Serena Hajjar came to Armenia looking for a new life; she found a family instead. By all measures, Serena was what many immigrant families hope to see in their children. Her parents emigrated to the United States from Lebanon and settled in Massachusetts. Born in Boston, Serena had a very Armenian-American upbringing. She has an Ivy League degree in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania and was offered a Fulbright scholarship to go study in Russia. She turned it down to volunteer in Armenia instead.
In October of 2021, Serena began her volunteer service with Birthright Armenia. She spent her time at a few job placements before she discovered All for Armenia, an NGO founded by two Birthright Armenia alumni and husband and wife Matthieu Sahakian and Araz Kekejian, committed to the well-being, stability and future of Armenia. Serena immediately felt at home with All for Armenia. Little did she know that she would find her true love during her volunteering, just like Matthieu and Araz. It was ultimately through the very same volunteership that Serena found her husband Avag Bakunc. On a volunteer trip to Kornidzor, a village near Goris, Serena delivered gifts she had wrapped for the children. She was handing out sweets and was naturally swarmed by her delighted recipients. Thankfully, Elen, a teenager from the village and an All For Armenia volunteer, came to her rescue, and the two became great friends.
A few months later, Serena was set to go to Artsakh with All For Armenia and unfortunately would not be allowed to enter Artsakh. Stranded at the border, she contacted her friends in Goris and went to spend some time with Elen instead. Elen then invited Serena to her “Verchin Zang,” a ceremonial “Final Bell” and graduation.
Serena fondly recalls the courtship phase with her now husband. Avag was working in Russia at the time and was in Armenia for his brother’s wedding. Serena was enamored by Avag at the final bell party; the feelings were mutual as Avag took a seat next to Serena. She remembers being drawn to him and his energy. Avag, upon hearing a slow song, took it upon himself to ask Serena for a dance. “He pulled me to a slow dance, and I thought ‘oh my goodness, this was such a move.’ I was smitten.” Serena expressed that it was her dream to come and live in Armenia and to, one day, raise a family here. Avag would later toast to Serena, saying, “I hope that your dream of starting a family in Armenia comes true,” a statement that Serena later deemed prophetic.
Avag had planned to return to Russia a few days later. The two kept in touch. On his way to Russia, Avag messaged Serena and told her that he had stopped in Yerevan for the night. He proposed an evening walk. All the nearby cafes had closed, but they found a park bench where they sipped hot chocolate and talked through the night. The time they shared together on that bench is what made Serena and Avag slowly realize who they could be for each other. Serena recognized the rich goodness in Avag. As they were saying goodbye, neither of them wanted to part ways. What would later make Serena cry in her bedroom was the pure, genuine nature of their conversation, when Avag looked into her eyes and asked her to “remember [him] sometimes” before he left. Still, she thought it would remain nothing more than a sweet memory, as she knew he was building his new life in Moscow.
Nevertheless, Avag made sure Serena would remember him. In fact, she remembered him often, especially when Avag would do what Serena calls “little things” that she still remembers today. Serena remembers one time when she hailed a taxi, and Avag asked for the cab driver’s phone number. Serena, thinking that Avag was just being protective, shared it with him. When the taxi arrived, there was a teddy bear inside for her.
Despite the distance, Serena and Avag drew closer. Within a few weeks, Avag expressed his love for her. He returned to Armenia about a month later. They decided to get married. Avag was hoping to meet Serena’s family, but that meeting would not take place until their wedding day. Serena had already become acquainted with Avag’s family; all that was left to do was convince Serena’s parents that their decision did not need any more time. Serena’s family was well aware of her headstrong disposition; it was the same mindset that brought her to Armenia, and it would be the same thought process that would eventually lead her to start a family in Armenia. Her family gave their blessing, and Serena and Avag decided to plan for their wedding.
Unfortunately, during the same time, Azerbaijan invaded and attacked Armenia in September of 2022, completely demoralizing an entire nation, especially Avag and his family who live in Kornidzor. Still, they decided to get married in a glorious wedding at Avag’s favorite church, Khor Virap. Friends and family celebrated their love exactly one year after Serena’s arrival in Armenia.
Serena and Avag are expecting their first child this spring. They recently moved into a new home, and they are excited to start this new chapter and grow their family in Armenia.