Bumping up Against History
BY 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.