The first place people think about when moving to Armenia is Yerevan, the capital. As such, most repatriates choose to stay there for very obvious reasons - it is the most developed out of all the cities in the country, has the most upbeat nightlife, the largest population and sees the most development, particularly business-wise. There is so much to do in Yerevan, why would anyone think of going elsewhere?
I, however, am one of the select minority who chose to live outside the capital. I live in Ejmiatsin, made famous for being the center of the country’s Apostolic church’s activities. When tourists visit, they come to see the ancient structures,the Mother Cathedral in particular, which is the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Now, Ejmiatsin is not that far from Yerevan - only about a 20-30 minute drive, traffic by the US Embassy permitting - yet you could see a huge difference between the two. There isn’t as much to do in Ejmiatsin, there’s still a “Soviet” vibe, and jobs aren’t easy to find, with most hovering just over minimum wage. That is, unfortunately, the downside to living outside Yerevan; if travelling to and fro is not convenient, your opportunities are restricted, even if the city is a huge tourist attraction. Settling for a job quite different than that which you studied for is not uncommon.
The nightlife outside Yerevan is certainly lacking, but not entirely impossible to find. Echmiadzin, being a more church-oriented city, certainly does not see much in terms of late night pubs and midnight food runs. It is, however, extremely special to me. It’s the city my Armenian family is from and where my Armenian ancestors have lived for centuries. When I came to visit family in Armenia throughout the years, I would always end up staying in Ejmiatsin; I would wake up every morning to see the St. Hripsime church and Mount Ararat from my window. This small, quaint city completely captured my heart. When I decided that someday, I would like to move to Armenia, I knew it was Ejmiatsin that I wanted to move to. So perhaps it wasn’t much of a coincidence that the man I fell in love with is from Ejmiatsin!
Working from home as a freelance content writer and social media manager, I get the best of both worlds. I love being able to walk to the supermarket to grab what I need, a major contrast with my life in America where each trip had to be pre-planned with full lists and a drive to the nearest store. You can imagine how happy I am not to go through that hassle now. Furthermore, because Echmiadzin has everything available, there is no need to make a special trip into Yerevan either. That might be the case from some of the villages and smaller towns, but the larger cities in Armenia are actually very well equipped. Furthermore, the city is very child-friendly, with multiple language and development centers, a tech center, dance schools, a myriad of extracurricular activities, playgrounds and more. I can easily imagine having my own children here. My own memories of playing the piano, running around the “Anmar Krak” and hanging out on the streets play a huge factor in my integration here as well. There is so much I can impart and so much to take away.
These places of my childhood are still a major part of my life. There’s a cute little restaurant here in Ejmiatsin that my husband and I sometimes go to called “Ejmiatsni Ponchikanots” - itis a little walk away from the center. Who doesn’t love a good ponchik? Add in a good number of other eateries and what we call “hangsti godi” regions and you have a soothing, calm living area far from the hustle and bustle of major metropolitans. Plus, it really helps that the prices here simply can’t be beat!
One of my most favorite aspects of Ejmiatsin, though, is its age. Really. When you have lived in a country where everything is brand new and modern and when you now live in a country where there are buildings spanning thousands of years, it completely shocks you. Visiting any of these churches- St. Hripsime, St. Shoghakat, St. Gayane, St. Mary Mother of God, or the Mother Cathedral, it’s incredible to think about how ancient they are, how much history they’ve lived through. There’s a picture of St. Hripsime with St. Shoghakat in the background from 1878 currently appearing all over Facebook, and none of the buildings that we see today between them, existed.
The Mother Cathedral was built by St. Gregory the Illuminator in 303 AD, making it the oldest cathedral in the world. It’s incredible to think that this was an era where monarchs ruled our land, before the battle of Avarayr with Vardan Mamikonyan, and long before the Russian Empire, the Armenian Genocide, the Soviet Union, the earthquake of 1988, the Artsakh conflict… it’s simply amazing. Even more, Ejmiatsin was the city that ultimately united the Armenian people when they were stateless. It offered refuge to Armenians who fled from the Genocide. Just thinking about how important Ejmiatsin was and always will be for the Armenian people and our identity makes the prospect of living here even more special.
Personally, I recommend every try out living outside of Yerevan for a period. Move around, try to find the place that’s best for you. Each city, each village, each town has its own charm. Yes, some might appear to have been frozen in history, but others are developing at adequate speeds which could turn breakneck any day. While some places might sadden you, others will inspire peace, while still others will bring you hope. Visit these places, fall in love with them and immerse yourself in all of Armenia. There is much that can be done to develop the regions. As for myself, I love living in Ejmiatsin and definitely see myself here for the foreseeable future!
Photo: Municipality of Ejmiatsin