I am sorry, sireli Hayrik, for letting you say this sentence maybe 172346523476934759238216347 times for 26 years. - "You understood it in German already, why should I repeat it in Armenian again?"
To talk in Armenian was never easy for me. It was exhausting, tiring and simply annoying. German was simple. It was the language I perfectly mastered, found easy to speak, that "relaxed my tongue" and with which I could actually express my thoughts. So why speak Armenian when I wasn’t even able to retell the simplest everyday situations with this language? My father's answer was always: "Because it's your mother tongue. Because it's important that we keep this language alive, which is already way too rarely spoken, and most importantly because you're Armenian.” - Well, that was the problem: Am I Armenian? I know I have Armenian roots. But what really makes me an Armenian? What does that even mean? I never had the desire to find out. I felt mainly German and was completely okay with that. Besides, I have always regarded myself as a world citizen and rejected patriotism. So why change that? I often asked myself this question and I didn't know the answer. Now I know that it is not about "changing" myself. It is about "completing" myself. Sounds pretty dramatic, I know. Nevertheless, it is appropriate. Even though I could never really admit it to myself, I felt deep in my heart - yes now it starts getting kitschy - a small piece of the puzzle was missing that made me who I really am.
Nevertheless, I applied to Birthright Armenia – not necessarily because I wanted to embark on an emotional journey of self-discovery but rather because my brother did it two years ago and I felt like the people were really cool there. Also, I needed a change after seven years of law school. And who doesn’t like traveling, meeting new people, exploring new cultures and learning new languages? Moreover, I have always been interested keen on standing up for human and women’s rights. So I thought I'd approach it rational. First I am going to work with the NGO Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly and work in the field of human rights and then I'd do an internship at a corporate law firm and gain experience in my professional domain. Once in Armenia, it turns out that a rational, emotional uninvolved approach was impossible to fulfill. Already in the first few weeks I was overwhelmed by the love and warmth I received and was finding it hard to deal with it all. Where should I put all this kindness, all this love? My heart felt like a balloon filled with helium that wanted to fly out of my body. But also, apart from the fact that I was not used to so much love – especially from complete strangers - I didn’t feel like I belonged to this country, to these people. The only thing we had noticeably in common was the language - even though, at first (or most of the time) they had to laugh about my accent or vocabulary. Knowing the language was actually my ticket to this world, it gave me better access to people. I started having long and deep conversations with different people and step by step – I began to understand this country, its culture and its people a little bit better. This further motivated me to improve my language skills … well that and the fact that I wanted to finally understand all these road signs. ;)
Honestly, my previous trips to Armenia had been mostly disappointing and even sad. I had only noticed again and again what was going wrong in Armenia: how old-fashioned the people were, how bad the government was, how bad the houses and roads looked. Now I began to see everything differently: how much strength and hope the people have, how well this country has been rebuilt after so many low blows (earthquakes, closed borders of the neighboring countries, wars etc. etc.) and it seems like finally a ‘good guy’ is in power. My perspective on the country has completely changed. It is no longer judgmental, but understanding. Now, I understand much better why people are the way they are. For example, why they are so afraid of something new. And that's where I started feeling responsible. Responsible because I realized it's also up to me to contribute something to the positive development. I can move things forward. And for the first time, I did not feel disappointed when returned from Armenia. I was full of hope. Because I saw there is a development happening and also that there is a lot of untapped potential that we need to turn into further successes.
I won't sugarcoat everything, though. I certainly had some bad experiences too. And each time I was surprised of myself that it didn't break my spirit. That it didn't completely disappoint me and that I didn’t give up hope. I think it was because of my attitude. I did not want to be disappointed. I didn't want to give up hope. I want and believe that I can affect change. And doesn't that somehow make me Armenian? The fact that this country and its development have become so important to me? At least I feel "more Armenian" through my time spent there and my contributions made. I understand it better and I understand myself better. All in all, it was indeed an emotional journey of self-discovery and I am more than happy about it.
So, THANK YOU Hayrik jan for never being desperate enough to give up trying to get me to speak Armenian. THANK YOU 172346523476934759238216347 times for 26 years.
Photo credits: Benjamin Dubuis