Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When You Live in a City Without Actually Living IN It

A couple of days ago a good Hayastanci (born and raised in Armenia) friend of mine, introducing me to a new acquaintance, commented that she considers me բնիկ Հայաստանցի (bnik Hayastanci, a native of Armenia), citing my experiences of living and working here to be just the same as any local. 

And though it was meant as a compliment (and trust me, I am flattered when those born and raised here consider me one of their own), I can't help but feel like an impostor. And I would hate to represent myself as someone that I am not.

The truth is, I cannot erase my privilege and difference from local Armenians. As a native English speaker, born and raised in the West, I am privileged no matter where I go in this world. I can travel freely to just about anywhere (well except for maybe Azerbaijan, though I have yet to try) — I only need to show my Canadian passport to get past just about any border with little hassle. But that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Believe it or not, in some cases, I even have more privileges than a local Armenian in her own country.  I have access to tools and resources she does not and I have contacts — powerful currency when trying to secure work and locate opportunities to get ahead.

So why do I feel at such a loss?

Coming back from a visit back home, I realized how little I make use of my privilege here; that is to say, how little I use it for not only my but others’ benefit.  For example, my ties in the Diaspora (though weak as I preferred to distance myself from the Armenian community in Toronto rather than embrace it) should’ve helped me secure financial and logistical support to help my friend Syu, whose mother in Armenia has been diagnosed with breast cancer and prescribed the atrociously expensive drug treatment Herceptin. Not to say that I didn’t reach out to my family and friends in Toronto, but I feel like I should’ve been able to do more than I actually did (and continue to do as Syu’s mom is still undergoing treatment). 

I have realized that for as long as I have lived and worked in Armenia, I have opted to “blend in,” assimilate if you will, rather than acknowledge the fact that I am different and this is an unavoidable fact.

It’s true, my mother was born in Yerevan, and yes, I speak the local dialect with a sprinkle of Russian words that I learned in childhood, which makes me at least more “assimilated” than other Diasporan Armenians and repats. But it doesn’t erase my privilege — nor the fact that I have lived here without feeling like I fully LIVE HERE, despite what my friend says.

And I’m not the only one. So many of my expat and repat brothers and sisters live here without actually living here, without being a part of Armenian society. We have the privilege of being able to surround ourselves in a bubble of expat and repat friends, go to restaurants and gather in places that the average Hayastanci couldn't afford to go to in a million years. 

I myself am not part of this circle and actually feel more distant from most repats and expats than my close-knit circle of Hayastanci friends, but this doesn’t exclude the fact that, whether I like it or not, I am part of this group.

And lately I’ve been feeling that I should do something about that. As cliched as it may sound, use my privilege for good instead of running away from it. What do you think?


  1. Can you be more specific about the privileges that you might have as an expat/repat? Also, if someones is deciding to move to Yerevan, they can count on an actual expat and repat group?

  2. Hi Anonymous, apologies for not responding right away. In terms of privileges, I mentioned one: contacts. Because we have lived abroad, we have contacts abroad and that is valuable currency. And being a native English speaker (and here, I'm referring to English-speaking expats and repats, though of course there are others) is a ticket to jobs not as readily awarded to locals. One only has to look around to see that a lot of the folks who are doing well in Armenia — even thriving, I'd say — are those not born and raised here. And so this begs the question: why?

    As for counting on an expat or repeat group, yes, of course you can count on it and probably not just one group, but many groups. I believe that a Westerner can go just about anywhere in the world and find expat/repat groups and people like him — just another one of the privileges we get to have in an unjust world.

  3. Adrineh, thriving in Yerevan? To be honest with you that's the last word I would have expected to hear an expat/repat described in Armenia. I've heard so many horror stories about people moving to Yerevan and being ravaged by locals to pay fabricated taxes, bribes or even close shop because of monopoly. I know that opening a business and being hired to work for a company are day and night, I just never knew that Armenia would have jobs waiting for expat/repats.

    I would love to know about some of the job opportunities that are available for English speaking expats and repats. I might be making a move to Yerevan soon, and I would love to use my privileges to start off on the right foot.

  4. Yes, thriving ;) Send me a DM on Twitter with your email address and/or phone number when you're in Yerevan. We can talk more then.

  5. ARyan-Kavkasian HayastanciSeptember 29, 2011 at 12:20 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. The following comment was originally posted on Sept. 28, 2011. I, Adrineh, the owner of this blog, have since deleted the original comment and have decided to repost it albeit with some minor edits (for example, names have been removed for privacy reasons).


    FROM: ARyan-Kavkasian HAYASTANCI 

    RE: Does this mean you’ll be coming back to live in Armenia?




I cant believe you of all observers’ blog readers would ask me such a question.

    nax, I know all about you and after reading your last blog I am VERY offended and I when I get to Hayastan, I am going FORCEFULLY remove you and all other gor-gors from Hayastan…guaranteed !!!!!!

    not only do you claim to be Hayastanci (which I have very difficulty believing) but really you are a GAY gor-gor living in my homeland, pretending to be real ARmenian, and calling for more GAY PRIDE parades in Yerevan????? truly are you a sick/twisted whatever it is you are. I dont care about you being gay, I am tolerant of gays. they are all around me in LA 24/7, there’s no escaping gays anywhere anyone goes to and/or lives. also, most gays are nicer to me than hetero-ass*****. however, you calling for more gay pride parades like this one….


    truly you are a threat to the national security, sanctity, and morality of my homeland and culture. as a very hetero-sexual myself, naturally not only do I find the sexual act of 2 same of sexes getting it on very disgusting, but as a real true genuine bonafide Hayaser I find that you claiming to be REAL HAY and demanding more flamboyance and pixie-dust lifestyle/culture to be very disturbing to me


so not only are you a gor-gor who is "thriving", prospering, and living much better than that of any local born/raised in my Hayastan, but you are a gay who is calling for more gay lifestyle and pride parades in my homeland. I wish my varapet GAREGIN NIZHDEH was still alive today, guaranteed you would not be living in my homeland. He would never allow gor-gors like you go come to Hayastan, live a better life than that of any local poor-commoner and on top of all of it bring GAY lifestyle/culture to streets of my Yerevan

    while you are getting your GAY pride on, having your bank acct. replenished by your rich mommies & daddies (or “contacts” as you put in your blog), and sitting at the cafes in kentron watching all the rich good looking locals walk by, my poor non-elitar brothers&sisters are struggling to try to put bread on their tables for their families. perfect example: […] he works for his money, he does what it takes to try to raise a family and keep Hayastan/Hayutyan alive. while rich careless not having a worry in the world gor-gors like you pretending to be ARmenian in my ARmenia get to sit & relax and not have to actually “work” for your luxury thriving living. you’re just another […] who moved to my homeland so you can act and pretend as though you are a real ARmenian while sitting at the cafes doing nothing basically on PERMANENT vacation and then have the balls to blog about exactly what you wrote in your last blog…HOW DARE YOU !!!!!!! as far as I am concerned you not a “bnik Hayastanci” anything u veeeeeeeeeerj !!!!!!

  7. First of all, I never pretended to be someone I'm not. Second of all, I'm not a "gor-gor," which I understand is a derogative term anyway, but then again nor am I a bnik Hayastanci. In fact, you know nothing about me except what you've read on my blog or what I've written in comments on Observer's blog. So please don't make assumptions.

    You talk big, but when push comes to shove, it is I and Ditord and others like us — whether they be bnik Hayastansi, expats or repats — who live here, in this Homeland you speak so highly of. If you praise Armenia so much, why don't you come and live here? I'm sure there are reasons why you can't come here, but please don't slam those of us who do live here and try to earn a living.

    For your information, my bank account is not "replenished by [my] rich mommies & daddies" and how I live in Hayastan is the same as everyone else — I have a job where I get paid on a monthly basis and cover my own expenses (utility bills, etc). And it's not easy. 

    But I recognize that I have privilege. I have privilege of mobility (I can leave the country whenever I want and go just about anywhere without a visa) and the privilege of being an English speaker, a person who grew up in the West and who has a western education that's recognized in most places around the world. I recognize these things & I don't hide from them. I am just human, trying to figure how to use this privilege to do good, do more for others, to give back. I hope you can understand this. 

    I have decided to leave your comment & my response, but if this exchange continues further (that is, if your comments continue without substance and/or include profanities) I will have no choice but to delete them.

  8. wow, there is a lot of hate from "hayastanci" that is just so sad and i'm sorry you had to be at the end of that violence. i don't get why homophobes or rather people who are irrationaly afraid of gay people feel the need to pour so much energy into comments about how fucked up the gays are. i mean this person probably thinks that there are no "bnik" whatever the hell that means gay armenians living in armenia. or maybe he/she has some delusional belief that it's people like us who have brought it from the west like it's some kind of disease. well let me tell you "hayastanci" we are everywhere and we just might be in your own house and you go around spreading this hate. i feel sorry for you.


  9. Thanks, Maral, for your comment. ARyan-Kavkasian HAYASTANCI 
has actually left other homophobic, hateful comments in later posts but I have decided not to publish, especially in light of my recent disclaimer and the decision to moderate comments. And I agree: there are many LGBT "bnik" Hayastancis, many of whom I know. It's true: gay people are everywhere — including Armenia.

  10. He's going to go to Armenia and forcefully remove people from there?? HAHA! I don't think I've laughed so hard. Why doesn't this guy show his face like other bloggers do? Coward.

  11. This blog sounds interesting! Really Enjoyed reading all of this, great work!