Until recently, there were about 20,000 Armenians in Spain. Today, this number has significantly decreased. According to official data, there are just over 10,000 Armenians in Spain, with around 3,000 in Valencia.
Mislata (Spanish: Mislata) is a municipality in Spain, part of the province of Valencia in the autonomous community (Valencia is an autonomous community).
The municipality of Mislata itself is part of the district (comarca) of Horta Oest. It has a population of 45,000 people, with 107 nationalities living in Mislata.
Here lives a small but united Armenian community. It was established over many years. The fact is that in Valencia, in Mislata, there was a state immigration center, attracting those who chose Spain as their new residence.
Thus, future members of the community ended up here. Initially, they rented apartments, and then, working wherever possible and settling in, they bought houses here.
Before, they were mostly engaged in repairs and construction. However, the crisis in Europe has curtailed this line of work in Spain. Now, they take on any job.
More affluent Armenians work in the real estate market, but this business is also in a difficult position due to the lack of new construction.
Many are leaving Spain. Most are moving to France, Belgium, Russia, or returning home to Armenia.
Today, the Armenians of Mislata are united in the “ARARAT” association. The association had about 400 members before the crisis.
Today, this number has significantly decreased. A former association member in Mislata, having returned to her homeland, opened its representation in Yerevan. So, the “ARARAT” association has practically become an international organization.
Everyone here has their own story of appearing on this fertile and sunny land of the ancient Iberians…
Here are some of them:
Ararat Gukasyan – the president of the “ARARAT” association, a professional worker of the extramural security service – a semi-military state organization of Spain “Levantina”. His position in Armenia could be equated to an officer’s position in the external security service.
Ararat Gukasyan – I graduated from high school in Razdan. After school, I entered the history faculty of Yerevan University. I graduated in 1996. I was drafted into the army and served two years in Jambulak (Krasnoselsk) – this is on Sevan, with the rank of lieutenant in an officer’s position.
After the army, I worked for two years at a school in Razdan as a history teacher and extracurricular activities organizer. During this period I got married. Our son Hayk was born.
In 1999 I went to Spain, not at all thinking about staying. But circumstances turned out such that I had to call my wife and child here. My daughter Elena was born in Spain in 2005.
Living in Spain is not easy, especially for a foreigner. I started my Spanish epic in Barcelona. Then I moved to Madrid. Now I live in Valencia.
At first, in order to live and feed the family, I had to work like everyone else, in the fields, picking vegetables and fruits. Then – as a simple worker on construction. This was the hardest, in the literal sense of the word, period of my life, because before that, working as a teacher in school, in Razdan, the heaviest thing I lifted was the class journal.
In Barcelona, I accidentally met a representative of the Barcelona football club and was invited to the club’s field hockey team. I got interested in this sport while still a student and, playing for the university team, I became the champion of Armenia, took prizes in the USSR championships and various Spartakiads.
They trusted me to play for the Spanish team, albeit under someone else’s name, as by law, I didn’t have the right to. The first match I participated in was against a team from Egypt. We lost 1:3, but I was the one who scored the only goal against the Egyptians, and I was accepted into the team on a permanent basis, albeit again not entirely legally.
Playing hockey, I perfected my Spanish and made useful acquaintances that helped me further adapt in Spain and engage in more productive activities.
Unfortunately, Armenians, who recently come to Spain for permanent residence and are engaged in job hunting, mostly communicate in Spanish, their children go to Spanish schools. Thus, the assimilation of young Armenians gradually takes place.
Having found myself outside of Armenia, my first desire was to establish an Armenian school, so that children do not forget their native language, culture, where they came from, and where they are going. With this purpose, for the first time in Spain, we organized a Sunday school.
For this, I rented a bar. Behind the bar counter, I made my living. And in one of the auxiliary rooms of the bar, I put tables and chairs for children and organized a school here, where Armenian language, history of religion and culture, and other subjects in Armenian were studied.
Today, the city hall has provided us with a premises for the school. Only two days a week for four hours each, but this is enough for the youth to remember their roots and receive Armenian education. Helping them remember their roots is one of the main goals of our organization.
In the school, in addition to language courses, there are theatrical and choreographic studios, as well as a folk song section. Our theatre studio has already performed six plays. Five of them are in Armenian, and the sixth is in Spanish, but also on an Armenian topic – the fairy tales of Ovanes Tumanyan.
Since 2008, we have been publishing the newspaper “Hayrenik”. It has a circulation of 1000 copies. It is distributed free of charge among the diaspora, both locally and in other cities of Spain – Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante, and all over the world – Paris, New York, …
In the newspaper, we publish news from our second homeland, news from mother-Armenia, as well as major events in the life of the worldwide Diaspora. There is also space for information about our planned events for the month and world news.
We are also collecting signatures under the appeal to the government of Catalonia, whose capital is Valencia, to recognize the Armenian Genocide in 1915. Among the people who signed this appeal, there are signatures not only of Armenians, but even Turks living next to us in Catalonia.
Recently, on November 21, 2015, another municipal council, part of the autonomous community of Valencia, the city of Adzira, adopted at its meeting a document recognizing the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the last century.
We also annually hold backgammon championships, in which not only Armenians participate.
All of this is facilitated by the public fund we have created, to which each of us contributes as much as we can. And also, the Spanish language courses for foreigners that we have created. We have representatives of more than 50 nationalities studying with us, who have come to Spain in search of a better life. The fee received for teaching mainly goes to the organization’s needs.
With the money earned and donated, we buy books in Armenian in Armenia, we finance the school and studios…
Jivan (Jean) Mirzoyan – artist and sculptor:
Jivan Mirzoyan – I was born in Yerevan. After graduating from the Leningrad Academy of Arts, I stayed to live in the city on the Neva. There I created a family. I also worked there, was quite a successful and sought-after artist.
However, in the wild 90s of the last century, I had to urgently leave the country due to a threat to life, as the criminal community of Petersburg set its sights on my real estate in the city center.
I left for Europe – it was no better in Yerevan at that time. I lived in Madrid. Here I continued my activity and again gained recognition. Then I moved here, to Mislata. So I settled here. Although sometimes I come to St. Petersburg – I still have an art studio there, which is used by local artists…
I am the vice-president of our association “ARARAT”. Everything that I can, everything that I know how to do, like any other member of our association, I put into the promotion of its goals.
We conceived to create a monument to the victims of the Genocide and implemented this project. Today the “KANCH HACH” monument is open in the park, where official city ceremonies are held.
I have many sculpture-artistic projects dedicated to our historical homeland – mother Armenia, but so far there has not been found a patron who would help in their implementation. Moreover, it is about acquiring material and getting permission to install them. Everything else will be done by us, members of the association.
Gayane Gazaryan – philologist and journalist:
Gayane Gazaryan – I am originally from Yerevan. I graduated from the Institute of Theater and Cinema. I worked as an editor of a women’s magazine. My family is still in Yerevan. Like many of my compatriots, I had to leave Armenia in the 90s to earn a living.
I worked in the USA, then thought about moving to Australia, but ended up here, in Spain. I am relatively new here.
I am currently learning Spanish and doing public work in the “ARARAT” association – I teach Armenian at school, and together with Ararat Gukasyan and Sarkis Brsoyan, I go on air on Mislata’s Armenian radio once a week.
I miss home a lot, but so far circumstances do not allow me to return to my native home. Based on my many years of experience, I want to warn young Armenians who want to try their luck far from their historical Homeland – do not be seduced by the charms of the American or European lifestyle, so advertised by television, cinema, and the Internet.
In reality, it is a harsh, ruthless world. No one is waiting for anyone anywhere, and no one believes in tears here. An alternative is offered – to forget about your roots and fully assimilate with local conditions.
Then you may achieve success, but not necessarily. Usually, it requires a certain amount of money. A very large amount, which most people do not have. And they remain to languish in a world alien to themselves, hoping for a chance. Or they move to another place, starting everything from scratch.
But if you have found yourself in an environment where there is some society of your tribesmen, united by patriotic ideas, there is hope that together you will achieve success faster, without resorting to humiliating assimilation.
These are Armenians from Mislata, who impressed me with their warmth and hospitality. Far from their homeland, they created their own, surprisingly familiar world from childhood, where the traditions and customs of the Armenian people, dances, Armenian music and speech are alive. And they live with hope for the future, that all their wishes will come true in this difficult life situation.
And also, they would like to build an Armenian church in Mislata, but the finances associated with buying land for construction are too overwhelming for them… at least for now… And a church is needed today, as there is not a single Armenian church in the area, and they, adherents of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church, have to go to the Catholic Cathedral of Valencia on church holidays.
Valeriy Unanyants, Mislata (Valencia, Spain)
Translated by Vigen Avetisyan