Bumping up Against History

Maria Titizian


Autumn in Yerevan this year has been gloriously warm and sunny. Just a few days ago we were sitting at an outdoor café enjoying a hot cup of coffee by Republic Square. I was trying to vacate my mind of everything going on in my life when I happened to glance over and see a big beautiful old tree a few meters away. I had probably walked passed this tree a hundred times but had never taken the time to notice it. I have a weakness for trees without getting too political about them. Many years ago when we were living in Canada there was this magnificent old tree in a vacant lot behind our house. My Italian neighbor and I had promised ourselves that if ever this tree was in danger of being cut down we would go and chain ourselves to it to prevent its destruction. We came home from work one day to see that it was gone and in its place was a large hole and a sign from the city informing us that a church was to be built there. We were naturally upset about it but there wasn’t much we could do, it was gone. In retrospect I now realize that back then I gave up too easily on those issues that meant something to me. Living in Armenia has changed me and I believe or rather hope that I would have, at the very least, sent a letter of protest, albeit late, to city officials if I knew then what I know now…never give up on something of value.

Sitting at the café in Yerevan, admiring this beautiful tree, looking up at its branches as they soared toward the sky while sunlight filtered down through its leaves, I absentmindedly turned to my husband and said, “Look at how big the trunk of this tree is.” He looked at it for a few seconds and said, “I bet you this tree was here during the first republic.”

That’s how things are here – you go through the natural rhythm of your day, running from work to home and back until you bump up against history and then you’re forced to catch your breath and take stock of certain realities. We were both silent for a few minutes as we contemplated how this tree had stood in this very spot for over a hundred years, silently and majestically bearing witness to the tides of our history. How many of our nation’s heroes and intellectuals had sat under its shade? How many times had this tree felt the misery and pain of all those past and present Armenians who had quietly walked passed it? How many times had it seen military parades, protests, celebrations and victories? Had the president of the first republic, Aram Manougian, ever placed his hand on its delicate branches?

We finished our coffees and each of us returned to the task of completing our work day. There wasn’t much else left to contemplate, it was, after all, merely a tree.

Today I found out that an acquaintance of mine had received her immigration papers and she and her family are moving to Canada for good. This seems to be a common and recurring theme in our lives. People we know, people we have come to love and respect packing up and flying away in search of a better life. We talk about it, write about it, express pain over it, but it continues unabated.

We have become a nation of professional nomads, uprooting our histories, wandering the planet in search of fertile ground to plant new roots.

I had a brief conversation with my acquaintance who thanked me for not criticizing her decision to leave when I and others like myself had decided to come. I wished her the best of luck and said that I hope she found the happiness she was looking for, she deserved it, we all do.

And then I remembered the tree with strong, deep roots in the soil near the cafe that I walk by every day. If it had the ability to uproot itself and move to another, more promising pasture in Canada or a prettier, more profitable café in Central Europe, would it? I don’t know but damn it, it is here and while we voluntarily uproot ourselves leaving behind memories and fragments of lives led, leaving behind the hope we equated with freedom, with the unbelievable realization of an entire people’s dream of independence, the tree remains to silently and majestically remind all of us of the importance of our roots.

And as friends and loved ones pack up their life’s belongings and slowly and steadily leave forever, I wonder if there will be anyone left to notice it.


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  1. Gabe Korajian said:

    Dear Maria,
    My eyes were filled with tears when I read your article, especially your metaphor of the tree and the sad reality of exodus of Armenians from the motherland. Your article reminds me of a similar situation when I visited Armenia two years ago. While in Yerevan, I paid a short visit to the parents of my good friend Serge who migrated to Canada after finishing his Masters degree in the United States. Although I am not sure, I am almost certain he is the last of the four siblings who left Armenia and have settled in foreign countries- with a strong likelihood of never returning back. The parents of my friend were still living in Yerevan preparing to immigrate to Canada as soon as their immigration papers were issued. Surprisingly and by chance, three years ago, I met them in Vancouver when they came for a short visit. Knowing them from Vancouver made me more anxious to visit them in Yerevan. As it is customary, they invited me for dinner, which I accepted gracefully. Before dinner, we had a few shots of cognac and some “tuti oghi” from Karabak. The main dish was “herrisa” which was the best I have ever had. After a long night with my hosts and many intimate conversations including my honest opinion of life in Canada, the difficulties one would face, especially for people in their age group, I tried to give them as much information I could without being pessimistic about their relocating aspirations; I wished them the best of luck and a happy reunion with their son in Canada. Although untold, there was an aura of sadness and some hesitation about their decisions to leave Armenia. After all, they had lived in Yerevan all their life and now they were over seventy years old trying to move to a new country they knew very little of, leaving an entire life behind them; friends, relatives the neighborhood and everything you can think. The whole episode was heat-breaking. However, what impressed me the most was the collection of books they had in their library, some very rare, dating back many, many, hundreds of years. The library covered most of his living room’s four walls. The feeling I had during my dinner and the aftermath was very similar to your encounter with the large tree in central Yerevan and what it represented to you. In the end, my only question to the old man was …what are you going to do with these books when you leave Armenia? Filled with melancholy and sadness, he said he would give them to his good friends. I was sad. In fact, at the time there was nothing I could do to prevent the disbursement of these valuable books to different people. For me, this was a vivid reminder of Armenia falling apart and like the books being parcelled to whoever was available to take, some even for mere safe keeping. I was equally saddened when I was told that they would sell their apartment before leaving for Canada. This apartment was located on the seventh floor in one of the residential buildings that were built during the communist era. It has been their home for over fifty years. To make matters short, the dinner was over, I said goodbye and left for Vancouver the next day. When I returned to Vancouver, I met with my friend and thanked him for the hospitality afforded to me by his parents. In the following month or so, we had many meetings regarding his parent’s migration to Canada. I was finally able to convince them not sell the house and not to distribute the books to friends. If for any reason they do not feel Canada is a place for them, they will always have the option to return to Yerevan and continue life from where they left. They will be happy to know they still have somewhere to return…a home that always belonged to them.
    Although my efforts were fruitful for the time being, I know deep inside that most Armenians living in the motherland would leave if the opportunity arises- like the million or so of their compatriots that have left since independence. With the rate of migration from Armenia, I am worried that in a decade or so very few Armenians will remain in HAYASTAN. This is something our leaders should take seriously, and try to find mitigating solutions. Perhaps, it is time for our leaders to take a step back and look at their personal wealth amassed from their position of power and say “I have enough now, let’s start thinking of this country and its citizens before it becomes bare land with no sizable population to govern.” Only time will tell what will happen to the books, your tree and poor Armenia.
    G. Korajian

  2. Teda said:

    Mr. Korajian, why don’t you come back to Hayastan? The personal exemple is the best one for our people.

    • Antoine S. Terjanian said:

      Very good question Teda, except for 2 issues:
      1) I do not know Mr. Korajian personally, but I do have a lot of respect for him and for his opinion, for he signed his own name on this page. I do not understand why Asbarez and the Armenian Weekly allow people to hide behind a pseudonym, and why they do not insist on verifying the identity of the people who post on these pages.
      2) While your question does not necessarily imply criticism of Mr. Korajian still enjoying the life and beauty in ‘Lotus Land’, I feel that many people will take it as such. Reflecting about your question, I remember one of Jesus’ teachings: “leave all your goods and property and follow me”. Now Jesus said that 2000 years ago, and I don’t think there are even1% of Jesus’ followers who did that.
      Mrs Titizian writes beautifully indeed, and she does stir-up raw emotions in most of us, but I am yet to see a feasible solution she proposes. I do hope that one day, she will.
      Antoine Terjanian, Yeghegnadzor.

    • Gabe Korajian said:

      Dear Teda,
      I agree with you entirely. The best thing an Armenian can do is live in his own country and participate in nation- building. I come from a small Armenia community in Ethiopia. The community in Ethiopia was less than a thousand people at its peak. (At present, there are less than 20 Armenian families living in Ethiopia). We had our school, church and a community center. We learned to become good Armenians and always aspired to make Armenia home one day. However, due to destiny that is not easy to explain and realities of life, 35 years ago I immigrated to Canada. Since my arrival to Canada, , I have spent most of my adult life trying to make ends meet. Finally, twenty years ago I returned back to university for higher education. For the last 12 years, I have been providing training in good governance in developing countries including Arsakh and Armenia. Hopefully I will be spending the rest of my productive years in Armenia and Artsakh. As you know, wanting to do something and doing what you want to do are two different things. However, with determination and hope, I should be moving to Armenia and Artsakh and possibly living there for the rest of my productive life. I hope…

      • Gabe Korajian said:

        Dear Teda,

        I also forgot one very important thing. I am not as strong as Maria Titizian and her family who left a very good life in Canada and moved to ARMENIA. All the strength to Maria and her family . I have tried to follow what she writes from Armenia. She is very truthful and honest. I have learned a lot from her writings. God bless…

  3. Teda said:

    Dear Mr. Korajian, thank you for your kindness and for your wonderful answer.
    I would have liked to give you a more ample answer, but english is a foreign language for me, learned in school, 2 hours a week. And I cannot express all my thoughts completely.
    Thank you again.