Home has multiple meanings for Raffi Hovannisian. He was born in Fresno. Grew up in Los Angeles. Went to college in Berkeley– got a law degree in Washington D.C., and has spent the last 25 years living and serving in Armenia. “Just as much as Fresno was home, and our places of origin in Western Armenia, this has become our home,” he says.
In 1991, when Armenia declared its independence from the Soviet Union, Hovannisian was appointed its first foreign minister. He was actually in Fresno for the holidays as the events unfolded. “We were at Grandmas house on Butler Avenue on Christmas day in 1991, and I was the foreign minister already, and President Bush came on TV and recognized the Republic of Armenia and it was pandemonium in Fresno and across the Armenian world.” Hovannisian says.
There are an estimated 11 million Armenians worldwide. 3 million in the country of Armenia — and the rest, what’s called the diaspora, is scattered around the globe. Some, like Raffi and his wife Armine, who was born in Armenia, have returned to their ancestral homeland. “When people come up to us and say “what a great sacrifice, you left your law practices and the life of luxury, I beg to disagree because we’ve been given this honor by god, by our family and just by providence to be present at the creation of the new Armenia,” says Hovannisian.
We joined the Hovanissians at the Sardarapat monument in Armenia’s Amavir province about 45 minutes outside of Yerevan. Raffi is a well known figure. He leads the country’s Heritage Party, has served in Parliament, and ran for president in 2013. He came in 2nd, and charged election fraud. “Whether in fact we win, which we have, or officially we lose, we have to create a country where there is no win or lose. Where in the win column is the people of Armenia and particularly the young generation and the future that they hold for the people,” he says.
Raffi says there’s un-used potential in Armenia, he urges others in the diaspora to return as he did to invest their expertise and make the country strong once again. He’s a native Fresnan, who has not forgotten his roots, and has a great appreciation for just how deep they grow. “When we gathered for family events for Easter and Christmas in Fresno as an example, we would drink to Mount Ararat, we would sing Armenian songs and dance Armenian dances and dream that in our lifetime, Armenia would be free,” Hovannisian says.
A dream that was realized. One that called this man, and many others to come home.