Rita Manjikian
"We've got our little Armenia with boundaries drawn on the map. We are gathered together here and we should think over Armenia in terms of what we can offer to our homeland and what we can receive in return".

| From Kessab, Syria | Moved in 2013

“I feel like a local Armenian here. I do not concentrate on who is a local Armenian and who is a Diasporan Armenian. All of us are Armenians and that’s it. We’ve got our little Armenia with boundaries drawn on the map. We are gathered together here and we should think over Armenia in terms of what we can offer to our homeland and what we can receive in return.

My grandparents from my father’s side are originally from Kessab. My mother is from Aleppo. My grandfather from my mother’s side is from Tigranakert and my grandmother from my mother’s side is from Sasun. I am from Kessab. I spent my entire childhood in Kessab. It is a rich Armenian community. The Armenian community was not formed as a consequence of the Armenian Genocide or migration; they always lived there and withstood all the difficulties. They even returned to Kessab after walking to Ter Zor during the Armenian Genocide and Kessab’s evacuation in 1915.

Kessab is the last remaining Armenian community and village of the Cilician Kingdom. It has really beautiful nature surrounded by green space and a rocky, mountainous area close to the sea.

Kessab has always been the ‘little Armenia’ for me. Diasporan Armenians always keep the idea of Armenia in their minds and I am no exception to that. But in my thoughts and deep in my heart, although I was living in Kessab, I always felt that I was in Armenia.

At the age of eighteen, in order to continue my studies, I moved to Aleppo. I was studying and working at the same time. And in between, I made (time) to go to Kessab to visit my family and friends. My parents and my uncle encouraged me to move to Armenia. I always knew that I had to go back to my motherland one day, but I couldn’t imagine that it would happen so fast.

From the very first day, I felt so connected to everything here. Although I missed Kessab and my family and friends that I left, as soon as I arrived in Armenia, I felt like I was home. Kessab was my ‘little Armenia’ and this is my ‘Armenia’. I feel so strong here.

I haven’t faced any difficulties working and studying at the same time. In contrast, I feel happy that I am making progress and that I am moving forward. I work at the Yerevan Zoo and the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC). I love the idea of working in the Yerevan Zoo: to be close to the nature and animals. I am so glad to be doing this because I know I am doing work for the right purpose. Although everyone is surprised that I am not engaged in my profession, as an accountant or in finance, I am satisfied so far that something good has been done for Armenia by the institutions that I work for.

I don’t have much time to meet the visitors during the day except during break, but the best time to meet the children or the visitors is during the events that are held at the zoo. There was the Pan Armenian painting day at the zoo, which was my first time getting in touch with colors, brushes and the children who came to participate in the event.

I am part of those events, even just a small part, but I feel good taking part in them; I get to know myself more.

Rita

Whenever I got the chance, I painted. The very first day I arrived in Yerevan, I went to the Yervand Kochar museum. It was very interesting. When I went to the Modern Art Museum, I couldn’t believe that I was standing right in front of Minas’s or Rodolf Khachatrian’s works. I knew about Khanjian’s paintings prior to my visit to Cafesjian Center for the Arts, but I had no idea how huge they would be. I feel more responsible when I think about painting here because it’s Armenia that I am painting. And after seeing all these paintings, I have to be more careful about how I represent Armenia and what I see here; how to put all that I feel about Armenia into the paintings. And seeing all these works of art makes me more careful. It elevated my own standers. I was always thinking back home about how and what in particular I would paint in Armenia. Now I am here and I think it’s the right time to start my paintings. I get to know myself more when I am in nature, so I guess my first paintings will be of the nature.

I always try to spend the holidays in villages outside of Yerevan with my friends. We try to discover Armenia during the holidays. Whatever you were brought up with, you experience here.

As an Armenian nation, we are very rich and wealthy. We do not need to complain about each other. We should look deeper into it. We are very rich with our churches, our Armenian Church psalm, our culture, our mountains and our nature. And we should maintain them proudly.

I am in charge of coordinating the flower gathering event organized by FPWC at Tsitsernakaberd Memorial on April 26th. The flowers left next to the eternal flame of the Genocide Memorial on April 24th are recycled into special paper and compost. We split petals from the stem. Petals are used to prepare recycled paper, which the museum will use as memorandums and acknowledgments. The stems become compost for the parks.

I am so glad that the new generation understands the Armenian Genocide in a different way. We must be demanding, not be sad. We must be proud of what we’ve got. On April 24th, I will bring my flowers to place around the eternal flame, and on April 26th, I will go to the Tsitzernakaberd Memorial in a completely different tone to perpetuate the memory of victims of the Armenian Genocide. As a human being and especially as an Armenian, I have things to get done here.

I feel connected to every single thing here. I see my homeland in everything, even in times of difficulty. Life itself is not something easy to deal with, but we should always be ready and be optimistic towards everything in our homeland.

By living in Armenia and being close to my uncle’s family, I had the opportunity to get to know my cousins better and to be surrounded by them. We paint, play together and I read stories to them.

After a busy day at work, I study a bit and if there’s more time, I try to spend time with friends by walking around the city and enjoying the weather.

I was eight years old when I read in Eastern Armenian for the first time.  And when I came here, I couldn’t speak Eastern Armenian and still can’t do it perfectly, but I am trying my best. I give it a try sometimes when I am out shopping or in a taxi, just to let them feel that I am not different. Although I have never had the feeling of being different, I am trying to speak Eastern Armenian from time to time. When I talk to my parents, they definitely notice that I use some of the Eastern Armenian expressions and at times, my accent changes, which I didn’t expect to happen.

I do not think about what I am going to do next in terms of staying in Armenia for a lifetime or leaving for another country. I try not to focus on that. The only thing that inspires me very much here is the youth, the new generation: their views, spirit and soul. Although many have left the country thus far, I am always saying that we should stay. If we leave, then who is going to stay?

There are two things that I love about Armenia. The first thing is that everything is so Armenian here. Even though the Syrian-Armenian community was very rich, it was difficult there. Here, everything is natural. And the second thing (I love) is the easy access to art.

I can’t specify one special thing that makes me feel good here. I feel good here in general. I feel connected to everything here. Every single thing, including the motherland statue and Ararat Mountain. They make me feel good. Sometimes, after having a tough day, I walk up Cascade and seeing the Opera just in front of me, a huge smile unconsciously appears on my face.

My existence here is a reality; I do not want to see it as a dream. I try to make sense out of it. I am not trying to only dream about my motherland. I am working on it and I perceive it in a positive way.

Posted byTranslated by Nairie Tahmassian Edited by Alessandra Frissora
Share this Article on

Read More