I want to start with an apology. As I mentioned earlier, I am developing a new project for Armenia. This project has essentially taken away all the time I had allotted to this blog. While I value this blog, it’s unfortunately not something I can prioritize at the moment. I am still connecting with Armenian politics and hope to be able to comment more in the future, but for now I want to introduce my project.
Over the last year of being in Armenia, I recognized that there is huge need among the population. This need varies from humanitarian aid, youth organizations, agricultural investment, etc. If you name it, there is need for it somewhere in Armenia. One can respond in two ways, either that Armenia is a backward hopeless country and will permanently be in need of (primarily foreign) aid, or that Armenia is ripe for opportunity where those with almost any skills imaginable can make an impact. Considering my predilections, I bet you can guess which route I believe in. In fact, how much impact Diasporans can make and how all Diasporans should at least consider contributing to Armenia from within Armenia formed a core part of my talk at AGBU Focus’s Perspectives panel earlier this year.
What I can contribute to Armenia are my professional talents. There are people that are more passionate than I am, more knowledgeable about Armenia, more connected with the Diaspora or the Armenian government, but there aren’t many international law and human rights lawyers around who are determined to take on the challenges. So, I set about creating an organization that will promote Armenia’s civil society sector by increasing their efficiency and maximizing their effectiveness. The organization is called Transparency Resource Centre.
There’s no need for a long introduction to Transparency Resource Centre here as Birthright Armenia recently put a description in their summer/fall 2013 alumni newsletter. For those too impatient to read through the beautifully laid out newsletter, I screenshotted the relevant part below. If you have any questions or are interested in contributing to the cause, post below or email me at Gabe.Armas-Cardona@nyu.edu.
Selection from Birthright Alumni newsletter summer-fall 2013
Considering my great experience with Birthright Armenia last year, I am forced to bring attention to these two recent news pieces. Two BRA alumni have write ups for their recent contributions to Armenia, Paul Vartan Sookiasian and Oksana Mirzoyan. Both of them have contributed to Armenia, established a life here and are planning on staying for a while, Paul working in an office funded through USAID and Oksana through artistic endeavors and working with Onearmenia.org. I hope that both Paul and Oksana serve as models to other people considering living in Armenia, either for the short-term or for a more permanent stay.
So here I’ve been for the last 36 hours struggling to communicate (acting like a mute when I’m out in public) and still just trying to get my bearings (e.g. I still have the unsolved problem of I don’t know where I can buy a towel). Then I go to this community service task for birthright: picking off the petals of flowers from the genocide memorial to dry them and put them on paper. While the work was fun, it was a culture shock to be surrounded by over a dozen fluent English-speaking 20-somethings.
The Birthright Armenia crew
I suddenly could speak at a normal speed with my full vocabulary using irony and sarcasm to my heart’s desire without worrying that my listener wouldn’t understand. I could make cultural references people would understand. I could tease, mock, flatter, cajole, amuse and impress without fear of misunderstanding. I might as well have been hanging out in America as it was so easy and seamless.
However, I came to Armenia to learn Armenian culture including some of the language and not just hang around westerners. But, I’m also not a machine and need to be able to relax and express myself sometimes. And, meeting people and learning what they do and their backgrounds is learning more about Armenia. As you can tell, there is a struggle.
A part of me wants to excel, which requires that I’m in a familiar setting, the other part wants to develop new knowledge and understanding, which requires that I’m in an unfamiliar setting. This is a balance that everyone has to regularly work on. Do I watch my favorite brainless tv show or read a new book? The only difference here is that my unfamiliar setting is as close to as unfamiliar as you can get.