BY HASMIK PILIPOSYAN
“Landing in Armenia in five minutes,” the pilot says. My heart almost skips a beat as my face turns the color of a bright red tomato, extremely nervous and excited that I am about to step foot on land last embraced more than ten years ago. Armenia: the land I have virtually held and caressed over and over in my mind. Land ancient and historically rich, fragile and broken, yet alive and changing, slowly. Land so breathtaking despite its horrific past and I finally get to feel and behold its spectacular beauty.
These were my thoughts before landing.
I walk in Zvartnots airport with absolute joy and notice the large “Welcome to Armenia” banner. My smile widens. I wait to be greeted by the airport staff, although I am left hanging for a few minutes, receiving nothing but cold stares that seem to shout, “Why are you here?” I am immediately overwhelmed and discouraged by the gloomy atmosphere and tell myself the only thing that will cure the bad impression and nostalgia is if I see my family. I do not feel welcome from all of the dirty looks and smirks from airport officials. I had brushed off many complaints about disapproving stares from civilians from past tourists because I believed there was a rational reason for their sullen and sunken faces, and there is.
Often, some say the first impression – even though this was my third time visiting after so long ago – is correct. One may think that simply waiting on a greeting when walking into an airport is not enough to bring a mood down or express a country’s well being, but the sorrow and restlessness in their eyes was proof. I knew what they were thinking and feeling and I could not blame them. Still, I was completely terrified. I came in with high expectations and believed when I made contact with a fellow Armenian, I would feel a sense of unity and warmth. I felt neither. I had grown so close to the homeland as a diasporan Armenian with songs, pictures, history,and our culture and traditions – I had never felt so far away. I went to sleep that night with a heavy heart that bled for the future of our nation.
Despite the sudden anxiety, I gained more inspiration. I woke up the very next morning to the most magnificent view of Mount Ararat from Masis village in the Artashat province, a village about four kilometers away from the Armenian-Turkish border where my maternal and paternal family resides. The two snowy peaks spoke to me. They cried out for peace and unity, something that in reality does not exist in Armenia, something our nation needs to keep from falling apart. Not to mention political corruption, it is clear that the Armenian government does not provide- or does not feel the need to provide- its people, especially its youth the encouragement and resources needed to bring about change as future leaders of our nation. Competition and envy is common among a majority of the Armenian people; there simply is no solidarity and we, as a nation must work to obtain it.
While easier said than done and often heard, we can take a different approach, a youthful advance. For instance, youth in Armenia and the diaspora can become more involved in politics and join political parties, work towards national projects that will both greatly benefit Armenia and provide a sense of togetherness, and get our voices heard with fresh new ideas that will bring hope, happiness, and a reason to stay in our homeland. For now, we are merely left with the idea of a unified homeland historically and domestically.
Carefully observing and speaking with some of the youth in villages and cities, I’ve come to understand that many of them yearn for a way out due to poor living conditions, not having enough money to sustain themselves and their families and being unable to continue on with their education. It is heartbreaking seeing ten year old children sell corn on the highways to make a few bucks or the terrible sewage system where people are likely to develop all kinds of diseases or the competition among next door neighbors over who is more capable of surviving for the week with enough food and money or the old and broken buildings almost everywhere- the list is quite long. In the diaspora, we picture a much different Armenia, a paradise we wish to return to, one where we are united with Western Armenia, Artsakh and Javakhk and one where there is true happiness despite little resources and opportunities. But, that is only because we do not live here. Armenians in Armenia show very little patriotism but that is because of injustice and poor living conditions. Many work their tails off but still can’t support themselves and their families making less than $200 a month. They do not live the life of a tourist; they have a reason to be angry.
The point here is not to get into too many details but understand that our homeland needs assistance individually and collectively. And the only way to assist our nation is through full-on youth involvement in academia, politics, innovative advancement, and social interaction. Youthful thinking and engagement will work to reshape our nation. In reference to Garegin Njdeh, “If you wish to determine the future of a nation, take a look at its youth”. The bright ideas, strong will and hard work of the Armenian youth, both diasporan and native, is the best way for long-term success for our people and nation.