I arrived in Yerevan on February 4, 2022.
Leaving Paris, my father wished me a good trip. He has been following the news closely for several weeks; we don't really talk about it, but I know that he is worried about the stability in Armenia. During my first days here, I was reminded of the memories and the atmosphere of my previous stay in Armenia in 2018. Now I discover Yerevan in the winter, and I perceive it in a new way. Marked by war, which we read on everyone's lips and faces, by the pandemic, discreet but very present, the city has a more solemn tone. Little by little I set up my daily life here.
In the buses, the metro, and the supermarkets, people started to perceive me as someone who had come to stay. I am learning the language and during the discussions I’m attempting to have in Armenian, people ask me where I come from. If my answer during the first weeks was “ֆրանսիացի եմ (I am French),” I gradually started to introduce myself as ֆրանսիահայ (French-Armenian) and in return, I receive the answer “Չէ, հայ ես (no, you are Armenian)”.
On February 24, during breakfast, I hear the news about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
In the following days, in Yerevan and around the world, the shock gave way to outbursts of solidarity, resignation, and frustration. The media and the networks relay the stories and images of the conflict that outrages, alarms, and pains but the echo is already different here. In Etchmiadzin, an elderly lady looks at me, intrigued. Of the words she addresses to me, I understand these: are you Ukrainian? Չէ, հայ եմ (no, I’m Armenian). Further on, a lady who sells flowers on the occasion of March 8 kindly hands me one. "С женским днëм" (Happy women’s day).
I will not talk about politics because it is beyond us, I want to share what you can feel from here, in Yerevan. The arrival of Russians in Yerevan energizes the city and increases its diversity. In the bars, we meet students from Moscow pursuing their bachelor's degrees at a distance. On social networks, more images of Armenia and its capital are circulating on the profiles of young Russians. We recognize the music and the atmosphere of the streets of Yerevan at night, and the colors and flavors of its restaurants and cafes. And if the world seems to learn more about Yerevan, the arrival of many Russians also allows Armenians to better understand the reality of their neighbors and to appreciate the opportunities offered by their own country.
In the streets and in public transportations, we hear more and more Russian spoken and see more Russian registered cars. Families with suitcases, strollers and backpacks, whose appearance reflects a hasty and disorganized departure, are running after administrative procedures and the search for accommodation.
The month of March 2022 was, in Armenia, the coldest for 40 years and, under the snow in Yerevan, some say jokingly it's the Russians who brought their weather with them. What we are more certain of is that they bring their expertise, for some their company, their means, and their networks. As for the long-term perspective of their presence in Armenia, they would probably not know how to answer themselves if they were questioned.