From vibrant neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Paris to bustling businesses in Moscow and Beirut, the Armenian Diaspora is a testament to the enduring spirit of the Armenian people and their strong connection to their cultural roots.
Through schools, educational programs and community events, Diasporan Armenians continue to celebrate and preserve the rich history and traditions of their ancestors, while also embracing the diverse cultures of their new homes.
For the past six years, Ruben Koulaksezian has been on a mission to document the developments of these spirited communities around the world. He is a content creator and author of Little Armenias, the travel guide of the Armenia Diaspora. Koulaksezian has visited over 100 countries and has even lived in some of them. During his travels, he started documenting Armenian communities from a traveler’s point of view and began sharing his adventures to his Instagram page that has garnered close to 30,000 followers.
“The idea of starting the Little Armenias project happened after visiting so many of them,” says Koulaksezian. “When I travel, I like to use a travel guide book, like the Lonely Planet guidebooks, to know where to visit in each city. After discovering many Armenian communities in different countries, I had the idea of writing a travel guide book but for the Armenian Diaspora as a whole. I became more organized in documenting every place, and I’ve visited new places specifically for this purpose, like Argentina and Brazil.”
After graduating from Sorbonne University and ESSEC Business School, Koulaksezian began working for the French government abroad and spent time in Syria, Russia and various parts of Europe. He met Armenians from all walks of life, and in turn, learned about the communities they have built.
“I was surprised how easy it was to meet people, find information that isn’t always available on the internet, and most importantly, become part of the human experience with the locals,” explains Koulaksezian. “For example, in Botosani, Romania, I didn’t know anyone. I went to the Armenian churches, but they were closed. Then I went to the Armenian cemetery. It was snowing and cold. I was trying my best to communicate in Romanian with the guard. He understood that I was Armenian and called a local Armenian, who then told me about the Armenian history of the town. Because of his relationship with the person who had the church’s keys, I had the opportunity to visit a small museum there!”
These experiences inspired Koulaksezian to write his very own travel guide – Little Armenias – which was published in the fall of 2022 and provides readers with bite-sized introductions to the vast Armenian communities out there. The book covers 101 cities and has been described as both an informative resource and an invitation to visit these Little Armenias around the world.
“In many places, the neighborhoods where Armenians settled were called ‘Little Armenia.’ In France, we have several ‘Petites Arménies’ in Paris, Lyon, Valence, Marseille, etc. In Buenos Aires, the ‘Pequeña Armenia’ is located in the district of Palermo,” explains Koulaksezian. “The United States, of course, has many Little Armenias, from Worcester to Fresno to Watertown, and today, the most famous one is the Little Armenia neighborhood in East Hollywood, Los Angeles.”
Koulaksezian is also an avid content creator. His Instagram profile is packed with in-depth explanations of Armenian holidays, guides to the best Armenian Diaspora cuisine and tours of important cultural and historical sites.
“With my project, I want to make sure that a French-Armenian knows about the great history of Julfa merchants, that an Argentinian-Armenian knows about Fresno and Saroyan, that an American-Armenian knows that the oldest church in Singapore is an Armenian one, that a Russian Armenian knows about how Beirut and Aleppo contributed to the survival of the Western Armenian culture…the list goes on,” says Koulaksezian. “Ultimately, knowing each other and how diverse we are, is also a way to resist assimilation in our host countries. The younger generations have to understand the chance they have to be part of this big Armenian adventure, and they should pass it over to their kids!”
As we all know, the Armenian Diaspora has played a significant role in the preservation and promotion of Armenian culture, language and identity. It’s one of Koulaksezian’s intentions with this project to underscore the vitality of the Diaspora.
“The Diaspora is an important part of the Armenian nation. These communities outside of the Armenian highlands were formed centuries ago, for various reasons, including massacres, deportation, but also trading networks, economical reasons, etc.,” explains Koulaksezian. “I think that it’s part of our Armenian history to have a Diaspora, and we have to work hard to keep it. It’s as important as developing the homeland.”