Armenia has become a meeting point: an intersection where old friends and acquaintances meet up, sometimes through careful planning, sometimes unexpectedly on a busy street corner in Yerevan, sometimes at an ancient church, or even in a forgotten, remote border village.
It is not uncommon in the summer months to see groups of Diaspora Armenians enjoying a coffee at a cafe, coming out of the Opera House where they’ve just seen a performance, sightseeing, or simply absorbing the sights and sounds of Yerevan. I sometimes look at them with envy because I wish I could see and experience Armenia as a tourist again. Although one can be in a process of constant discovery while living here, the exhilaration of coming to the homeland for the first time has obviously faded.
While the excitement of discovery has waned, Armenia continues to be a hub for connections both old and new. We have met Armenians from practically every continent in the world and forged friendships with many of them. We have had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends from different countries, something that would have been all but impossible had we not come here. Armenia has indeed become the meeting point for all of us, whether we live here or whether we come to visit, volunteer, or for a stopover to another destination.
While my reconnections have been limited, those repatriates like my husband who grew up in the strong, vibrant Armenian communities of the Middle East, from Alexandria to Beirut, will often receive an e-mail or random phone call from a long ago childhood friend informing them that they are finally making the voyage to Armenia… there will be a pause and then, “Varouj?!? Is that you? Where are you?” And Varouj will say, “I’m in Yerevan! Let’s meet up tonight.” Soon after, the stories and memories tumble out over khorovadz and endless shots of vodka. I watch them reminiscing about childhood adventures and games, shared memories and bonds that can never be broken or relived and once again. I am envious.
We grew up in the relatively new and very small Armenian community in Toronto in the 70s; we went to Canadian schools and had Canadian friends. Today, I can’t say that I have deep connections with an Armenian community or many Armenian friends from my childhood; later on, certainly, but even then not on the same level or with the same depth of belonging that my contemporaries who grew up in the Middle East experience. I was born in Beirut, but have no memories except for the stories, accompanied by black and white photos, which my parents, uncles and aunts relayed from their own youth. Beirut, therefore, was always a mysterious, exotic and even romantic city for me. Every few months, my sisters and I would drag out the beat up cookie tins used to store old pictures and go through them one by one, asking our exasperated mother who the people in the photos were, why she had a cigarette in her hand, how she walked in those high heels. The fashion, the hairstyles and carefree feeling those images evoked made me wonder why my father had brought us to the excruciatingly boring shores of Canada.
As the civil war in Lebanon brought many Lebanese-Armenians to Canada, I made new friends who shared with me their stories of camaraderie, adventures and intrinsic understanding of community, something that we certainly didn’t have in Toronto at the time. This made me want to go and see Beirut with my own eyes. I got that chance only after moving to Armenia. What I felt, saw and experienced didn’t come close to those early romantic notions but I finally understood what community and belonging in odarutyan could mean.
The connections that go way back – connections that give our lives shape, texture, depth, and make up the fabric of our existence in the Diaspora, have come to life once again in the homeland. Our dispersion from Western Armenia to the Middle East and then to farther destinations like North America, South America, Europe and Australia means that connections and reconnections are possible on our native soil despite our nomadic inclinations.
So whether you happen to bump into a long ago childhood friend at a cafe or ancient church, whether you organize a family reunion, or whether you decide to make it your home, there is no doubt that Mother Armenia continues to provide endless treasures and opportunities.