Our Repats: Sashka Avanyan
29 September 2019
A couple years ago, if you were to ask Sashka Avanyan "where is home?” she wouldn’t have had an answer. Born in Houston, Texas, she spent her childhood in Moscow before moving to Toronto, Canada at age fourteen. Any sense of national identity was elusive growing up: though consistently labeled as the American, the Russian, the Canadian, none of those titles truly “clicked.” Only latently aware that her last name was Armenian, it wasn’t until someone approached her about it during her third year of university did she make the connection. Looking for a “change of scenery,” she found herself volunteering in Vanadzor through Birthright Armenia that same summer. That “new scenery” would soon become home.
Now, a couple years later, the first thing Sashka tells people is “spyurka hay em:” I am diaspora Armenian.
While enamoured with her life in Vanadzor, everyday has admittedly been a struggle to reconcile her open-minded worldview with a radically more conservative environment. Despite this, she has come to understand that the shared values of “friendship, community, and loyalty” she experiences in Vanadzor matter much more to her than feeling isolated amongst like-minded people back in Canada. “The way that I live my life is far more ‘Armenian’ culturally speaking.” There’s something to be said about having “fifteen people I could call at any given minute that would drop everything just to help me move a piece of furniture.”
One adage she’s working hard to eradicate? Gorts chka vanadzorum. There is no work in Vanadzor. Tired of witnessing her friends, many of them talented artists, leaving to find livelihoods elsewhere, Sashka co-founded Creopia Productions: a visual arts production company striving to galvanize and empower the “huge, untapped source of creative energy” still alive in the post-industrial city. Alongside her partner, Vanadzor native Lusine Poghosyan, the pair seek to “stare ideas directly in the eye” through their socially conscious projects.
Her advice to potential repatriates? Get out of Yerevan, or even just outside Kentron. There’s much more to the country than its capital, and it’s in desperate need for a new energy. If you have a “gut feeling” to come here - listen to it, even just for a year or two, and while it won’t be easy: “if you come with the right attitude, you will find the people that will stand behind you.”
Learn more about Sashka and her work at Creopia Productions, as well as this profile by Repat Armenia: http://repatarmenia.org/en/engage/inspiration/a/sashka-avanyan. Let’s stand behind her and Lusine’s mission to revitalize Vanadzor into one of the leading creative hubs in the Caucasus!