Ralph Yirikian has been the most effective and influential corporate leader in independent Armenia. Unfortunately for Armenia, there has not been much competition for such honors. Yirikian—through his leadership of VivaCell-MTS communications company—has practically single-handedly introduced, defined and demonstrated the behavior of a contemporary global professional, bringing a refreshing and clarifying presence onto the scene of Armenia's closed, oligarch-dominated business world.
It is December 1993. Armenia is at war. People are leaving with every chance. Water is rationed and electricity is as inconsistent as full shelves in sparse shops. Arpi Vartanian has just earned a degree in international management and, at 27, the bright Armenian-American from Michigan has promise and prospects waiting. She puts a goose-down comforter and candles in one of two suitcases and launches her professional career in cold, dark Armenia. Seventeen years later, at 44, she looks back...
Eleven years ago Shakeh Havan-Karapetian came to Armenia from Boston with a pioneering patriotism mixed with realistic expectations. The result of her life journey is a business that today is a Yerevan institution.
Alex Sardar has an unenviable task of helping build civil society in Armenia. He has, too, an enviable attitude, required for his success and for Armenia's hoped-for better future. Living in Armenia for nearly nine years, Sardar has learned to appreciate "the process" of helping create change. Whether or not he sees the end result is no less important than being part of the effort. Arriving in Armenia in April 2003, Sardar came by way of California, but was born in Iran and lived in Germany until he was 15.
The bright idea of the Luys (Light) Foundation led 52-year-old Jacqueline Karaaslanian to change her life dramatically, leave her career at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and start a new phase of her life, in Armenia. For more than 25 years at MIT, including as a special projects director (Future of Learning Group), Karaaslanian had worked on developing educational programs worldwide. In 2009, she was invited to apply her talents in Armenia as the Foundation's director.
In the 1990s Jirair Avanian's reputation was near mythical in Yerevan. Whatever business appeared that broke the Soviet mold in the glacial-speed development of Armenia as a free market was immediately thought to belong to the repatriate with Western ideas. For more than a decade, though, his own name has become an appendage to the landmark restaurant he opened in 1998. The bubbly businessman is more likely now to be referred to as "Dolmama Jirair."
As I am standing in a queue at a border crossing several years past, my time comes to hand over documents. The agent looks at the documents; looks at me. "So you are a U.S. citizen, but a resident of Armenia," the agent says. "Yes," say I. Border agent: "Why?" That's a good question that has been 10 years in answering, as I complete the most unexpected and unexplainable decade of my 56 years.
Nairi Khechumian, 27, carefully signs her new passport, vowing that she shall be a good citizen. It is a profound moment for her, stated simply: "I wanted to be able to read in my passport: 'A citizen of the Republic of Armenia.'" Khechumian came to Armenia from Iran in 2004 to study. Later she married an Armenian repatriate from the United Kingdom and they decided to live in Armenia.
In 1996, when Shant Bozoian left Syria to live in Armenia, his decision surprised not only his relatives living in Kamishly, but also his acquaintances in Armenia "They were asking me in Syria what I was looking for in Armenia, which had no electricity and no water (at least it was so perceived, though not accurate by 1996)," 58-year-old Bozoian says. And on the other end of his journey, people in Armenia questioned why he would want to move there, when so many were trying to get out of the struggling country.
Nearly a century after surviving the greatest threat to its identity and indeed to its very existence, the worldwide nation of contemporary Armenia is challenged by assimilation. More Armenians live outside the republic than inside it, creating a sort of virtual community that is linked by blood, language and history but only partly by the commonality of a single society.
From Washington, D.C. to Yerevan, Richard Giragosian has created a reputation as an erudite analyst of the gnarly politics that often bewilder the rest of the world (to the extent that anyone pays attention) in trying to decipher life in Armenia and its neighborhood. Giragosian's challenge is to make sense of Caucasus-style politics, where rules are made up on a shifting political landscape that frequently appears lost in transition, even for scientists.
By nearly any standard, the lives and careers of Pegor and Marie Lou Papazian are exceptional, measured from Lebanon, to New York, to Spain, to California, and almost to Thailand, before adding Armenia to the twisting journey followed on their professional paths. At age 46, the couple, who have known each other since their childhood in Beirut, are leading projects in Armenia that would be crowning achievements for most, but for the Papazians come as mid-career challenges and successes that likely are just a beginning.
In 1972, a combination of political ideology and curiosity brought Yervand Minasian to Soviet Armenia from Iraq. The young man bursting with communist naiveté was disappointed in Armenia. He had long heard his father praise Armenia, from which the family originated. Upon arrival, though, Minasian was refused citizenship, and was further disappointed to learn that his only chance to get a communist membership card was through bribery.
Over the past half decade or so, no diasporan presence in Armenia has so noticeably increased more than that from Iran. When Armenia hosted Iran for a soccer match this August, one commentator said it appeared as if the game were held in Tehran, given the large turnout of Iranians on hand at Vazgen Sarkisian Republic Stadium in Yerevan.