Story of a Norwegian friend of Armenia who is Armenian by Choice
If you’re looking forward to a story of another tourist who visited Armenia, ate, drank, had fun, and went back, then you’re in the wrong place. This is about a guy, named Sven Erik, who has no genetic connection to Armenia and yet, is more Armenian than many Armenians themselves.
Armenian Name is Tigran Van
Norwegian Sven-Erik Rise is a principal of a private High school and History teacher in Oslo.
When in Armenia Sven decided to become Armenian by choice, and of course, the first step was to pick an Armenian name. So he came up with – Tigran Van, after meeting the first Armenian guy, a taxi driver of the name Tigran, the second one whom he met had the same name again, and he thought, this name sounds fantastic, why can’t he be Tigran too?
Even his school students in Norway call him Tigran when they want to get his attention. But the name is not enough without a proper Armenian surname. So he thought of Van lake that’s not in Armenia’s territory anymore and also Vana Katu (Van’s cat) wishing them both back to Armenia and here it comes- Tigran Van.
Sven or as he calls himself Tigran, read about Armenia for the first time when he was only 13. After watching the Turkish invasion of Cyprus on TV, he got surprised of the barbaric act of Turks and his father recommended him the book “Forty Days of Musa Dagh” by Austrian-Jewish author Franz Werfel (that is based on the events at Musa Dagh in 1915 during the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, the book played a role in organizing the Jewish resistance under Nazi rule).
He read the book many times through the years and got so amazed by the whole story, that he felt the heart-warm feeling for Armenia, and as the country was in the Soviet Union at that time, Armenia was closed for Norway.
The historical fact of the genocide was the first reason why he got engaged with Armenia – “I was especially surprised by the fact that Turkey denies Genocide, how is that possible?”. But he needed to find out more: the language, the people, the food, the wine that came as a bonus.
Sven even managed to change his Turkish friend’s mind about Armenia, with who he had a big fight on genocide before visiting Armenia. However, on April 24, to his surprise, the Turkish friend came to Armenia, got shocked, and toured with Sven in the country for 3 weeks.
Striking Adventures in Armenia
“I’ve traveled to 100 countries but I’ve never seen anything like that. I didn’t do anything, I just walked around and tried to speak a little Armenian and everyone was so welcoming, heart-warming, hospitable, and friendly, it was amazing ”.
Sven was so enthusiastic about Armenia that on his first visit he made the passport controller hug him. The first and strongest impression of Armenia started right from the passport control desk at Zvartnots airport. When the controller stamped his passport with the images of Masis and Sis, suddenly Sven shouted,- “Oh, haykakan Masis u Sis!”, the controller smiled and gave him a hug. Isn’t that cute?
Sven remembers his first day in a hotel in Armenia, how he took the phone full of happiness of the thought that he is finally in Armenia, to call the manager of the hotel to give him a room, even if it had a higher price, Armenia was waiting to be explored. Just because he said he loved Armenia the manager promised to give him the room for a half-price and to meet him at the airport.
The adventures were still to come. The next day after jogging in Yerevan, he climbed the Cascade stairs up to the statue of Mother Armenia and fell asleep after jogging the whole day.
After a while, an old woman of around 95 years old woke him up. Sven especially remembers her having only one tooth. She didn’t speak English but they still had a long conversation. Sven tried hard to use Armenian words that he’d learned from taxi drivers and other Armenian people. As at that time his vocabulary was rich in words of animals, he ended up talking about animals and the zoo.
She was thrilled and soon she showed him a photo album from Nakhijevan. Shortly after, Sven invited her to have dinner, but who could have known the old woman was an Opera lover. Eventually, Sven bought two tickets to the Opera and they both enjoyed it.
“I can find friendly people everywhere but I haven’t seen a nation where everybody is so friendly. People who survived genocide and today are living between two countries like Azerbaijan and Turkey, still are so happy”.
Armenian taxi drivers, famous for their super friendly and funny character, didn’t stay on the sidelines, of course. Sven remembers this Armenian taxi driver who was driving him during his stay for so little money, taught him a little Armenian on the roads every time “forcing” him to try to speak Armenian.
When in Artsakh, Sven even managed to give an interview to TV and Radio channels as they said he was the tourist number “1700” that year, probably because he was so funny and was trying to speak Armenian.
In Armenia, people are genuine, welcoming, and the best thing is, it’s not about money, they give without expecting anything in return. That’s one of the unique things which, according to him, lacks in other countries. He also loves Armenian letters of the alphabet and language, quality vineyards, festivals.
Overall, Sven finds Armenia as a country not developed for 100 percent, which lacks a lot of things but at the same time it’s fascinating and it’s hard not to admire it. He managed to make many friends in Armenia, and when visiting the country he never misses the chance to meet his Armenian friends, visit their houses enjoying local homemade cuisine.
Poqr Hayastan or Little Armenia in Norway
Sven fell in love with Armenia at first sight and as he was missing Armenia in Norway, he created his own “Poqr Hayastan” with Armenian flag at the top at the backyard of his house near the sea. He managed to recreate Ararat, a small khachqar, small Artsakh with its’ flag, grew some berries he took from Armenia, mini winery, and memorial with the flags of the countries that recognized the Armenian Genocide.
When people pass by, they see the poster near Little Armenia providing some piece of information about the history of the country.
Lately, new posters in the Armenian language appeared in the garden with the messages of supporting Armenia and Artsakh. Many people come in their boats and see those signs in the Armenian language with the flags, and no one goes without a single spark of interest, constantly asking him what that all is about. Sven is never tired to tell about Armenia, each visitor is another potential person to “infect” with the passion of visiting Armenia, and he does that with pleasure.
Sven wrote the Book “Hayastan-Why I love Armenia”
Our Tigran was supposed to stay in Armenia for two weeks, but he couldn’t help it. After staying two months in Armenia he went back to Norway and wrote the book “Hayastan – Why I Love Armenia”. He believes that someone should give something to Armenia. In Norway, people don’t know about it and the country doesn’t even recognize the genocide officially (5 million people in Norway, however, do recognize). Sven contributed to this factor a lot in Norway. He conducted many lectures about Armenia for various audiences in Norway and wrote articles about Armenia in local newspapers.
Before writing the book, Sven traveled to many universities around the world, got lectures on Armenia, studied Armenian Genocide, documents, academic literature, and interviewed genocide scholars from different parts of the world.
The aim of the book was to spread the message of Armenia as a fascinating place to visit, and at the same time let people know about the Armenian genocide, Turkey’s, and Azerbaijan’s denial, Artsakh conflict. The book is a mixture of Svennie’s breathtaking stories about Armenia and its people, described in an intimate, most humoristic, and personal manner.
The reader is taken on a tour in Armenia with the author and his Turkish friend who meet exciting people, have many stories to share, and explore the country.
Under the bright impressions from Armenia Sven finished the book in two months. 1000 copies were published in Norwegian and after many positive feedbacks from the people around the world, it was translated into English. Lately, the book has been translated into Armenian and soon will be published in Armenia.
You can find the book “Hayastan- Why I Love Armenia”
Armenian Cuisine in Norway
When visiting Armenia one just cannot pass by Armenian cuisine without blinking an eye. Sven just loves Armenian dishes and the tradition of serving bread and cheese before the main meal. As for any truly Armenian man, Tigran’s all-time favorite is khorovats (Armenian barbecue) with the Matsun sauce (Armenian white yogurt), garlic, and herbs, together with salads of different greeneries.
He even tried to make Khorovats in Norway, Oslo, where he invited older Armenians living in the neighborhood, 20 people showed up. He didn’t manage to find Armenian Matsun for the sauce but he did manage to find some things from the Armenian community of Glendale.
When talking about implementing some Armenian habits in Norway, Sven laughed, saying they try to find lavash whenever they can (there are Kurds from Iran who bake it), buy some Armenian wine from the shops and, of course, give 12 points to Armenia at the Eurovision Song Contest (yes, that’s him).
Sven or our Tigran just cannot wait to surprise Armenians with his knowledge of Armenian language next time in Armenia. He’s already been learning the language with the help of an Armenian tutor online, being able to speak a little and write some words.
He’s already managed to have some favorite Armenian words and expressions including “մեղադրել” (accuse), պաշտպանել (protect), any word finishing in “ություն”, ծիրան (apricot), խաղող (grape), “արքայախնձոր” (pineapple), ջուր (water), սուրճ (coffee) and all the words that have complicated sounds.
When in Armenia, Sven enjoyed saying any new word in Armenian and didn’t miss the opportunity to order “մեկ պաղպաղակ” (one ice-cream) every day after dinner, just to feel good by saying that long and hard word.
Armenian Community in Norway
Sven knows many Armenians from the community who are quite popular in Norway. They do a lot of carpeting, jewelry, and many people work as doctors in local hospitals. He met many of them during his lectures about Armenia and after just one short question “du hay es?” (are you Armenian?) the long conversation about Armenia follows.
Living Armenian Dream
There is one big wish Tigran Van hopes for – to get an Armenian passport one day. Some steps are being taken already, although he admits it’s not easy at all and he will need more time and more effort. Tigran considers himself an Armenian by Choice, proving one doesn’t need to have Armenian blood to be Armenian. He cannot wait to say “finally I’m Armenian”.
Sven would like to live in the Armenian city of Ijevan, where he would like to work in the Zipline, meet new people, and maybe even teach English in local schools.
When people ask him about Armenia the first thing he tells them is that it’s a beautiful country with beautiful people, sharing his experiences about wine and food, and about the stories of how strong Armenia is.
Future Plans for Armenia
Since 2015, not a single year has been passing without him visiting Armenia. Every year he manages tours from Norway to Armenia for at least 3 times a year and every time it’s as exciting as the first. After taking all his colleagues to Armenia on the 24th of April, Tigran decided to take his students next time.
This year was supposed to be the first time ever when a group of 66 people from Norway visited Artsakh together with a winery tour, wine festival of Areni, Hapalas tour.
Hopefully, as soon as COVID is over, Sven plans to participate in the Yerevan Marathon next fall and bring sportspeople from Norway like a training seminar with a tour as a bonus. He’s even training now by running 20 km a week to manage 40 km in Yerevan.
Tigran Van always talks about Armenia in Norway, everyone knows him as the Guy-Who-Left-His-Heart-in-Armenia inspiring many people to visit Armenia. He is living proof that anyone can be Armenian by choice.