Raffi Youredjian is a British-Armenian and a former professional TV watcher (we’ll get to that later) who moved to Armenia in March 2018. Born in the UK, he moved to California at the age of 3 and remembers his childhood fondly.
“There was a sense of community there, you got to meet a lot of different people through different organizations and sports teams. Everyone knew each other and we made a lot of connections there. As for the Armenian community there, we were kind of the pioneers in Santa Clarita.”
Although he went to an Armenian school only till the age of 11, Raffi says it’s hard not to feel like an active Armenian in California because there’s always something going on. In addition to that, his father being from Jerusalem had an impact on the strong presence of the Armenian identity in their household, since he grew up in a closed community there but was surrounded by Armenians all the time.
“I wouldn’t say the Armenian school was what strengthened the sense of Armenian identity in me. It doesn’t matter what school you go to, it all comes from home. There’s only so much a classroom can give you. It was still up to every individual to go out and find how Armenian they’re going to be later on. I don’t think the older generation did a lot to have a strong sense of Armenian identity. My entire upbringing in California was having everything related to the genocide. I grew up not knowing a single thing about modern-day Armenia. It was always either genocide or earthquake. Everything bored the crap out of us; it was the same badarak, same barahantes. There was nothing to relate to as a kid.”
Raffi moved back to the UK at the age of 15 and studied at Falmouth University of Arts in Cornwall. He discovered his love for traveling and started going on trips all over Europe. Once he was done with school, he found that Europe was boring for him and he needed something more. He went to Chicago, bought a bicycle, and started cycling across Route 66.
“I made it halfway through. First, the bike broke down, then I broke down.”
Making his way back to the UK, Raffi had a series of jobs and then finally landed one at Discovery Channel. From working for the media library department to running it, Raffi soon became a broadcast engineer there.
“The title was way too fancy for me, so I called it professional TV watching. We would monitor all the channels and fix mistakes, that is if there were any. I was really good at watching TV. Like, really good.”
Working at Discovery Channel awakened his adventurous side. The first trip he did once he started working there was climbing the top of Kilimanjaro. In all of the 9 years he worked for them, he kept looking for his next adventure. He has now been to 49 countries and made to every continent. Raffi tried to involve himself in every Armenian community he visited, thus making more connections and friends he would later reunite in Armenia.
“I had visited Armenia multiple times prior to moving here. I came for the first time when I was 19 with my brother. I volunteered for a summer school program in the Saghmosavank that year. It was a very special trip; meeting the villagers, getting acquainted with a different life in the countryside where everyone spoke your language. You never know what exactly identity is, but you get a feeling. And this feeling is a lot stronger than any special moment. Experiencing that in the village with my brother was one of the best things I did, even better than Antarctica.”
Raffi visited again the following year with the same volunteering group, but then came a time when he spent more time traveling to exotic places. Artsakh was one of the places he had always wanted to visit, and that became his next destination after his break from Armenia was over.
“When you have a job like watching TV, you’re always thinking of what you’re going to do next. I had started getting into photography at that point but I wasn’t any good at it back then, so I decided to write a book. In 2012, a year or two after the Artsakh trip, I came back to Armenia and cycled around the country. From my previous experiences in the villages, I knew there would always be something coming up, there’s constant motion, I knew for sure I would have something to write about. I also felt the need to write Tour de Armenia because there’s nothing about modern-day Armenia in the diaspora that would spark any interest in the communities. There is no modern product that a young person would pick up and find interesting. I wanted to tell the story of Armenia that’s funny and enjoyable.”
His visits after that became more frequent and he stayed longer and longer every time. Raffi was always busy in Armenia, even if he didn’t plan anything ahead. Moving to Armenia only made sense to him.
“I stopped being a tourist in Armenia long before I moved here. Repatriation was easy for me because I didn’t have the “Oh, I need to get used to this” mentality. When you’ve moved around enough, you’re comfortable with pretty much everything. You’re not hard to please, you’re not looking for specific things. Nothing hits you by surprise or shock. Unless you’re a pedestrian trying to cross the street, of course.”
One of the reasons Raffi came here, although not the main, is the financial reason. He explains it this way: he could buy a house in London that's small and uncomfortable and spend 25 years trying to pay it, or he could live in Armenia, have a debt-free life and be at peace. Armenia was the way out of that system.
“My favorite thing about living here is the social aspect. If you want to meet your friend in London, not only do you have to plan a week ahead, but there’s also a good chance that one of you is going to cancel last minute because you’re just too exhausted. I see my London friends in Armenia more than I did back there.”
Throughout his travels, Raffi found a hobby that accompanied him everywhere: photography. He started off with a disposable camera and once he was able to afford a good one, he did not hesitate to buy it. Raffi became the “camera guy” at every event and everyone assumed he would be the one taking photos of the events he was invited to.
“Thinking back, I knew nothing about photography back then. But you have to take a lot of bad pictures to get somewhere.”
Now, photography is more than a hobby for him, and Raffi hopes to become a full-time photographer in Armenia. His biggest fear is taking wedding photos.
“I see a lot of people moving to Armenia with romance in their eyes. I don’t think you should move here purely based on that romantic idea of it. You should have everything in order, you must move for the right reasons. You have to be comfortable with yourself to begin with, or else moving is never the answer to anything. If you’re depressed in the US, you’ll be depressed in Armenia. There are a lot of practical things about living here that are wonderful and offers a great quality of life. I never felt like an outsider in Armenia. In the US, I wasn’t American enough, In the UK, I wasn’t British enough. I’ve always felt at home here.”