| From Stockholm, Sweden | Moved in 1972
“I’ve lived in Armenia for a long time. Everyone knows me as kind, optimistic and positive. Some one who’s always chivalrous and always smiles. I’m not a rich European, I live as most of you do, but I have a big heart and I love Armenia. I’m retired and I feel that my biggest contribution to Armenia is my optimism.”
“I know more about Armenian history than most Armenians. I worry for Armenia’s failures and celebrate its successes. I could have lived in Sweden or some other country, but I’m in Yerevan and I don’t want to go anywhere.”
Ulf Harborg was born in the most southern part of Sweden. His lineage points to the fact that he is Swedish to the bone. Growing up Ulf lived in a small village (population 700) until he began school. He says that the village was much like an Armenian one: Everyone knew everyone else, people were friendly and the doors of their home never closed. Ulf remembers having a wonderful childhood there. Then he moved to Malmö. After high school he served in the army for two years as a naval officer.
Despite the indecisive period that followed Ulf’s army service, he finally applied to train at the University of Stockholm to become a flight instructor. He graduated a year and a half later with high grades and began to work in the largest airport in Stockholm. He always loved teaching so when the University invited him back to teach, he gladly accepted.
Ulf’s international travels began in 1972 to roughly 40 countries (including Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Africa, Mongolia, etc.) The government owned company Swedavia had several international programs at the time and offered him to prepare flight dispatchers all across the Caucasuses. “We hardly knew anything about the previous USSR countries. So I found myself choosing between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. I only knew that Stalin was Georgian and that he was born there. What I knew about Azerbaijan was also limited: Alfred Nobel’s father was into the oil business and got rich there. Regarding Armenian I had more pleasant information: I had heard the name Aram Khachaturian and Spartacus ballet. I researched more about Armenia. I was surprised to find that Armenia was the first country to accept christianity and that in ancient times it extended from Black to the Caspian Sea. And so I picked Armenia.”
Being a foreigner Ulf feels privileged as there aren’t many Armenia. Naturally today he requires help much less than when he first came to Armenia. Now he knows a bit of Armenian. “I don’t act like a foreigner, nor do I feel like one here.”
“I came here to teach a management course and the next day before class was about to start, we were asked to wait until the translator arrived. It was then I understood that being late is also a practice of the Caucuses. Nevertheless when the translator arrived I knew that the wait was worthwhile. We met, she told me she had two children and I thought “damn” and then she continued on to say she was widowed and I let out a great sigh of relief. During class my colleague would always tell me that I wasn’t concentrating, that I was always gazing at the translator. Originally I had only come to visit for 5 days, but I’m still here and I enjoy it. This country is full of life, I like what I feel in Armenia.”
“I must admit that before the wedding she was hard to catch. Armenian women are not like Swedish women. Winning her heart took a long time and a lot of effort. Fortunately I was successful in this matter. Then I returned to Sweden and came back again and again and again and again until finally we were married in the church of St. Hovhannes. Neither of us were young, but we decided to have a traditional Armenian wedding. The whole thing was like a test really, but it was fun.”
Soon after the wedding Ulf was offered a job in Georgia at a college there for one year after which he and his wife returned. After accepting position is England and Oman Ulf returned to his newfound home: Armenia. Locally he worked in the Zvartnots for several years.
Often he meets locals who find it hard to understand how or why a person would leave Sweden and come to Armenia. “I don’t deny that Sweden is a fantastic country; people are rich and they have everything they need but thats not enough for me. I’m not a typical Swed: They are cold, serious, they have unspoken rules even in their everyday life. The never laugh out loud in theatres or speak using gestures. Its easier to live in Armenia. Even in the toughest of times Armenians continue to live, but not the Swedes. They don’t live. They have everything they could possibly want, but they close their doors and go to sleep. After 22:00 no one can disturb a Swed. Even on New Year’s Eve you’ll hardly see anyone outside. No one will call you at 1:00 in the morning to congratulate you on the new year like they do here. I can’t say that I care for this very much, but its part of Armenia. I love my neighbors and friends so I’ve accepted all the traditions and armenian practices with their good and bad sides.”
“I try to look at everything in a positive light. When I meet a Diasporan Armenian who complains about Armenia I jokingly say “I’m a Swede and I live in Armenia; You’re Armenian and you live elsewhere. Don’t complain about your homeland, improve it!”
Ulf reminds us that Sweden is one extreme where are Armenia is another. Life is more laid back and more easy going. I wish I would see more understanding, civil, modest Armenians. I understand life is hard, but the obtaining of material things alone is not enough to satisfy a person. Even though our apartment is in need of repairs and not up to Swedish standards I don’t like to complain.” He encourages the youth to be active, to study abroad, to travel, but to always have a round trip ticket.
“Armenia is something different; it has soul. I have fantastic neighbors and I know all of them. When locals who assume I’m wealthy ask me why I don’t live outside the city (where it’s more isolated) I reply that I came to Armenia to live among its people not run from them. Returning from my travels is the best feeling for me.”
I don’t miss Sweden. My wife lives here. I love her as I love Armenia itself. And when I’m abroad, I miss Armenia. I heard on CNN and BBC that Sweden is the happiest country, but do you think Swedes dance and sing all day? Of course not. They’re always complaining about the high suicide rate in Europe. Is that happiness? Happiness for me has never been something material. Happiness for me is when a child on the sidewalk sees me, smiles and says hello. Happiness is when my wife smiles, when I sit on a bench on the Republic Square and see smiling people walking by. No one can define happiness by the standard of living. By the standard of living Armenia is on the lower rung and still I am happy.”
Video Article by ShoghakatTV
Transcription and Translation by Alice Ananian