“Armenia? Where is it? And what do the people speak there? Russian? Is it not too dangerous to go there?” Such questions people asked me when I told them that I would be living in Armenia for eight months. Actually I also didn´t know anything about this mysterious country before I applied for the European Voluntary Service (EVS) in Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city. I was just sure of one thing: I wanted to spend my EVS in a completely different, adventurous place, as far as possible from Germany, but still in Europe.
In this sense, Armenia (or Hayastan, in the local language ), the land of apricots, seemed right for me. Armenia is situated in the Caucasus and was the first country to adopt Christianity as the state religion. հայերեն (Armenian) is spoken, a language with an alphabet, which at first glance looks to be an incomprehensible arrangement of lines and arcs that Mesrop Mashtots invented in 405 AD. The language is not similar to any other but I love how it sounds: Բարև ձեզ: Barev dses! (Good day!), Ինչպես ես: Inshpes es? (How are you?), Լավ եմ, շնորհակալություն: Lav em shnorhakalutjun! (Fine, thank you!). I work in the Youth Initiative Centre of Gyumri, an NGO that focuses on youth work and international projects.
Along with seven volunteers from Poland, Portugal, Romania, Denmark, Austria and Germany, we provide language training for young people and organize the European Club, in which European culture and traditions are presented. We also work out of the office. For instance, I organized a cultural project with children from a social center and students from the Art Academy, and every Friday we run a coffee bar for students with music sessions, exhibitions, theatre, etc. We are also planning further projects: a street-art one, an online platform for all events in Gyumri and a youth exchange for cinema students from different countries.
Organizing all these activities is one of reasons why I feel so comfortable working here. I also enjoy spending time with the people from the organization. The volunteers live together in two flats, four people in each one. We cook, talk and travel through Armenia. We are getting new ideas all the time, for example on the 45 minute Mashrutka ride from our apartment to the office (mashrutkas are minibuses, which are always crowded). Armenia is an extraordinary country. I can not really answer whether it belongs to Europe or to Asia. I think even the Armenians are not quite sure about it. Why is it so? They are Christians like most European countries. But some aspects of their lifestyle are typical from Orient, like the bazar where fresh fruits, vegetables and flatbread (called lavash) are sold. Is it Europe and it is Asia at the same time? No, wrong; it is the Caucasus.
(Reflections from Nele Tast, 21 years old, whose sending organization during his EVS in Armenia is Citizens of Europe.)