Words of Advice for People Moving to Armenia

As you may already know I’ve been living here for nearly five years and was also here for an eight-month stint back in 2002.  My experiences have shown that residing in Armenia can be a bumpy ride emotionally and psychologically, especially for those who are of Armenian descent.  Armenians like myself come here with romantic, lofty intentions and they--depending on the individual, naturally--may find themselves feeling the angst of disillusion. Below are some points that you may want to take into consideration when you first start your life in Armenia, or even if you’ve been in Armenia for a while.  This is also a helpful refresher guide for myself; I should have written it a long time ago.

  1. Make true, lasting friendships with Armenian citizens. There are no substitutes for companionship and trust in others who are close to you.

  2. Don’t be concerned about or get directly involved in Armenian politics. Simply put, if you are not a citizen of Armenia, politics is not your problem.  The more you stay away from and ignore political situations, whether in the news or on the streets in the form of protests for instance, the better.  It’s up to Armenian citizens to be active in politics, not you.

  3. Embrace Armenian logic. If you run into a situation where logic as you know it does not apply, chances are Armenian logic is at play. You cannot defy Armenian logic, there is no escape. Do not even try to understand it because such efforts are futile.  Do not attempt to prove to others that Armenian logic is faulty, as that exercise is a total waste of time. Remove yourself from the situation as delicately as possible and go about your business. And do everything you can to avoid such situations in the future, but if you find yourself having to relive the situation, do not attempt to understand the processes involved in resolving it. Do whatever it takes to come away unscathed emotionally.

  4. Ignore what Armenian citizens have to say about politics.  The political climate of Armenia does not concern you because you are not a citizen and have no voting rights.  Encourage people that they can enact change. If you are told that Armenia “is not a country,” tell that person to build that country and society in which they expect to live.  Encourage, but never, ever discourage.

  5. Forgive people who cut you in line. This phenomenon is a common, generally accepted practice that falls within the realm of Armenian logic.  Let it be known that you are next in line. If the person responds that they will only be a minute, forgive them. Don’t get aggravated, it’s not worth it. Nowadays it’s usually possible to avoid lines, anyway, as there are bill payment machines scattered across the city center.

  6. Do not accept rumor as the gospel. News is spread through word of mouth, but that does not mean that what you hear is not false. Listen, be cognizant of the fact that the information is out there, but don’t believe the hype.

  7. Keep in touch with others who have expatriated or are temporarily visiting Armenia.  They should be part of your support group. Exchange stories and laugh with them about your experiences as well as their own.  It’s probably the best form of mental therapy.   

  8. Do not become emotionally attached to societal problems or issues that are out of your control.  The homeless problem for instance is getting worse.  It’s common now to see people sleeping on sidewalks at night.  Poverty is also out of control particularly in the regions where you may happen to visit.  And judging by the way teenagers are poorly behaving themselves nowadays in public, the high quality of education that Armenians have always taken pride in is in question. Mafia life is ever-present in Armenian society, it is even flaunted on television serial programs. These issues are the products of mismanagement and incompetence in the chain of command at various ministries as well as in law and order enforcement agencies.  The executive branch is undoubtedly the most responsible. Do not let these problems in society disturb you.  They are out of your control because you cannot really change anything in society directly.  It’s up to Armenian citizens to take the necessary steps to resolve societal problems.  Accept things as they are and go about your business.  However, give advice and try to make indirect change where appropriate or deemed necessary if you feel compelled or are responsible, but don’t expect to find long-term, viable solutions.  It’s up to citizens to make those solutions work, not you.  Frustration can easily lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression—don’t fall into despair because the change you intend to instill or expect to see isn’t taking root. It’s not your fault.

  9. Ignore rude people. There are plenty of people out there looking for a fight.  If they start bickering with you or want to argue, no matter how absurd the reason, walk away and do not challenge them. It will only lead to stress and anxiety on your part.  Don’t talk back. You don’t need any emotional scarring or built-up repressed anger while coping in a foreign environment.  Don’t stoop down to their level.

  10. Ignore police presence. Red Berets and beat cops holding batons or Tasers are constantly roaming the vicinity of the Opera House, Place de France, the Northern Boulevard and other areas in the city center. Pay no attention to them. They are meant to intimidate opposition supporters or anyone for that matter. Don’t let their staring, loitering or strolling interfere with your business of getting to your destination on foot.

  11. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you will be tricked or deceived by others, namely by those you don’t know. After hearing horror stories from acquaintances and experiencing situations where you realized you were duped after the fact, you may be tempted to always expect that someone will pull the wool over your eyes. Everyone you are in contact with must be given the benefit of the doubt. One woman, an Armenian citizen, many years ago told me that I was naïve, that I should deceive or be deceived as that was part of Armenian life. That is obviously the wrong mentality to have.

  12. Immerse yourself in Armenian culture and everyday life.  Engage people you are introduced to in conversation and try to see what makes them tick. Learn from them, but don’t talk about politics—if the topic comes up, change the channel.  There are excellent plays to see and concerts to hear on a nightly basis—attend them often. Lose yourself in culture and forge lasting bonds with genuine, unique individuals; you will not be disappointed, rather rewarded with priceless knowledge.

  13. Never be afraid to speak Armenian, regardless of how little you might know. Converse in Armenian in a way that is comfortable for you—whether Eastern, Western or a hybrid of the two, which I proudly speak. It is irrelevant how well you know the language, because most people will be delighted to hear from you (assuming they enjoy making acquaintances). If you can’t phrase what you want to say in a way they can understand, they will help you make your point.  Just as you want to learn from others, they, in kind, will want to learn from you.

  14. Finally, focus on what you have set out to do in Armenia. Obviously your work should be at the top of your list of priorities.  If your work and personal life are in control, it will be easier to forge relationships with others and be part of Armenian life. By all means, stay stress free.


Anonymous said…
I like what you wrote. I would like to see articles on how Armenian people survive while living in hostile countries such as Russia, Iraq, or Iran. What survival tips could they give? I am also interested in what your opinions are on Glendale, CA-USA. Glendale is 50% Armenian but it is located in the USA. Yet while Yerevan has tons of stores named after foreign places, I noticed that Glendale has tons of stores named after Armenian places. SO the irony is definitely fascinating.

What are Armenian (hayastantsi opinions) on living in Glendale or other parts of the USA and dealing with the local odars. Yet I would also like to know how US born Armenians feel about living in the USA. I noticed people complain about odars, yet when they move to Yerevan they seem to complain about the locals. I would look at their blogs and I noticed that most of their photos seem to be of expat places, so I got the impression that alot of people either failed when they arrived in Armenia in search of their roots, or they feel rejected by both USA and Armenia. By the way, I am referring about blogs written by other people...

Anonymous said…
To live one’s life with eyes and ears and mouth closed is impossible, unless one is a rock. Although frustrating and disappointing at times, it’s an interesting world out there, especially Armenia, and there is much to see and hear and savor. There is much to discover, to learn, to share; and when necessary, to speak up. After all, shorelines are changed by the waves.

Knarik O. Meneshian
Ankakh_Hayastan said…
This is a nice American-Armenian Survivor's Guide to Armenia. There are indeed a lot of cultural differences for someone who moves to Armenia from the US. It is normal since Armenia is not USA.

I would like to know the survivor guides for people from cultures other than the West. How do the Middle Eastern Armenians feel about the life in Armenia, namely, the freedoms available to people compared to most of the Middle Eastern cultures.
Anonymous said…
Arsineh wrote:
"I noticed people complain about odars, yet when they move to Yerevan they seem to complain about the locals."

Some people love to complain no matter where they are and no matter who the target is of their frustration.

New environment = new target,
Anonymous said…
previous comment should be signed by Rafael.
knotty said…
I lived in Yerevan as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1995-97... I really enjoyed this post... in fact, your blog is pretty fascinating. Though I couldn't wait to leave back then, I find myself wanting to go back now. Thanks for the inspiration!
Unknown said…
Your notes are very helpful, honestly I'm confused !
I would like to come and live and relocate with my family in Armenia that I belong. However, whatever I am reading on media is making me think twice. Your words and advice are really needed !

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