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Gabriel Sabbaghian
Canada 2023 participant
23 Nov, 2023

For Better and for Worse: The Joy and Pain of Life in Armenia

3 min read

Just as Armenia’s geography varies vastly with its sweeping mountains and valleys, the same can be said about the visceral range of emotions of living in this country. My first 2 months here have offered me the highest highs and the lowest lows that I can remember experiencing, which has dramatically altered the course of my life.


Having grown up and lived for 24 years in Montreal, Canada, I’ve always valued my connection with my Armenian identity through my love of our music, dance, food, traditions, and history. Nevertheless, my perceived concept of Armenia was often associated with ancient tales of kingdoms and empires, with the defining moment of our nation being the genocide that seemingly brought an end to our glorious history. It’s easy to get stuck in the past, which is exasperated by spending hours gazing at old maps of the larger Armenian homeland and longing for all that’s been lost.

The war in 2020 was a rude awakening for many Armenians worldwide, myself included. Up until that point, I had paid little attention to the developments taking place in the Republic of Armenia, a place far away that seemed to only exist idly in my head. Suddenly, I was made deeply aware that the universal history book of the Armenian people was not simply restricted to the past, and that a new significant chapter was being written.


After graduating this year with a Bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering, I arrived in Armenia as a Birthright volunteer with the intention of no longer feeling disconnected with the modern-day Armenian state. I’m incredibly grateful for the amazing welcome that the Birthright Armenia staff and volunteers offered to me, which allowed me to create friendships with people from all around the world that I could never have met otherwise. During my first weeks of living here, there were a lot of foreign things to adjust to but somehow all of these novelties came with a sense of familiarity. Naturally, all aspects of Armenian culture that I’ve experienced in the diaspora are elevated to a whole other level here: music, dance, food, hospitality, historical sites, landscapes, and mountains. All of these contributed to my daily awe and wonder of this country, but the most powerful thing I experienced was the warmth of the people and the intimacy in common interactions.

I soon began my internship with Sarvia Tech where I’ve been working on drafting technical drawings of mechanical assemblies. Meanwhile, I started reaching out to many people involved in the local aerospace industry in order to learn about any recent developments for my own personal interest and curiosity. I was thoroughly impressed with what has been achieved so far and the scale of several projects still in the works. This led me to receiving an email one day from someone I didn’t know about a potential offer for a full-time position in an Armenian aerospace company. It was a shock since the possibility of moving here permanently was something I could've only imagined happening further on in the future when I was "ready", but all of a sudden a realistic opportunity had presented itself. As I walked out of the interview on September 19, I was filled with excitement and my mind was racing about all the potential scenarios that this decision could lead to. My excitement ran out once I started seeing reports of some very troubling news.


Mentally frozen, emotionally numb and depleted of energy sums up my state of mind for the first week after the start of the full invasion of Artsakh. It was impossible to focus on work or anything at all while my mind would constantly become distracted and keep my eyes glued to the news. It was an eerie feeling knowing that all this was happening just 200km away, and you were stuck with nothing you could do. As soon as people started flooding past the border, there was suddenly a huge need of volunteers to act quickly to provide aid and basic necessities. I didn’t think twice before heading south and joining All For Armenia, with the hope to do what little I could to somehow diminish the pain and suffering of people who had lost almost everything they’ve ever known, many times over. The sight of countless families with only a handful of belongings left to their name was unnerving to witness firsthand. In spite of the many faces of anguish, what struck me the most and stayed with me the longest were the smiles of kids getting sweets for the first time in months, the laughter of children playing in makeshift playgrounds, the newfound comfort of families finding a small moment of peace and safety, and the solidarity between all Armenians to help their fellow brothers and sisters.

Compared to what it was like to follow the 2020 war from the diaspora, seeing what was happening from Armenia was much harder to deal with initially since the events were happening so close and it was directly affecting people that I’d met here. However, the fact that I was here allowed me to make a small difference and to slightly ease my mind, knowing that I was able to do something productive in the face of immense difficulties for our nation. So in that way, I’d say that the weeks following the invasion were easier to deal with here than in the diaspora, where I had felt the most helpless for not being able to contribute anything concrete, and isolated by having to carry on working in an environment of people that were oblivious to what was happening.


Looking back, my 2 months in Armenia felt as though they were packed with a whole year of life experience, but seemed to have passed by in a week. Recently, I officially received the offer to join a company here and I accepted with much thought and consideration. Despite the unimaginable loss that this country suffered, I continue to be filled with hope for the future after seeing the monumental changes that have been made in the past years by many people who are silently and diligently working to make this a better place. I can see so many things to look forward to for our nation and I wholeheartedly want to be part of the effort that transforms this state into a strong, resilient, prosperous homeland that’s worthy of its people. There are plenty of pages of history left to write, and the pen is in our hands.



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