Discovering My Armenian Roots
I had never really considered Armenia to be any kind of homeland. It wasn’t mine, not really. It wasn’t even my father’s. I came to understand that the first time we visited as a family, when he tried in vain to navigate the busy streets of Yerevan, struggling to recall the layout of a city he had only ever known as a visitor. His home, Baku, was one he would never come to know again. Our homeland, Nakhijevan, was one I’d never come to know at all.
I had not been raised to weigh my Armenian heritage so heavily among the things that make up my sense of self, not in my Soviet, mixed-ethnicity household. And so, when I came back the following year, I did so with little knowledge and next to no expectations.
And that was a gift.
Falling in Love with Armenia: Embracing the Culture, Language, and Community
Because it allowed me to develop a relationship with this country that was all my own. Over the course of those first several months, I split my time between teaching English classes with the Fulbright program and volunteering for Birthright Armenia. I explored a land for which I had had minimal context, in both a cultural and historical sense. And as I began to experience that culture, and meet new people – other Armenians – from around the world, I found that were indeed elements of it in my upbringing, if only traces.
Then came an unprecedented pandemic followed by a terrible, terrible war. And there I was, somehow so resolute, so unwavering in my wish to stay. I knew I needed to stay.
I fell in love with the clotheslines strung up with shirts and dresses and linens and socks, swayng in the spring breeze on a sunny day in Yerevan. I fell in love with the harvest, with the fruits (even with the ones I’d always thought I didn’t like), with the concept of seasonality, which we forget in America because we were raised on year-round availabity. I fell in love with the nature, and the city streets, and the friendly strays, and the sound of the language, and the friends I’d made.
And Birthright was wonderful, but I believe that my real life in Armenia began when Birthright ended. I stayed, I worked, I lived, and I continued to learn. The language, the land, the customs. I felt that I was – finally – actively contributing to this place that had welcomed me with open arms. Before I knew it, three years had passed.
I don’t like to romanticize if I can help it. I don’t wish to gloss over the problems I’ve faced, of this place, and there are many – political, infrastructural, personal. And things have not been perfect. And there have been many days when I wondered why I was still here. When I felt like a fool because I was still struggling to understand a language I so desperately wanted to know. When I felt sad because I couldn’t communicate with those around me as freely as I’d have liked. When people were not forgiving for my mistakes.
Still, there was something that always pulled me back, that kept me here. Perhaps it was the community that had accepted me, the community upon which I’d actively built, and the relative ease of making connections with those around me, both local and foreign. Perhaps it was the relative novelty of it all, of finding that there was always some new place to explore, or some new thing to learn.
Armenia: My Chosen Home, Where Growth and Love Flourish
Armenia has both supported me and challenged me. It made me kinder, smarter, wiser, and more independent. It helped me find my confidence and reminded me that there is always, always more to learn. I am not perfect either, but I can say proudly that I love the person that I am, the person that Armenia shaped me to be.
This is not my homeland. No, it is more than a homeland; it is my home. It was not predetermined; it was a choice – my choice. I chose to live here, to set roots, to make this place my home. And now I find I’ve cultivated a love so strong that I’m not sure I’ll ever shake it.
Whether I’m here, or somewhere else in the world, I believe that I will spend the rest of my life loving this place. Not a homeland, but my home.