My Way Home

Repat Story
Isa Paylan
Isa Paylan
| From Istanbul, Turkey | Moved in 2014

Isa Paylan, a repatriate from Istanbul, Turkey, moved to Armenia in 2014 and thinks that Armenia is the only place for Armenians to live.
Isa, how does your repatriation story begin?
I was born in 1960, in Malatia. When I was 12 years old, my family was one of the many Armenian families who moved to Istanbul, while others moved to Europe. I worked in the shoe business with my father in Istanbul. I remember Turkish children calling me a ‘’gyavour’’ (unbeliever), so from that moment on I realized that the only place where I will truly feel a complete part of the society would be in Armenia.

I came to Armenia in 1980 during the Soviet period as a young 18 year old man. I wanted to settle down here by myself, but my friends living in Armenia kept telling me that I can’t make my life here alone. As I hadn’t decided to completely repatriate, I went back to Istanbul. As the years passed by, my conscious desire of moving to Armenia stayed the same. So, after 34 years, I am now here living and enjoying my life in my homeland. I am now trying to adapt to the lifestyle and can no longer picture my life being away from my homeland.
What challenges do Armenians face in Turkey?
Nowadays, Armenians face many challenges: poor Armenian education (all classes are in Turkish except Armenian language class), intercultural marriages, preservation of the Armenian identity and much more. There are very few Armenians living in the territory of Western Armenia. Many of them emigrated to Europe while others moved to Istanbul, where according to official indicators, live approximately 50,000 Armenians. The fact that many of them don’t speak Armenian is frustrating. I can’t speak Armenian either because my parents can hardly even understand the language.

Back then, after Armenian Genocide, Armenian schools and churches weren’t closed in Istanbul. For instance, my grandparents went to Armenian school where everything was in Armenian except Turkish language class. This changed when it came time for my parents to begin school, so they learned everything in Turkish. The issues with Armenian church and intercultural marriages are another serious topic for discussion, so I would prefer not to talk about that and keep the positivism of our interview. Despite all these facts, there is strong Armenian community that, no matter any obstacle, preserves the identity and works of the Armenian community in Istanbul. I strongly respect their endurance and determination, but for me, it is no longer possible to live under those constraints and keep my Armenian identity in Turkey.
Isa, have you compared Soviet Armenia with today’s Armenia?
There are many differences and they are very noticeable, particularly in Yerevan. The city continues to develop, there are many restaurants, public places, and modern buildings that catch your attention. Many of the problems though, are outside of Yerevan. We can also notice the lack of factories which is a sign of low employment, compared with the higher employment of the Soviet period and such other factors, slow the growth of the country.

I can’t understand the fact that people in Armenia start their day at 8 am, 9 am or even later. You know, I used to wake up at 5 or 6 am, work hard for many hours to earn my living back in Istanbul. So, there are also irrational motives for low employment and slow growth. However I’m 100% sure that if people realize that they can have a real future here, they will leave everything and move to Armenia. Sometimes it takes too long, but if there is a will, there is certainly a way.
Isa, why did you repatriate?
Some Armenians come here for work, others move here because they feel that the homeland needs them. I repatriated because I’ve always wanted to live in Armenia. Moreover, I think if you are an Armenian, you should live in Armenia. I also like the mountains, fresh air and peace of mind I have here. The only place where I find everything I want, is in Armenia. You know, I couldn’t speak Armenian when I came here, now, I can express my thoughts in my mother tongue. I can say that being Armenian is in my soul and in my veins, but the only thing that can keep me an Armenian is a life in Armenia.
What is your advice for those who want to repatriate?
Everyone should have his/her own experience. When I came here, I only knew a few friends here from Turkey and I didn’t know the language, but my persistence helped me to overcome these difficulties and I am still trying to make my way. You should remember that homeland doesn’t mean paradise or heaven, it’s a country with everything: disappointments, suffering, poverty but also with success, love, care and the warm characteristics of the people living here.

If you seek only a materialistic lifestyle, this country may not be the best for you, you should love it with all it’s “spices”. Once you are in love with Armenia, you will leave your heart here forever.

Special thanks to Turkish translator Gevorg Kalloshyan, who helped me during the interview.

Interviewed by Rima Yeghiazarian
Edited by Ardag Kosian

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