Muscovite from Beirut: Tro Kendoyan About the Difference Among Armenians and Cities. Interview
Tro, tell us please about your birthplace, childhood and youth.
I was born in an Armenian family in Lebanon. From the age of three I started attending kindergarten and became а boy scout in Homenetmen (a Lebanon branch of the Armenian scout organization, founded on 18 November 1918, in Constantinople, Turkey) at the same age. When I was 7 I started dancing in the Armenian organization "Hamazgayin" and stayed there for 6 ages. Then I started playing basketball in Homenetmen and was passing much of the time with friends, at the stadium. At the age of 18, I graduated from the Aslanian College (an Armenian school in 5 km far away from Lebanon, Beirut) and decided to study and work in Moscow, Russia.
Why did you choose exactly Moscow? It is a pretty unusual choice.
In 2006, when I was already finishing high school, the war between Israel and Lebanon started, that’s why I knew beforehand that I would leave Lebanon as soon as I graduated from the school. Initially, I wanted to leave for France as I know French well. However, my father’s friend, who was living in Moscow, offered me to work together with him. I liked the idea and thought that the new language and new culture would interest me. Before that I knew nothing about Moscow (in addition to the Red Square) and did not speak Russian at all as the education in Lebanon was much more western oriented and we were studying by French programs.
As I see, you were integrated in the Armenian community life of Lebanon. Were you looking for any ways to engage in the Armenian community of Moscow after the move?
Yes. I remember the 24th April in RUDN University (The Peoples' Friendship University of Russia). That was the first year I was there. I was sitting in the room when I heard some voices, cries. I thought it was Armenians. I left the room, but it was not them.
My father’s friend was a priest in an Armenian church and he was surrounded by a large community, but that was not exactly what I was looking for. The community had religious nature, while I used to spend my free time either in the Armenian sport club, at the stadium or in the cafeteria. Unfortunately, I was upset about the situation: there were several people who were responsible for the coordination of the community and there were different organizations for it, but in fact they could do nothing essential.
After a while I met many young boys and girls and now I can say that I have many familiars. Some of them have become my friends. Once I was taking the subway and that time I could not speak Russian at all. I saw a man holding a magazine in hands, and I managed to read the word “Armenia”. I asked him whether he was an Armenian, but his answer was “no”.
In 2008 we created the organization Homenetmen Moscow, however that was a bad experience as we failed to interest Armenians to take part in the activities of the organization. The organization, however, still exists.
What do you think, why did that organization fail to unite Armenians living in Moscow?
Firstly, Moscow is a big city. Secondly, those who work in Homenetmen are volunteers. Many people were calling me and wanted to work, but they wanted to do it for money. We created a football team, we had our own football stadium, but because of the crisis in 2009 we lost both the stadium and the team. The scouting is active now, however despite hard efforts the number of members does not exceed 30.
I think, those Armenians of Moscow, who came there from Armenia, do not consider that country as foreign. They often fly to Armenia and meet their families and friends. At first I was shocked to see two Armenians speaking to each other in Russian. Soon I realized that it was all right and the number of such people was big. I accepted the fact that maybe the Armenian who speaks in Russian knows the history better and makes more efforts for Armenia than me, for instance.
You know the Lebanon and Moscow communities of Armenians inside, and you have heard about Armenians from Armenia, as your wife is from there. Could you please draw parallels between them?
Yes, my wife has been living in Moscow all her life, but she has relatives from Armenia who have told me about life in Armenia.
The community in Lebanon was founded after the Genocide and it was originally struggling against any assimilation, that’s the reason that there were many Armenian schools, churches, sport and culture clubs created. Any Armenian living in Lebanon and going to an Armenian school, dreams of Armenia since childhood and compares it with paradise, even if he or she has never been there. Since childhood they learn the national anthem of Armenia and patriotic songs. My grandfather, for instance, was telling me about fedayis through songs. There is always an Armenian radio on in our house even if it does not work well. This is the picture of majority of the Armenians living in Lebanon. Of course there are assimilated Armenians among them whose children and grandchildren still assimilate, but the majority live as our grandfathers, preserving mother language and culture.
Unfortunately, the pace of life in Moscow is too rapid. I have noticed two categories of Armenians there. The first category includes the rich and the poor, the second – those who have moved there recently and those who moved there long ago. The assimilation here is inevitable as there are no enough Armenian schools and centeres in Moscow. Moreover, Armenians living in Moscow are not interested in that. There have been many attempts to create something, however everything is in vain. Besides, the Armenians of Moscow have left for there to earn money and not to think about preservation of their identity elements, they do want to assimilate.
I like Armenia despite economic difficulties it has. There is still simplicity and kindness in people of Armenia. Nobody there needs in the preservation of the language and culture.
You mentioned that the Armenians of Moscow do want to assimilate. That is to say, you have noticed a true tendency in losing their identity. What do you think, what could really unite Armenians of Moscow and prevent the assimilation?
I think the case of Moscow is very complex. When I see people, leaving for Moscow from Armenia, I realize that they just want to live in Russia and they are ready to do everything to earn money. Only Armenia can unite the Armenians of Moscow as I do not think that the creation of a separate neighborhood, such as in Los- Angeles or Bourj Hammoud in Beirut is ever possible in Moscow. I have noticed that all the nations, coming to Moscow, lose their identity with time and become “Moscovitches”.
I have heard that the feeling of party affiliation is very strong in the Armenian community of the Middle East. Is that true?
There are three Armenian political parties in Lebanon: “Dashnaktsutyun”, “Hnchakyan” and “Ramkavar”. Each of them has its own schools, sport and cultural centers. Majority of the population supports “Dashnaktsutyun” as, in my opinion, that party and especially such prominent figures as Simon Vratsyan, Levon Shant, Nikol Aghbalyan, Drastamat Kanayan have worked hard for the nation. All the schools and centers were built at their times and love for the party is transmitted from the generation to generation.
Are there any conflicts between Armenians because of different party affiliation?
There were such cases long ago. In 1958 many people died because of it, (the Armenian parties “Dashnaktsutyun” and “Hnchakyan” were supporting armed confessional communities to protect the community and to achieve their goals. This all led to the murder of certain Armenians by other Armenians) but now the community is becoming smaller, hence there are no such conflicts anymore.
Why is it becoming smaller?
It is difficult to live in Lebanon today. Conditions there are unpleasant, including infrastructure (water and energy issues) and economic problems. Besides, there is always a threat of war, including civilian. The Armenians of Lebanon have always had keen feeling of identity. As my grandmother mentions, Christian Arabs were speaking about Armenians in a bad manner and wished our ships had not reached Lebanon. Of course, there are rare cases of such conflicts now and we see a lot of marriages between Armenians and Arabs, however I still think that as other Christians, we also live in Lebanon temporarily.
As a former representative of the Moscow community, I thought the cases of mixed marriages in the Middle Eastern region were fewer than in Russia or in the West.
Yes, there are fewer cases than in Russia and it has its reasons. Only religious institutions have the authority to contract a marriage and divorce the couples. If an Armenian wants to marry, he can do it only by going to church, not to registry office. Anyway, the situation is becoming worse. Long ago the fathers were not speaking to their children if they had got married with Arabs, but now it’s all right.
Nevertheless, Armenians living in Syria and Lebanon preserve their identity better as they are in an alien environment.
Yes, better than in Russia. The members of the community know each other and a long ago it was embarrassing to get married with Arabs, but now everybody is cool about it.
As I understood, in the Armenian churches of Lebanon they do not marry Armenians with non-Armenians. Do they?
They marry them only of the man is an Armenian. After the marriage the wife becomes an Armenian.
What if the girl is an Armenian and the boy is a Christian from Lebanon?
In that case they should go to the Arabic church. Everything is decided upon a husband. If the husband is a Muslim, the couple should go to the Sheikh.
How Armenians of Lebanon treat Armenia?
Of course, the attitude towards Armenia is positive. Everybody loves Armenia. However, there are many stereotypes there: they say you will not be given an opportunity to work in Armenia, there is strong mafia there etc. I think it is easy to speak when you have done nothing. Frankly speaking, Armenians in Lebanon are very spoiled. They have all late-model phones and cars and they perceive Armenia as a cheap country. While the average salary in Lebanon is 1000 $, which is enough only for life without debts, in Armenia that is a substantial sum. There are mention about low-quality service and cheatings in taxies and restaurants in Armenia. You know, it may happen everywhere: any taxi driver in Lebanon may cheat the tourist from Armenia and take more money than needed. The situation is not so realistic, as there are few tourists in Lebanon from Armenia. Over time, Armenians in Lebanon will get used to the people of Armenia. There are a lot of cases of marriages between them now.
Could you bring an example, showing the distinguishing features of Armenians from different places?
There are a lot of funny moments connected with the language. For instance, the verb “շփվել” means “to communicate” in Armenia while in Lebanon it means “intimate relationships”. There was a couple and the wife wanted to tell the husband that she was just communicating with her classmate from India: “պարզապես շփվում ենք”. She repeated it several times and you can imagine what her husband was feeling until he figured out the meaning of the word.
With regard to latest events in Armenia, there are people in the diaspora that intent to return homeland. In which country would you like to live and why?
The strong Armenia will be attractive for those who left Armenia. Undoubtedly, I would like to live in Armenia, and I was thinking so far before these positive changes. However, I cannot move there now, because of family responsibilities but I am preparing for it and perceive Armenia as my home. I hope the conditions will be created for the mass repatriation, as it was in the case of Israel.
In fact, they already exist: Repatarmenia и Birthrightarmenia.
Yes, but the conditions are not the same as in Israel. There you are given a chance not only to learn the language, but you get pension and housing. I think the pensions are exclusively important. Moreover, there should be programs for adaptation. There are a lot of old people who would like to move to Armenia but they have no familiars there.
Yes, there are a lot of constraints and prejudices. I hope that the positive shifts in the country will contribute to the repatriation and our children will grow in their homeland. Thank you for the talk.
Thank you too.