The frenzy started long before their plane touched down in Yerevan. Indeed for months beforehand many Armenians were buzzing with questions, demanding to know when are they coming? Where will they visit? Will there be a chance to take a selfie together?
Whether you love her or love to hate her, Kim Kardashian West is undeniably one of the most famous people in the world. And for those who criticize the reality TV star as being famous for pretty much doing nothing of substance, they disregard her status as a worldwide media phenomenon —followed on social media by more than 35 million people, while her signature reality TV series, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, is currently in its tenth season That enormous platform and ability to influence public opinion is not lost on Kardashian West.
She proved as much this April, bringing her family with her to Armenia to raise global awareness about the Armenian Genocide. The four-day visit generated international media coverage, successfully drawing the world’s spotlight on Armenia in an unprecedented fashion.
“The Journey of a Lifetime”
On the evening of April 8 the Kardashian-West clan arrived at the Zvartnots International Airport to a warm welcome with live zurna and women dressed in traditional Armenian costumes offering bread and salt. “Armenia we are here!!!!!” posted Kardashian West on her Instagram account, immediately sharing her experience with millions of followers. “We are so grateful to be here & start this journey of a lifetime!”
Throughout the duration of their visit fans planted themselves outside the Marriott Hotel in Republic Square to catch a glimpse of the stars, prompting another Instagram message of gratitude this time from sister Khloe Kardashian.“The love and welcoming to Armenia has been overwhelmingly beautiful!!! I wholeheartedly can't believe all of you Angels who are outside our hotel with flowers and smiles.”
Though the Kardashians have always embraced their heritage, conservative Armenian society has not always embraced Kardashian West. Her visit however quickly changed the minds of many who had preconceived notions of her reputation. For political satirist and co-host of ArmComedy Narek Margaryan, it was hard not to be swept away. “We love her very very very much,” he gushed. “Kim was all I expected and more. For most people she went from non-existent to someone to be proud of. Even many skeptical ones were taken off guard by how positive and curious she was about her heritage. All the awareness and media coverage she brought made people respect her more.”
On day one the two sisters along with their two cousins visited with Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, the Mother Armenia monument, and spent a considerable amount of time taking selfies with fans on the steps of the Cascade.
In the next three days the group traveled to Gyumri to visit distant relatives, made a trip to Geghard Monastery, and experienced traditions such as Armenian costumes and carpet weaving. Throughout the visit Kanye West gave the spotlight to his wife but still made time to visit the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies.
Kim and Khloe were very generous with their fans, spending time meeting with them and taking selfies along the way.
On their visit to Dzidzernagapert Khloe posted on her Instagram, “We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey as a country.” Both Kim and Khloe posted a photo of the two of them placing flowers around the eternal flame.
In addition to tweeting and posting the highlights of their trip all over social media, international media ranging from The New York Times, HBO’s John Oliver, to entertainment magazines like People reported on the Kardashian-West visit and in doing so educated audiences across a broad spectrum about the Armenian Genocide.
The Farewell: #EpicNight
On the evening of April 12 the people of Yerevan received the surprise of a lifetime when the Kardashian-West’s bodyguard Pascal Duvier informed the world in a social media post about the “Free Kanye West Concert” at midnight at Swan Lake located just in front of the Opera. Within barely one hour, more than one thousand curious fans, myself included, rushed to the lake. Whether you were there in person or watched the concert live-streamed over the internet, the performance was epic and famously ended with West jumping into the lake in a splash seen across the world.
The Kardashian-West visit generated a palpable sense of excitement in Armenia. “I really loved the atmosphere in the city,” said website developer Gregory Hovanesyan. “Everybody talked about it, crowds of people in the city center waiting for them. It was sort of like a holiday.”
Not everyone was as impressed, but nonetheless came to respect what the reality tv star accomplished. Documentarian Seg Kirakossian’s response was more neutral, “I can't say that I had a special attitude towards Kim before coming to Armenia, so the news about her visit was not so shocking or joyful for me. I just was glad that another Armenian decided to come to her homeland. I got a positive personal impression about her character, but still I am not interested in her life.”
The visit also shed light on issues other than Genocide. Popular online news magazine The Daily Beast wrote a feature entitled, “If Kim Kardashian Had an Armenian Man in Armenia, She’d Be At Risk,” highlighting recent legal cases brought forward by victims of domestic violence and legislation that will soon to be considered by the Armenian Parliament.
“I was pleased to see so many fellow Armenians break down their own stereotypes about Kim and embrace her for the strong woman she is,” says women’s rights advocate Perchuhy Kazhoyan. “I think her visit to Armenia made a lot of us reevaluate the way we think, the way we generalize and label people and how that turns out to be wrong. Most importantly it helped destroy myths and stereotypes about Armenians' perceptions regarding women's roles.”
Nvard Manasian, a lecturer on Gender Studies, remarked upon Kardashian West’s contribution to female body image, for which the Kardashian family is well known. “As a woman I was proud to see another woman with so much pride and poise in her feminine body and no one in this world has a say in how a woman, in this case Kim Kardashian, makes use of her own body.” Manasian added that “on an ‘Armenian’ level I am wholeheartedly thankful for what she did for all of us, ‘blockbustering' Armenia globally. She spoke for her unfinished cause as an Armenian and as a woman.”
On April 24, 2015, Kardashian-West, who was selected by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in media, penned an exclusive essay for the magazine reflecting on her Armenian heritage and the Genocide.
“The whole point of remembering the Genocide is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. A million-and-a-half people were brutally massacred, and a country can just pretend like it never happened? I don’t think that’s right.” She urged President Obama to use the word genocide and expressed her disappointment when he failed to do so again, despite an electoral promise years earlier.
Kardashian-West also acknowledged the carefully calculated timing of her trip to raise Genocide awareness. “We have this spotlight to bring attention to it, so why would we just sit back? Now is the time to speak out, and every little bit helps. I will continue to ask the questions and fight for the genocide to be recognized for what it was.”
After their Armenian tour, the next stop for the Kardashian West clan was Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter, where daughter North was baptized in Saint James Cathedral. As the girl’s godmother, Aunt Khloe assisted the ceremony while an Armenian priest stood in as godfather.
Reflecting upon the impact of the visit and the unprecedented international attention Armenia received as a result, media expert Samvel Martirosyan concluded that “Kim has rocked Armenia. And Armenia will not be the same after this visit.”
Adrineh Gregorian is a documentary filmmaker, originally from Los Angeles, now living in Yerevan. For more about her visit www.adrinehgregorian.com.