My Way Home

Armenian by Birth
Sona Sahakyan
Sona Sahakyan
Moved in 2011 from Sydney, Australia

Rima: Sona, tell us about your repatriation, how and when you decided to move to Armenia.
Sona: I was born in Gyumri. My dad, a repatriate, who also had roots of Sasun, decided to move to Armenia in 1965. There, he met my mother, who, like him, originated from Sasun, specifically from Mush, Sasun. From my paternal side, I am related to Gevorg Chaush, he and my grandfather were first cousins. My uncle had moved to Australia in the 60s and wanted my father to join him. But instead, he stayed here and married my mother, and they had me and my younger brother, Vardan.

It’s interesting how I was born in Gyumri, though  I am not from Gyumri, I lived in Sidney, but I’m not from Sydney, now I live in Yerevan, but I’m not from Yerevan. You can say I’m a little bit of everything. Around 1976-77, my father wanted to join his siblings in Australia because he felt the need of having relatives by his side, especially since we were scattered all around the world. In 1977 we moved to Sydney, Australia and lived there for quite a while. I attended school and college there, but we felt the urge to move back to our homeland.

The Nagorno Karabakh ethnic conflict had just broken out, Glasnost was getting popular, and since we didn’t really integrate with the Armenian community there, the only place we felt Armenian was at home. We moved back to our motherland in June 1988. Our moving was pretty arguable, because people tried to escape the Soviet Union and we were doing the exact opposite. You can seldom see people moving back during war, and we were most probably the only family that took that chance.. 

Rima: Can you tell us about life in Armenia during the hardship of war?
History can easily tell us all about it. We gladly took part in the freedom movements and strikes. People would criticize our actions, but it was all we had. We Armenians needed a wake up call. We were also witnesses of the 1988 earthquake which really shook my family. With the permission of the ministry my brother and I were able to pick a career by giving an exam in English. I decided on pedagogy at YSLU after V. Bryusov.

It’s funny how I first wanted to become an artist in Sydney, but it didn’t work out because the competition was fierce, and I was also fond of chemistry so I had decided to continue in that area. Unfortunately, I had to quit because the chemicals were affecting my health. But everything went great in Bryusov, I was greeted with open arms, the atmosphere was cozy even though it was all taking place in the dark and cold years, and I’m still working at my dearest university. We had a two storey house whilst in Yerevan those years.

It was great during the warmer weather, but in winter it wasn’t that good as we would all gather in a tiny room sitting around the heater due to the energy sanctions, and our friends would joke around with us, saying you had come all the way from Australia just to sit around this heater. My college years were both good and bad in regards to the war. Eventually, I met someone and got married, but my parents and brother were tired and they wanted to move back to Australia.

At that time, in 1995, I was working at both Bryusov and AUA, but my husband wanted to see how life was in Australia, and I joked that there wasn’t anything interesting about a country full of spiders, the only positive side to it was that there is no winter. To be honest and i am sure that everyone thought that also, those years had had a huge toll on us and my family (and my husband) had had enough of the cold and dark days and we decided to emigrate back to Australia.

There is no denying it was very hard to go through all that. The earthquake was very traumatizing. Nobody paid attention to the suffering that our people were going through at that time, or Soviet soldiers or the political pressure that our country was in,, we all rushed to help the people. We were staying at my aunt’s home in a suburb that people had named ’Bangladesh’ when a woman with her two children were brought to the house. That woman had lost almost all her family members. It was horrible. It’s true, we went through hell and back, but we stayed strong as a nation.

Rima: What about the time you moved back again?
 After I had my twins, I really wanted them to see Armenia, and actually learn about Armenia. My parents too couldn’t take it anymore (the feeling of homesick for their homeland) and they had returned years earlier. So, we’ve been living here since 2011. I had a lot of job offers, but working at YSLU was what attracted me most. Currently, I am also working for the British Council, and I adore both jobs. They give me the opportunity to not only teach and to help my students grow both intellectually and ethically.

My children will be graduating this year, and they finally speak proper Armenian because sometimes the Eastern and the Western dialect can get mixed up in the conversation. Their Armenian tutor, Mr. Alek Makaryan, who has truly worked wonders with them has truly given them the desire to understand more about their language and literature.  And I’m so glad they’re happy with their lives at this moment in time. 

Rima: How does your life in Armenia differ than that in Australia?
 Both countries are close to my heart, I’ve spent 30 years of my life living in Australia. Armenia is my motherland, and Australia is my fatherland ( or was it the other way round?), I’ve worked as a pedagogue, a business woman, a translator/interpreter, and as school principal for the Hamazkain Sevan Chapter, running the Hamazkain S. Papazian Armenian School for about two years, also volunteered with the church, basically I did what I could to help our community.

I do miss that a lot, and thank you, Facebook, for helping us keep in touch with our friends back there. You can say we were one of the first repatriates of Armenia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It makes me very happy to see the youth eager to settle here, and whenever they tell me they want to travel abroad I always ask them: “But you’re coming back, right?”. 

Rima: Since you have also lived in Armenia in the 80s, what differences do you notice?
 Armenia really has developed a lot. Considering the fact that it has gone through a lot, and its limits have been narrow, it has changed and though many may not sees this, it is still changing. Whenever I hear complaints about Armenia, I say we have everything, but what we need is higher salaries to obtain them. Armenia has social issues. But we have to stand up for our country, defend it. Our geographical position has a status that most countries don’t, we should use it for the good of our motherland. I salute Armenia.

We always create something out of nothing. I think that’s why Armenians in Australia have a good reputation and status in comparison to the other ethnic communities. It makes me proud, and I would never be ashamed of my identity. It makes me happy when I see organizations helping repatriates, it gives me hope. We as a nation should always be steady. I might even go back to Australia, who knows? But I would never lose my Armenian identity. We have so many problems, but we can overcome them, we always have. A little bit of faith, unity and patience is what we need.

Rima: And your children, what do they want to do?
 Both my sons want to study social sciences and languages, they’re both more humanitarian at heart. They are now taking courses in Armenian for entrance examinations, they both want to attend YSLU, where I work. Although they’re from the diaspora, I still want them to learn proper Armenian, which they gladly do. English is native for them, but now we speak Armenian at home. One of them wants to become a journalist, and the other is interested in geography. Luckily, Bryusov offers both, and they want to study there.

They love education, and they want to continue living here. My children are becoming men, and the decision to live here is completely theirs. One of them said the other day: “A working man can work anywhere. You can live in one of the best countries in the world where they have everything, but if you’re lazy, you won’t get anywhere”. I brought them here so they’d feel the Armenian soul in them, and you can truly do that only if you visit and see it for yourself. I wouldn’t change a thing in my life. I’d repeat all my mistakes and decisions, because there’s a reason, God has plans. I guess you have to be an optimist to conquer all difficulties in life, both as a person, and as a nation. 
Posted by Rima Yeghiazarian

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