My Way Home
Raffi and Simon Zakarian
| From Beirut, Lebanon | Moved in 2014
The Lebanese brothers have created an oasis for their families in Yerevan, Armenia. With Raffi Zakarian having come to the motherland a year back with his wife and 3 sons, the concept of repatriation was solidified in the minds of the Zakarians. September 22, 2014 is when they landed, having come to research the living standards here. “We came to check it out here, and we ended up staying,” Raffi grins. For the father of three teenage sons (14, 19, and 20 years of age), this move was the best choice he could have made. “The younger one goes to school already. The older boys will start at the American University of Armenia.”
Simon came a few months later, towards the beginning of 2015. He also has a wife and three sons, much like his brother. “Copy paste,” he laughs, “except they are different ages… 10, 15, 16.” It is quite amusing actually, as they proudly proclaim giving Armenia 6 more boys. Currently they all rent homes but are expecting to soon buy their own places to make their settlement even more of a permanent step. They are in love with the “Mousa Ler” village, especially since their great grandparents are from the villages of Mousa Dagh.
Raffi and his wife
Raffi is a singer by trade. “I sing and play music in Greek, Armenian, Arabic and some European languages. The restaurant that we have bought is also where I sing nearly every day.” The restaurant is called Oasis, originally called so by the former Syrian-Armenian owners. “We wanted to change it but thought it would be better to wait a little bit before spending so much money on it, testing out its success.” The restaurant is located on Proshyan Street and was opened to the public on July 1, 2015. The food available is a combination of Mediterranean and Armenian, including the chick, the pork, the barbeque, the taboule, hummus and liver.
What brought the brothers to Armenia is not very complicated. “Life changed in Lebanon. There are fewer Christians now, and the number of Armenians there is very low. Islam has taken over mostly. Our work was no longer sufficient. I was a singer there and before that I was an interior designer. I had a gallery and employees. I did decors for houses and stores. It has been over 5 years that I’ve closed down that business. I sang instead, the music in Arabic. Work became less and less so I came here and I liked it. I sand in pubs and night clubs for quite a while. I sang in many Syrian-Armenian places, including Taboule, Abou Hagop, La Scala, Babik, Batata, After Eight, Liban, etc.” He used to sing at Oasis before buying the place.
Simon and his wife
This was the first time coming to Armenia for Raffi, while Simon had come nearly once every year, I wanted to move but the opportunity never came up. This time around, with a brother-in-law chef and Raffi ready to come, Simon found the time was ripe. While one brother sings, the other manages and the brother-in-law cooks. There is only one non-family member and that is the janitor. “My kids are fine, but it is my oldest son is having a bit of trouble with integration. He had friends there, now he’s here. But he’ll get used to it. He likes it.” Both brothers and their wives have dual citizenship. “The day Armenia allowed for dual citizenship, we took it. In Lebanon, I was the 32nd who applied.”
“We do advise people to come. But each individual has to decide for himself what he/she needs. If you are not coming with money, you should at least come with an idea about what kind of job you can work at. If you have a little bit of money, I do recommend you come. You don’t need a lot of money here to live on. If you are a little stable, you can come, bring a bit with you, buy a house and live your life. It is preferable to living elsewhere. At least here you know that it is your country. There are people who love money though and don’t really care about lifestyle. I went to Africa, to Congo; there were Lebanese Arabs there and they made a lot of money. You look, you can’t even leave the hotel, and they’ll attack and mug you. But people live there because there is money there. I don’t understand… will you take it with you when you die? What happened to having a life?”
These are the words of Raffi and Simon wholeheartedly agrees. Both brothers think alike. Simon, however, is more concerned with the emigration numbers. “We need to stem the outward flow,” he says. He believes that the generations need to change and that there have to be more Armenians from the Diaspora moving in. “There is a lot of development in the past years though.” It gives them hope as they see the country moving forward. “Things will get better, much better.”
Oasis was doing well during the summer season due to the touristic flow. Now the brothers are ensuring that rain or shine, warm weather or frightful frost, their restaurant will be the perfect oasis for those hoping to find a dry and warm place to enjoy a night of music, great food and laughter.
Alongside the Oasis restaurant, you can also listen to Radio Avol, the online radio station belonging to Raffi Zakarian. “It was an attempt at preserving Armenianness.” The radio has 3 channels, in Armenian and Arabic, as well as one for church liturgy and such more religious pieces.
Interview by Tamar Najarian
General photo (from left to right): Raffi Zakarian, Simon Zakarian, Joseph Krikorian and Simon’s wife – Tamar Sevadjian Zakarian
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