I have always had a complicated view of what Armenia and being Armenian meant to me, especially since I am Syrian-Armenian born in Canada, whose native language was Arabic, not Armenian. Even though I learned Western Armenian since I went to an Armenian school, I avoided speaking Armenian since I was always embarrassed by my level compared to my peers. I identified as Armenian but always felt like an imposter and I was sometimes excluded by my peers because my parents, despite both being of Armenian origin, did not speak Armenian. I think it is important to speak about the reality people like me face, never really fitting in the rigid standard of what a "perfect" Armenian is. That rigid standard changed during the 2020 Artsakh war because, for the first time in my life, I felt included in the Armenian community through my activism. The hopelessness I felt during that time period really marked me and I vowed to myself that I would do something for my homeland. I had previously heard of Birthright Armenia before the war but I did not really look into the details.
A Journey of Reconnection and Activism
In December 2021, I finally decided to apply to Birthright Armenia. It was the perfect timing and opportunity since I had time between my bachelor's degree and my master's degree, I could go to Armenia for 15 weeks! I was thrilled to reconnect with my Armenian roots. Furthermore, Birthright Armenia was the perfect opportunity to explore my homeland as a solo traveler with no family or friends living in Armenia since it provided the support system I could have used if anything had happened.
On April 30, 2022, I landed in Armenia, my homeland. I still remember how I felt: I was a bundle of nerves, excitement, and nostalgia, despite never having visited Armenia before. I was finally in Armenia and for 15 weeks at that!
I spent a few days exploring Yerevan before my orientation session and before starting my volunteering. Surprisingly, I did not feel much cultural shock other than having to adapt to Eastern Armenian. I guess living among Armenians in Montreal has its perks. I volunteered in a law research center in Yerevan for a month. I was researching disabled people's rights in Canada and writing a report on it to maybe influence reforms in the Armenian legislation.