After Genocide and a Devastating Earthquake, Armenia Remains a Place of Hope

After Genocide and a Devastating Earthquake, Armenia Remains a Place of Hope
The Iron Fountain of Gyumri, Armenia. The fountain survived the 1988 earthquake. While all the surrounding buildings of the Polytechnic Institute were torn apart, this fountain had no damage at all. Many homeless people, waiting to receive a new house, settled in huts all around the fountain in an area that is now known as "Fountain District". Some of them are still there. Photo courtesy of Lusine

My only knowledge of Armenia comes from its tragedies: the Armenian Genocide of 1915 that killed 1.5 million Armenians and the 1988 Armenian earthquake that killed more than 60,000 people.

How does a country recover from such devastating events? How do the people go on? What lasting impact have those tragedies had on today's Armenians?

Answers to those questions and more came from an Armenian woman named Lusine. A teacher and program coordinator, Lusine lives in Gyumi with her husband and two children. Currently, she is a manager at Techno-Educational Academy and a tutor at Birthright Armenia. She is also a former coordinator at American Corner Gyumri.

Mike Dixon, an architect I met when I did the interview on Kosovo, helped me secure this interview. Mike spent time in Armenia when he was with the Peace Corps and worked with Lusine. Graciously, he offered to put me in touch with her. Thank you so much, Mike. Again.

My Interview with Lusine

Please look out a window in your home and describe what you see.

When I look from my window I see a rising city. A city that is a symbol of culture and traditions. A city that suffered a terrible earthquake in 1988 but survived and gave birth to many artists and world champions.

Armenia Photo courtesy of Lusine

Photo courtesy of Lusine

What is the ethnic makeup of your village and Armenia?

The area of modern-day Gyumri was known as Kumayri during the period of the Kingdom of Urartu. It is likely that the name has been originated from the Cimmerians who conquered the region and probably founded the settlement. Under the domination of the Turkic tribes, Kumayri was Turkified as Gümrü. In 1837, Kumayri was renamed Alexandropol after of Tsar Nicholas I's wife, Princess Alexandra Fyodorovna.

Gyumri is known as a city of arts and crafts, a city of ancient churches. Gyumreci (Gyumrian people) used to say that Gyumri is the center of the world.

Ancient Armenian Relief

Ancient Armenian Relief (photo credit: upsplash)

Which languages do you speak?

Armenian people are multilingual people. Every Armenian school student studies and speaks at least two foreign languages. Most popular foreign languages are English, Russian, German, and French.

Armenians also have their own language, Armenian. Armenian (classical: hayeren) is an Indo-European language spoken primarily by Armenians. It is the official language of Armenia, historically being spoken throughout the Armenian Highlands. Nowadays Armenian is widely spoken throughout Armenian Diaspora. In 405 AD Mesrop Mashtots created the Armenian Alphabet. It is widely believed that Armenians could survive many wars and hardships thanks to the fact that they had their own official language.

Did the Armenian Genocide impact anyone in your family? If so, please describe.

I think you would never be able to find any Armenian in Armenia or in Diaspora that hasn’t suffered family member loss during the Armenian Genocide, as we call it, and I am among them.

My ancestors have lost their family members: brothers and sisters. Till the end of their lives my grand-grandfather and grand–grandmother didn’t lose their hope to hear something from their family members, to understand whether they have died or still survive somewhere on the globe. My granny was singing the Armenian song “Dle Yaman” about the Genocide and I could always see tears in her eyes which were mixed with some hope to see Kars, where she originated from. Longing, this is the feeling that all Armenians experience even after so many years.

Who is your favorite Armenian author, musician, or artist? Why?

I am myself a kind of person who has a keen interest in the arts and especially music. I have a long list of favorites but I would mention Charles Aznavour, the French Armenian singer. Besides being an incredible genius musician, he was a kind-hearted and patriotic person who has always been next to his people, the Armenians, by helping them to overcome hardships. He is my most favorite Armenian singer.

What is your favorite time of year in Armenia and why?

I think the best time in Armenia is autumn. I like Armenian autumn because of the nice weather. It is neither cool nor hot, and because school starts in autumn and you can see many children hurrying up to school or home.

What brings you joy?

I am myself a busy person, as like other members of my family (my husband, son, and daughter). For me, pleasure is when we are all together doing something: traveling, playing a game, watching a film. Those moments inspire me through all working hours and keep me motivated, as I know what for and whom for I have to work so much.

What frightens you?

In my whole life (I am 34 years old) most of all I was frightened from human emptiness, even when I was a child. I think people should work more on their knowledge, read more books, which will educate them and make them more human, more kind, and honest.

If I were to come to your home for dinner, what traditional meal would you serve to me?

Armenians are hospitable people. They usually serve khorovats, grape leaf dolma, harissa. Those are the most famous traditional dishes to serve to foreigners. Also Ararat, which is Armenian cognac. It is famous for its good quality around the world.

What is the most surprising or unusual thing about Armenian culture?

For me, the most surprising or unusual thing about Armenian culture is that during New Year (December 31-January 6) all Armenians should visit their relatives and neighbors, taste something at their houses, and others would visit them back. If not, that will mean that you insult this or the people.

What does your city/country do well? What do you wish it did better?

I think the biggest problem with my country is its geographical location. We are surrounded by countries who have different religions and we have always suffered from that difference with many wars and attacks. But we still keep on living.

Armenians are smart people. In my opinion, the best thing that we have so far done is that we are still alive and we are a nation, an official country.

Recently, thanks to the Velvet Revolution, many things have been changed in my country. All Armenian people are filled with hope to become one of the exemplary countries in the IT field and in Arts and Crafts. We have huge potential: our human resource. We hope that we can make things better for future generations.

What is your opinion of the United States?

I love that country! Yes! Of course, there are lots of issues in every country but the way America keeps and preserves its history. In every library, one can see a small history museum. I always compare Armenia with the U.S. in terms of preserving history. Armenians are ancient people. They survived by starting from Noy (difficult) times till now, but we don’t value our history and we never use the possibility to spread a word about us among other countries or even in our country, whereas American people would keep and preserve every single detail of their history.   That’s why I have huge respect for your government and people.

Who or what inspires you?

There is no a specific person that inspires me. All those people who are hard-working, kind, human, smart, ready to help someone, can inspire me, independent from their nationality, religion, education degree.

In terms of nature and natural beauty, what are the most remarkable things about Armenia?

Armenia is surrounded by wonderful, huge, proud-spirited mountains. And my most favorite lake, Lake Sevan. I think there is something mystic in that lake. It is impossible not to admire its beauty.

Lake Sevan Photo courtesy of Lusine

Lake Sevan
(Photo courtesy of upsplash)

What one word best describes your country?



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