[caption id="attachment_1703" align="alignleft" width="300"] Participants have plenty of time to socialize and enjoy Armenia[/caption]
The Armenian diaspora, the older generations in particular, are concerned about not only cultural but genetic assimilation. In an attempt to encourage Armenians born in foreign countries to "foster a connection to their homeland," Birthright Armenia initiated a volunteer program to enable over four hundred volunteers of Armenian heritage to live and work in the country. The program has a remarkable impact on these young adults who can learn more about their culture and claim a role in the future of Armenia.
Anouch Adjemian is of Armenian and Vietnamese heritage and has been living in Belgium. He said that by coming to Armenia, he has been able to reconnect with his roots. Many others like Anouch have benefited from the program since it began in 2004, as it has sometimes been difficult for them to hold onto their identity outside their ethnic homeland.
By joining the program, the participants meet a lot of people, and within the first five years of the program, twelve volunteers met their future Armenian spouse. Stephanie Johnson traveled all the way from Boston, MA to join Birthright Armenia and said that her fiancé is Armenian, and they met one another while they were doing Birthright Armenia in 2006.
Birthright Armenia has allowed young Armenians to preserve their culture having expressed itself in two specific ways: This has been by either seeing the volunteers renew their Armenian identity by connecting with modern day Armenia, or by recognizing the importance of having an Armenian partner for life. Many have considered it necessary to marry another Armenian so that they may pass down their heritage to the next generation.
[caption id="attachment_1704" align="alignright" width="300"] Meeting other Armenians is the best of the program[/caption]
The great part about this program is that anyone who has at least some Armenian heritage is welcome to join, and it is a remarkable experience for young Armenians to come to their homeland and live a modern-day Armenian lifestyle engaging with other Armenians.
Most of the people who joined Birthright Armenia commented on how they bonded with the homeland and saw it as an essential part of their future. One such participant stated that through Birthright Armenia she absolutely fell in love with the country, and this added an element which she wanted from a partner. She needed someone who would enjoy living there and "accepted a similar feeling of obligation about staying involved with Armenia for a lifetime."
Nyree Abrahamian, a volunteer, met her husband while she was on the program and they later married in Armenia. They have been living in Armenia for the past two years, and she says that having an Armenian husband, was not that important to her, as longs as she could marry a man who had a genuine interest in her culture, and saw it as an important part of who she is. She said that the program had such an influence on her perception of being Armenian, and it has changed her outlook on the future.
Birthright Armenia is a valuable program to Armenian immigrants and their families who have young adults interested in reconnecting with their roots. It is an experience which will live in their hearts, and for those who return to their countries abroad, their identity as Armenians will be imprinted on them forever.