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My Way Home

08.07.2024
Repat Story
Professional repatriation: victories for the Motherland and for yourself
Professional repatriation: victories for the Motherland and for yourself
 

Armenian roots and moving to Armenia

 
When difficult times began in Russia, Natalia Kazantseva needed to think about changing her place of residence due to closed opportunities for work and her daughter’s tennis career. She did not have even a shadow of doubt about where to transfer the children and parents: along with many arguments, Armenian roots played the role of the most important and main thing.
 
For many years, the image of Armenianness for Natalia was personified by her grandfather, Nikolai Vagarshakovich Yegiazarov.
 
“I didn’t know my grandfather very well. I was five when he died, but thanks to my grandmother’s stories, he was always a role model. Grandfather was a professor, engineer, and colonel, after the war he headed the missile defense laboratory of the Ministry of Defense. My mother, his daughter, always said that he was talented, and for Armenians, this is not such a rarity. My grandmother told me how easy everything was for him, I wanted to fit in,” - says Natalia.
 
Natalia’s mother has never been to Armenia, so in 2022, it was decided to correct this mistake. After a month in Yerevan, thanks to trips to other regions and acquaintances acquired, the whole family moved to Armenia to live.
 
Being a lawyer, Natalia understood that the move would also give her and her family the opportunity to acquire citizenship: they wanted to immediately become full citizens.
 
“My children are learning Armenian, they like it and find it easy. Things are more difficult for me with this. At home they (her family) spoke only Russian and, it seems, my grandfather himself did not speak Armenian. I often come across the fact that ignorance of the language calls into question my belonging to the nation (smiles), but this does not in any way reduce my motivation to build my life here and work in a non-profit organization for the benefit of the country,” - admits Natalia.


Creation of the Armenian Hockey League and participation at the 2025 World Championship

 
After moving to Yerevan, Natalia tried to find employment as a lawyer specializing in supporting projects related to blockchain. Thanks to this competence, she met different people, after which she met Peter Lebedev (now President of the Armenian Hockey League). Peter rallied hockey fans around himself and decided to create an entire League to revive hockey in Armenia. Natalia joined this idea. In February 2023 a public organization was registered, consent was received from the Hockey Federation of Armenia, and the League began organizing and holding internal Armenian ice hockey championships.
 
Natalia heads the legal department and is a member of the League's Board of Directors.
 
“The Armenian Hockey Federation has existed since 1999 and is a member of the International Hockey Federation (IIHF). This is an important legal aspect, which means that the domestic championships we hold are counted by the IIHF and lead us to participate in international games. We have already held two and are preparing for the third, which starts this fall.
 
 
Our work to develop hockey in the country, including the opening of children's and adult schools, as well as broadcasting matches, led to the fact that professional hockey players of Armenian origin became interested in us and began to move to Armenia. Soon the composition of the national team was formed, and the Federation, believing in us, submitted an application for Armenia’s participation in the 2025 World Championship, which was recently approved,” - says Natalia.
 
The Armenian national team last participated in the World Hockey Championship in 2010, with the World Championship being held in Yerevan. The Armenian team won the silver medal, beating the South African team, but losing to North Korea. After that, South Africa filed a complaint against Armenia with the International Hockey Federation: as a result of investigations, it turned out that some members of the national team did not have Armenian passports. The team was disqualified for some period of time, and while it was disqualified, this sport in Armenia faded away significantly. It was no longer possible to assemble the team.
 
Fortunately, over the past 10 years, two ice arenas have been built in Yerevan, which seemed to be waiting for hockey players.
 
“The League has an agreement with the Federation on the delegation of rights to hold domestic championships. The federation and the head coach screen the players and invite them to the national team. The Federation, like us, is determined to make a contribution to the life of the state, because any such large-scale sport also has a huge diplomatic aspect. To form a national team, players must meet not only sporting, but also legal requirements. Such requirements are established by the IIHF. Before being in the national team, a player must play in the domestic championship of the country for at least 16 months. This is how he changes sports citizenship. In addition, a national team player must be a citizen of the country he represents. Due to the fact that there were few international level hockey players in Armenia, most of the players need to obtain citizenship.
 
Some do this on their own through repatriation, and some players have already been granted Armenian citizenship by order of the President,” - Natalia provides details.
 
 
The Armenian Hockey League is largely financed by Peter Lebedev. He also adheres to the policy that the national team should consist predominantly of ethnic Armenians. Thus, the League invites hockey players from Russia without Armenian citizenship, but with the opportunity to repatriate and with the right to obtain citizenship. They get the opportunity to contribute to the development of their historical homeland by playing for the national team and working for a salary as coaches in children's and adult schools opened under the League.
 
“The idea of ​​forming the League also appeared because there were already good-level players in Armenia who were familiar with the history of Armenian hockey and who were continuing it. Now they play for League teams, for example, HC “Lions” and HC “Pyunik”. Some of them were selected for the national team. But, for the most part, the team consists of visiting players. This is an amazing opportunity for such athletes, who did not have a chance to enter the Russian national team, to compete at the World Championships under the flag of their historical homeland. Here they are the best and, most importantly, necessary. Perhaps the day will come when the League will cease to operate, and for hockey to continue to live, the people who are reviving it must be attached, first of all, not financially, but ideologically. Who can have an ideological connection? Only for those who are blood-connected with the Armenian land,” - says Natalia Kazantseva.

Thus, the repatriation of some members of the League became the beginning of another branch of professional activity: Artem and Tigran Manukyan, well-known in Russia, who even played in the KHL, in addition to participating in the national team and coaching, are working to open another children's hockey school and are looking for investors for this.
 

Feeling of home

 
The feeling of a potential home helped Natalia decide to move. Speaking about personal and family experience of repatriation, she admits that most of all she wanted to be needed by the country. In any other country, they would also have to overcome this uselessness.
 
 
“The patriarchal nature of Armenian society creates some difficulties. I am often told that it is strange to see a woman representing a male sport. I guess that in Russia and Western countries, this is not so exotic. At the same time, I would like to note that any difficulties are overcome in Armenia: with great desire, then without unnecessary stress. Still, the people here are hospitable, and always ready to lend you a helping hand. It's priceless.
 
Armenia greeted me and my family very warmly. Our sports community also feels comfortable here. This is the main thing, and criticism here is inappropriate,” - Natalia admits.
 
Natalia has two daughters. The youngest, Alena, learns the language with the children in the yard and considers herself Armenian. The eldest, Alexandra, plays tennis professionally and, having received citizenship, competes in international tournaments under the flag of Armenia. Last summer she won the eighth Pan-Armenian Games and then won the Armenian Women's Tennis Championship.
 
 
“This year Alexandra will receive the right to join the national team. For our entire family, it is a pride to compete on the international stage under the flag of Armenia, and the status of a member of the national team motivates us even more to move forward. Any sport is a marathon for many years, and only a small part overcomes the distance. Statuses and awards help you gain strength for new victories. And victories are important and benefit not only the athlete himself but also the country he represents,”-  admits Natalia.
 
When asked if she feels Armenian, she answers: “Perhaps one-fourth. But I would like more. Yerevan has become my new home, and I try to breathe the same air with it: I ask a lot of questions to my local acquaintances about their perception of what is happening around me. I feel like I’m a part of this country, although it seems no one will believe me.”
 
By Nare Bejanyan

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