BY HEGHINAR MELKOM MELKONIAN
Address: Tumanian 34, Yerevan, Armenia. Territory: 140 square meters. Event: a play date. Host: Rouben – one year and four months old, nationality Armenian, citizenship American. Guests: Miro – one year and there months old, nationality Armenian, citizenship Armenian and Iranian. Arin – three years old, nationality Armenian, citizenship Armenian, and Maya – four years old and her brother Samvel – one year old, nationality half Armenian, half Italian, citizenship Canadian and Italian. The kids are playing in the living room, while their parents and grandparents are sitting in the TV room and chatting about their children and their experiences in Armenia.
“Rouben is naturally social. He loves playing with other kids and is not shy at all. Strangers can hug him and he won’t mind and if they offer candy, he won’t refuse it. While we were still living in America one of my greatest worries was this characteristic. In America you constantly have to tell your child not to trust people, not to talk to strangers. Whenever I took him to play in the park I would stand right beside him and hold him back whenever he wanted to approach strangers to play with them. Whenever I take him to the park in Yerevan, strangers approach and play with him, hug him and offer him candy; at cafes the waiters offer him juice and I simply don’t worry. He is safe here and he can grow up loving and trusting people”, says Teny.
Teny, Rouben’s mother and Garo, his father repatriated to Armenia just three months ago. “I want Rouben to grow up in Armenia. I want to have other children here and raise them here. I want my children to call my friends, auntie and stand up when an older person walks into the room. I want him to learn all this not only from me but also from his teachers, from the people who surround him and I believe this can be done with no great effort in Armenia. I don’t want to force him to do all these things and I am saying force because if we had stayed in America, one day he would have asked me ‘mummy how come none of my friends do these things and I have to do them?’”
While the children are playing and offering one another their toys their parents are sitting around a coffee table and discussing the difference, difficulties between, and benefits of, raising their children in Armenia and other countries. Christine Avakian, Teny’s mother says that when they moved to Armenia she noticed that her children were very shy, while the eyes of local children were sparkling, they were interested in almost everything, sociable and adaptable.
Yvette, Miro’s mother and Karen, his father came to study in Armenia in 1995-1994, respectively. After finishing their studies, it so happened that they found jobs and decided to stay in Armenia and later, they got married. Yvette gave birth to Miro in Armenia under the supervision of an Armenian doctor, whom she trusts and adores. “One of my very best friends introduced me to this doctor who works in Markarian Institute and I trusted her implicitly. During my pregnancy everything was going according to plan; I was healthy, my baby was healthy and my mother was supposed to come in December, in order to be present at the birth. When I was 29 weeks pregnant I visited my doctor, the necessary tests were done, I was told that everything was going great and then the next day the unexpected happened”, she recalls.
“I went into labor and was rushed to the hospital. I was in shock, there was no one there for us, my mother was supposed to come in two months, this was our first baby, Karen and I had no experience and there I was, about to give birth to a premature baby without anybody by my side to help and support me except my husband. I somehow sensed that my doctor realized the worry and panic I was going through and she began giving me hope, encouraging me; she was there by my side, giving me strength and hope all the way. Even after Miro’s birth I was not worried that he was born premature. I trusted my doctor’s judgment that there was no need to put him in an incubator and that by breastfeeding Miro would be as healthy as any other full-term infant in a very short period of time. While I was at the hospital, Miro’s weight and height were under constant supervision and in two days I was told that everything was going great and that indeed there was no need to put him in an incubator.”, recalls Yvette with her typical air of lightness and optimism. Miro is tall, he eats everything, he is energetic, he runs around and plays during the entire play date and of course Yvette has nothing to worry about.
Arin’s mother, Lusine’s case is different, because she is a local woman, but at the same time her case is equally unique, because she also has chosen to raise her child in Armenia. Unfortunately I don’t find time to talk to her separately, but during our general conversations I learn that she is a working mother of three. While many of her relatives and friends and in general her compatriots lost their faith in their fatherland and tried to seek happiness and a better life in other nations’ fatherlands, she chose to fight, struggle and seek happiness in her own country. If we have to construct why not construct here? If we have to search and find, why not search and find here? If we have to adapt to things, why not adapt here? If we have to work hard, why not work hard here?
While sitting with these amazing women and listening to their conversations I come to the realization that these women feel blessed to be living in Armenia and raising their children in Armenia. I turn around and ask Nona, Maya and Samvel’s grandmother her opinion, taking into consideration the fact that her grandchildren are being raised in Canada. She tells me that her daughter-in-law Laura is here on vacation for the first time and she tells me that she and her husband hope that Laura’s experiences in Armenia will encourage her to persuade their son to move with the family to Armenia one day; and I feel this urge to talk to Laura: an Italian woman currently living in Canada. I turn to her and simply ask, “How do you feel about Armenia?” and to my surprise she says, “I fell in love with it within half an hour after my arrival; it’s like Italy.”
During our conversation she tells me that she is thinking about moving to Armenia next year when her husband finishes his studies. I ask her, “What if your husband doesn’t like it here?” and she says, “He will. I know he will.” Being a make-up artist she expresses hope to find a job in Armenia and be able to raise her children in a land, “where there is history, where there is culture”. “I want my children to grow up both Armenian and Italian, to be in touch with both sides of their heritage. I want them to grow up in a country that is safe for children. I want to raise my children in a healthy environment and I’m thinking about having my third child in the future and even though I gave birth at home to both of my children back in Canada, I am not afraid of giving birth in Armenia; under the supervision of a good specialist it doesn’t matter if you give birth at home, in a hospital or in a completely different country. If so many women do it here, why can’t I? In other words I just need to find a job and improve my Armenian, which is very bad right now. I know that in Canada or even in Italy one day Maya and Samvel will have the opportunity to earn more money, have an “easier” live, but for us this life is not only about money. Maya, she’s changed since our a
rrival: she is very happy here and that’s what matters to me most”, says a very talkative Laura with a cute smile on her face.
I get up and go to the next room where the children are playing. I attentively follow their games and notice that despite his age Rouben can place several blocks on top of one another and balance them. Maybe an architect, I think to myself. I then notice that Miro shows interest in touching glass, decorative items and I think, maybe an interior designer. Then there’s Maya who plays with different toy musical instruments and I think, maybe a musician and Samvel, who seems to move faster than the speed of light, looks and smiles at me. Akh jana, I think to myself. And suddenly I am overwhelmed with the feelings of happiness and sadness. I think of the future of these children, I imagine them being masters of their professions one day and I am glad that their parents have chosen to raise their children here, in Armenia.
Even though, during the 3 hours I spent with these women, none of them mentioned the difficulties of raising children in Armenia, I am sure there are many. But judging by the magnitude of the life-altering decision these women have made not so much for them but for their children, I realize that for them the end result is worth the bumpy road ahead and they do not view the difficulties as obstacles, but merely as challenges. These women and their husbands have thought it over hard and are doing their best to provide their children with everything they need in order to raise their children healthy and happy and who knows, maybe one day they will be the new Richard Rogers, Albert Einstein, Charles Aznavour, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Van Gogh, etc., of Armenia, living in Armenia, working in Armenia and creating in Armenia. I hope these children, and others like them, will grow up to appreciate and fully comprehend the significance of their parents’ decisions and choose to continue to live here on our lands, create and work from our land, support our country and make the motherland stronger than ever from the inside, because they are our future and in some 20-30 years the future of this country will no longer be in our hands, but in theirs.