Three days ago I woke up on a flight from Paris to Armenia. As I peered out of my tiny window seat, Mt. Ararat came into view. Its snowy peaks, where I’ve learned to anchor my identity, the symbol of our nation, overwhelmed me. Finally, after a lifetime of waiting, we had arrived.
Since that first glimpse of our homeland, ASP-ers have climbed the walls of Amberd fortress. We’ve lit candles at Samosavank monastery. We’ve tasted fresh lavash, toasted on the walls of a tandyr. We’ve descended into the tomb of Mesrop Mashtotz at Oshakan village, the founder of our alphabet in 405 A.D. We’ve laid flowers at the Tzitzernakabert Genocide memorial. We’ve visited Keghart monastery, carved into an ancient cliff, and ascended the steep stairs at Garni. We’ve visited Yerevan’s FAR center, and strolled through the ancient ruins of Erebuni.
We are a diverse group, hailing from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rode Island, and Illinois. Most participants are visiting Armenia for the first time. Some are third generation Americans, some second, and some first. One participant is returning to Armenia for the first time, since leaving at the age of 1. No matter how close or how far removed, Father Tateos continuously reminds us that we are witnessing our heritage. “This all belongs to you…this is your legacy.” We finally get to see, touch, smell, and taste the land of our forefathers.
So far, the experience has been surreal. Many of us attended Armenian schools as children. Some ASP-ers have been part of dance groups, they’ve sang folks songs in choirs, and served on the altar during Badarak. We’ve spent our summers at Armenian camps, and marched in protest of Armenian Genocide denial. This is how we’ve created Armenian identities in America.
Nonetheless, Armenia has remained a dream; an idea that we’ve created in exile, within our families and circles of friends. William Saroyan was correct when he predicted that two Armenians meeting anywhere in the world would create a new Armenia. This group of travelers is living proof of that. So are communities all over the world like Beirut, Watertown, Glendale, and New York. But walking the streets of Yerevan and stealing casual glimpses of Mt. Ararat has been one piece missing from the puzzle. We have that piece now, and it fits perfectly.