Category Archives: Repatriation

The Best of the Boys are Leaving… Or Are They?

We have sung from childhood about living in a diaspora pining for the homeland. I have never felt the strength of this song until the day I sat down the kids of Gyumri during the AYF Summer Camp and along with some of the most patriotic people I know, sanf this song to them. My eyes filled with tears. I have gone away from my homeland, we sang, I have left my friends and family. We sand we will once again be reunited. Such an old concept and so very relevant to our days as well. The fire in my heart consumed me from that day onward, when the group of 100+ individuals of varying ages, 8-17 years old, stood up and gave a standing ovation, each moved by the sincerity in our voices. It haunted me for years and to this day is the single proudest moment of my life. It was also the song that took over my mind every time I visited Canada after my move to Armenia in 2013.

Today, it is another song that keeps me up at night and brings me to tears. It is another melody and other lyrics that fill my heart with longing, that batters at everything I have ever believed in. I watch them leaving. Gaggles and masses heading towards flight towards lands that promise rivers of honey and fountains of milk, leaving behind that very thing. Even writing these words, my eyes fill with tears. For with every individual who leaves, thinking the grass is greener on the other side, the land I have pledged to love and protect is left crying out in pain. Like a mother who cannot bear the sight of sending her child away, so is the pain felt by the country as a whole.

So now I sing,”The best of the boys are leaving, looking for their luck in other countries… leaving behind their loved ones and looking for something to fill the void from far away…” I sing that I am the world’s foolish lover and have friends more foolish than I. Boy is that true. For I am considered the fool in leaving behind Canada and coming home to Armenia, while the day’s migrations are taking the opposite route. How wrong you are my friends, but only time will show you exactly how wrong you are….

But are the best of the boys really leaving?

While it is true that many who head out towards the country that has allowed for Syrian refuge are indeed some truly incredible individuals, there are many who are staying put, understanding that while things look shiny from here, what glitters is not always gold. Some have already tried to take a different route, head up to Sweden or elsewhere, and have returned. Some simply do not even entertain the thought of walking away from the place they considered home from the day they were born. What gives me hope is seeing these boys and girls, these men and women, these children and adults who have a certain fire in their eyes and a longing to make things better with their own hands. They say that if you love someone, you let them go. If they come back, they were always yours, and if not… well, you know the rest. I’ve come back along with many others and we are here to stay. The best of the boys are not leaving it appears, but building a better Armenia! I raise a glass in gratitude for those who have not fallen to the lure of faraway lands and who have not lost hope here. They are the best of the boys in my eyes. It’s good to be living among you!

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Guest Post: #TurkeyFailed Because I Live in Armenia and So Should You

As the World’s Armenian community gears up to commemorate the centennial of the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Ottoman turks, the hashtag #TurkeyFailed has been trending across armenian social networks. The phrase, usually followed by accounts of multi-generational survival, uploaded onto the web by Armenians is meant to empower the descendants of these genocide survivors. As photos of survivors, and their progeny are shared and commented on, we are reminded that though 1.5 million of our grandparents had been dehumanised, robbed of their birthrights, their possessions, marched into deserts and brutally massacred, yet the five hundred thousand or so who survived managed to, as William Saroyan so eloquently put it; “laugh, sing and pray again”; build “a new Armenia” in the four corners of the globe. They passed on as best they could their culture, traditions and language to a new generations of Armenians, now totalling over 7 million people.

However, declaring that Turkey Failed at this time would be similar to declaring victory over shark-kind while still floating in shark-infested waters: Though the immediate danger may have been averted, we, as a nation are not out of the woods yet. The fact that I need to write this piece in english, rather than Armenian in order to reach the majority of my compatriots living in dispersed communities around the globe attests to the fact that we have sacrificed a lot for survival; our language, culture, and traditions, are constantly being diluted despite our best efforts, as we continue to live in lands which we do not call our own, while the concept of a hyphenated Armenian becomes increasingly solidified.

In the 21st century, it is no longer enough for Armenian people to live with the hope of indefinitely preserving Armenian identity, language, culture and traditions in suspension in their newfound homes abroad. Despite hollow promises that we make to ourselves, that we are ready, at moments notice, to return to our ancestral land, how many of us are ready to leave our cosy city lives, our jobs, and the communities we helped reconstruct over 3 generations to go back to mud brick villages in eastern Anatolia? I can recall, the times when i was back in native Canada visiting family, discussing my new life in Armenia with local armenian friends, and finishing our conversations with the question “And when will you be joining me in Armenia?” to which I would always get an embarrassed response in the form of “some day”. Our lack of readiness to leave these comfort zones was most exemplified by the destruction of the well established Armenian communities in Iraq, and now Syria.

Turkey’s failure will only truly be complete when we secure the existence, and sustainability of the Armenian nation. This, of course, can only be done when the majority of those living in the Diaspora, who see the preservation of their cultural heritage, will begin to see the Republic of Armenia as a genuine option for establishing themselves, raising families, and contributing to.

Afterall, the job is not yet done. Our young republic, which we inherited 76 years after the genocide, still deals with many of the typical issues that a start-up nation, with a soviet legacy would be expected to. Armenia still struggles to fight corruption, imperfect democratic processes, economic stimulation, emigration, and the precarious nature of its geopolitical location. Despite all this, Armenia offers unique opportunities for those who wish to contribute. The country changes at an astonishing rate. Despite a century of separation, and contrasts between the soviet and diaspora experience, many repatriates are pleasantly surprised to discover how much they share with their local contemporaries.

Almost four years ago, wishing to bank on this opportunity, I made the move here, established a business, employ a modest number of people, and pay taxes to the State. I am setting the foundations for a family here, and live what can best be described as a ‘normal’ life. I say this not to invoke the envy of the readers, but to explain why, in my case at least, #TurkeyFailed. For the first time in 3 generations, on the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, a member of my family will be in Armenia. My hope is that my story wouldn’t be unique.

Those who, like me, wish to see, a strong, economically sustainable, democratic and forward looking homeland, as opposed to one that dwells in its past, should know that Armenia doesn’t need your money, or pity, Armenia needs you. Armenia needs Armenians to populate the country, contribute to its job market, its economic development, cultural institutions, and demanding political change.

Until independence, the common line was that, “As soon as we reestablish an Independent Armenia, I will the first on the plane over there”. This has only materialised for a small numer. Today, there no more excuses: Many opportunity exists for those who want to help complete Turkey’s Failure, and subsequently Armenia’s victory, but living here. Those who may want to reconnect with Armenia’s culture, can always make use of resources online, such as the Armenian Virtual College’s Armenian lessons; they can receive a world-renown education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at the American University of Armenia, or simply try out life in Armenia to see if it’s right for them, by applying for the 3 month professional internship programme at Birthright Armenia. Resources such as the Repat Armenia Foundation dedicate themselves to helping Armenians from the diaspora to reclaim their birthright, and establishing themselves in their homeland. The possibilities are endless, the reasons are countless.

100 years after we were chased out of our lands, its time to come home. Only then, we can truly say that #TurkeyFailed

Post by Raffi Elliott

A Heart that Yearns for Home

Our people seem to have had a nomadic, adventurous streak from early on, weaving their way into many nations and embedding their roots where business could thrive. We like novelty, culture, food and winning, no matter what the prize. Unfortunately for those who would have kept close to their family hearths despite this curious streak to find a new El Dorado somewhere` somehow, they too would be forced to abandon all they held dear to start anew in strange worlds, among strange people bearing customs entirely foreign to our traditions. It’s a wonder how we persevered and held onto what few scraps we had salvaged of our former lives in a death grip, allowing every step we took to become a blossom in a newly ploughed field. Yet, no matter how far the wayward child runs, his heart will always yearn for the mother’s bosom, the hearth that once kept him warm and secure.

I’m often faced with puzzled glances and incredulous stares when I mention my desire to return to a home my family left nearly a century ago. Furthermore, the questions bore into me in wonder as to why I would want to live in a place most wish to escape from, a land haunted by its past and systematically torn apart in the present. Who would want to move to a nation run by an oligarchy, drowning in poverty, where a lifestyle akin to that which I have become used to might never again exist? What do I see in this Armenia so many speak of, yet few consider home anymore?

Armenia is like an adolescent child. She requires strict attention but also room to breathe to become her own person. She is in a perpetual state of confusion, torn between Mother Russia and Father Europe. She also bears a special love for Uncle America. Yet, with her parents so different, living separate from one another, Armenia feels she must live up to both their standards. She often forgets her childhood state where she could easily express her unique characteristics. If she leans more towards one parent, she inflames the anger of the other. America being a relation to Europe does not ease her confusion in the least, further throwing her off balance. She has forgotten much of her childhood language and opts to using that of either or both parents. She’s becoming particularly adept at utilizing Uncle America’s, replacing her own unique one bit by bit.

Armenia’s adolescent state sometimes means a temper tantrum. She seems to find it the norm for a husband to beat his wife, for a husband to cheat on his wife, for a man to chase skirts but expect women to remain chaste and pure. She has little sympathy for the poor, has a quick hand in theft and a clever mind rarely used for anyone’s good. She smokes like a chimney, drinks her sorrows away and complains about the holes in her pockets due to her penniless state. Armenia is beautiful, not needing any artifice to cover her non-existent physical blemishes. Her problem lies beneath, perhaps at her very core. Where once she encouraged those wearing tracksuits, today she beats them. Where once she voted women into power, today she scoffs at them. She bows her head to everyone, but bullies that which belongs to her. She’s pitiful, to tell the truth, and requires a steady hand to guide her to adulthood. She requires love, patience and diligent care. She will thrive if allowed to, if those with authority in her life stop using her for their own gains. Every adolescent will grow up one day and Armenia is no different. The only questions is, how long will it take?

In the end, why shouldn’t I move back home, to the nation struggling to grow into adulthood and discovering for herself how special she is? Why shouldn’t I be one of those diligently patient hands slowly but surely leading her onto the right path? Someone must take the responsibility to steer her there and make sure she follows through. As an Armenian from the diaspora, can you not also feel her calling you home?