ASPIRANTUM Persian Program – Summer 2019

Over the course of a six-week Persian program through ASPIRANTUM in Yerevan, Armenia, I explored, learned, and built a network of colleagues that made my stay intellectually intriguing. During the welcome dinner for the program, I recall that Dr. Khachik Gevorgyan, director of ASPIRANTUM, stated: “This summer program is not just about learning a foreign language, but about building social relations with one another.” The ethos of social interaction permeated through the entirety of my experience in Armenia.

Carson, Mindy, Angela, Rouzan Saryan, Nassima
(Left to Right)

Known for its opulent monasteries and gregarious people, I discovered that Armenia has well-kept traditions as well as a booming gaming culture. On July 19th, I intimately experienced one tradition called Vardavar, a pagan tradition that has come to represent the transfiguration of Jesus Christ whereupon Armenians drench one another with buckets of water. The social aspect was one filled with laughter, joy, and celebration.

Hayravank Monastery on the southwest of Lake Sevan

While walking along Yeznik Koghbatsi St. on that day, a group of teenagers were holding buckets of water on the sidewalk. After our brief conversation, they threw their buckets of water over my head exclaiming “welcome to Armenia!” I continued my journey to a juice stand called Coffee INN, one of the baristas had just returned soaked from the festivities exchanging a few words with their colleague. Together we had a laugh, and I continued my walk around Mesrop Mashtots Ave. Children held water guns and came running around and laughing hysterically as they got me, a mere passerby. I noted the sheer delight as everyone engaged with one another, even a police officer on duty chuckling as he held witness.

Saryan’s painting of a group of Persians on a carpet

The Vardavar tradition was one of the many pleasant surprises I experienced in Yerevan. Every day that I strolled along the streets, I noticed the Soviet architecture with beautifully carved reliefs. While the streets are filled with art, Yerevan has many museums as well. The one I find quite memorable is Maritros Saryan House-Museum named after a famous Armenian painter, on Saryan St in Yerevan. The guide Rouzan, the granddaughter of Saryan, recounted the life of her grandfather as one of transformation in style. Initially focusing on landscapes with a dark palate, Saryan transformed his work to one of the fantastical to the realistic and eventually conveying the soul leaving the body in an abstract approach.

Armenia’s natural beauty should be well noted among anyone who seeks to travel to this country. Beyond the city center, one can enjoy the likes of Lake Sevan in eastern Armenia and visit the two monasteries in that region. Nestled on the edge of the lake, Hayravank Monastery overlooks Sevan invoking a sense of serenity, hurling visitors into the 9th century. In northeastern Armenia, I found the trails of Lastiver a wonderful challenge and zip-lined thereafter.

Lake Sevan

From art to nature, Yerevan has much to offer for travelers, and to my surprise, the city even has gaming cafés on just about every corner. The first café I visited in Yerevan was Nexus Internet Game Club on Pushkin St. Most gamers I know choose to game at home rather than go out into the sunlight as if it would cramp their vampiric lifestyle (guilty of this myself). Instead of playing together in a café, they choose to speak to each other over applications like Discord. However, the atmosphere in Yerevan invoked a sense of camaraderie and sociability suggesting Armenians are gregarious gamers. The physical space at Nexus planted players together, as I could hear gamers battle each other in virtual worlds whilst cheering each other on. While not everyone in this space considered themselves a gamer, it quintessentially allowed Yerevan citizens and travelers the ability to socialize and play games like PUBG, Fortnite, and League of Legends with friends.

Interestingly, these gaming spaces cultivate interest among gamers across transnational boundaries and are not solely male spaces. Iranian travelers to Yerevan, and women gamers, may afford themselves the opportunity to enjoy and entertain themselves in these spaces, like at Nexus. Sektor E-Sport Café on Chaykovski St is seeking to extend their esports club to include a competitive women’s team. Indeed, I found this café particularly fascinating as it had images from games painted on the walls as well as a diverse welcoming staff. As a gamer myself, I appreciated the high need to achieve among the gamers I witnessed playing at this venue. I also had the opportunity to discuss e-sports and the goals of Sektor Café with Director and Founder Tariel Barseghyan. According to Dir. Barseghyan, “gamers become sportsman,” and thusly, the café’s goal is to reach a highly competitive level in cybersports, which will begin with the promotion of and hosting tournaments for gamers in Armenia.

My experience in Armenia was unexpectedly wonderful. I merely had the desire to expand my language skills, but lo and behold, as my Persian skills progressed, I visited interesting sites, expanded my pre-dissertation research, and made lasting friendships.