A “repat” is quite the oddity in Armenia. The phrase “I have left my life behind to come start a new one in the country of my ancestors” is often met with awe or confusion by local Armenians, and our fellow compatriots in the Diaspora alike. Many cannot fathom that such a thing is even possible, especially when migration in the opposite direction is that much more prevalent. It remains, however, a reality. A new reality that took off as a trickle of brave pioneers who took on unbelievable risk in the 1990s and early 2000s, to an increasingly popular trend since the late 2000s.
Many of our once-skeptical friends back home have since joined us in the homeland, while others contemplate making the same move. For those who are considering starting a new life of adventure, and righting a historical wrong by joining us in Armenia, I analyzed the facts of repatriation with a team of scientists:
…and released our findings in this this practical guide of dos and don’ts to help give you a clearer picture before making the big decision.
DO: Visit as a tourist:
One thing that has always surprised me about my friends in the diaspora, even the most vocally patriotic ones, is how little interest they have in the actual, physical, existing Republic of Armenia. They can all recite Sasna Dzrere, and know all the lakes, rivers, and mountains of Historical Armenia by heart, but do not make any effort to actually come to the country itself. I understand that the descendants of Western Armenians consider Anatolia to be their true homeland, as opposed to the Caucasus, but how many of us would be ready to move into the Kurdish neighbourhoods of Van, Diyarbakir or Sis? Many of my friends cite the lack of funds for not visiting their homeland, and with tickets starting at 1000 USD for North-Americans, I could forgive them. This seems less obvious, however, when there are always plenty of funds available for trips to the Dominican Republic or Cuba (for Canuckahyes, obviously).
While Armenia was still a Soviet Republic, it was difficult for us to listen to our Italian, French and Syrian friends talk about their respective homelands of Italy, France and Syria, while all we could do was point to the giant red blob on the World Map, and say “somewhere in there” when asked where we were from. With Armenia gaining independence almost twenty five years ago, this should no longer be a problem. You don’t have an excuse anymore. The least you could do to bridge the gap between the Armenian people and its homeland is to visit, spend your money, buy local trade, eat in our restaurants, and visit our national sites.
DON’T be overly critical:
One thing that has been compounded by the lack of interest in Armenia by its Diaspora is the overly critical nature in which people discuss it. We all hear stories of corruption, being ripped off, economic depression and other bad experiences, and though they may all be true, there are twice as many stories of friendship, hope and good experiences, generally speaking.
On a trip back to my native Montreal, I overheard two older Armenian ladies discussing their recent visit to Armenia. One lady expressed awe at having met Italian tourists who went on and on about how they loved their experience: the history, the warmth of the people, and so on. Why should it be so odd that foreigners can see the true value and potential in Armenia while we find it difficult? This brings us to the next point:
DO come with an open mind:
One of the reasons Diaspora Armenians seem to focus on the negative experiences while other tourists do not, is that the tourists don’t have expectations. They are not expecting to see the land of Katch Vartan or David Bek, they are able to experience Armenia in the way it should be: an exotic land at the edge of Europe in a rapidly redeveloping post-Soviet space. For these people, the chance of being ripped off, or seeing corruption, is relative; they know to expect that in any country they visit. We should learn that though our problems may not be unique, our solutions can, and should be.
Don’t just stay in Yerevan:
You’ve probably heard the sentence “Yerevan is not Armenia” a half-dozen times, and it’s quite true. Though over a third of Armenia’s population lives in this city, which serves as the country’s main economic and cultural hub, Armenia has much more to offer. Armenia is a great place to go if you love the outdoors, adventure and cultural exchanges, but all those things exist outside Yerevan’s European comfort zone.
DO make meaningful connections:
When you do visit Armenia, be sure to meet and talk to as many people as you can, cultivate friendships, and try to understand how your compatriots from across-the-pond see the world.
Don’t keep your experiences to yourself:
A visit to Armenia is an unforgettable experience, one which you shouldn’t keep to yourself. Armenia’s secret is out, and thousands of European backpackers are descending upon this small south-Caucasian country to enjoy its legendary culture and history.
DO apply for a volunteering or internship programme in Armenia:
A very powerful, and easy way of reconnecting with the homeland, is with a Birthright Armenia internship.Birthright offers the opportunity for Armenians between the ages of 20 and 32 to pursue internships in their field of study in Armenian firms. They also provide a travel grant, as well as Armenian lessons, and trips across the country. For many future repats, Birthright was the first step.
Alternatively, you could also try the Armenian Volunteer Corps, or any other group operating in Armenia to get a feel of the country, try your hand at the language, and trying to imagine living here on the long term.
DO follow current events in Armenia:
With a number of Armenian news agencies now offering coverage of domestic events in English and other languages, it’s that much easier to keep in touch. One of the big criticisms that has been made of the Diaspora’s relationship with the Homeland is the lack of real-time knowledge of developments in the country. CivilNet, amongst others now offers daily reports in English. An informed Diasporan will be a more successful repatriate.