Why repatriation to Armenia is a good idea right now

Clues from the great American novel...and my infant son

My son [NAME REDACTED] is about four months old now, and despite his inability to speak, he’s become quite communicative. My wife says he’s trying to bond with me, and what he really wants is for me to talk back to him. Since he seemed particularly chatty this weekend, I thought I’d strike up a conversation. Naturally, I first brought up the weather. I also inquired about his views on dividend investing. Then, as I casually leaned up against the door frame, I let out a “Crazy times we’re livin’ here, eh?” — nothing. The muted howling noises only increased in intensity. 

Out of ideas, I reached for the nearest book. ‘All he really wants is to hear the sound of my voice,’ I thought to myself as I flipped the cover and started reading: 

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

The room suddenly fell quiet as my son’s deep blue eyes fixated on mine, evidently hanging on to every word I uttered. [NAME REDACTED]’s occasional coos gradually took on a flair of enthusiasm as I read on, as if to point me to his grasp of the novel’s central theme: the green light emanating from across the sound is not (as some suggest) a symbol of his desire for Daisy, but a literary manifestation of the American Dream. The great tragedy at the core of this story—as my son’s incoherent babbling adumbrated—is that for Gatsby, it would forever remain out of reach. For, despite its perfunctory absence of aristocracy, America remained an inherently classist and static society, whose ladders no amount of acquired wealth and assumed status could scale. Upward mobility, it seems, is a myth. 

[NAME REDACTED]’s assessment made sense. How had I not considered this interpretation before? Indeed, for narrator Nick—much like Fitzgerald himself—Gatsby’s ultimate demise (both narrative and literal) in pursuit of this dream signals an abrupt disillusionment with the aspirational distortions in the promise of America. Maybe, I thought to myself, Armenians might find resonance in Gatsby’s character. As Nick puts it, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…”

Now, what does The Great American Novel have to teach us about repatriation to Armenia? Perhaps it serves as a cautionary tale for those whose thoughts of immigration are fraught with unrealistic expectations. Maybe my four month-old truly is the eminent literary critic of our times. Or—much more likely—I just happened to have reread The Great Gatsby recently and shoehorned it into this unnecessarily elaborate segue into the topic I actually want to discuss: now is as good a time as any to plan a move to Armenia. 

The Yerevan skyline (Photo: Serouj Ourishian/Wikimedia Commons)

Armenia, like the rest of the world, is still in the midst of containing the coronavirus pandemic and dealing with the inevitable repercussions. But despite disruptions to business, travel, international trade and foreign investments, Armenia is projected to experience the least severe economic contraction in Europe, if the latest IMF data is to be believed

While the pandemic and subsequent emergency in Lebanon have temporarily delayed plans to foster large-scale repatriation, Armenia still needs its repatriates. The country’s post-COVID recovery will largely depend on its Diaspora’s readiness to advocate, book flights, visit, invest, move, start families and contribute. As our compatriots from Beirut are already in the process of discovering, the goal remains the same: to strengthen Armenia’s position as a safe haven for all of us.

Of course, dropping a life and moving to another country is easier said than done, granted. But that’s not what I’m telling you to do. I’m just saying that if this pandemic comes with a silver lining, it’s that it has opened up new possibilities for the location-independent. In eight months, we’ve accelerated the process of developing contactless interaction further than we had in a decade before. If remote work was previously an option for the privileged few, it is now almost expected of many professions. With so many industries adapting to the technical necessities and realities of telecommuting, who needs to know that you’re logging into your Zoom call from Tsaghkadzor rather than Denver?

Digital nomadism is just one of the ways in which the virus and technology have teamed up to make the experience of repatriation as seamless as ever. Resources like Repat Armenia and a vast network of Armenians who have already made the move are always ready to help you lay down roots, share advice and welcome you into this community. 

Most of you will quickly discover that there is something here for everyone. Miss off-roading in Moab? Take your 4Runner to Vayots Dzor. “But I usually like to go leaf peeping in Vermont,” you say. To that I answer, “DILIJAN.” Planning on joining a militia in the Ozarks? Well, we got that too (sort of). In return, Armenia offers a refuge from devastating forest fires, right-wing shooters, left-wing rioters, gators (I guess? If you live in Florida?), unchecked “Mexican beer,” or possibly-senile leaders (that last dig is equally applicable, so pick the one you want). 

The novel, as many of you may recall, concludes with a disenthralled Nick Carraway returning home “to the Middle-West.” For Armenians longing for home in these troubled times, maybe they could find it in the “Middle-East” (well, wherever Armenia is located).

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. As correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, he covers socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia, with occasional thoughts on culture and urbanism.

9 Comments

  1. Well, unfortunately it’s not all fairytale in Armenia. I have lived outside of it for 27 years, since I was 6. My mentality (and many other people’s) is so different from people in Armenia that it’s unbearable for me to be there more than a week. And from what I hear from my relatives there, it’s not good there and even the new government sucks. I don’t find the economic prosperity only is a good idea to move to Armenia (for many people like me). I’ll take the gator in Florida any day over moving to Armenia lol

    • Hi Susanna,

      Please could you be so kind as to provide an example of a difference in mentality between people in the Republic of Armenia and Floridians that would make it unbearable for you to stay in Armenia for more than a week.

  2. Raffi, thanks for your lovely article. I also believe that there hasn’t been a better time for us diasporans to finally repatriate to the motherland. My wife and I were supposed to have begun that journey this past March had the pandemic not hit, but we’re definitely coming to join you next March. As Susanna says above, we know it’s not all fairytale, but it’s OUR motherland. Let’s not fool ourselves, we will not be able to survive as Armenians outside our lands no matter how many schools and churches we build. Those are all sandcastles built at the beach that will be washed away much sooner than we think.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts Mr. Pogarian. You are coming next March? You ARE a knight! When you come, drop-in on us in Yeghegnadzor!
      It is not fairy-tale alright and poor people (those who, after 30 years, have not yet been able to adjust to the transition from planned to market-economy) are still suffering. But as Mr. Elliott cleverly points-out, with remote work, you can do whatever you are now doing from Denver as well as from the top of our mountain in Yeghegnadzor. (Incidentally, I have better internet in Yeghegnadzor than I do in Canada, for 1/5th the price).
      I would add for those who still poo-poo repatriation: Դուք ինչպես, օտար աշխարհներ ընկած’, չեք մեռնում վշտից? (H. Shiraz)

    • Antoine, thanks for the encouragement to repatriate. We definitely will visit you in Yeghegnadzor. We are planning to settle in the village of Gosh in Tavush. How long have you been living in Armenia?

    • Asbed Jan:
      Tavush is beautiful. You have a wonderful dynamic Srpazan Bagrat Galstanyan. I am sure you will enjoy it.
      In answer to your question: We came to Armenia in May 2002 supposedly to volunteer for one year only and feel good that we served our Motherland. But within 3 months we had fallen in love with the people (that we had heard so many negative things about in the previous years) and this is how we bought an abandoned house on the top of a mountain.

  3. Armenia is not a fairytale and it’s not for everyone. But it is an exciting time to be here. And there are opportunities — to make a living, to have experiences — for those that seek them and for those they fit.

  4. Armenia still needs to develop and grow economically . Yes , the standards of living may be low but for Armenians in the West , it is assumed they will come in with more capital . Meaning they and invest with lower risk in business and real estate and develop jobs and industries . The West , Canada and the US especially is oversaturated . Businesses , gigs , jobs are all oversaturated. Armenia if the policies are right can be what Kuwait and Qatar were in the 90s and 2000s . A place where diasporans and expats can make a better living than in the West.

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