By Arsineh Valladian
The most common question I hear from the Diaspora in America these days is, “What is it like raising children in Armenia?”
It feels ironic because if they knew the truth, I’m sure they would move here and never look back. My answer is always the same: It’s the best decision I ever made. Every day is a reminder of this luxury. But then they often ask how I ended up here. That’s where it gets interesting.
I started visiting Armenia in 1994. I was 16-years-old and determined to discover this country I called my own, but had never seen before. Thereafter, Armenia continued to pull me back. The thought was always in the back of my mind, but moving here never became a reality until I was offered a job. In 2001, I came with that job, but it didn’t last, and I returned to America with the determination to gain the experience and savings I needed to move on my own terms. Four years later, I did just that. I moved, started businesses, met my husband and lived like a Queen.
Well, that’s what it looked like from the outside. My husband and I endured a lot of obstacles together. Those obstacles stripped the fantasy and nostalgia away and left us with only pessimism and anger. When the thought of having a family in this part of the world occurred to us, we left. Just like everyone else seeking a better life beyond these borders, we left Armenia. We wanted to raise kids with positive influences and a good education and at that time, neither seemed possible. We went to America and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. We stayed there for over a year, but when my husband was offered opportunities in Dubai, where his family lives, we realized that might be a better life for us and our family. We went to Dubai. It wasn’t long before I realized our children may never understand what it is to wake up to the sound of chirping birds, or what the smell of khorovats [barbecue] on the lake is like.
I was pregnant with our second child when we returned to Armenia after three years away. It was a temporary visit that would change everything. Within a week, both my husband and I were convinced that this was, in fact, the best place on earth to raise our children. With the excitement from our friends for our return, we were sold. We would stay, but on our own terms.
What’s different this time? We are older and wiser; we have learned from our mistakes; and we know what we are doing.
That was in 2017. Fast forward exactly one year to the spring of 2018. My three-year-old son, Avo, has a high temperature of 104.5°F and falls into a febrile seizure. Meanwhile, news of the protests in the streets is running in the background.
My husband and I called “Shtap Oknootyun” [Emergency Assistance] to take us to the ER. After 20 minutes of pouring cold water on Avo’s head and finally bringing him back to consciousness, he finally started to cry. The doctors arrived and advised to take him to the hospital right away. We left my one-year- old with his nanny, and rushed Avo to the hospital, where an old friend—a nurse—was waiting to receive us. Meanwhile, we were hearing bits and pieces of news about the civil disobedience taking place in the streets…
The doctors took my son and I into a room and sent my husband home, because he wasn’t allowed to go beyond that point. I asked him to bring me some clothes and a charger because it became very clear they were keeping us overnight. They put me in a safe room with other mothers and their children who don’t have a specific virus. Every mother in that room had the anguished look of a century-old pain and struggle in their eyes.
Avo had just started to become coherent at this point, after a few hours of hallucinations and crying. He began joking with me again and asked for a chocolate eggy. I fed him some of the food my husband brought, but it didn’t appeal to him.
Suddenly, one of the other mothers offered some bread he might like, but he’s a picky eater, so it takes a lot to convince him. Another mother brought lavash. That won his heart. He started playing with some of the other children, while I chatted with the other mothers. Though we were all far too concerned over the wellbeing of our children to watch every live broadcast of the revolution unfolding on the streets, it was certainly on all of our minds. None of them believed change would come. They had been disappointed every single time before, and had lost hope a long time ago.
The following day we were sent home with instructions on how to keep Avo’s temperature down and what medications to give him over the next few days. He had strep throat and is now prone to febrile seizures, but I pray it was a rare occurrence. Meanwhile, news had broken that Sargsyan met with Pashinyan and then, soon after, arrested him.
The future was unclear. Would violence break out or would change come our way. When Sargsyan resigned, a new energy of hope came over us for our children and our family. Smiles were on every single face in our path. We could hear people celebrating from every direction. The day Pashinyan was elected Prime Minister, I walked to pick up my son from mankapartez [kindergarten], because the roads were closed. It’s a 30-minute walk up and down Baghramyan. The entire walk back, my son kept chanting “Hayastan!” to join in the festivities of cars honking and flags waving all around him.
No cops were around and people were celebrating like they won the world cup. My son was glowing. I called my husband when we got home as he was nervous about us walking through the streets, but we made it home just fine. We knew everything would be just fine.
We are not delusional that everything will be perfect, but many of the fears we used to have no longer seem to be inevitable threats. Raising kids in Armenia has become the dream we always wanted it to be. With the community of people rallying around each other’s children on a daily basis, and with the changing economy of outside investments and growing number of incredible schools being built, it almost seems like an obvious choice to me now.
I watch the news and see what’s happening in America. I see constant posts about missing children, abductions, school shootings, college debts, anger, hatred, racism, greed, and even the nagging burdens of screen addictions that plague the American childhood experience that I once loved so much. The reality is that if I were to raise my children in America today, their experience would be drastically different from the amazing childhood I experienced.
In Armenia? Well, it’s the best of all worlds, both new and old. New opportunities are growing, technology exists without burden; but that co-exists with old-school values, like a sense of community, alongside a deep respect and love for children. Not to mention there is no threat of my children growing up without an Armenian identity. They are in Armenia, after all. All of this combines to create a positive future for my children that I cannot find anywhere else in the world.
I know I made the right choice and I hope that all those people who ask me questions every day about my experience come to the same realization and make the leap they are itching to make themselves. Move to Armenia. Raise your kids. Be free, and stop fighting to keep your identity to be Armenian.
Mothering in the Motherland: A Column About Parenting in Armenia
By Arsineh Valladian