Robin Koulaksezian

Little Armenias: It’s a Small World After All

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PARIS — Say you are visiting Estonia and get the yen for yalanchi. Robin Koulaksezian has you covered. You have your choice of Sevan Grill, Noy Grill and Zangezur Grillbar in downtown Tallinn. Similarly, yearning for some khorovats in Vietnam? Look no further than Restaurant Armenia, Small Armenia and Yerevan Grill BBQ on the beach resort of Nha Trang on the south central coast of that country. Feeling in the need for spiritual support in Eswatini? He offers directions to the Church of Holy Resurrection in the capital.

Readers can find these facts and so much more about culture, population and things to do in the book Little Armenias: The Travel Guide of the Armenian Diaspora, by Robin Koulaksezian, recently released in English.

Koulaksezian, in this compendium piece, has information about 101 countries. The 280-page book is categorized by countries, then cities, where appropriate. The information is succinct and easy to read.

He graduated from Sorbonne University and later received a master’s degree from ESSEC Business School.

He speaks eight languages.

Koulaksezian, in his press material, calls himself a traveler. Indeed, he is one.

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In a recent interview, he said his love for travel, and specifically for finding Armenian diasporas around the world, sprang from his own background. He is the son of a French mother and French-Armenian father. The first time he got on a plane was when he was about 18 and went to Armenia.

“I discovered my Armenian roots,” he said. In the meantime, he got fluent in the Armenian language as well as had a great time.

The travel bug had bitten him.

“I started traveling regularly. Whenever I traveled, I tried to find Armenians,” he explained.

Eventually, he studied international relations and worked at the French Institute in Syria. He lived in Damascus for a year, during which time, he made trips to nearby Middle Eastern Armenian diasporas.

“It was very interesting for me,” he added.

What has happened since to the country makes him “very, very sad.”

“We are losing one of the greatest diasporas,” he said, referring to Syria, but also adding Lebanon. “Syria and Lebanon were the hearts of the diaspora.”

He added that Syria was “the coolest place,” where he found efficient classes and structure.

“You still had some freedom, more than in other Middle Eastern countries,” he added.

Syria is near and dear to him for another reason; his paternal grandparents moved to France from Aleppo.

He next lived in Russia for two years, working in Moscow.

“It was very different,” he said.

“I was surprised that in every single city in Russia, you have an Armenian population,” he said.

Koulaksezian started to think about creating an online tool for travelers, something which to his mind, was akin to the popular Lonely Planet series, which are packed with details, distances and activities.

He received an AGBU Noubar Nazarian YP Innovators Fund to start the diasporan project online. The idea, he explained, is to create tours and maps, offering “structures to make places you can visit.”

He is working on the maps, tours and excursions on the website.

He has loved many of the cities he has visited. When asked about Iran, he said, “I am very interested in Iran. I like its history,” he said. He had visited there by taking a bus from Yerevan, which took 26 hours.

When he visited Tehran, he still did not speak Armenian well. “My English was OK,” he said, and that is how he got by.

“The people were helping me a lot,” he said.

He also added that he was surprised by the sizes of the Armenian populations in Ukraine and Brazil.

The latter, especially, was a revelation for him. “It was very interesting. Much better than I expected.”

Another city that offered a large and semi-hidden diaspora was Mexico City, he said. “There are generations that came after the Genocide. There were many boats that came from Veracruz.”

In fact, he explained, the community there is so well established that one part of the city, La Merced, housed all the cobblers, who were all Armenians. “All the Mexican elite used to go to the Armenian shops and get shoes,” he added.

He is only one person, therefore he cannot be everywhere. That is why he has a network of local Armenians contacts for updates and further details.

Many Armenians don’t know about the treasures in other diasporas.

For example, he noted that in Lviv, Ukraine, the Armenian Cathedral of Lviv, is part of the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Robin Koulaksezian speaking at AGBU Focus 2020

The French edition of Little Armenias was published in 2018. After a meeting with the author in Lisbon in 2019, Dr. Razmik Panossian, director of the Armenian Communities Department at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, suggested to have the book available in English too. The English version was published in February this year. Of course, all the materials were reconfirmed to make it up to date.

In fact, he said, he plans to update the information in the book every two years.

Little Armenias is available on Amazon.

 

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