‘Tebi Yergir’ Information Fair Highlights Opportunities in Armenia

Participants at the Information Fair learn about the opportunities that exist for them to travel and repatriate to Armenia. Photo by Nora Yacoubian

Participants at the Information Fair learn about the opportunities that exist for them to travel and repatriate to Armenia. Photo by Nora Yacoubian


BY JULIETTE DAVTIAN and SEROUJ APRAHAMIAN

GLENDALE–From its very inception, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation came onto the world stage voicing the call of “Tebi Yergir.” It appealed to all Armenians to go to the homeland directly to take part in its defense and development. As an organization, the ARF has always believed that, ultimately, Armenia is the only place where we could truly flourish as a nation.

Today, after seventeen years of Armenian independence, a new generation of ARF activists is seeking to reinvigorate this age-old call to return home and engage in our nation’s advancement. Led by the ARF “Shant” Student Association (ARF Shant), an ongoing campaign has been launched to encourage students and Diaspora Armenians to travel, support, and ultimately resettle in their homeland.

The first event to kick off this Tebi Yergir campaign was an “Opportunities in Armenia” Information Fair held on Thursday, May 14, at the Glendale Hilton Hotel. A capacity crowd turned out for the event, which featured over a dozen booths, four speakers, a video slideshow, and a photo exhibit outlining the many opportunities existing in Armenia.

“The turnout was extremely encouraging,” said Vrej Haroutounian a lead organizer in the ARF Shant “Tebi Yergir” Campaign. “The over 150 people who attended only encouraged our committee to push forward with even more vigor towards our motherland. Each person there made us want to work that much harder to help achieve our common goal of returning to Armenia.”

ARF Shant Chairperson, Armen Aboulian, offers his opening remarks at the Tebi Yergir “Opportunities in Armenia” Information Fair.

ARF Shant Chairperson, Armen Aboulian, offers his opening remarks at the Tebi Yergir “Opportunities in Armenia” Information Fair.

The first portion of the program consisted of representatives from various organizations and institutions, which were stationed at booths along the perimeter of the hall, offering information to attendees about volunteering and moving to Armenia. Some of the groups involved included Birthright Armenia, Hamazkayin, Land and Culture, AGBU, Vernon Travel, AYF Youth Corps, Armenia Tree Project, the Armenian Consulate of Los Angeles, and Imega Tour and Travel. Booths offering testimonials from repatriates and information about job opportunities in Armenia were also featured, as well as a special “Armenia in Seasons” photo exhibit by noted repatriate photographer Arsineh Khachikian.

After about an hour of having everyone visit the booths and gather in the hall, Armen Aboulian, the Chairperson of ARF Shant and MC for the evening, welcomed the audience and invited them to take their seats. Aboulian began his opening remarks by stating that this was only the first of many events ARF Shant plans to organize to show that moving to Armenia is a realistic possibility. “Our goal is to make everyone realize that moving to Armenia isn’t just a dream for a few fanatics and hopefuls,” said Aboulian, “but a real opportunity for every Armenian to enrich, not only themselves, but their homeland.”

Aboulian then invited the winner of the 2009 “Visit Armenia, It’s Beautiful” Essay Contest, Nanar Derderian, to the podium. Derderian, an 11th grade student at Alex Pilibos High School, proceeded to recite her 1st place essay, for which she was awarded a $500 dollar prize. Written in Armenian, her paper was an expression of her anticipation and desire to visit the land of her ancestors.

“I want to visit Armenia for the simple reason that it is my homeland yet I have never seen it,” said Derderian. “Armenia is all I really think about when in class. I daydream about its rocky landscape, green fields and ancient monuments on a daily basis.”

An audience of over 150 gather at the ARF “Shant” Student Association’s Tebi Yergir Information Fair.

An audience of over 150 gather at the ARF “Shant” Student Association’s Tebi Yergir Information Fair.

Speaking about her own journey to Armenia, Anoush Tatevossian was next to address the audience. She explained how she first traveled there in 2004, upon graduating college, and described how she felt after volunteering there for six months with the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC).

“When I came back from Armenia, I worked in a boring, 9-to-5 consulting job. It was very monotonous and uneventful,” she recalled. “In Armenia, I was making things happen and seeing the fruits of my labor right in front of my eyes,” Tatevossian exclaimed. “I was making a difference.”

The relative emptiness in her US job led her to apply for the Executive Directorship of the AVC. “I got the job, applied for a 10-year residency in Armenia and rented an apartment in Yerevan,” she said. “I went to work every day like I would here, the only difference was that it felt like I was making much more of a difference.”

In addition to the more meaningful impact one can have working in Armenia, Tatevossian also insisted that life there is just as promising. “It’s very possible to have the same type of life there as it is here,” she said, adding that repatriation is a very tangible and practical approach to maintaining one’s Armenian identity at a level that generations past could only dream of.

Many of the youth in the audience shared Tatevossian’s assessment of repatriation. “Moving to Armenia is a very viable option for my generation,” said Greg Bandikian, a finance and real estate major who volunteered at the Armenian Ministry of Finance in 2006 and worked with the Central Bank of Armenia in 2007. “The jobs that have left the United States in the last decade are not coming back and things are not going to get better here any time soon,” argued Bandikian. “But Armenia is a developing country and has enormous untapped potential for economic growth.”

Following Tatevossian’s testimonial, the Vice-Consul of Armenia in Los Angeles Sahak Sargsyan took to the floor. Mr. Sargsyan spoke about the recent introduction of dual citizenship in Armenia and how one would go about applying for such status. To apply, those interested should make a request with the Consulate in Los Angeles, he explained, adding that once the Consulate’s new website is launched, Armenians will be able to apply for dual citizenship online. Accompanying his talk was a detailed power point presentation outlining the key parameters of the new law.

Dr. Stephan Astourian discusses the demographic challenges facing the Armenian nation in the 21st century. Photo by Nora Yacoubian

Dr. Stephan Astourian discusses the demographic challenges facing the Armenian nation in the 21st century. Photo by Nora Yacoubian

Concluding the program was the keynote speaker for the evening, Dr. Stephan Astourian, Executive Director of Armenian Studies at UC Berkeley. Drawing on his important study of the demographic challenges facing the Armenian nation in the 21st century, Astourian spoke about the changing landscape of both Armenia and the Diaspora.

According to his research, the traditional Diaspora of the Middle East and Iran is “melting away” at a rapidly concerning rate. This is a threat to the sustainability of the Diaspora as a whole, he said, because those communities that best preserved the cultural traditions and identity for generations are now shrinking and less organized. The majority of these Armenian’s have left for the West-the US, Europe, and Canada-where it is extremely difficult to maintain Armenian identity.

Meanwhile, Armenia’s population has been depleted since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with at least 600,000 to 1 million Armenians having left the country in recent years. “Today, it is highly unlikely that Armenia’s population exceeds 2.5 million,” Astourian explained, noting that this is a serious problem for a country with a small internal market and surrounded by enemies.

In this context, the Tebi Yergir movement becomes even more relevant, according to Astourian. It is a task that should be taken seriously if we care about the future of Armenians; something which should be approached in a practical and realistic sense. “Tebi Yergir means we should not just see Armenia in a romantic sense but also realize the plight of our people,” stated Astourian.

Dr. Stephan Astourian, Executive Director of Armenian Studies at UC Berkeley, speaks to a crowd of over 150 about the current demographic outlook of the Armenian nation and the importance of "Tebi Yergir."

A crowd of over 150 listen to Dr. Stephan Astourian as he speaks about the current demographic outlook of the Armenian nation and the importance of "Tebi Yergir."

He also emphasized the importance of not just sending dollars but engaging directly in the country’s development. “We must strengthen the rule of law and the independence and accountability of institutions because the economic progress and investments needed to make Armenia a viable place to live will not happen until the government becomes accountable to the people.”

Attendees at the event were visibly galvanized by all of the talks and information offered that evening. The vast majority of the audience remained in the hall following the program, continuing to visit the information booths and discuss the many points raised regarding repatriation.

“As the inaugural event in our newly-initiated campaign, the information fair succeeded in focusing our community’s attention on the critical need for us to look to our homeland for our future,” concluded Caspar Jivalegian, an organizer involved with the ARF Shant “Tebi Yergir” Campaign. “We plan on using the interest and enthusiasm generated from this event as a springboard for organizing a series of future activities which will intensify the growing movement of repatriation to Armenia.”
For more information about the ARF Shant Student Association and their Tebi Yergir campaign, visit www.ARFShant.org.

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3 Comments

  1. Armanen said:

    Not sure where Dr. Stephan Astourian is getting is population stats from, but having spoken with officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Migration Ministry, not to mention relatives in Armenia, the population is not less than 3 million and is more than likely near its pre 1991 levels.

  2. Aryutz said:

    Wow… Those of you who have ever watched the Armenian comedy/soap-opera “Vervaratsnern Untanikum” must have noticed that the ARF Shant chairman looks exactly like the character Askanaz “Jupul” from the show ( which coincidentally runs on Armenia’s Shant TV channel which has no affiliation with ARF Shant).

    There’s a picture of the said actor at:
    http://www.armenianow.com/?action=viewArticle&AID=3353&lng=eng&IID=1207&start=10

    On a serious note though, this event and these types of events in general should be encouraged as much as possible. If we are to remain Armenian, we either need to have frequent contact with Armenia or permanent residence there.

  3. Haig Adomian said:

    Noone at the conference addressed the key issues regarding repatriation.

    (1) How can I make a living if there are no jobs?
    (2) How can I start a business where there is pervasive corruption?

    Without the answers to these two questions, you are only attracting students and retirees. Few students will stay without opportunity. Few retirees will stay if their children cannot accompany them and make a living.

    And please don’t talk to me about working for the American Embassy or for some other CIA-front NGO.

    If Jews in the Holy Land had treated repatriating countrymen as their personal piggy-bank, the way corrupt officials do in Hayasdan, there would be no Israel today.

    My questions above are serious, and I invite serious replies.

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