BY MARIA TITIZIAN
Developing complex models and postulating theories, writing academic papers, organizing high-level conferences and advancing policies to address some of the most pressing issues facing the Armenian nation is typically the method we employ. We discuss and analyze, argue incessantly, lose our composure in the melee of verbal and pseudo-intellectual traffic and usually end up nowhere.
One of the most crippling problems in contemporary Armenian life is the divide or disconnect between our two selves – the homeland and the Diaspora. We have yet to find the right formula that will help us to see the world and ourselves with a common vision and end game.
Sometimes the answers are so very simple. Case in point, the men from Moush.
I have had many incredible experiences in Armenia. A few nights ago, I was blessed to experience yet another. Friends visiting from abroad wanted to take a group of us out for their last night in Yerevan. They had one condition – the restaurant should have a band that played traditional Armenian instruments. You would think that this wouldn’t be a problem in the homeland but sometimes it is. Nonetheless, we discussed the list of possibilities and agreed to go to a restaurant called Noyan Tapan.
My girlfriend was commissioned with making the reservations. She called me early Saturday morning to say that the arrangements were made and we should all be at the restaurant at 7:30. That night, my husband and I picked up some of the guests and made our way down to the city. En route, we got a phone call to say that the plans had changed and we were to go to another restaurant, Ayas, instead. It’s Armenia, we don’t ask a lot of questions, we just change our route. However, before we got to Ayas, we received yet another call to say that there were no tables available at Ayas.
Imagine if you will the situation… three cars full of repatriates, plus a couple of tourists, trying to figure out where to go to listen to some traditional Armenian music live. So, as we were driving the streets of Yerevan, we were thinking about alternative locations. A few minutes later another call was received to say that Hin Yerevan had an available table for our group. There was a collective groan in the car as we protested but we didn’t have much of a choice. Our hosts wanted a place with traditional Armenian music, so off we went.
When we arrived we inquired as to why Noyan Tapan fell through. This is how the story goes – my friend calls Spyur, an information service, to get the number for the restaurant. The operator at Spyur gives her the number for Noyan Tun, not Noyan Tapan and when they arrive at Noyan Tapan, they realize it has closed down. My friend calls the number she’s gotten from Spyur, purportedly for Noyan Tapan, only to realize that she’s made reservations at Noyan Tun instead. Because Noyan Tun doesn’t have live music, the erroneously made reservations are cancelled.
So we arrived at Hin Yerevan, not looking forward to it because we had had some bad experiences there but we kept an open mind. We walked in, the place was full save for our table and the band was playing the right kind of music. So far, so good. We said things happen for a reason but we had no idea they really do.
The evening started out pleasant enough, the food was mediocre, the music was just fine, and the alcohol was flowing.
Right next to our table was a group of men, singing, drinking, toasting and making requests for songs. We kept hearing toasts to Moush, the ancient Armenian city which is now in present-day Turkey. They were all Mshetsis. My husband, who was at this point in high spirits, no pun intended, decided to walk over to their table and drink a toast to Moush and told the group of men that one day we would all return there. Well, this was the ice breaker. For the next several hours the two tables became one, literally and figuratively. Their table, Hayastantsis whose grandfathers were from Moush, and our table, repatriates who had been living in the homeland for more than a decade and some Diaspora tourists.
We sang together, danced together, made toasts together and in the end, some even cried together. It will remain one of the highlights of my life here in Armenia for so many reasons. These men who called themselves Mshetsis had never been to Moush. The ancestry of our table was a mixture from Kharpert, Aynteb, Musa Ler, Yozgat, Kessab and Garin, places in Western Armenia where our grandparents were from but which most of us hadn’t been to before either.
It didn’t matter and yet it did.
Those connections to our ghostly past, to the places on maps which no longer said Armenia, meant something to us. It meant that our lineage didn’t end or begin with 1915 when we were driven from those lands. It meant traditions and heritage and ties that could be traced back for centuries if not millennia. It meant that we were all connected to each other regardless of geography. It meant a fusion of Eastern and Western Armenia and Armenians. The lines of division between homeland and Diaspora blurred and we were just a group of Armenians singing, laughing and dancing together.
The evening spent with the men from Moush taught all of us there an important lesson – if you’re Armenian, it doesn’t matter where you’re born, what matters is what you do with that birthright and how you decide to live your life. It reinforced the power of shared memory and a rootedness to a particular place and most importantly, it underscored how powerful human connections can be in forging understanding, tolerance and comradery.
Luckily for us, the operator at Spyur inadvertently played an important role in that journey of discovery.