My Way Home

Armenian by Birth
Arthur Dolmajian
Arthur Dolmajian
Moved in 2014 from Montreal, Canada

Born and raised in Montreal, Canada, Arthur grew up within the Armenian community, learning both the language and about his cultural identity. The idea of moving to Armenia started budding during his teenage years when he first visited the homeland at the age of 15 with ARF JOC. It was the first group from Canada to come at the time, in 2002. 
“Even then, I had decided that Armenia was the future and that all Armenians should at some point move to Armenia.”
During his third year of university, he would begin searching for internship opportunities in Armenia, coming across Birthright Armenia and Armenian Volunteer Corps. That opened the door to a two-month volunteering stint in Gyumri in 2009, where he worked for a design-construction company, rehabilitating the water distribution network in Gyumri and three nearby villages. It was an interesting experience, to say the least, and very different from simply studying it all in textbooks. Returning to Canada, he completed his degrees, worked for a while, and in November of 2014, finally made the move to Armenia. 

Arthur is a Civil Engineer, which means he works on infrastructure, roads, bridges, buildings, water distribution, etc. Having a love for networks and systems, he did his Master’s, specializing in Transportation Engineering and Planning while still in Montreal before working two years for a consulting firm and later getting a job with the Quebec Ministry of Transportation. His love for the public sector in social impact infrastructure shaped his 5-year and 10-year plan, leading towards networking and applying for a UNDP Kolba Lab grant during October 2014. Winning the grant brought Arthur to Armenia, resulting in the quitting of his job and shocking his family with his decision. Arthur didn’t expect that the project would move forward smoothly but it was a good enough reason to move to Armenia and try. Unfortunately, his fears came to pass; “I understood one thing. In Armenia, they never say no, but they never say yes, either.” Between running around the ministries and painstakingly obtaining bad data or no data at all, Arthur had to move to plan B which was collecting the data himself.

He rode the public transport himself to map out all the routes, stops, travel times, and everything else required that would then be transferred over to Google for the project he had arrived for, which was to help create public transport navigation on Google Maps. “Needless to say, it was quite fun sitting beside the drivers and having them help with the information required.” Switching to the metro system when the bus system’s work reached stagnation, it became clear that while the management was certainly more amenable to working together, there was always a point he simply could not get ahead from. Finally, after having a few strings pulled - literally through kindly asking the personnel to check their email, the system went live only days before Arthur’s wedding in August 2017.

Arthur is also a GIS Specialist and Web Developer who creates dynamic web maps during his free time. One of Arthur’s best received  projects to date is the Smoke Free Map, which allows one to find all the establishments that offer either partial or fully smoke-free environments in their respective city. This came to fruition because years back, one of his professors found it integral for all engineers to know how to code, which eventually led to Arthur learning programming languages. The project itself was applauded by a large chunk of the repatriate population, as well as a good number of locals who joined in providing information for the crowdsourced map. Perhaps it will be turned into an app as well? While not yet in the works, it would certainly be helpful for those who prefer a smoke-free meal and entertainment. 

Today, Arthur is married to a local woman. When asked if it would not have been easier to be with another repatriate, he laughs. “Obviously there are a few cultural differences, but not enough to cause us problems. In terms of mentality, we are generally very similar.” He teaches GIS courses at the American University of Armenia and other institutions in Armenia. Furthermore, he consults from time to time on a freelance basis, particularly in mapping and transportation. Currently, Arthur works for IntelinAir, an Armenian-American company, doing data science, analytics, and geo-mapping in precision agriculture. When asked if he has applied to work with the government again, Arthur smiles. “I was not expecting a change, and while I’m very happy it happened, I don’t think I have the energy to go through all the same steps again. Right now I’m focused on other work but, yes, I would still love to work in the public sector in Armenia.” 

Problems in Armenia were seen from the days he was volunteering, particularly pertaining to safety issues in the workplace. Talking about where he sees Armenia heading towards over the next 10 years, Arthur mentions a necessity to move from Pure Science and Theory to Applied Science and Engineering and to introduce critical thinking in the classroom. He thinks Civil engineering and Urban Planning should be developed along with other fields that focus on society and infrastructure development. Furthermore, he remarks on a lack of connectivity between the populace and the place they live in. “We need to think more like a society. Things are getting better, and the effort to clean the streets during the revolution is a good testament to that, but I feel like the current society is still conflicted; when you enter a home, people are extremely hospitable and willing to give you everything they have, but once you walk out of the house, no one takes ownership of anything. Public spaces are not seen to be society’s but the government’s or some other owner’s.” Arthur is also concerned about the attention that IT is getting in Armenia.
"You cannot build a country on IT alone.
I think it’s great that the IT industry is booming in Armenia, but if other industries don’t develop in parallel, it will create a bottleneck in development where you have excellent programmers but no diversity in projects and no opportunity for them and other professionals to broaden their skill set and experience. This, in turn, I believe, leads to another problem in Armenia which is re-creating solutions to problems that have already been solved and documented in other parts of the world.”
There has been talk about turning certain cities of Armenia into Smart and Green cities; this requires a lot more than IT startups bringing money into the economy. It requires roads and innovative solutions to everyday problems that plague the population as a whole. 

Advice he would give to those who would like to move, he says, would differ based on their educational and professional background as well as their age. “Flexibility is important, and one should move with at least a Plan B, a fall-back skillset. IT, marketing and PR are some of the top industries to get into in Armenia. As for the steps to take when coming here? Armenia as a nation and as a people - diaspora included - is still a very ‘word-of-mouth’ country and greatly values interpersonal relations. For these reasons, networking and meeting people is very important, as is navigating stories and narratives.” Arthur suggests taking any advice given with a grain of salt; instead, one should always seek a second opinion and do his/her own research. Having mentors to check with every few months or even years is good idea, as well. When considering repatriation, it is important to remember two things: 1 - That repatriation is as much a process as it is an end goal and 2 - it’s about doing and not waiting for things to change to take action.
Interview: Rima Yeghiazarian
Written by: Tamar Najarian

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