by Adam Rosenblatt

My first experience of Armenia on the FAR Young Professionals trip was nothing short of profound, in all ways.

10 years ago, I was only dimly aware of Armenia’s existence at all. My closest point of reference for the entirety of Armenian culture was Serj Tankian and System of a Down. I began my rather rapid education of all things Armenian in 2010 when I started dating the girl who would eventually be my wife. She lived the first years of her life in Yerevan, and has visited regularly since leaving. She would often make comments like “These bell peppers are nothing like the ones in Armenia,” or “This bread reminds me of Armenian Matnakash, only Matnakash is way better” or “The figs in America are so tiny and flavorless.”

Along with my education in Armenian foods, I began learning bit by bit about Armenia’s history and culture, and became more enthralled with each new piece. So, when we decided to go on the YP trip, I wasn’t just excited to try out my six words of Armenian on some real locals. I was looking forward to experiencing firsthand everything I had been told about, from the millennial-age monasteries, to the lush beauty of Artsakh, to the 80-dram ice creams, and even to the extra-strength July sun and heat.

Of course, the trip ended up being so much more than just what I expected. I was surprised nearly every day by some unexpected discovery. The monastery at Geghard may have been my favorite. I’ve been inside a handful of European gothic cathedrals, each one being a huge, towering and cavernous structure that seems to be attempting to reach the heavens themselves. Geghard, however, was built the opposite way: into the rock of a mountainside and into the earth of Armenia. I thought it spoke volumes about Armenia’s religious identity, its roots, and I felt it to be one of the only places I’ve ever been that was truly suffused with spirituality and profundity.

The greatest thrill came on our journey to the Tatev monastery via the world’s longest aerial tramway. When you make the pass over the final tower and the ground is suddenly 1,000 feet further beneath you, it’s infinitely better than any IMAX fly-over shot, 3D or no.

Not every surprise was like Geghard and Tatev, though. Some were certainly more sobering. We were given the chance to see some of FAR’s longstanding projects such as a soup kitchen in Gyumri, and their Children’s Center in Yerevan. At both places we were greeted with immense energy and vigor. Adults and kids alike were incredibly vivacious and spirited. They did in fact represent some of the most disenfranchised parts of the Armenian population. I felt very mixed emotions during these moments. It was abundantly clear that these people had undergone intense hardships. Knowing that a significant portion of the population lives in immensely adverse conditions was a painful realization. On the other hand, to say their unshakeable optimism and vivacity was heartwarming would be a gross understatement. Clearly there’s much progress to be made in Armenia. But understanding what FAR and other organizations are striving to realize each day was perhaps the most important discovery I made.

I saw many manifestations of the uncertain future in Armenian faces. But for each of these instances, I also witnessed moments of pure optimism. I can truly say that Armenians are the most resilient, resourceful, and (in the best way) obstinate people I have met (not even mentioning the wicked sense of humor). There is no doubt in my mind that I will be returning to Armenia in the future.