Last year, I decided to make the move to Armenia.
After finishing grad school, the many summers I had spent working here culminated in my decision to take this step. Although I had considered this option for quite some time, it still caught members of my community with surprise.
My move to Armenia incited all types of emotions and concerns about my motives. Some reminded me of the corruption that exists in Armenia and relayed personal stories of theft and lawlessness. Others were concerned that I was throwing away the best years of my life. I was met with many confused faces as they were simply puzzled with my decision. Some even thought of my move as escapism.
A dichotomy existed in each and every single person that I encountered. On one hand, they were not supportive of my move based on their primary or secondary sources of information. Conversely, they did not hesitate to give mean envious look of uneasy support.
I got on a plane five days after defending my thesis. Once I landed in Yerevan, I started working right away. Once again, the interrogations started in Armenia, this time by the locals inquiring as to what I was doing here. They spoke of the same things: the corruption, unemployment, lack of education, and lack of opportunity. All of them attested to the absence of hope. They deemed me a nice, smart guy and encouraged me to go back, start a family, and live my life. Yet again, I smiled and continued to move forward, as I had when the same warnings were issued to me in Los Angeles. Over the next few months, I started to feel like a guinea pig, constantly reporting my activities back to my community in LA, amid having to face the local interrogation of my trials and tribulations of living in Armenia.
So why did I come to Armenia? Essentially, I live in the city of Yerevan, a city with great architecture.
From the oval park that wraps around the city, to the different buildings that line the streets, from the Stalin-era tuff buildings, to the pre-fabricated structures constructed in the late Soviet era, to the parks that are constantly being fought over by activists and business ventures. The numerous statues and museums that litter the city center are constant motivations to excel.
The scale of Yerevan adds to its convenience. Being less than 2km across, the city center provides a very pedestrian-friendly atmosphere. These two kilometers are host to a multilayered experience of culture. Yerevan, even with its problems of traffic congestion, café littered parks, and unorganized sidewalks Yerevan still proves to be a great and walk-able city.
This is a place of constant cultural movements, hosting academic conferences, internationally renowned musicians, art exhibitions, filmmaking, and the flow of visitors. In a meter my meter comparison Yerevan offers a living experience that contests with some of the best in the world.
Outside of Yerevan is a country filled with all types of beauty: from the lush forests of Dilijian to the majestic mountains surrounding the Datev monastery. I am living in an ecologically-rich environment; this small country has seven eco-systems that are constantly in quarrel, as a people try to make the best use of their resources.
As a landscape architect surveying my surrounding,, I see opportunity, a chance for everyone to become a part of Armenia. I see the possibility of people joining together, living here in unison, and designing sustainable homes, parks, cities, and forest reserves. I realize the opportunity for us to make collective decisions, to resolve our common issues, whether we should utilize mines or develop ecological tourism instead.
To create and compile the data that supports one decision over the other, the dualistic approach to Armenia is unfair to everyone. The more we invest into Armenia, the less dualistic our narrative will be. Our collective reality will become unitary if we invest in having more shareholders in this country. In the last few weeks, I have seen students protesting at universities and peaceful rallies all over the city. These are people investing in their voice and in themselves, for the advancement of their country.
Our society creates a spectrum that classifies all of our actions to a specific designation, as either right or wrong, black or white, up or down, us vs. them. We are forced to create and design with limitations, which stem from our fears and worries.
In taking our next steps, we are taught to be careful to not toe the line between the two extremes that we are confined to. Thus, when we make the decision to untie ourselves, we are faced with criticism and speculation. Your “right” and your “wrong” are given a status that becomes a lot bigger than yourself and what you can do in your current context. It is not always black or white. We do not always have to be right or wrong. Our decisions are subjective, independent to the sources that may exalt or maim them. We do things for ourselves and to achieve our motives, regardless of preconditions. Attaching extremities to decisions, one way or another, limits our views and deprives us of opportunities.
In 2009 I traveled around California with my classmates, visiting major cities and natural preserves, an experience that made me truly appreciate the state and its natural and man made landscapes.
California will always have a special place in my heart because I invested the time to study her landscape and planted many trees all over the LA region, contributing to her beauty and sustenance.
Now, I’m here in Armenia with the same motive, learning, working and investing myself in this small country. As for all the fears, concerns and negative narratives that are constantly created by speculators, I pay no attention.
I am not a fedayee. I am not a martyr. I am not a nationalist, and I am not here to save anyone or anything. I am just another person, walking down the street in Yerevan and smiling at you if we happen to cross paths.