By Minas Kojayan
“You will gain a real insight into what life in Armenia is really like; not just an amazing place to spend a summer holiday, but a deeper connection to your roots, a true sense of identity and belonging.” (Arpi)
A few notes: I have always felt very happy and fortunate that my parents gave birth to my brother Assadour (Beirut, 1950). He has never disappointed me, even when he decided to not continue his high school education at the Melkonian Eduacational Institute (Cyprus) because he wanted to join my family’s “work force” to provide us with financial relief. When the time came, he married his wife Annie. They were bestowed with three beautiful girls during the Lebanese civil war, but convinced they had no future in Lebanon, they moved to London. He and his wife took on an active role in the cultural and educational life of the London Armenian community. They devoted themselves wholeheartedly to helping the Saturday school. A while later my three nieces Maral, Hasmig, and Arpi became members of the Armenian dance group Aghtamar. The girls were soon noticed by British cultural circles and they were invited to dance for H.M. Queen Elizabeth II of England. Maral and Arpi attended dance schools and became professionals.
They always spoke Armenian with their parents and the elder members of their extended family. A couple of years ago Arpi married Armen whose family had also moved to London from Armenia’s Yeghegnatsor region. The young couple continued to dance until Arpi decided to move to Armenia. The last time I met Arpi and Armen in Yerevan in 2017 and I felt myself a proud uncle when I heard that they have decided to make Armenia their second home.
Here is my interview with them. I hope they will serve as a good example for the youth of the Diaspora.
Q.: Introduce yourselves – your education, dance group; who was your teacher/teachers in the Armenian dance group back in London?
Arpi: I began ballet classes at a local ballet school at the “later than normal” age of 12. Soon after, the Akhtamar Armenian Performance group was established and I became a member of the group. Our teachers, Arsen Zakaryan and Karine Avetisyan, were former principals of the State Dance Ensemble of Armenia (Hayastani Pari Petakan Ensemble) and I loved every minute of every class. A spark had been lit, and I found myself dreaming about one day joining the State Dance Ensemble myself.
I graduated with a BA (Hons.) degree in Ballet Education from the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) in London in 2009. Soon after I began working at the RAD as a ballet teacher, which I thoroughly enjoyed, however, my dream felt like it may never materialize, or so I thought!
Armen: I studied to be a photographer; however I soon found my passion as a property manager. Whilst photography remains an enjoyable past time, I continued to build on my property acquisition business and on my personal property portfolio. I too was a member of the Akhtamar dance group in London for a short period of time, although I didn’t wish to pursue this further, being part of the community through dance, was an enjoyable and important experience.
Q.: What brought you to the Republic of Armenia?
Arpi: I was at a stage where I had a good 7 years of teaching experience at a prestigious Dance school, and I realized that if ever I wanted to dance professionally, now was the time to do it. Armen and I discussed the idea of moving to Armenia for two years as an opportunity for me, and a life experience for us. We decided to take the decision, to most people’s surprise, to relocate to Yerevan. A decision which neither of us have regretted for a single moment, and almost three years later we are still here, with no plans of permanently returning back to the U.K.
Armen: It was actually mainly due to Arpi wanting to perform. That was the initial reason to make the move. However, it also made sense for us, to take up this little adventure and start a new chapter of our lives in Armenia.
Q.: What brought Armen to Armenia? What does he currently do in Yerevan/Yeghegnadzor?
Armen: I’m a London property investor, personally adding to my portfolio, however also searching for, acquiring and managing properties for international clients. Whilst still continuing with my London based business I have started property development in Yerevan. I have just completed a 12-unit apartment block which is now currently being let to tenants. Due to the success of this project, I am looking to repeat this process in the near future.
Q.: How and why did you decide to have another home in the Homeland besides London?
Arpi: I think for diaspora Armenians there is often an issue with a sense of belonging. However well you integrate, however much you feel at home, the idea of Armenia as the motherland often creates a sense of yearning. It’s this romantic notion of Armenia, coupled with the dream to be part of Pari Petakan that brought me here. Yes, there are times when in reality you are made to feel like a foreigner in Armenia too, however these are few are far between, and the warmth and generosity you experience is so strong that it diminishes the few negative experiences you may encounter along the way.
Armen: Where else would home really be if it wasn’t for Armenia? The idea to live here makes perfect sense for us, however the thought may never have crossed our minds. I’m glad it did, and we can call Armenia our home.
Q:. Are you happy with your lives in Armenia? Why?
We are very happy with our lives in Armenia. The reason for this has two parts. The first level is due to the ability to achieve our goals, to spend our days enjoying what we do. The second level has a deeper meaning, we feel that by living in Armenia we are directly connected to our roots. Armenia really is a beautiful and majestic land, and its nature has a powerful energy. By being here we are part of the possibility to make positive change so that the country that is Armenia today reflects the same beauty, power and majesty that is so engrained in our culture and history.
Q.: What advice would you like to give Diasporan youth?
Arpi: We believe that whilst everyone might not want to, or be able to live in Armenia permanently, we strongly recommend that everyone find a short chapter in their lives to spend in Armenia. Whatever skills you may bring to help Armenia, Armenia will give you back something even greater. You will gain a real insight into what life in Armenia is really like; not just an amazing place to spend a summer holiday, but a deeper connection to your roots, a true sense of identity and belonging.