This is not my first time in Armenia and maybe it is not even the most special visit that I had. I visited Armenia for the first time when I was 9 years old. It was a very particular journey because it was also the first time for my father (an Armenian born and raised in Turkey). Then, I came two other times during summer holidays for visiting my relatives in the small village where they live. Finally, I came in April 2015, with my sister, my brother, some of my uncles and cousins from Switzerland and of course my father, for commemorating the 100th anniversary of the genocide. I have some wonderful memories connected with my previous visits to Armenia. The life in the village, meeting a huge number of relatives, eating a lot, visiting Yerevan and its museums and the concert of the System of a Down on April 23.
It didn’t take me a lot of time to choose to apply for Birthright because I knew that I was going to stay in a country that was already familiar to me. However, when I arrived I realised that it would have been very different from the others visits. Once here I discovered how my relationship with Armenia was mediated by the people that were in the journey with me, especially by my father as, unlike him, can speak Armenian. I was here, walking down the streets of Yerevan, which I walked several other times, but feeling disoriented. I passed by a huge number of places that I was able to recognize, Republic Square, the Opera, Cascade,.. but it was impossible for me to connect them and to place them in a map. I realized that I never tried to remember the streets of Yerevan and to develop a sense of orientation in the city, because there was always someone else to follow, someone who knew the city better than me and who knew where we were going. The same was for the contact with locals. Apart from the relationship with my relatives, which has always been spontaneous even with the barrier of the language, someone else has always spoken at my place with taxi drivers, sellers, waiters or just people in the street for a chat.
Arriving here in Armenia alone was at first destabilizing. I was without my point of reference that helped me to interact with Armenia and Armenian. But the days passed very fast and I started to work, to have my Armenian classes and to walk the city by my own. And I suddenly started to feel a new sense of familiarity with Armenia. I became able to orientate myself in the streets and to take public transportations and my Armenian started to allow me to order at restaurant, to interact with taxi drivers, to ask for information and to organize excursions by my own. All that gave me the opportunity to start a new relationship with Armenia, a deeper relation in which I am an active part and there is no mediation.
For me, as a half-Armenian, Armenia has always been something really related to my father and to my father’s side of the family. Participating in Birthright and living in Yerevan not as a tourist gave me the opportunity to feel that Armenia is not just related with my Armenian side of the family, but also directly with me. The more precious gift that I had from this journey and form my experience with Birthright Armenia is the discovery of MY Armenia, a place that I learned to know directly by my experiences and a country with which I am engaged directly, without the need of any intermediation.