By Zareh-Sevag Sarkissian
Armen Mardirossian’s Journey Back Home: “The greater the risk, the greater the reward”
A keen Customer Support Advocate at Service Titan (ST) who is determined to leave his mark on the world; Armen Mardirossian is an Armenian from the ‘Jewel City’ of Glendale, Los Angeles (LA) who returned back to what he considers his treasure, Armenia.
Armen was born on September 23rd, 1992 in the United States; a year and day after the official independence of Armenia. Hence the reason why his parents named him Armen, as it would be both an easy name to pronounce in America and would be easy to recognize as Armenian.
Despite being born in the US, Armen considers himself a Parskahay/Barsgahay (Persian-Armenian), albeit he refers to himself as just proud Armenian. His parents moved to America as children in the early seventies and married after meeting in LA.
During his childhood years, Armen attended Vahan & Anoush Chamlian Armenian School until the 5th grade. At this point, the family decided to transfer the kids to public American school, a move that pushed him to grow up more American and less connected from his local Armenian community. He only had ‘American’ friends and would rarely attend Armenian events albeit the annual April 24th march. His only connection to his Armenian roots were at his home, where they only spoke Armenian, and at his occasional family gatherings. In university, he studied Economics at California State University, Northridge. There was a sizable Armenian community here, but he was not involved in any communal activities or events with them.
Childhood notion of Armenia
Growing up, Armenia was the ancient land of Ararat with mentions of the old Julfa. It was surrounded by a certain mysticism brimming with stories of the Masis, old family stories, and fairytales. The concept of a contemporary Armenia was rather vague with a sense of ambiguity surrounding it. Given that he did not graduate from an Armenian school, he never had the likelihood of travelling to Armenia at a younger age save for a month-long trip during in 2013 which he vaguely memorable.
His volunteering in Armenia
The first time he was truly in-touch with the Armenian maturity was with Birthright Armenia. 3 days after graduating university in May 2016, he began his journey to Armenia. The inspiration for his semi-spontaneous volunteering originated through a certain lecture in one of his anthropology classes at university; where a group from Peace Corps had discussed their volunteering experiences in Nicaragua working with local peoples.
Armen though, wanted to volunteer for a shorter time and considered Armenia as a better option, since it is his ancestral homeland. Searching for internships in Armenia he discovered Birthright Armenia and signed up. His initial stay was for 3 months at Vanadzor, and after having a few days to himself touring in Yerevan before his orientation and volunteering would begin on June 1st, his first question to the Birthright staff was: “Can I stay longer?”
Overall, he stayed for around 9 months in Armenia before having to return to LA. It was a reluctant decision, for he found for himself a community here, including his distant relatives, and he loved everything about it; particularly the friendliness and safety he saw in the traditional community atmosphere all around. In retrospect though, he is glad he was born outside of Armenia, in that way, he could contribute to it with experiences and a mindset he fostered abroad.
Moving to Armenia
Armen permanently moved to Armenia in April 2018 just prior to the ‘Velvet Revolution’. The first few months were hectic, with the passport and visa department (OVIR) barely working, he needed a lawyer to force his visa application. His interview at OVIR was momentous, since it was his first formal one in Armenian and there were many nuances he had never experienced. Now he is fluent in written and spoken Armenian.
Greatly fond of his job at ServiceTitan, which he considers his best so far; Armen had only joined the customer service team a short time prior to the recent Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) War.
The War Effect
The war was a heavy ordeal; it caused constant heartache over knowledge of a lost loved one and continuous concern over his friends on the frontline. This was exacerbated by the incessant need to look at the news at work and at home, ruined sleep, and the fact that “18 years olds are on the border fighting while I’m 28 and here at the office...”
After the final ceasefire, he went to Artsakh to visit his friend on the frontline and saw the devastation first-hand. How a beautiful and well organized place was reduced to a desolate ghost town. Nevertheless, during the entire war, he never once considered moving back to the US. He would stay no matter what.
Repatriation for Armen
According to Armen, if an someone's only motivation to repatriate is patriotism, but are not used to the culture, norms, and the reality of life here in Armenia, then they will most definitely have difficulties in staying long term. He is familiar with many who did, especially those who grow up in a Western country and used to an easy life. He believes that only after 2-3 years here can an Armenian know if one can permanently reside here.
Armen was trying to convince his younger brother to move to Armenia, with the rewarding opportunities the method of persuasion, and recently managed to convince him to join the Birthright Armenia program. Also, in Armenia there are few covid-19-related restrictions than there are in LA. this was an added positive note! But fundamentally, if one wants to have a calm, safe, and rewarding life with a family and build a family, Armenia is an ideal option, says Armen. He himself would not raise his children in LA. But for those who seek things as material wealth, a brand new house, news care, et cetera, then LA is the place to go.
He emphasizes that the first step to repatriation is the hardest one. “The greater the risk, the greater the reward,” he loves to say, and a crafty one-liner about adapting to the community.
An important remark Armen made was that, in earlier years and decades, Armenia needed as much as capital as it could get, especially from the diaspora. However, in recent years, especially after the war, Armenia is in need of skilled laborer's and professionals from outside.
Armen’s tips for repatriates
Concise guides from Armen to Armenians planning to repatriate or return to the homeland were:
You need to plan ahead financially, when earning an Armenian salary, you’ll need to live like an Armenian. It’s important to have savings beforehand. You’re integrating when you stop thinking in dollars and begin thinking in drams.”
Sell yourself. Improve your CV, work on promoting yourself. Out of Service Titan’s 300 applicants and 120 interviews they only hired 3 candidates including me. You have to show you are someone unique. In Armenia, it’s hard to find a good paying job.
Don’t settle. Keep applying for better companies and jobs, especially if you have a richer CV.
People should have professional experience outside then move to Armenia (especially in demand skills); this would lead to having more savings, contributing to the country with outside experience, and be pre-established, facilitating one’s arrival and settling down.
Keep in mind that the older you become, the more difficult it would be to come to Armenia. Give and take, analyze the risks then make a decision.
Armen’s future prospects
In five years, Armen hopes to see himself advancing at Service Titan. According to him, it is professionally one of the best places to work for in Armenia. He’s had ideas for start-ups and works with some, but the more he works at ST the more he loves it. He also purchased land in Armenia, and eventually wants to finish building a house.
Armen’s viewpoint on the Armenian cause
When it comes to another fundamental Armenian issue, the Armenia cause; he believes it should start in Armenia itself. Even if someone doesn’t consider Armenia today part of their original homeland they have start somewhere and that is living in Armenia and growing with the country is one of the most important things one can do for Armenia. Since, "you can send money to the Armenian fund for example, but it’s not the same as actually being here.”
While adversaries can obviously be the Azerbaijanis and Turks with their wiping out of Armenia’s history and presence in the region and their total fabrication of historical events, the underlying obstacle for Armenians he thinks are non-Armenian characteristics and types of behaviors that are not native to Armenians but developed after years under Soviet rule. He gives the example how some people in Armenia can have a lack of work ethic and prefer to spend more time on leisure time and ‘kef’; “Bring back Traditional Armenian work ethic,” he says humorously.
Another final problem he sees, however, is that he doesn’t want Armenia to become too globalized like Georgia, even though it would help advance the country economically, but at the cost of its unique culture. He doesn’t want it to be a multicultural hub like other Western countries, but basically a developed country with its maintained strong Armenian culture. Armen hopes many would consider returning to Armenia; and if not permanently then at least visiting regularly. Whether they do decide to repatriate, it would be good to heed his advice as he gained a lot of experience from his time here at Armenia.