Looking back at my four years as an undergraduate student at the American University of Armenia, I can recall so many experiences and memories.
Seeing Ararat from AUA’s windows, giving a TedxTalk, being late to class while grabbing an iced coffee, submitting papers on a Friday night and immediately leaving the house to go to a bar, car rides on Monday mornings talking about the weekend shenanigans, falling in love under the Armenian flag, taking a human rights class with Aram Vardevanyan who is currently a member of parliament, and well…graduating…
One vivid memory that will stay with me is the Four Day War in Artsakh. I remember sitting with my peers on the floor with our laptops, translating tweets and news items into different languages to share widely. I remember the fear and uncertainty in everyone’s eyes and the passion and dedication in their work. We knew we were doing our part to help, raising awareness and spreading information in as many languages as possible. Of all the information I had learned and everything I had done, this experience is the one I am most proud of, the one that made me feel like I have actually accomplished something.
My years as an undergrad student, the classes I took, the knowledge I gained, my professors and mentors all prepared me for the next step of my life: graduate school. I couldn’t wait to go, until I really had to go.
These past two years as a graduate student at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, have been the most challenging years of my life. Being away from home is never easy, but everyone said I’ll get used to it as time passes. The pandemic, however, made it nearly impossible for me to experience what a normal day in Boston would’ve been like, but I was still hopeful that I would get used to feeling homesick.
I was wrong.
Almost a month later, Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh. I was trying to convince myself that it’s not going to escalate, that this happens all the time, and it will end soon. It didn’t, and it hasn’t.
I started understanding the gravity of the situation when I saw pictures of my friends in military uniform. It was real. It was happening.
I felt paralyzed. I didn’t know what to do and how to help. Once again, I joined the “digital fight” and tweeted and retweeted, reported and flagged false information and Azeri bots. I participated in local protests, talked about the war during my classes and started writing a research paper about it.
My sleeping schedule was severely interrupted. I woke up scared every night, scared of seeing another name added to the list of martyrs, scared of losing the sacred land that we freed 30 years ago, scared that with that I’d lose a part of me.
After putting up with over a month of “haghtelu enk” tweets and the mediatization of the war, my biggest fear came true. I didn’t wake up to the news. It happened at 5:00 p.m.
I was on the phone with a friend, scrolling Facebook and Twitter when it happened.
A Facebook status. I read it, reread it, reread it again: a bucket of ice cold water (I feel it every time I remember it). I hung up the phone, trying to make sense of what was actually happening. Gone…it was gone.
With every inch of land we lost, I lost a part of myself.
With every inch of land we lost, I lost a part of myself. Anger, grief and a feeling of uselessness consumed me. What made it even worse was my research paper. Instead of being a distraction from real life, it served as a constant reminder of what had happened. That Facebook status was the most vivid memory of my two years as a graduate student.
Today, as I complete this chapter of my life, all I can think about is Artsakh with the hopes of visiting soon, and the dreaded fear of not being able to go ever.
My soul and heart are consumed with longing and pain that intensify with every breath I take away from home. I count the minutes until I get to breathe that air, walk on that land and drink that water, so I can feel alive again.
Until then, I will survive. I survive by doing things that work as temporary antidotes: fighting for our cause in any and every way, being as active as possible in the Armenian community, staying up to date with current events, encouraging my friends who are protesting, telling all my friends about the beauty and resilience of Armenia and Artsakh, and writing and designing for the Armenian Weekly.
This is not a call to action asking you to move to Armenia (even though that would be ideal). It’s a temporary antidote for me and those who feel the same. It’s a reminder that I’ve accomplished something significant and I am grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had, the support that I have received from my family here and in Armenia, from my friends and colleagues. But I know this would not have been possible without a firm belief in my work benefiting Armenia and Artsakh in some way. It’s a reminder of the love, passion and dedication we need to have for our homeland. The need to work for the homeland must prevail over all of life’s challenges and difficulties.