Alex Baghdjian is an Armenian-American who moved here in May 2019. Due to his father’s work, his family traveled around a lot and lived in Japan, Oman, UK, UAE and Qatar, where they were involved with different diaspora communities. His family fit all the stereotypes: speak Armenian at home, eat Armenian food, big fans of Mt. Ararat, discussions about hypothetical future marriages, all of it.
Surprisingly, Alex had no close Armenian friends until he was 23. He moved to New York after obtaining a degree in Finance and Marketing from George Washington University and he became truly involved.
“I knew Armenians but they weren’t exactly my closest friends. After moving to New York, I met Armenians who were in banking and finance and became a lot more active. The Armenian communities are all very different. Some of my closest Armenian friends are in London, the community there is strong because a lot of them stick together. New York’s has an accented AGBU presence, which I was involved in. Beirut has a large Armenian community with their own Armenian neighborhoods. If I had to pick the strongest Armenian community, I’m biased, but I would say New York... Los Angeles excluded, of course. They’re on a whole different level.”
He gives credit to how certain organizations approached the Armenian youth.
“Each organization plays their part in attracting and molding Armenian youth. Some would announce that there’s a community service event, and then others would say they have a cruise with an open bar. When we were younger, what do you think we would pick? We’d go to the open bar. The funny thing was, in my early twenties, I thought that if that is Armenian culture then it’s exactly what I’m looking for. But when you get older, you start appreciating the more cultural Armenian events… And it's less so much about the open bar.”
He booked his flight to Armenia prior to the revolution and came to see a post-revolution country for the first time in May 2018. Armenia was still euphoric from the political changes and was full of energy. He loved it so much that he visited 6 times since.
“It was crazy, I felt the need to keep coming back.”
The more he stayed in Armenia, the more it made sense to him to move here. Alex didn’t put much thought into moving.
“Your stay in New York is determined by when your lease ends, it’s that complicated. Don’t believe what you see in “Friends”. My lease ended, so I thought it’s now or never or I’m stuck here for another year! So I basically got rid of my apartment and I came here.”
Alex moved to Armenia with open eyes; he was well aware that Armenia is going through changes and it’s going to remain like that for a long time. He came with a positive outlook.
“You have to believe things can change for the better here. And I really do believe they will. Look, we have a lot of the right ingredients for success. For example, everyone knows each other here and everyone is extremely kind. If I need to get something done, I only need to talk to 3-4 people to get a team and start doing it. The sense of community here is strong and you don’t get that same feeling elsewhere."
One difference he jokes about is that "there are no rats in the subway here, but wherever I go, whether it’s New York, London or Armenia, there’s always that one person who plays Candy Crush in the subway.”
He, along with his now co-founder Albert Manukyan had an idea cooking up about a bicycle sharing program in Armenia. The pair wanted to introduce a micro-mobility revolution, so they started reading reports about bicycle sharing programs, analyzing the Armenian consumer market and calling Armenians in Yerevan to understand how practical their idea can get. They put together a design and development team and began working.
As he spent more time building the company, Alex was blown away by how dedicated and hardworking people his age were. Not only were they skilled and brilliant, but they also spoke 3 languages, had kids, worked religiously on other side-projects, and never complained about their workload. Soon, YerevanRide was born.
YerevanRide, a bike sharing company that promotes a green and healthier Armenia, will be launching mid-July 2019. For Alex, YerevanRide is more than just a company. It encourages people to lead a healthier lifestyle, brings people together, aims to increase air quality, and eliminate pollution. YerevanRide’s green Armenia policy is taken seriously. The bicycles have solar panels in their baskets that power the GPS lockers. Most importantly, the YerevanRide team unites the strength of local Armenians with that of diasporans.
Using the YerevanRide app is easy: you find a bicycle, scan the QR on the front to unlock it, enjoy your ride around the city, then lock the bicycle and end your ride on the app.
Another issue Alex and Albert hope to tackle through YerevanRide is traffic. Reducing traffic can not only decrease the number of road traffic accidents in Armenia, but also stimulate the economy. Some studies show that a reduction of traffic by 10% can lead to a 1% increase in economic productivity. “We want to give people the power to choose between options other than just taking a car. There are a lot of times that riding a bicycle somewhere is much more logical and economical than taking a car.”
Taking one positive step at a time, Alex’s fruitful productivity contributes to the changes Armenia is going through. With a vision in his mind and action on his hands, he hopes to provide Armenians with an alternative means of transportation that positively affects both the country and the people.
“You have the power to change your city and mold it how you want it. Choosing to take a bicycle is just one way you can make a positive impact.”