Without a clear plan or set timeline, I applied to Birthright Armenia in June of 2023. I dived in headfirst and was greeted by a transformative, inspirational experience which defied all expectations.
A New Lens
While I had been to Armenia several times before, I was never able to fully transcend the tourist experience during my regular visits. Though my professional connections with organizations and institutions in Armenia were beginning to gradually develop, it was initially hard to see myself fitting into the professional and political landscape of the country. Even as Glendale seemed like a little Armenia to me (suffice it to say an Armenia devoid of charm and inspiration), it was difficult to imagine being physically present in the homeland and actively working towards its development.
However, I found that these initial trepidations were wholly and completely unfounded.
Armenia immediately felt like home, and perhaps more importantly, I felt I was exactly where I needed to be.
A New Degree of Importance and Fulfillment
It was not difficult in the slightest to transition to the workplace environment of Armenia. My new coworkers welcomed me with open arms and quickly became good friends of mine.
The diverse set of projects I took on at my various jobsites, whether it was doing legal research at the Concern Dialog Law Firm, writing op-eds and research reports at the Armenian Project NGO, conducting investigative work for the Tatoyan Foundation, or interviewing refugees at the Center for Truth and Justice, all took on a new significance and granted me an immense degree of fulfillment that I had never felt before.
Working in Armenia here and now made me feel truly important. Contributing my skills and knowledge to the various incredible organizations in which I worked made me feel a tangible sense of ownership over my work and the small building blocks which I personally placed over the last few months to form the foundation of a new, stronger, and more secure Armenia. Armenia offered professional access that was unprecedented for me, and I found myself working directly with figures I personally admired and previously only watched and followed from afar. With Birthright Armenia, I got to work alongside these giants, help shape their initiatives, and provide my own unique contributions to the strengthening of Armenia.
The Importance of Contributing
It is easy to feel hopeless.
In this age, the role of the helpless victim is the most commonplace, especially prevalent among Armenians. This is understandable, of course, but each of us in our own places must work towards the annihilation of this harmful mentality. State-building needs to be our shared goal, and I realized that there is no better way of realizing that goal than by coming to the country, cuffing your sleeves, and getting to work. By wallowing in misery, we only invite new calamities to befall our nation.
I was in Armenia during the loss of Artsakh, the most difficult moment in our nation’s history since 1915. I experienced the explosion of the people’s unimaginable grief, anger, and indignation at the tragedy which was unfolding before us as the world chose simply to watch from the sidelines. After a few days of participating in the ensuing protests, I realized all that was left to do was rebuild. There was no other option besides continuing the difficult work of developing the homeland in order to prevent another genocide.
It is easy to feel helpless from so far away, but being here and commiserating, analyzing, and planning with the locals, one comes away with a clearer picture of our own failures and how we can learn from them. The only thing that offered me any respite in those hellish days was the tangible feeling I had that I was truly making a difference.
That may seem like a minor phenomenon, but if each Armenian accepted that personal responsibility and took the future of their nation in their own hands, we would be at the precipice of a new national rebirth and a chance to thrive.
The first step towards that bright future is coming here, cuffing your sleeves, and getting to work.