April 24, 1915-2016

April 24 — and the days circling it — is always an interesting time in the life of an Armenian, especially those living outside Armenia. As we know, April 24 has become the date to symbolize, to honor, to commemorate, to mourn the Armenian Genocide. Everyone has their way of dealing with it — some protest, some go to church, some march, and some go about their day as usual to prove that Turkey really did fail. And some feel really guilty about being so far away from the Motherland.

Naturally, there’s supposed to be an underlying sadness to this day because it’s the day you’re meant to remember all the lost souls — all 1.5 million. And it’s a difficult day because not everyone around the world remembers, and more importantly recognizes the Genocide like we Armenians do. And so every year, around this time, Armenians in the diaspora get ready to rally for that recognition that is long overdue. Year after year, it can start feeling robotic to go through the motions when you feel like you want to do more … but what more is there to do all the way from here?  It’s almost become a bonding experience for diasporans.

Last year, when I had the honor of being in Armenia for the 100th Anniversary of the Genocide, I felt more at peace than I ever have around this time. I felt that as an Armenian, if we want to make a real difference, we have to be there. Because I was in the Motherland, I didn’t feel this pressure to “do something” to make up for the fact that I’m away, because I was there, in the trenches, on the battle field so to speak. And just leaving the house, walking around, sharing those experiences with our people was enough. Walking with torches alongside thousands of youth from the Hraparak to Tsitsernakaberd was one of the most epic of times. I wish I could be there again this year — I wish that every Armenian one day gets to experience being in Armenia on April 24.

Show Mom (and Our Soldiers) Major Love

There’s no doubt about it, we have major love for our moms every single day of the year, but since Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday, May 8, you can also show your appreciation with a copy of “Hearts of Armenia.”

For two days only (April 21 & 22) the book will be offered for $20 (originally $25) — and half of the proceeds from this special promotion will be going to the Urgent Appeal for Artsakh fund, launched by the Tufenkian Foundation to help our Karabakh soldiers and their families. All you have to go is click here to make your purchase. If you would like a special message written inside for mom, just make a note while checking out.

I leave you with one of my favorite messages in the book — “I love you” in Armenian. Thank you for your love and support ❤

 

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Diasporan Guilt

Soon it will be exactly one year since I departed to Armenia for 6 months. April 18, 2015 feels like yesterday and I’ve been missing my time there every day since being back. Naturally I miss all the fun that was had, but what I miss most is the simplicity of life and how real people keep it. I have that diasporan guilt that plagues many Armenians: you want to be there — both selfishly and to simultaneously help your country in any way you can — but you also know that for various personal reasons (family, money, career, etc) you have to be away. At least for now. But you always plan to go back.

Especially this last week with the intense violence that erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Karabakh, that guilt has kicked in even stronger. You don’t know what to do, your hands are tied, no matter how many articles you read or Facebook posts you “like,” you can’t do anything to help immediately. My favorite Yerevan taxi driver Dikran’s 18-year-old son is in Karabakh right now, and I’m sure many people have friends in Karabakh who they’re also worried about. This moment in time also reminds us of the ever-so-passionate Monte Melkonian, who lost his life in Karabakh in 1993, and makes us so proud for all the new mini Montes that are giving their all, literally their lives, for our country. With so many #firstworldproblems that plague us today, things like this really put things in perspective. While we in America anxiously wait for our iced coffee to be ready, Armenian mothers are waiting for their sons to come home from war, as depicted beautifully by @edgar_artis below. We pray for them all.

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Coffee With Friends

In April, it’ll be a year since I moved to Armenia for 6 months last year, and while I can say that I’ve settled back into the American way of life, there are still things that stick out to me when I compare the two very different lifestyles. One of those things is maintaining friendships. In Yerevan, because it’s a small city and because human interactions are highly valued, it was easier to not only make friends, but to see friends almost on a daily basis. Actually, sometimes without even making plans I would run into people and we would then continue the night together. In America, because of all the distractions and distance, it’s much harder to make time for friends. It’s not impossible, but you have to put in a lot more effort. Like checking calendars, coordinating a spot that’s convenient for both people, scheduling weeks in advance, rescheduling if things come up, etc. Sometimes it can feel like there isn’t enough days in the week. In Armenia, it would almost be laughable to secure a coffee date a week in advance. Life is much more spontaneous there — being born and raised in America, where most things are planned way in advance, it took some getting used to. But once I saw that things still happen without having to hyper plan, I appreciated the naturalness of it.

This reality really hit me when my friend Lilit Markosian, who I met through mutual friends in Yerevan in May 2015, came to the Bay Area to visit her family for an extended period. Since her arrival in December, we’ve only been able to see each other twice. In Armenia, we would meet up twice a week, if not more! And it’s not like we haven’t tried. We’ve had many text message conversations about meeting up, but we’ve had to reschedule a few times because we’re busy. But what are we busy with? Our busy American lives apparently! Plus we live fairly far from each other here unlike in Yerevan, where we were practically neighbors in Komitas (I would see her balcony on my walk to get groceries at SAS Supermarket!).

But alas, Lilit and I were finally able to “synch our calendars” and grab coffee today, and we laughed about how silly it is the amount of effort it took to do something as simple as grabbing coffee. While the Armenia lifestyle emphasizes chilling with friends, the American lifestyle always has us on the go go go after work and money. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong lifestyle; it all really depends on what you prioritize in life. But I will admit that I miss the spontaneity of waking up in Yerevan with no set plans and ending the night with too many to count.

Love Is All You Need

With February being a month dedicated to everything romantic, I feel it appropriate to share the reason why I wanted to donate half the proceeds of “Hearts of Armenia” to a women’s shelter. One word: love. It’s such a cliche, “love is all you need,” but if God forbid something happened to you or someone you love tomorrow, all that would really matter is the love you feel around you, from friends and family. Love is the ultimate high (when it’s the right kind of love of course) and the thought of a woman being emotionally and/or physically abused and in turn not being able to give love to her family to the best of her capabilities is saddening. And what’s maddening is when this abuse is justified with a “she deserved it” attitude.

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When I went to visit the Women’s Support Center in Yerevan in September of 2015 after I had decided to work with them via AIWA-SF, executive director Maro Matosian said something that stuck with me: she said one of the things the center is trying to do is to teach women (and all of Armenia) that abuse is not in our culture and it shouldn’t be glorified under any circumstance. She mentioned that those against these types of shelters say that they’re breaking families up, but in reality it’s the perpetrators that are the ones wrecking their own families. Without these shelters women wouldn’t know where to turn (it’s been said some families won’t accept their daughters if they choose divorce) and maybe they wouldn’t leave, but what good is a broken family that is being held together by cruddy old glue? How can a mother give her children pure love when she’s not being loved herself? Of course the ideal situation would be a family unit that’s happy together but shelters like the Support Center are allowing those helpless women that want to leave to find solace, to repair themselves and their children, and to find jobs to get back on their feet.

I’m proud to help the Women’s Support Center get their positive messages across to our voiceless Armenian sisters and hopefully allow them a second chance at love. ❤️

If you’re in the San Francisco area, Maro Matosian will be speaking about the status of women in Armenia on Thursday, February 11 from 7-9pm at the Tufenkian Showroom on 25 Rhode Island Street in SF. Hope to see you there!

 

Seeing the World Through Heart-Shaped Glasses

There’s the famous saying, “see the world through rose-colored glasses,” which refers to viewing the world around you in a cheerful, optimistic manner. Since the birth of “Hearts of Armenia,” I like to tweak that saying a little: “see the world through heart-shaped glasses.” As I was going about my days living in Armenia and snapping hearts left and right and up and down, I now realize I was also inadvertently receiving the message that, despite all the negative things going on in the world, it’s important to open our hearts to the beauty that surrounds us. A “stop and smell the roses” kind of deal. Because you just never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so you might as well be happy today. Looking back, each new heart I would stumble upon would fill my heart with so much joy and in turn put a smile on my face. That’s because each heart was bringing me closer to realizing the book, and in turn being able to help my Motherland in my own small way.

Of course, there’s no denying the slew of problems that exist in Armenia (and everywhere else for that matter) but to focus only on the negative would make the world a very unpleasant and unhappy place to live. My hope is that “Hearts of Armenia” takes the reader on a unique journey through Armenia and simultaneously inspires people to see the beauty that surrounds them. Wherever they live or travel. Judging by all the heart photos I’ve been receiving since the book launched, I think more and more people are starting to see the world in heart-shaped glasses! Here are a few of my favorites:

Shoutout to Nareg, Lisa, Zareh, Regina, Alice, Eileen, and Alex for sharing their hearts ❤

When Armenia Called

During my time in Armenia, from April to October 2015, I was inspired to share my journey from start to finish on my blog, but now looking back, I realize I never talked about why I decided to leave my life in America and move to Armenia for half a year. I was recently asked this specific question and to respond, there are many different reasons I made the move, some tangible, some conceptual.

The first was a feeling, an indescribable calling toward Armenia. I had gone seven times prior as a tourist and each time it was harder and harder to leave. I remember crying the entire plane ride back after my first visit in 1991 as an eight year old. And trust me, Soviet times was not an ideal time to be there. So with that nostalgia inside me and because I’m fortunate enough to work from home, one day in early 2015, it hit me: why don’t I ask my boss if I can work from home, my home, my Motherland? Luckily she obliged (I had originally asked if I can go for 3 months, then later extended) and coincidentally my apartment lease ended in April, which is when I was planning on going in time for the 100th anniversary of the Genocide. In that sense, it felt like the universe was working with me and it made my move rather effortless.

The second reason is that my brother Garen moved to Armenia in 2011 after leaving his position as a public defender for LA County. He now works with the American University of Armenia, as well as with the American Bar Association, and loves it. He is so satisfied with his lifestyle in Armenia and knowing that, and having him there made the move that much easier for me.

And finally, when visiting my brother in Armenia in the Winter of 2013 for three weeks (the coldest Winter in 10 years might I add!!), I had started to take note of the differences between life in America and Armenia, and that’s when I started to really appreciate the simplicity of life in Armenia.  Human interaction and connections are still very much palpable in a world that often feels too robotic. I couldn’t help but feel more alive than ever when I was in my Motherland, so I wanted to experience that sensation for a longer period of time, to see if I can really do day-to-day life there.

The short answer is yes, I can definitely see myself living in Armenia, but the timing has to be right, too. One thing that gives me hope: I met many repatriates who said that making the permanent move to Armenia wasn’t necessarily easy or quick. Many have gone, stayed for a while, returned, gone again, come back again, and then finally made the permanent move when the opportunity struck. I hope that with “Hearts of Armenia” I’m getting closer to being able to serve as greater purpose there. At the very least, I have made a personal pact to try to go every year, if not at least every couple years because this I know: while most people leave their hearts in San Francisco, where I was born and raised, I left my heart in Armenia.