Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Dr. Spurkian Returns to Armenia (originally posted in August 2004)


I arrived at the Vienna airport in preparation for my flight to Yerevan. It has been over two years since the last time I was in Armenia. Two years ago I spent some time in the country teaching and since then I never had the opportunity to return. The time spent in Yerevan was an eye opening experience to observe the country up close and personal. When I left the country in 2002, the second Armenia-Diaspora conference was underway and I could not help myself thinking about the (in)significance of that conference. At the time it seemed to me that the conference was nothing more than a publicity stunt, not only for Armenia but also for most of the Diasporan representatives who, I felt, had an air of importance around them because they were participating in a conference organized by the government and the conference provided them with some ‘legitimacy’ as representatives of the Diaspora.

Back in 2002, I left the country with some sense of leaving home although the time spent there was just over a year and a half. The existence of a large number of tourists (especially Diasporans) made it easier for me to leave Yerevan since I could not stand the hordes of people walking around Yerevan with a superiority complex about ‘their’ country and towards their ‘local’ countrymen.

During the two years I spent away from Armenia it has been possible for me to look back and evaluate not only my experience, but also the experience of being a Diasporan as well as the whole existential issue of the Diaspora itself. Suffice it to say that having lived and worked in Armenia made me realize the pettiness of Diasporan mentality and its inability, for the most part, to grasp the notion of an independent country beyond the confines of a symbol or an idealized locality.

Now waiting for the boarding call at the Vienna airport, I felt that I was not looking forward to returning to Armenia. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to return to Yerevan and had already made plans to meet up with several of my university students with whom I kept contact by e-mail, but my ‘enthusiasm ‘ was nothing more than the joy of meeting up with old friends and had nothing to do with me returning to the homeland.

Even before we boarded I could feel that we were already in Armenia, or at least getting ready to get there. A single look around the boarding area could easily show that the flight leaving from that gate was bound for Armenia. Having traveled back and forth to Armenia from various airports it was a familiar but a forgotten scene for me. One could easily distinguish the various types of travelers when boarding a Yerevan-bound plane. Thus, there is the excited Diasporan family who makes use of the summer vacation to visit Armenia. The level of excitement depends on how often have they taken that trip as well as the distance that they have traveled to get to the final leg of the journey to Armenia. Another type of a traveler is the Armenian from Armenia, however in this case there should be a distinction between those who are returning after a long absence of several years and those who belong to the higher echelons of the Armenian society and could afford to travel to Vienna, Paris, London or any other destination for shopping sprees or for extravagant vacations. And of course there is also the non-Armenian travelers who could also be categorized into two groups. Those who are on business and are familiar with their destination and those who are just tourists who have ventured to go to this ‘small, Christian country in the former Soviet Union.’

All of these people are gathered for the single purpose of taking a flying tube to take them to their homeland, business, friends or to any other destination of their choice.

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