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Armenian descendants take steps toward the homeland

As information about repatriation spreads, some Armenian descendants are making the move.

December 25, 2013|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • Many who move from Southern California back to Armenia call themselves repatriates and believe they can help shape the country of their ancestors.
Many who move from Southern California back to Armenia… (Steve Greenberg…)

Sevan Kabakian moved with his wife and children, who were all born in Glendale, to Armenia with a plan.

The couple knew where they’d enroll their three children in school. They knew Kabakian would have a job — working for Birthright Armenia, an organization that offers volunteer opportunities in that country for those of Armenian descent — leaving an 18-year career as an aerospace engineer behind. They knew they wanted to help build something.

“All of us who move here, we kind of want to be part of this country’s development,” said Kabakian, who moved in 2006. “It’s none of this homeland is paradise on earth. People that live here long term end up being pragmatic. There’s a desire to help, but you can’t build a nation on sentiments.”

Armenia, which has been independent from the Soviet Union since 1991, is still a country in transition, marked by high rates of emigration, unemployment and poverty. Yet outsiders with ancestral connections move there because they want to help it improve.

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It doesn’t happen often, but those that do immigrate to Armenia from Glendale and the greater Los Angeles-area — one of the largest Armenian communities in the world — have similar traits. They’re idealists. They believe in a global community. They want to give back to a country they weren’t born in, but consider a homeland. And they almost always move because an opportunity presented itself.

That happened to Kabakian, 50, with Birthright Armenia, and Glendale native Alex Sardar, who got an email in 2002 about a position working for an international development organization. At 27, he had his dream job: working on democratic reform and managing a $2-million budget.

The transition was difficult for Sardar though, the idealized Armenia the now 39-year-old had grown up hearing about didn’t hold up in real life. The country had energy-supply problems, it took months to get a phone line, he found it hard to fit in and the pollution was overwhelming — even though he grew up near smog-filled Los Angeles.

But then something clicked. His job was supposed to be for two years, but he ended up staying in Armenia for nearly 12, moving just this year to Washington, D.C. for a job.

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