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?