Discovering Armenia Through Its Generous Souls

I was in Armenia two years ago. The moment I got on the plane to return to Brazil I already felt the urge to go back and for a long time my mind incessantly contemplated “I should never have left the Caucasus, I should never have left the Caucasus” again, again and again. As a scholar of Armenian history, everything at the end of 2021 was enchanting: books were given a voice through artistic representations, monuments, songs and churches. I also enjoyed the company of Yerevan’s incredibly astute dogs. Everything took on a new interpretation in the naked eyes of reality – a better version of what Armenia was like in my head.

 

The Return to Armenia

 

What about this time? What was I looking for? This time I decided to observe and learn everything an Armenian would want to say. I am the student of anyone who wants to tell me about their life or how they feel. 

I was Davit’s student, an accordionist who is at the Vernissage every weekend selling Armenian music material. Between what I could speak of Armenian and Russian – and what he could understand of English – he knew my story. He revealed that he was a great admirer of Komitas, while I was buying a tablature of Vardapet’s compositions for my brother, who is also a musician. Davit, however, still couldn’t understand why I was interested in a “small and forgotten” country. The most sensible and appropriate response I could think of was “Armenia is important”, which earned me a firm handshake from him. With moist eyes, Davit told me “I’m very pleased and happy that you are interested in Armenian culture”. 

I was Hasmik’s student, the librarian at Tsitsernakaberd, who often brought me coffee and chocolate while I was reading or working in the library. One day, around New Year’s, she proudly showed me a snowman they had made by rearranging the position of the books on the shelves. 

I was Vahan’s student, who owned a small market in Avan and whom I met two years ago. He’s still there, practicing his knowledge of five or six languages, and he told me the latest things he’s learned in Chinese. He recognized me the moment I walked into his store, even two years later and with so many customers who have passed through in the last 24 months.

I was Hovhannes’ student, a cab driver who, during a short ride, liked my limited level of Armenian and felt so excited that he called his son, who spoke English, to tell me everything he wanted to say. His main interest was to know if I liked Armenia and if I was being treated well here – in the end, he thanked me for taking an interest in such an “ancient land”.

I was a student of the Stepanyan family, which is so much more than a host family: a safehouse for the entire period. Anahit, always there for me, offering me food and trying to learn about my home country – in the end she taught me many things about Armenia by simply being so welcoming and careful, by simply being herself. Hagop and she really like taking care of flowers and plants, so it was so wonderful for me, as an unprofessional gardener, to witness how they carefully and patiently look and check out their small but bright ‘‘apartment garden’’. The day I arrived Arthur, who appreciates action movies and says that his friends sometimes call him ‘‘Vin Diesel’’, introduced me to very ancient pieces of Armenian folk music. I knew that he would know that I didn’t know those songs, and maybe that’s why he said: ‘‘you know, actually, nobody knows those songs these days, not even in Armenia’’. So, for me, it was like an act of sharing a very well-hidden treasure.

 

Support from AVC

 

It became quite clear that, in this place full of teachers, I would never feel lonely, even with all the changes that the last few years had brought with them. It became even clearer from the very first days that the staff of AVC and Birthright would not allow that to happen. Everyone, absolutely everyone, was always checking to see if I was okay, if I needed anything – and when I did, I didn’t even need to ask for help, the solution was already there. So soon, in the city of Yerevan, where my heart is in so many places, this office, through its members, conquered part of it too. If I arrived in Armenia’s capital seemingly far from home, in the blink of an eye I realized that I already had two in Yerevan.

So this time I realized I went much far from beyond the Republic Square and monuments and all the wonders one must see. I observed the streets and alleys that hide labyrinths after turning right onto the avenue, the buildings with clothes lines stretched across the sky, the children getting to know the city and the sound of hammers and horns. The small vendors, the city that changes and doesn’t change, the yeasts, the old people chatting and playing gammon. Therefore, I realized, as natural as life itself, that I had come to the greatest discovery I could have about this nation. Davit, Hasmik, Vahan, Hovhannes, the Stepanyans and all the staff of AVC and BR, they all illustrate the core of Armenia: the people. And if we talk about the Armenian people we’ll get to the obvious answer: generosity.

 

Daniel Lorenzo Gemelli Scandolara is a political scientist and historian. He is currently working on his doctorate in Armenian immigration to Brazil. This is his second time in Armenia, the first being in 2021, when he did an MA in Human Rights at the Center for European Studies. On this new trip, he has been collaborating on research related to the Armenian diaspora at the Department of Oriental Studies at Yerevan State University, Tsitsernakaberd and Matenadaran.

June 17, 2024