My Armenian story started in 2019, when, wanting to travel after long years of work in Law school, law firms, law department, I booked a hiking trip in Armenia on a whim, without knowing more about this country than the well-known 1915, Charles Aznavour, and some Bible Mountain stories.
Armenia is the kind of country with which you fall in love, or which you just don’t understand. And, spoiler alert, I fell in love. With the mountains under the snow, the food, the thousand-year-old (and more) history, the mystery of the survival of its people and… my mountain guide.
There is no better way to discover a new cultural world than through the eyes of someone you love. Everything seemed new, different, and so close though. I saw the churches and the monasteries, I learned about those I won’t ever be able to see. My view of the USSR changed and the way it was for those who lived it. I listened with passion the long narrative of ancient Armenian kingdoms. Walking the mountains, planes and gorges that change color depending on the season, from white to green and pink like the spring roses. I appreciated more than ever the luck and privilege to be born without anyone wishing my death, the annihilation of my culture, as a sordid and twisted tradition.
He came to France, I went back, many times, and after a while, we decided to move in together in Armenia in June 2020.
Everything was ready, I had almost finished my year of Intensive Russian Course, emptied my flat, we got engaged with the blessing of my family, and I booked my flight. And a worldwide pandemic hit.
Covid-19 and misery
We cancelled our wedding, waited for months. Without tourists, my beloved guide was out of work. We concluded that our only option was for him to join me in France, to wait the end of this mess. Not married, there was no possibility for a visa, according to the French embassy. So we fought (which means harassed all governmental offices, the consulate and the embassy every possible day using lawyer’s language). And we got it, finally! Long short story : we got married at the town hall with a 24h prior notice, we spend a year in Marseille, lived the Artsakh war from distance, feeling powerless, but even more determined to go to Armenia when the borders would reopened.
And everything reopened. We were ready, after all these hopes, postponed wedding parties, new jobs and resignations, our lives in a few luggages. But there is always a gap, especially when you take a decision without a precise date, between a choice and its effective consequences. We had our plane tickets, but no plan for my part. How will I have a life of my own with only my husband’s contact? How will I meet professionals in my field, knowing that I have no network in the law department in Armenia? Happily, one of my friends told me about AVC, where I could find a volunteering opportunity in my area of expertise, be useful to Armenian society, and maybe, get involved in the judiciary fight that accompanies the Artsakh war.
AVC welcomed me in the best way, introduced me to NGOs, lawyers, in the Human Rights field mostly, gave me Armenian classes, and allowed me to meet friends. I volunteered with the great NGO Path of Law, who is in charge of all the actions in front of the European Human Right Court for the POWs. Basically, AVC put me on tracks to build a life on my own in a new country, helping me to take up the challenge with success. After a few months, I left AVC to start something new with my husband, with confidence and enthusiasm.
The Canopée, a new bar in Yerevan
During these first months in Armenia, my husband had the project of starting his own business. He found a place near the opera, he told me “much better than a flat darling, I rented A BAR”.
I can’t say I was absolutely thrilled by the news, but it was a new chapter in the adventure book I opened almost three years ago, and it was worth to be lived. We worked like hell, painting, fixing, raising funds, brainstorming, creating, building, waking up in the middle of the night:
- “Honey I have THE IDEA!”
- “About how I will strangle you?” and ordering an amazing quantity of napkins.With pride and anxiety, we opened the Canopée in February 2022, we learned a new job, organized a lot of events, and are now living a life I would never have even thought about, when I was working in a black suit in Paris. We met amazing people, we faced some problems from time to time, I had to adapt to the Armenian notion of punctuality, I tried to absorb a bit of this amazing ability to never panic, and I learnt slowly to become a really tiny part of this country which adopted me with such grace, kindness, and generosity.
Here is my Armenian story.
Written by 2021 participant, Sophie Marie Bardet from France