Sven Erik Rise – The Norwegian who became 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 is more Armenian than many Armenians.

Sven Erik Rise’s Armenian Name is Tigran Van

Norwegian Sven-Erik Rise is a private high school principal and a History teacher in Oslo.
When in Armenia, Sven decided to become Armenian by choice. The first step was picking an Armenian name.

So he came up with – Tigran Van, after meeting the first Armenian guy, a taxi driver named 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.

“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 he made the passport controller hug him on his first visit. Armenia’s first and strongest impression started right from the passport control desk at Zvartnots airport.

When the controller stamped his passport with the images of Masis and Sis, Sven suddenly 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 at the thought that he was 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 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.

At that time, his vocabulary was rich in words about 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 living between two countries like Azerbaijan and Turkey are still 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 and welcoming, and the best thing is that 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, and 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 made many friends in Armenia, and when visiting the country, he never misses the chance to meet his Armenian friends and 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 the Armenian flag at the top of the backyard of his house near the sea.

He recreated Ararat, a small khachqar, small Artsakh with its flag, grew some berries he took from Armenia, a mini winery, and created a memorial with the countries’ flags recognizing 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 have appeared in the garden with messages 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 of telling 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 returned 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 it).

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 worldwide, got lectures on Armenia, studied the Armenian Genocide, documents, and academic literature, and interviewed genocide scholars from different parts of the world.

Hayastan why i love Armenia
You can order the book “Hayastan- Why I Love Armenia” on Amazon

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. One thousand copies were published in Norwegian; after much positive feedback from people worldwide, it was translated into English.

Lately, the book has been translated into Armenian and will soon be published in Armenia.

Armenian Cuisine in Norway

When visiting Armenia, one 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).

How Sven is Learning Armenian

Sven or our Tigran just cannot wait to surprise Armenians with his knowledge of the Armenian language next time in Armenia. He’s already been learning the language with an Armenian tutor’s help online, speaking a little and writing 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.

The 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 the 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 and will need more time and 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, he first tells them that it’s a beautiful country with beautiful people, sharing his experiences with wine and food and the stories of how strong Armenia is.

Future Plans for Armenia

Since 2015, not a single year has passed without him visiting Armenia. Every year he manages tours from Norway to Armenia 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 when a group of 66 people from Norway visited Artsakh together with a winery tour, wine festival of Areni, and 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.

Garo Kotchounian

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5 thoughts on “Sven Erik Rise – The Norwegian who became Armenian by choice

  1. Wow, this is a Terrific Story and so close to home for us! We are of Norwegian (father ‘Ericsen’ who loved Armenian Culture and especially the foods!) and Armenian (mother ‘Hachigian”) ancestry. Our Grandparents came from Musa Dagh (Musa Ler in Armenian) from the village of Bitias. My grandfather was interviewed for the book ‘The Forty Days Of Musa Dagh’ as well as being asked to be in the film which he didnt want to do. As he himself not only came from Musa Dagh, but he fought and he rescued many children and hid them up in the mountain to save them and fight the Turkish military who were murdering everybody in his village, cutting them in half with swords, shooting, raping and cutting babies out of their mothers stomachs! His mother and sister were marched into the dessert and died of malaria. He was just a 17 yr old teenager and a hero! He lost many and with his younger sister Sarah, came to NY and then Patterson to live with his older brother Moses’s family. He was a carpenter. He was a hard working carpenter and built houses in Patterson. He was also a sharp dresser and very good looking! He fell head over heals for my grandmother Florence Egarian who worked for Best & Co’. And also gorgeous. They lived in the East Side of Manhattan on 52nd Street and then bought a house in Hollis, Queens, NY where they renovated to be a two family and they raised three children, Gloria (my mom) Alan and Carol. Myself and my two sisters were also born there where my parents lived upstairs in the apartment my grandfather built. They worked hard, always had a beautiful vegetable and berry garden and raised us on amazing Armenian cuisine! My grandfather Alec as a carpenter, bought land upstate NY in Elizaville and built a house there for all of us to spend our whole summer vacations and where he had acreage to grow a proper and huge ‘garden’ that we ate from daily! In retirement, the lived there half the year in Elizaville and the other half in Hollwood, FL where they bought a little apartment. They were the original ‘snow birds’ until they passed away! They always taught us well and were proud Armenians and Americans! This family who lost everything to the Turks, became very successful Americans and proving that you cannot keep Armenians down. They are good, hard working, naturally kind and promoting nature and protections for it. Good Christians! Our love of animals, natural good healthy foods and fruits, healthy foods etc. All came from them! We grew up in Mineola, NY where my mother also had amazing gardens where we picked and ate all the time! I am proud to be Armenian. We are an ancient people from what is now known to be 10k years ! We invented and created much (although we rarely get credit) and are never kept down!
    My grandfather’s brother Moses had two sons, Jack and Paul Hachigian who were very successful as Americans. Both college educated on the GI Bill and both started 2 Armenian Churches one in White Plains, NY and the other in Costa Mesa, CA. And, Moses, my grandfather’s eldest brother started the first Armenian Church in Patterson, NJ. St. Leon which later moved to Fairlawn, NJ. The first generation cousins (including my mother Gloria Hachigian) were all very successful. My mother’s brother Alan was in the 1968 Olympics on the Bobsled team in Lake Placid and later ran it. My cousin Nina Hachigian was Ambassador under Pres. Obama for 8 years and has written books, been interviewed numerous times on TV and on the board of Americans For Progress (The Progress Report). Myself, I am married, an artist, animal activist, environmental activist and patriotically working for progress in the U.S. I cook Armenian foods, attend St. Vartans Cathedral for many years (mostly when Father Mardiros was there) and my husband Anthony who is of Italian, Irish and Polish ancestry, became an honorary Armenian as well!
    I would like an honorary Armenian passport or citizenship in honor of my Grandfather Alec Hachigian. How do I get this?
    Thank you very much!

  2. Dear Marie-Louise,
    We are proud of you, your family and each individual throughout our history and nowadays, people who give there time, energy, wealth even risk thier own lives for the well being of others.

    We will email you on how to get in touch with your local Armenian consulate to apply for the citizenship, we want to follow up the progress with you and also publish your story on our website.

  3. Dear Marie Louise, thank you so much for sharing this amazing story. I have read through it several times, and it renders me speechless, but also in a very contemplative mood. Through your story I actually feel strengthened in my clear conviction of how strong Armenians and the Armenian culture are. There is nothing like Armenians. Who else manage to establish small or large spyurk societies all overt the world after having been almost wiped off the face of the earth to the most gruesome genocide? well, not that other victims of genocide are all lost, but Armenians also suffered the aftermaths of the genocide in the very unthinkable way that it is vehemently being denied by the perpetrators and even made into an issue of conflict between the perpetrators and the victims. This is totally unique – and proves then enormously strong will, the creativity, the well-rooted culture and the extremely hard-working spirit of Armenians as individuals and as a society, or rather lots of smaller societies that form into one at the end of the day. The survival of the Republic of Armenia and the victory in Artsakh are both undisputable proofs of the motiviation and the iron will of Armenians. Your story is unique, but I have heard many more that have a lot of similarities as to what Armenians worldwide have achieved and how thet siccessfully raised the next generations into important contributors to whatever society they are part of. Including the amazing stories of some Armenians that I’ve met here in my own country Norway. To sum the up there is the deepest tragedy combined with unbreakable Armenian spirit spirit – love for people, nature and animals – raising new generations in the right spirit – I say it all the time – you guys are unique – and I am dammed proud to be welcomed into your worldwide society.

  4. Dear Sven – You sound like a fantastic guy. You’re more Armenian than many full blooded Armenians. I’m so glad I ran across your story I want to put you in the Armenian encyclopedia I am putting together. If you would, please me your date of birth and city you were born in and the names of your parents. I think I have enough information on you from Artsvi Bakhchinyan’s article to include unless you want me to include any other information. I take my hat off to you. Thank you for being Tirgran Van.

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