“WELCOME TO ARMENIA” the sign in the airport terminal read. What made it special, though, was that it was written in Armenian and I could read it. Too tired from the flight to think, it wasn’t until we had left Zvartnots Airport and arrived at the Ani Plaza Hotel that it finally dawned on me: this wasn’t just any other city we had landed in – this was Yerevan, the capital Armenia. My mother land.
Although I am completely Armenian by heritage, I was born in Iran, I’m a Canadian citizen, and I live in America. It was the first time I had been to Armenia, the tiny country stuck between the countries of Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan. I had only heard stories about Armenia and its people, stories concerning a USSR takeover and the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Because of this, I had formulated my own opinion of the country: one of laziness and intense hardship. Roaming the streets of the ancient metropolis of Yerevan (which, I learned is 29 years older than Rome), I experienced mixed emotions towards Armenia: a sense of true belonging, sadness for its present condition, and pride for its rich history. I felt like I was part of a History Channel expedition during the whole trip because of the amazing, archaic sites we visited, like the famous Etchmiadzin church and pit where St. Gregory (the man responsible for making Armenia the first Christian nation in the year 301 A.D.) was imprisoned for 12 years. Even though seeing the magnificent, archaic landmarks were amazing experiences, the highlight of my trip took place on a very ordinary tour bus:
One day we took a group tour to visit famous landmarks in the rural parts of Armenia. Besides being the most scenic bus ride I have ever taken in my life, it was also full of interesting people. One elderly woman on the bus said that Armenia was the 61st country she had visited on her two-year-long excursion around the world. I was very flattered. A new wave of patriotic pride came over me. All of the depressing images of the abandoned Soviet factories and the impoverished villages we passed in the countryside melted away, and I was revived with a new hope: maybe Armenia is slowly picking itself up. Maybe there is hope that its former glory will return. As I thought of this, I heard our tour guide in the back discoursing in Armenian with a middle-aged man. The man said that he was a linguist from Italy, on a kind-of business trip. When asked what side of his family was Armenian, he chuckled and replied that neither side: he was completely Italian.
“Then what,” we inquired incredulously, “are you doing in Armenia speaking fluent Armenian?”
“As a linguist, I had to choose an ancient language to study, so I chose Armenian. Now I’m visiting the country,” he explained.
I’ve been told so many sad stories of my race that I never stopped to realize what a truly important role it held in the course of history. However, after meeting these two people, I felt confidence in my country and more pride than ever in being Armenian.
A notorious German dictator, influenced by the Turkish act of genocide against the Armenians, one asked, “Our strength consists in our speed and our brutality…Who, after all, speaks today of the…Armenians?”
Well, Mr. Hitler, I do. Apparently, so do the Italians. And with some more faith and effort, so will the rest of the world.
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