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REPATRIATION AND RETHINKING DIASPORA

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Using diaspora’s potential is one of the key tools for Armenia to become a strong state with a successful society. That’s integration of repatriates is so important. To illustrate this truth Regional Post presents 11 repatriates who recently moved to Armenia and changed its cultural and business surface.

Text  / Photo : RepatArmenia.org

 


Aram Pakchanian

“We chose to educate a new generation”
Moved From Moscow, Russia, in 2014

Born in Yerevan Armenia, Aram Pakhchanian originally left in 1985 to study physics at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. He always dreamed of becoming a physicist, but as graduation approached his interests had shifted to computers due to the rapid growth in the field of information technology. It was also in Moscow where he met his future wife through mutual friend in college. “Despite being in Moscow I was inclined to come back to Armenia,” Aram recalls and thus following graduation he came back to Armenia in 1991 during the decline of the USSR. Despite the harsh environment of a post-Soviet Armenia the couple was married and soon had their first child. In 1992 they moved to Moscow, where Aram’s friend David Yang was running a small software company which would later become a global IT giant, ABBYY.
“Even though I had a job in Moscow I always felt Armenia as an important part of my life, but back then the idea of returning was like a nice dream. I was considering ways to establish a business in Armenia and gradually move over. However I had invested a lot of time and energy into ABBYY and the company was doing so well that there was little reason for me to look for other opportunities even if it was somehow related to my motherland. Then circumstances changed”, Aram remembers. One day, when he was sitting in his flat in Moscow not even thinking about introducing any sharp changes in his life, Aram received an email which his wife sent out informing her friends and acquaintances that she was planning to be involved in a project in Armenia and so she would be spending more time in Yerevan. “I replied asking her to find something for me in Armenia as well, as I would greatly miss her if we were going to be apart for so long.”
As it’s known to happen Aram’s words materialized and within ten minutes he received a call from Yerevan offering him a job in Armenia. From emails to phone calls to reality Aram is now the Director of Ayb School and still represents ABBYY as the vice president.
“The whole idea of a new school was born much earlier during a meeting of friends who decided to invest in Armenian education. “There were eight of us. We all felt indebted to our motherland and we thought it was high time to take action. Initially our intention was to make a few repairs to our former high school (Physical-Mathematical School after A. Shahinyan) and gradually we discovered that there was much more to be done.  We believe education is something which serves society as a whole. Therefore we chose to educate a new generation, invest in the future for the sake of the future”.

 


Raffi Niziblian

“This is not America, not Europe”
Moved From Montreal, Canada in 2003

As the Founding Director of Deem Communications, Raffi has built a large network in the Armenian market. By accomplishing several major marketing jobs, he has gained a wide range of experience in PR, Event Management and Advertising. It was quite a challenge for him to repatriate, but he took the risk. He remembers: “When I moved to Armenia, the country was in a different place. The only inkling of an IT sector was the soviet remnant of Armentel. I chose to live here to have my input in the building of the country. I am happy to say that I had the opportunity to be the first to head the commercial department of the now leading mobile operator, VivaCell-MTS. In that position, I was able to somehow revolutionize the customer service and communications of the telecom industry in Armenia. I hired 180 sales, customer relations, communications and marketing staff. Trained them and prepared a new platform of service provision in Armenia. My Canadian experience and background came in very handy.”
Raffi is sure, that to succeed in Armenia you have to understand its cultural nuances and your baggage from the country you moved in. “Doing business anywhere is a risk. Once you have that out of the way, you can now start thinking about how business is done here versus there”, he says. “Every country has its own cultural nuances. When I arrived here, I had certain expectations of how things should be and what I can do to make it so. However, I studied the challenges and tried to implement the most I could from my Canadian baggage and used many of the local benefits of how to best use your network, how to negotiate and so on. Bottom line, this is not Canada, it is not America, not Europe and not China. This is a post-soviet republic closely tied to Russia with many traditional values and customs. The opportunities are awaiting those who will know how to make best use of them”.

 


Armineh Panossian-Ghazarian

“Mainly because we love our motherland”
Moved from Beirut, Lebanon, in 2015

Born in Syrian Aleppo, Armineh moved to Lebanon with her family when she was 7. There, in Beirut, she studied English language and literature. A certified and experienced TEFL instructor, an author of English course books, activity books, and story books, she began thinking about repatriation few years ago. It took Armineh and her husband two years to come to that decision. “Mainly because we love our motherland and I wanted to start my own educational center here rather than in Lebanon”, she says and adds: “Another reason is our son to whom we wanted to provide safe childhood and the best environment”.
And so it happened: Armineh and her son moved to Yerevan in August of 2015, a year later her husband joined them. In 2017 Armineh established here her own educational center, “A+I Imbibe Skills”, where they provide interactive English language courses, Character development training, managerial courses, CV writing and interview skills, TEFL Certificate, and Study abroad programs.”
Talking about challenges in the historical motherland, Armineh says: “The biggest challenge is being able to adapt to the conditions here: harsh winter, inconvenient public transportation, and old residential buildings”. But it is still a special place for her and her family: “Armenia is special for me because it inspires me with its beautiful nature, I can put into practice my educational beliefs, and most importantly I’m putting my long years of experience in education in service of my people. I am also thankful to my new friends in Armenia who gave me the opportunity to enter the Armenian media. I am especially appreciative to Repat Armenia organization members for their constant support and assistance. Let Walt Disney’s powerful quote inspire not only repatriate Armenians but also everyone “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them”.

 


Aren Apikyan

“I was ready to face the difficulties and obstacles”
Moved From Moscow, Russia in 2009

After living in Russia for 16 years, Aren Apikyan decided to return to his Motherland. He has lived with his family in Armenia for five years already. Aren explains that he thought about moving to Armenia for quite a long time, but now he knows that it was the right decision.
”I was born in Yerevan and I was 15 when my family moved to Russia in 1992. My father was offered a job in the Embassy of Armenia.” In Russia, Aren received his higher education, graduating from Moscow Academy of Economics and Rights majoring in jurisprudence, and Moscow State Institute of Foreign Affairs majoring in management. Aren met his future wife Marianna in Moscow. Their two sons, Alexander and Artyom, were born there.
“I always thought that one day I would return to Armenia. Maybe it was my destiny that, due to the financial crisis of 2008, hard times began in my sphere of work. At the time, an interesting job was offered to me in one of the banks in Armenia. And I realized that this was a good reason to return to the Motherland. It was a hard and serious decision. My parents were against it and my wife had doubts at first too, but we decided to give it a try. And now we’re here.”
Aren says that he didn’t have any integration problems. While living in Russia he periodically visited the Motherland. “I tried to visit Armenia at least once a year. I had some idea of what was going on in the country and how people lived here. I never put on ‘pink glasses’ and I didn’t think (assume) that everything would be so good after we moved to Armenia. I had no illusion. That’s why nothing surprised me. I was ready to face the difficulties and obstacles.”
Aren has decided to live in Armenia, but he doesn’t preclude that one day he may leave his Motherland again for some time. As for the future of his kids, they will decide for themselves where they want to live.  “I don’t want my children to receive a higher education in Armenia. May the minister of education in Armenia forgive me, but higher education institutions in Armenia are at the lowest level.”
Aren Apikyan has set several tasks for himself: “Speaking of the main goal of my life, I would like to put my children on their own feet and give them a good education. As for me, I would like to work on projects that will contribute to the development of our country. We have many projects like this. Enough to last my whole life.”

 


Ruben Malayan

“Never stop working and aim as high as possible”
Moved from Tel-Aviv, Israel in 2004

Ruben left Armenia with his family in 1990’s. At that time he already knew he was going into arts: in Yerevan Malayan studied in State Art College after P. Terlemezian and Academy Of Fine Arts. In Tel-Aviv he began his career as a graphic designer in which he got specialized in different disciplines – visual identity, typography, illustration and calligraphy. Over the years he has collaborated on a number of high profile international commercials, branding development for various TV stations, concept art and shot design for commercials and feature films.
In 2010 Malayan decided to return to Armenia and share his skills and experience with local professionals and students. Triada Studio, TUMO center for the creative technologies, Maeutica creative agency: these are some leading companies, Malayan has cooperated with after returning to Armenia.
Here he devoted his time and passion to rebirth of Armenian calligraphy. Today Malayan is considered to be the best professional in his field. “Just 5 years ago there was practically nothing done with this art, so I am proud to say the work I did pays off as more and more people become interested in Armenian calligraphy”, Malayan says, “It all began when I received a letter from New York based publishers asking if I was interested to contribute to the planned “World Encyclopedia of Calligraphy”. I have done some calligraphy before, as you know I have been working in graphic design for over 20 years and letters were always important part of visual communication, but I never really spent considerable time drawing letters by hand. So it was sort of a challenge which I happily accepted. I was living in Israel then and the first thing I did was to try to amass as much material as possible. Unfortunately there was nothing about it online, but I knew there is information but it’s as always scattered upon many libraries. So I went to Jerusalem, then Yerevan, asked friends in academia and started my research.” Now Ruben is working on the book “The Art of Armenian Calligraphy” which focuses on the evolution of the calligraphic tradition and placing it on a stage upon which it can be studied as an independent art form. It’s designed to serve as a source of reference and inspiration to anyone interested in this subject and to illuminate its future by offering inspiring examples of contemporary calligraphic work.
When talking about his personal professional motto, Ruben says: “Never stop working and aim as high as possible.”

 


Tamar Najarian

“I have come home to stay”
Moved From Toronto, Canada in 2013

Tamar was born in Canada. She got a background in psychology and teaching, a penchant for creative writing, and a love of business and marketing. In 2013 she arrived in Yerevan.
“It amuses me to walk down Northern Avenue and see funky Jamaican wearing hippies being pelted with apple slices because of their god-awful songs as much as discovering that famous churches still bear signs of being temples of centuries past. It hurts my heart to see old buildings abandoned while rather monstrous new ones built at exorbitant prices. It makes me smile to see the marshutka culture and laugh when I see the children playing so carelessly on the streets. I love being confused for a Syrian Armenian, with the ability to camouflage where needed. Bickering with taxi drivers is a favorite past-time and I so enjoy berating bus drivers for smoking and subjecting the local population to such an abomination”.
Tamar, who now works as Integration Manager at Repat Armenia Foundation, realizes it can’t be easy to live in Armenia: “I won’t say there are no problems. I won’t say there are jobs galore. And then I think of Canada. I spent forever looking for a low-paying job to tide me over, under bosses who hated my kind. One hated females, the other only liked Chinese culture (though he was Scottish) and no one else was worth his time or praise. I spent hours on foot, serving the public, with minimal appreciation, just to manage to pay for my food and gas in my car. Here, I created my own work. I had no knowledge of writing health articles, but I do have a psychology degree, which meant I know health-based research. I have little experience teaching ESL and yet I teach English to students who enjoy my lessons. I work 3 jobs in a country where finding a single job seems a chore. And oh do I have much to say on that, later on. For those who work, there is always something to do. The laziness in this country is absurd!
So yes, to all those who said I wouldn’t last the summer, I have proved you wrong. Now to knock down the negative notions that I would not last the winter! There may be over 250 people leaving a day, but I am most definitely not one of them. I have come home to stay”.

 


Ara and Anahit Markosian

“One should never have to sacrifice health for beauty”
Moved from Los Angeles, USA

Anait and Ara Markosians’ Nairian Cosmetics is a bright example of a successful business done after repatriation. The idea for Nairian came to Anahit and Ara a physicist and mathematician respectively, during a family road trip through the mountains of Armenia few years ago.
Riding along in a clunky Lada, the couple was struck by the potential of Armenia’s incredible, and heretofore untapped flora. As they zipped by fields of blossoming white yarrow and golden helichrysum, the Markosians tossed about ideas of essential oil distillation and sustainable farming in Armenia – first jokingly, then with a greater degree of seriousness.
Once the Markosians were back in their California home, they continued to ponder the possibilities. After much consideration, Ara and Anahit decided to take a leap of faith and give up their comfortable Silicon Valley jobs for a lifetime venture. They moved across the globe, assembled a team of researchers and horticulturists, and set to work creating Nairian: the very first all-natural cosmetics company based in Armenia.
Ara had also always appreciated the benefits of all-natural goods, but was more intrigued by the impact which a project like Nairian could make for Armenia’s rural communities, as well as research in certain branches of natural science that were new to Armenia. For years Ara had brought his startups to Yerevan, supporting the country’s emerging tech industry. Nairian, therefore, would be his next innovative way of giving back to the home that he left during the early nineties.
In the beginning the going was… rough; the first Nairian lab was just two small rooms in a semi-abandoned Soviet era factory, and it took years to find the perfect land for Nairian’s farm. Even during those early days, however, both Ara and Anahit felt that this new endeavor was to be a riveting adventure and poignant homecoming, all in one. Today, complete with a factory, farm and two showrooms in the heart of Yerevan, this seedling endeavor has flourished beyond all expectations.
Nairian was founded on the firm belief that one should never have to sacrifice health for beauty. This conviction is at the core of everything we do, and it drives us every day as we work to bring you premium natural cosmetics, made with your beauty in mind and health at heart.

 


Kazar Akopyan

“I’m happy here”
Moved From Moscow, Russia in 2014

Kazar was born in Yerevan. In 1994 his family left the country – first, for several years they lived in Ukraine, but afterwards moved to Moscow, where they settled down. There, Kazar continued my studies at school, went to college and received a master’s degree diploma in Economics and Management.
He was involved in sports and dancing since childhood. In Ukraine, Kazar took boxing classes, then became a national champion among juniors and simultaneously took Latin American dance classes. “I continued my trainings in Moscow. Once attended a conference after I graduated from college. My love for sports and dancing eventually brought me into fitness industry. I liked this path a lot, and I understood that I could realize my potential in this area.” After that, he says he worked as a Russian and international conventions presenter for “Fitness Academy”, was appointed as a manager of a dance studio a year and a half later, and the manager of an elite fitness club “Golden Keys” within the next year. Meanwhile he also developed interest in the history of Armenia, the history of his family and the Armenian diaspora. The desire to make his own contribution was born. At first he came up with idea to create a project called «Armenian People» for uniting people from all over the Armenian diaspora around the world. Then few other events took place and finally a visit to Armenia in 2013 for both personal and business reasons. At that time Kazar was already familiar with the youth movement called «Street Workout» and met the movement’s leader, Artur Harutyunyan, in Yerevan. This meeting served as an impetus to the creation of a public organization called Street Workout Armenia. “I suggested Arthur and Armine Abrahamyan, who was responsible for the development of the Gyurmi Sports City project, develop the community as a social organization and so we started working together.” While they had initially begun working remotely, preparations for the «Mix Battle Fest» festival brought to light quite a range of organizational issues that forced Kazar to fly to Armenia. “After visiting Repat Armenia Foundation’s ‘Imagine Armenia’ forum in Moscow, my conception about modern Armenia was changed in certain ways. I very much liked their attitude towards the Motherland and their future vision of Armenia. I realized I could be helpful.”
In promoting the idea of organizing Street Workout Armenia, the group has been supported by Gore Nakhapetyan and accepted into the “Yerevan 2.0” incubation project, acting on the basis of Yerevan Productions, which aims to support projects that can change the Armenian society for better, something he is thankful for.
Naturally, he had some doubts and anxiety about repatriation back to Armenia. “I went through a lot of thought process whether moving was the right decision to make, I was aware there would be many problems to overcome. The thought about returning matured not only in my mind but also in my mother’s and sister’s minds. I must say that thanks to my mother, I have changed my views and attitude towards the issue of repatriation.” Kazar never regretted to repatriate: “Living and working in Armenia is my pleasure; I’m happy here”

 


Larisa Ryan

“It’s not a sacrifice”
Moved From Moscow, Russia in 2013

Larisa was born in Yerevan to an Armenian mother and an Irish-American father. When she was three months old, her family moved to California. But only a few years later her father’s work took the family to Russia – first to the Far East and then to Moscow. That is where Larisa spent the next ten years of her life.
“We lived in Moscow, but every summer we would return to Yerevan. My grandfather, the writer Leonid Hurunts, had passed away by then. But my grandmother was still teaching at the State Linguistic University named after Bryusov. For me she represented all that was good about Yerevan. She was beautiful, sophisticated, generous, and fiercely intelligent”, Larisa remembers.
When Larisa graduated from high school she applied to universities in the United States. She decided to attend St. Norbert College, a liberal arts college in De Pere, Wisconsin and majored in International Business, French, and Graphic Design. Larisa was set on a career in advertising. And yet her life was guiding me toward a different path.
“My best friend from college, who graduated a year before I did, told me about a program called Teach for America. Its goal was to recruit young and passionate college graduates and to place them for two years into the most disadvantaged schools in the country. That is how I ended up in Phoenix, Arizona. I became a special education teacher for children with moderate to severe disabilities. It was my goal, as it was Teach for America’s mission, to give hope to these children.
After my two-year commitment with Teach for America, I moved to Moscow to purse a marketing position. I worked at a large agricultural company, and I was grateful to have the job. It was exactly the kind of job I had spent all of college working for. But I could not help but feel unfulfilled. I knew I had to do something. I knew, finally, that it was time to go home”.
In January of 2013 Larisa moved to Armenia. As her grandmother was passed away, her relationship to homeland became more complicated than it had ever been. “I was still enchanted with the country’s beauty and mystery, but somehow I also knew that Armenia was in pain. We tried to mask the pain, of course. We have become very good at cosmetic surgery. But beneath the surface, there is so much poverty, disappointment, and hopelessness”.
Larisa have long believed that change – true, meaningful change – begins in schools. That is why, together with her co-founder, she decided to create Teach For Armenia. “The idea is clear: to give all children, regardless of their socio-economic background, an opportunity to attain an excellent education. The strategy is simple: to recruit the best and the brightest from Armenia and its diaspora, and to commit these young transformational teachers to two years in the service of children in underprivileged schools. In partnership with the Ministry of Education, we hope to bring this vision to life”.
Talking about repatriation, Larisa says she doesn’t view it as a sacrifice. “My return to Armenia was an opportunity for me to pursue my dreams in the country I’ve always loved. I am lucky to be home”.

 


Narek Aslikyan

“One the most right things I’ve done in my life”
Moved from St. Petersburg, Russia in 2016

Narek was born in 1991. In 2006 he graduated from secondary school and enrolled at Moscow State University after M.V. Lomonosov, Faculty of Economics, Department of Management (Human Resources speciality). “Simultaneously to the studying I actively took part in the Armenian Student Association’s activity, organized a lot of events and wrote a lot of articles brochures about Artsakh’s issues”, remembers Narek. Since then almost all my hobbies are connected with Armenia and Armenian political activity. Since 2008 I’ve been actively learning Armenian revolutionary movement's history. Besides this he was always interested in art-house films, management theory and Armenian music, especially Arthur Meschyan.
And then one day Narek decided to move to Armenia. “The main reason I moved was a lack of reasons to stay in Russia, while Armenia is special for people, nature, business environment and opportunities. And I had a lot of ideas for realization here”, he says. One year later he was remembering: “This impulsive decision was one the most right things I’ve done in my life”. As it often happens, lots of friends of Narek thought this was a silly move. “Now, when they realize this was not a matter of surviving but developing, the begin to change their minds”, says Narek. Talking about developing, he adds: “For the educated professional living in Yerevan is much easier, than in a megapolis. There are lots of opportunities and not much contest.”
Narek, who co-founded in Yerevan an Armenian Code Academy, is also aware of the problems: “The biggest challenge for me is to find time for implementing everything I want to do. For other repatriates will be challenging to adapt to the mentality – people in Armenia are very process-oriented and quite “slow”. It’s the biggest competitive advantage or repatriates – do things faster and with better quality. But it's very hard to find the right employee if you're going to build some business here. But not only because the people are slack, but also there is a huge gap between the labor market and both local and global business needs”.
And finally Narek says that the most of all he wants to see in Armenia all of his friends who now work abroad: “Here we need people who can see the opportunities”.

 


Lucineh Kassarjian

“This land is my land
Moved from San-Francisco, USA in 2008

Being born in Armenia to a family of Repats to parents from France and Uruguay, Lucineh moved to the States when she was 20, and lived in San Francisco almost half of her life.
Throughout almost all of the duration of her life outside of Armenia Lucineh and her family have always kept very close ties with Armenia – be it with friends, the country or with projects. “When the children were born, we made every effort to bring them home every year, so that they would grow up having the closeness of the air and people and the familiarity of the culture”, Lucineh remembers. Raffi, her husband, their 2 children, Haig and Satineh, and she, moved to Armenia in 2008: “The repatriation has done a full circle in my family”, she says.
Now Lucineh works for Armenia Tree Project, a non-profit program based in Woburn and Yerevan, which conducts vital reforestation projects all throughout Armenia (more than 5,2 million trees planted already), offers sustainable development and poverty reduction efforts (ATP provides fruit trees all throughout the Republic of Armenia and Artsakh, etc.), and deliver much needed environmental education to 5,000+ kids annually – both in 2 Environmental Education Centers (in Margahovit and Karin villages) and throughout many schools in Armenia. Armenia Tree Project greened almost 1/3 of the whole Republic – in schools, hospitals, military centers, parks and elsewhere.
When asked what makes her stay and work in Armenia, Lucineh explains: “This land is my land. I walk on this soil with a Yerevantsi attitude. If we put the sentimentalism aside, this is a wonderful country with so much potential! We need to remember, that this is a modern, living, breathing country – with its issues, achievements, obstacles and victories – and make this a better place for us and our children. Every night we go to sleep happy and frustrated, angry and fulfilled, because this is a land of contrast. Every morning we wake up with a newly developed vigor – ready to tackle what the day has prepared for us”.
She is sure that there really is no huge sacrifice in moving to Armenia: “We are no more or less patriotic than anyone living in or outside of Armenia. It’s the impact that you have with your actions”. Lucine realizes that there’s a lot to do in Armenia to make it a better place. “This is a tabula rasa for an ambitious individual who wants to have her/his imprint in a nationbuilding effort. When your time is right, you will be here, but don’t think repatriation is a toughest decision – it has to be a process, from inside out. It’s a personal saga”.