My Road

Repat Story
Culture and education as connecting links in Armenia
Culture and education as connecting links in Armenia
Aram was born in the USA but grew up in the environment of Armenian culture, he has been living in Armenia for several months. Amir was born in Iran, although he spent most of his life in Armenia and carries the Armenian culture within himself as strongly and reverently as Aram, but, unlike him, has no Armenian roots.
How, at first glance, two stories and two different personalities that have nothing to do with each other can motivate one to move to Armenia, how to integrate with people and into the Armenian environment: the stories of Aram and Amir are a kind of guide in search for answers to these questions.

Aram Brunson (on the left picture)

Aram’s mother is Armenian with roots in Erzurum and his father is African American. In a family where so many cultures were intertwined, an important, if not the most important, place was given to the Armenian one. Words, instructions, songs came out of his mother’s mouth only in Armenian. She did not even respond to the children’s speeches in English.
“From early childhood my mother taught us Armenian and introduced us to the culture: first we heard lullabies, then we heard the songs of Komitas, Sayat-Nova and Tumanyan’s fairy tales. For some time we learned Armenian, one might say, under duress, but we grew up and began to be grateful, then we went to an Armenian school, to dances, and the area in Boston where we lived was jokingly called Jrashen (Watertown). Now, living in Armenia, I understand and see what a link culture has become between me and Armenia”.
Aram is 20 years old, before moving he came to his mother’s homeland several times, to his homeland, the year before last he lived in Artsakh for a month and was engaged in volunteer activities there.
“There is a generally accepted opinion in the diaspora: first you need to graduate from a prestigious university, earn money, and then only move to Armenia. I spoke out against this opinion, and no matter how surprising it was, against the opinion of my mother (who eventually gave the mother’s go-ahead), I came to study in Yerevan. Who said there is no opportunity to get a good education here?! We must come and become the changes we want to see in Armenia”, - says Aram.
In addition to studying at the Faculty of Political Science at the American University of Armenia, he attends ashug song classes at the Jivani School of Arts, studies ethnic dances and dreams of dancing the Hamshen dance Tak Tanzara one day.
Surprisingly, Aram is fluent not only in Eastern Armenian, but also in Western Armenian, and is very happy and proud of this.
“In Armenia there is not a very positive attitude towards Western Armenian and dialects. People think that speaking a dialect is a manifestation of backwardness and provincialism, but they are the ones that adorn our language; dialects are the gold of the Armenian language. I am sure that textbooks need to be published in dialects. A federal structure would be very appropriate for our country in this context”, - he says. 

Multiculturalism and identity

Touching on the issue of cultural diversity in the family and possible clashes on this background, Aram assured that there were no such people in his family: “The clash comes from thinking. I don’t think that I’m half Armenian and half African American, that’s already a clash. I am both Armenian and African American. Both parts of my identity are equally important, so there can be no conflict between them. My presence in Armenia, of course, means something; at this stage, my Armenian identity has taken over.”
Fluency in the language and knowledge of culture helped Aram integrate into Armenian reality very easily. At the same time, as a representative of the diaspora, he believes that he and other repatriates have an important mission - to come, to be active citizens, to bring their experience and their views to Armenian society.
Noting the importance of education (university and the one he received at home from his mother) as the main incentive for moving to Armenia, Aram admits: no matter where he is, he will also teach his children what his mother taught, even if he has to do it through coercion.

“I will know what my children will feel and think during this coercion, I can help them, explain its importance. There are fewer and fewer of us, many of our dialects have died out, others are on the verge of extinction. We don't know what will happen in a hundred years. We must preserve our language”, - Aram Brunson shares his thoughts in conclusion. 

Amir Vafai (on the right picture)

Amir was also drawn to Armenia by culture and education. Being a 15-year-old boy who wanted to receive a musical education, and not having this opportunity in Iran (the conservatory in Tehran in those years did not provide a quality education, and many of Amir’s compatriots came to Yerevan to enroll), back in 2008 he came with his older brother to Yerevan.
The purpose of the visit was then clear - to improve his education and, upon completion, to leave for Germany. And so he did: having received a diploma from the Music College named after Romanos Melikyan went to Germany, but did not enter, returned back and passed the exams at the Yerevan Conservatory in conducting.
“Due to the impossibility of getting a decent music education in Iran many Iranians came to study in Yerevan, some classes for us were held in Farsi. At that time, I met Gohar, she taught me the Armenian language. It is interesting that Gohar once received the profession of Iranian studies at the University of Tehran. She knew my native language and taught me Armenian through Farsi. By that time, I had read two books in Armenian: “The Little Prince” and “The Killed Dove” by Nar-Dos. Eight months after the beginning of classes, she said: “That’s it, I have nothing more to teach you.” Yes, I understood grammar, the language was literary like Gohar’s, but my vocabulary was very meager,” - Amir says in competent literary Armenian.

Overcoming language barriers

Amir understood that to enrich his vocabulary he needed friends and communication, which was completely absent in his life. His brother was friends with the Iranians, and Amir intuitively tried to stay away from them. 
“I was a child, it was difficult to find a common language with my compatriots, I had no Armenian friends, the trip to Germany did not take place. I realized that I was alone in Yerevan, I tried to communicate with girls, but everyone pointed to my bad Armenian. All this became an incentive to improve the language. And at this difficult moment I met Ani Navasardyan, who made a great contribution to my development in Armenia”, - admits Amir.
Ani led the “Khazer” choir and invited Amir to sing in the group. This is how Amir made friends, communication enriched his Armenian. And then he met Komitas and his Patarag, and the most wonderful days (as he himself admits) of his musical career began. In addition to “Khazer”, he also sang in “Over” and “Sagmos 2”.
Life began to get better, his Armenian began to improve, a circle of close friends appeared, but there was no money at all, so he worked part-time in a bar, and then, following the example of his brother, he began to learn programming.

Music as a way of integration

“Now there is no music in my life, I miss it very much, but it was with its help that I became part of this country. If “Khazer” hadn’t happened in my life, I wouldn’t be here a long time ago. If it weren’t for Komitas and my Patarag singing, I wouldn’t have stayed here. Every time I sang, I got goosebumps, wondering when the day would come when they would be gone. That day never came”, - says Amir Vafai.
Speaking about his experience, he notes that he was hampered by the closeness of the Armenians, their reluctance to accept him into their circle. But a solution was found for this too: “If you speak Armenian, they will take you as one of their own. It is very important for Armenians that you know their language. They often told me: you are not Iranian, you are Armenian. I never felt uncomfortable with these words. Vice versa! I felt and feel proud because I made a lot of effort to be a part of Armenia, to speak Armenian, to sing in Armenian.
My home is here. I'm no longer a stranger here. My feeling of home in Armenia is the same as in Iran.”
By Nare Bejanyan

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