon socialism in all forms, even just left wing liberal ideals, Armenia will fail as a nation. Don’t be fooled with the few anecdotal stories of success in Armenia. Armenia is a dismal place and devoid of any real hope for a future. Until Armenians stop relying on the government to care for them, they will never be able to advance themselves. Even when they move here to California, they still don’t know how to abandon their socialist ideas and they pollute the US with them, as well. They are bringing failed socialist ideas to the US when those socialist state failures are exactly what they were trying to escape when they left Armenia for the US.

  18. Corruption is Death. Whether is Corruption of the corrupt leaders and oligarchs robbing the people and country, corruption of the heads of organizations who are suppose to be the protectors of the people and country but get lost in the corruption themselves, or the corruption of any of us as individuals when we forget where GRACE really comes from.

  19. I do not live in Armenia but visited many times and its getting better and better. I would like to say that the IT sector needs more than 5.000 jobs and there is a lack of experts and students right now. The agroindustrial business is getting stronger each year. It is a matter of changing the production matrix and making the youth more diverse than before. I completely agree with the article. I will not sympathize with the people that want to leave, only with those who want to stay and prospere. I am helping in all campaings and organizations I can. Thanks.

  20. I agree with Ani 100%. A socialist nation, no matter what other virtues or resources it possesses, can never be successful. To be prosperous and successful, a nation needs to be free, like the USA. Armenia is still nothing but a socialist nation in its own people’s mindset, and Armenians depend upon the government to care for its people. Corrupt or pure, no people can ever derive power from its socialist government, whereas the government of a free nation can only derive its just power from its free people.

    If there are “oligarchs” in Armenia, as Vrej says, then it is the responsibility of the Armenian people to throw off the chains of their own socialism, and create a new government with a constitution based on freedom, where an oligarch can never rule. No one can do this for the Armenian people. They need to find the courage to do it for themselves.

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