Practical Armenia, my experience - Part one

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Motivations

My friend Vartan Marashlyan from Repat Armenia asked me to write some blog posts about what I thought would be practical to the Professional Armenian diaspora writ large. I’m writing this in the hopes that it will dispel nonsensical, toxic myths about Armenia and inspire many more talented young professionals in the Armenian worldwide Diaspora to give Armenia a chance.

Keep in mind that this is my point of view

See part two here

On mobile might need to scroll the pro-tip/anecdotes horizontally.

About me

I don’t want to waste too much time talking about myself so I will keep it brief. My name is Edgar Aroutiounian, I’m a 27-year-old Armenian-American and I was born in T’bilisi. In 1993 my family immigrated to the United States and I was raised in New York City then spent teenage years in Florida, started adult life back in NYC and finally moving to San Francisco for a neat career opportunity.

Growing up I spoke Russian at home, no Armenian, I was never taught it. Career wise I am a polyglot programmer, which means I work comfortably in multiple domains, programming languages. Basically, if it involves programming, I can do it.

During Mid-2016 I decided to drop everything and move to Armenia.

Going to Armenia, the build up

In late 2015 I read My Brother's Road, a book about one of my childhood heroes, Monte Melkonian. The book started something in me that I didn’t realize at the time would push me over the Atlantic. At the time I working at a San Francisco startup, living in Oakland; my job was to reverse engineer iOS. By April 2016 I had left that startup and was being courted by Facebook, and Google. Funny story, I have hung up Google twice out of nervousness during the second stage programmer phone interview (I choked).

April 2016 was of course the Four-day war in Artsakh when Azerbaijan attacked our homeland, that bothered me greatly. Around that time my personal life was falling apart as well, I lost my closest person, and that was entirely my fault; I am still recovering from that. Then in mid July the Sasna Tsrer crisis happened and I read what the war heroes said, I realized that the previous generation had given up so much to establish Armenia & Artsakh as independent entities but now the State was faltering, stagnating and going nowhere fast. Our enemies also knew this and so did the native population, (30% of the Armenian native population has physically left Armenia). So I decided to stop everything and go to Armenia, I decided that on a Tuesday, told my then girlfriend that I would pay for her airplane ticket to come with me. By Thursday I had bought the tickets and by that following Sunday I was in Yerevan, that was August 1st 2016.

(Actually, I didn’t even have housing before landing, I secured it on AirBnb right in front of the gate as the connection flight from Doha to Yerevan was boarding).

Landing in Armenia

I don’t have any blood relatives in Armenia so no one met me at the airport and I was subsequently ripped off by my first taxi driver in the country, I didn’t have an intuition yet about dram values. My first place, the AirBnb, was in Erebuni and was decent. I had always read that the Caucasus region was known for its hospitality so I figured I could basically wing it, and by ‘it’ I mean literally everything. On day three in the country I attended a movie screening at AUA, the American University of Armenia, and after the movie was over I announced who I was and what I was doing. Truth be told I didn’t know what I was doing but I did say that I was a programmer from San Francisco and I wanted to help the country become better in whatever way I could. Afterward some students came up to me and I started making friends, one of whom later got me a hookup for renting an Apartment from his extended family. With housing secured I could focus on work.

PRO-TIP: You need to be talking to as 
many people as possible but also
filter out the negative people.
MISCONCEPTION: Armenia/Yerevan 
is a dangerous 
place where you have to
pay mafia people for 
everything and anything.

REALITY: Completely bullshit. 
Yerevan is incredibly safe and I never
had to deal with any shady people. 
Oakland, CA is more dangerous than
Yerevan, Yerevan doesn't have LA style 
drive bys or NYC style random beatings.

Establishing myself

Up to that time I didn’t have Facebook, ironic as I was interviewing with them in Menlo Park, CA, but I soon realized that Armenia lives on Facebook so I had to make an account. I started talking to many people, as many as I could and that meant meeting many people in coffee shops, basically two people a day for about three weeks.

PRO-TIP: Respect yourself and worth. 
Many people will see you as a
goldmine or bag of money. Respectfully 
listen and say you will get
back with an answer, 
always be professional.

Initially I set up roots in Impact Hub, but left within two weeks after I realized that their visions did not align with mine. I have strong opinions and I think that NGOs in general have failed Armenia and that business, profit making, employing people is the smartest way to build the country up ASAP. Being a programmer, I started looking for more serious directly involved tech people and started thinking about what I was missing.

PRO-TIP: Don't waste any time if 
visions don't align, move on.

Around the end of August, I came up with the idea of a hackerspace, a place where programmers could meet up and exchange ideas, work on projects together. Nothing of the sort existed at the time and I started networking to find willing hosts.

PRO-TIP: You need to know more than 
just English to get anything
serious done, Russian does great.

I started with the usual suspects, AUA, TUMO, etc. but was greeted with basically the same replies of “Oh that’s a great idea” but when push came to shove, aka providing a physical place & computers, then everyone became suddenly shy. TUMO especially surprised me in their rejection as at the time the entire upper two floors were completely empty.

PRO-TIP: Never get discouraged.

I also met with many Armenian local tech companies, but then backed out of relationships with some of them once I realized that they wanted me to be effectively a free trainer for their workers, teaching specifically, their technologies and not the ideological freedom that I needed.

PRO-TIP: Cultural pressure to do what 
people what you to do is much
more powerful in Armenia than in America.

Eventually I met the right people at the Innovative Solution & Technologies Center, ISTC, and they took a chance on the idea, the very day of being given the green light I started the first coding working shops.

REALITY: Any diaspora Armenian doing useful 
things in Armenia will be
warmly greeted, accepted. People know its 
odd for someone to leave
wealth for Armenia, you will be appreciated 
especially if you're from
tech since its basically the most important and 
growing industry. I
have never NOT ONCE ever felt like a 
stranger in Armenia, always loved.

Tech scene, resources

MISCONCEPTION: Armenia is broke, 
nothing works, everything is old.

REALITY: My internet speed in Yerevan 
was faster that what I got in
Silicon Valley. Physical infrastructure 
is pretty good, the metro
system is limited to basically the center 
of Yerevan but its cheap,
like 20 cents a ride. People have the latest 
iPhones, iMacs...lack of
physical tech is not a problem.

The tech scene is doing well and everyone is in a way pinning their hopes on it, however what’s lacking now are people with real industry experience who are also willing to share that knowledge.

PRO-TIP: You need to always be 
maintaining your relationships,
otherwise they decaying.

Professionalism

Armenia is still developing in this aspect, so expect everyone to be late at least 15 minutes to everything. The general pace of things is a noticeably slower than what a New Yorker or SF techie might be used to, example: it’s rare for people to walk up the escalator or to use the left side as passing…which for a New Yorker like me…is maddening. Although I am happy to not have to do the PATH WTC train commute, that sucked.

PRO-TIP: Don't lower your standards but 
be cognizant of cultural diffferences.

This is it for now, tweet me at for feedback Էդգար.