I was exhausted on the evening of my fifth day in Yerevan. I had spent the entire day indoors, so despite my fatigue, I motivated myself to attend a series of art and design talks at the Hay Art Museum in the city center. I boarded a bus in Davitashen, a small suburb outside of the center. However, when I checked my GPS mid-journey, I realized I was on the wrong route. I got off the bus. It was nighttime, and I was in an unfamiliar area, so I reevaluated my route and discovered that it would now take me 2-3 buses to reach the museum. Without enough cash for a taxi and wary of further complicating my journey, I opted for the most straightforward option – walking. The forty-minute walk led me through alleys and unfamiliar roads, but I felt embraced by the city and safe wandering its streets alone.
While walking, a sudden and very clear realization struck me. I loved Yerevan. I could feel it in every fiber of my body. I could think of reasons why, including that it wasn’t Los Angeles, where I had lived for the past twelve years, and where I had left feeling stuck in a rut. But this feeling of love was not the realization. The realization was that, as I was walking down the city’s streets at night, I was completely falling apart, just as I had feared before arriving. I could feel chunks of me falling away, leaking into dark sewers. Parts of me evaporating as though they had never existed. It wasn’t how I had imagined falling apart. It wasn’t how I had feared it before leaving the familiarity and comfort of my homeland.
Journey into the Unknown
Never in my life had I imagined coming to Armenia. Even though I was raised with an abundance of pride in this part of my cultural heritage and was surrounded by the stories, food, and remnants of my Armenian family’s history, we had no connection to its present, the people, or the land there now. For me, Armenia had been an unreachable past that was fled by my great-grandparents, left by grandparents who had initially returned after the war, and never visited by my father’s generation in my family. Everything I knew had to do with moving away from the land, not moving toward it.
When planning, flying to, and arriving in the country, I was enveloped in an irrational fear of dying. Visiting Armenia seemed so inconceivable that I believed I must die before reaching it, perhaps a connection to what my ancestors felt as they left it. It was like traveling to the other side of the rainbow or into a great myth.
The falling apart that night, in love with the city, came from the unraveling of bandages that had been tightly wound around the diasporan generations of my family. Wound out of care and protection. Keeping us together, and away from a history of harm inflicted upon our people. As I unraveled, my contents began to fall out. And a whole world opened up to me.
Upon arriving in the city in the middle of the night, only days earlier, I traveled through the darkness to my host family’s home. I remember when they opened the door at that late, late hour, the light beaming out with their arms ready to hug me and their smiles welcoming me.
Embracing a New Chapter
Six months later, I have friends who are like family, a paid job that evolves the work I was doing in LA, and co-workers whom I love. I feel healthier and happier here. Perhaps this is a love letter to AVC, which, even as an alumna of the program, continues to provide me with social, emotional, and practical support. A bridge between places and time.
Now, walking the streets of Yerevan, I am aware of the wind on my new skin. As if it had peeled many layers after a deep sunburn. Raw, minty skin. Warm to the cool air. Leaving the old stuff behind. A new chapter for new generations.
Tatiana Vahan is an artist working at the intersection of research, community organizing, and contemporary art. She is the founder of the Los Angeles Artist Census and has collaborated with esteemed creative organizations such as the Poetic Justice Group at MIT Media Lab, High Desert Test Sites, and the Mountain School of Arts to produce experimental, multi-year art projects that operate outside of traditional art contexts.
In 2023, she became the first in her living family to travel to Armenia, participating in the Armenian Volunteer Corps program. For two months through AVC, she volunteered for AGBU’s Katapult Creative Accelerator program, after which she was hired and continues to work. At Katapult, she is working with their research team co-authoring a report on the cultural and creative industries of Armenia. Over the next year, she will be curating an exhibition based on the report’s key findings.
Photo Credits: Peter Vahan