Birthright Armenia, Musings

[Blog] Week 6, Genocide Memorial

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I blinked, and it’s halfway through October.

It’s been a fairly quiet week, which has given me a little more time to sit back and think, which I’ve enjoyed. A couple weeks back I mentioned that I was starting to feel at home in Armenia, or at least in Yerevan. That feeling has continued to grow, almost without my noticing, and whatever happens after I finish volunteering, I’m certain that a piece of my heart will always stay here.

There’s a part at the end of The Return of the King where Frodo tells Sam that he “cannot always been torn in two“, and that he must be “one and whole, for many years”. That quote lodged in my head sometime during college as I started trying to figure out how to balance my love for family and friends in my hometown with deep, new friendships. Now, instead of being torn in two I’m being torn in three, and I can only hope that Frodo’s advice was at least somewhat more Sam-specific than broadly general.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these feelings got stronger the same week that I visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial for the first time. A group of Birthright volunteers gathered there around its eternal flame on Wednesday night and listened as our program’s Country Director read passages from the eyewitness account of a genocide survivor. If asked to describe the experience, the first word to come to mind would be “sobering”, but with that feeling being tempered by an incredible sense of resolve.

Today, Armenians live. Today, Armenia exists. Despite everything that happened, we are here today. With everything good and bad about this tiny country in the South Caucasus, it’s here and it’s independent and it has a future. There’s just a lot of work to do.

Which would explain why I’m feeling a little pulled apart. Because when I go back to the States, I’ll still be Armenian. I’ve always known that, but there’s such a huge difference between knowing a little bit about the language and the culture and the food and actually living and working in Armenia, even if only for a few months. It’s only been six weeks; I’m less than halfway through my trip and I’ve already learned so much.

Right now, I can only guess at what it’s going to look like. And I probably shouldn’t be doing that yet either, since, as I mentioned just above, I’m less than halfway through my trip. I need to live here, in the present.

There are about a thousand other thoughts buzzing around in my head right now, almost all focusing on what it means to be an Armenian-American (and more specifically an Armenian-American writer), but none of them are coherent enough to merit writing down. Mostly because they are less full-fledged thoughts than they are just questions. At a guess, it’s going to be quite some time before I find answers to them that satisfy me.

So, in lieu of further writing, I’ll just share a couple pictures of the city in the country that’s doing a frighteningly good job of stealing my heart.

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View of Mount Ararat from Yerevan

 

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View from near Barekamutyun Station
Musings

[Blog] Going Home

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“Homeland” is a powerful word.

It’s a word that speaks of ancestry and history; an old word. It’s a word that hints at a bigger story. It’s a word that must be shared, because it belongs to more than you or me. It’s a word that has prompted good and excused evil. It’s a word that demands you pay attention. It’s a word that says it knows a piece of who you are.

It’s why sites like ancestry.com are so wonderful. It’s why, when you visit Edinburgh, you can find a hundred little shops with pamphlets and pins for all the Scottish clans and septs. It’s why you’ll run across ads that claim to tell you where you’ve come from, based solely on your surname.

It’s what the Shire is to a hobbit, and why the scouring of it is so important. It’s what Rannoch is to the Quarians. It’s what Aeneas had just lost, and what he spends an entire epic poem replacing.

And in the fall, I get to visit mine for the first time.

In case my last name isn’t a dead giveaway, I am Armenian–one quarter, on my dad’s side, though the percentage isn’t important. I don’t know who said it first, but my grandfather once told me that as long as I had one drop of Armenian blood, I would be Armenian.

My heritage is something that I have always been aware of on one level or another. My dad taught me the Armenian alphabet when I was a kid, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about that part of myself. But awareness and full ownership are two different things entirely, and the latter has been a little slower in coming.

It still feels strange to say that I am Armenian-American. I’m learning the language, but I definitely don’t know it yet. I’ve studied some of the history on my own, and there are a couple of novels on my to-read list that will (I hope!) help add to my understanding of my people.

Of course, actually visiting, living, and working there for a while is going to give me an understanding that I couldn’t get any other way. Which would explain why I’m so excited. Terrified too, for sure. But mostly excited. You don’t often get to visit your homeland for the very first time.