Before coming to Armenia, I had a very narrow understanding of what Armenia was. I think I had the same misconception as many people from the US did, that Armenia was just a country that had been greatly impacted by its historical tragedies. The Armenian Genocide, repression under the Soviet Union, the destructive earthquake in 1988, the cold and dark years after independence when many were without electricity or basic goods, and the continued conflicts with Azerbaijan– all these geo-political issues have greatly influenced how the world perceives Armenia. While it is clear that Armenia is still in the midst of recovery, it would be wrong to assume that they should be viewed solely as victims of war and tragedy. Since coming to Armenia, I have gained a new perspective that has ultimately allowed me to come to terms with my own personal biases and skewed perceptions as well as given me a new framework to understand how Armenians want to be seen by the rest of the world.
Nobody would want for their homeland or culture that they have fought and sacrificed for to be seen by the rest of the world as merely a dark mark in history. Unfortunately, for many who are not geographically adept or who have never had an inkling to travel to Armenia, it is difficult to know much about its culture much less locate it on a map. For most people, Armenia is typically recognized through the Armenian Genocide, a horrific and tragic event that continues to impact Armenians and the perception that the world has of them. It is almost as if all the centuries of rich Armenian culture and history before the 1915 massacres were erased from the collective memory of the international community. Framed in that light, the tragedy of the Armenian Genocide comes full circle and it is impossible not to understand the truly despicable consequences of any genocide or mass atrocity. Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sudan, Syria, etc. – All different countries with their own distinct cultures but similar in how the world choose to relegate them to specific moments in their history where there was turmoil and loss. As humans, we tend to hold onto our suffering, and the same can be said for how we view other’s sufferings. We choose to remember the bad, and only the bad. But if life continues because of diversity and change, we have a responsibility to diversify our own minds as well.
Coming to Armenia has completely altered my perceptions of Armenia and taught me the meaning of survival. Not survival that exists alongside the fringes of victimhood but survival that is celebratory, a return and rebirth of what is bright, hopeful, and endearing. Since being here I’ve had the great opportunity to meet Armenians from all walks of life. Though they are all unique in their own ways, one common thread that weaves them all together is the immense sense of pride and love that they have for their nation. Through my host family’s celebrations, I’ve heard traditional Armenian songs and stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. Through the community I belong to, I’ve come to understand the true meaning of family as every Armenian looks out for each other. Through my workplace, I’ve met coworkers who strive not only to benefit themselves, but also the people living in the rural villages of Armenia. Through the natural landscape, I’ve come to appreciate the history that is preserved in the ancient khachkars, fortresses, and monasteries that still exist in their original environments. Through the delicious, ripe fruits of Armenia, I’ve learned to value the labor of love that goes into growing food sustainably. Through the hustle and bustle of Yerevan, I’ve come to admire the efforts of a developing country holding onto their culture but also adopting and modernizing with the rest of the world. Importantly, through the youth, I see a hunger for change and a drive for the success of their nation. Armenians want the international community to recognize them for their rich culture and contributions rather than their tragic past because they have fought to retain what they have gained, not what they have lost. Unconsciously or not, every Armenian fights for the survival and revival of Armenia just by the small role they play in their families, communities, or workplaces. It is the responsibility of the international community to recognize these efforts, educate ourselves, and change the current perceptions that we have.
By: Linda Zheng
Program: Overseas Professional & Intercultural Training Program, Yerevan, Armenia
Term: Summer 2019