September 27, 2020
This day will be permanently ingrained in my heart. I always heard stories of Genocide and Wars. However, I never thought I would live through one in the 21st century. The following 44 days were absolute torture. I was doing my undergrad through zoom and adjusting to the Covid -19 pandemic. After this day, my reality was attending protests and waiting for new headlines about the war to come out. The feeling of my diasporan guilt was at its max. I felt this constant hopelessness and guilt, and no matter my efforts I felt that it wasn’t enough. I could not take the guilt anymore, so I booked my flight to Armenia. Most people told me that now was not a good time to go to Armenia however, I knew I would feel better in Armenia than another day in Glendale reading headline news. I did not know then that the entire trajectory of my life would change forever.
December 15, 2020
My best friend Anna Khechoomian and I arrived in Armenia, and there's no way to describe the GG ride from Zvartnots to Kentron and all the emotions you feel. Even post-war Armenia keeps its magnetism and draws you in. We volunteered through AVC to help displaced families from Artsakh that found refuge in Tsaghkadzor, Vanadzor, and Armavir. These families who had nothing would welcome us with open arms and make a whole feast for us to break bread together. Making Armenian coffee in the corner of the room and preparing fruit from their desk drawers, they made do with what they had. The kids, those precious kids from Artsakh, will forever hold a very special place in our hearts. Their courage and strength overwhelmed me, and I felt I could never be as strong as them. They've lost their homes and had given up so much, but their smiles and laughter filled even the darkest rooms. They didn't know this, but they were helping me more than I could help them.
December 21, 2020
One kid that I bonded with the most was Meruj from Hadrut, who would refer to me as "Սարի աղջիկ," meaning a girl from the mountains. Armenia's mountains have a way of captivating you with their magnificence and beauty. Our mountains are "hianali," meaning breathlessly beautiful, strong, and resilient, just like our people. The saying, "We Are Our Mountains," holds such a literal and profound meaning to me because now, more than ever, I truly understand the weight of those words. Looking at them, I feel so empowered and resilient because they stand firm no matter what comes their way, just like our people. Mount Ararat represents much more than just a mountain, it embodies the dreams of "romantic nationalism and the goal of self-determination." Ararat reminds us of the loss of territory and the pain of the Armenian Genocide. No matter how often we look at it when we see it on a clear day, our emotions consume us. It represents much more than just a tall peak. This winter, I grew a new appreciation for our mountains and the beauty they embody.
February 3, 2021
I had to return to the states to graduate, but I felt torn. Saying goodbye to these kids and their families, who I now considered family, devastated me. Two brothers, ages 14 and 16, wrote a goodbye letter wishing for one thing, "խաղաղություն" (peace). We wept because it was the one thing we could not promise them. They spoke of the days they would go to the frontlines and defend Hayastan. The thought of these kids preparing for those days shattered us. However, I knew it was not a goodbye forever, but a see you later. That entire drive back to Yerevan, we cried. I did not want to leave Armenia or wake up not surrounded by these mountains. I finally felt whole again. A country I haven't lived in now felt more like home. I knew going back meant I was going to be longing for these days again.
June 1, 2021
I graduated and was on the next flight out to Armenia (literally the next day). Something about Hayastan that I can't put into words is its uniqueness. Even the things that are hard to deal with have a unique charm in Armenia. Because it's ours, I love it through all of its rough edges. I was excited to start my Birthright journey and to see the kids again. Path of Law was the job site that Birthright Armenia connected me with. A group of lawyers working towards the return of our Prisoners of War that had been captured in the 2020 War. I gained a family here, a support system, and a bond that helped me with our work. Many volunteers and I translated POW statements from Armenian to English. These statements described the gruesome torture our soldiers went through and are still going through.
August 8, 2021
I will forever remember the names of the POW statements I translated, each story unique and different. I remember the day I was on Instagram and watched a video of a POW returning home to his family. His name and the scar on his forehead triggered me because I had translated his statement. I cried watching the person I had been writing about come to life and reunite with his family. I think of them every day and the justice they deserve. It hurts knowing that every generation in Armenia has experienced war, which is a sad reality. It hurts knowing that the end is not in sight, and these realities are something I had to come to terms with. I became numb to the statements I was translating. I was handling a lot more than I was a year ago. I was finding the strength I saw among those kids in the Winter of 2020.
September 28, 2022
I had reunited with all the kids from the Winter of 2020. Seeing them and hearing them yell my name was the welcome back I dreamed about. Playing games and speaking about the future brought us a sense of peace. I was only supposed to stay in Armenia for five months. However, Armenia had other plans for me. I stayed for a year and three months. I refuse to believe that this is something I look back on as a time when I just lived in Armenia. It's the beginning, it filled me up, and I will be back for more. I don't see a purpose for me that could ever fill me up as much as our mountains and people do. Like most Diasporan Armenians, I am constantly searching for meaning in my life miles away from my homeland. However, I get closer and closer to finding the answer with every visit.
An excerpt of one of my favorite songs, Sari Siroon Yar translated…
Sari Siroun Yar (Sweetheart of the mountains)
Sari Mekhag Per (Bring carnations from the mountains)
Akh, Che Inch Mekhag (No, what carnations?)
Siro Grag Per (Bring the fire of your love)