Jiray: A Citizen in Absentia
I had made the mistake of sitting almost directly under the speakers that provided music for the whole cafe. Some soft rock was playing right above our heads, and it seemed to rain down directly into my recorder. Still our conversation moved along. “And um, but, it seems like the way that I feel constantly changes. You know it goes from not thinking about the place [Baku, Azerbaijan], there’s nothing that ties me to there, but at the same time I lived there for thirteen years. You can’t take that out, you can’t take that away.” I nodded in agreement. At the start of this project, I didn’t think I was going to be examining the spaces of diaspora (whether those spaces are emotional, mental, cultural, geographical, etc.). But here I was, listening to a woman describe the constant tension she experienced in trying to reconcile her relationship with two different homes (Providence and Baku).
That sense of home, however bifurcated, was tied directly to the people she was with. In Baku, her fellow Bakutsi Armenians, her Azerbaijani neighbors, her Russian schoolmates. In Boston and Providence, her family, her husband, and the American friends they made. It was only later in her life that she realized how important it was to maintain a connection with her Armenian cultural and historical background. She hadn’t thought much about it when she was younger. It was nearly inaccessible to her growing up in Baku. In the United States, it turns out the Armenian diaspora community in Boston and Providence provided only a symbolic refuge from her displacement as a Bakutsi.
There was still a sense of alienation from the community of Armenians living in the United States, most of them brought here at because of the Genocide of 1915. She tells me, “They have their own thing going.” A couple of days earlier I had gone to mass at Sts. Sahag and Mesrob and seen her children attending Sunday school and partaking in the procession. It seemed that their experience of home, of belonging to a place was uncomplicated, unimpeded by a consciousness of being a citizen in absentia.