Out Of Armenia

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As Charles Emmerson's journey through the Armenian diaspora draws to a close, he travels to Yerevan, the capital of modern Armenia, in the shadow of Mount Ararat.

Over rich piano chords, through a haze of cigarette smoke, Charles speaks to Levon Malkhasyan, Armenia's most famous jazz musician. He hears the Yerevan stories which define it as a city - its Soviet construction in the 1920s, the earthquake of 1988 and, since the 1990s, the city's opening up to the diaspora world.

Poor, isolated, cut off from neighbouring Turkey, keeping an uneasy ceasefire with Azerbaijan, dependent on Russia, Yerevan is no natural cosmopolitan centre. Yet with Mount Ararat floating above its sky-line of Soviet-built tower blocks, it has become a city for diasporans to call their own. From Toronto, Melbourne, Paris or Boston, some visit for summer jaunts, others to reassert who they are.

"You realise that Armenian identity is much more expansive", says Scout Tufankjian, an American-Armenian photographer newly-returned from a four year voyage documenting the Armenian diaspora around the world. The bonds that tie Armenians together - visible and invisible, tangible and intangible - are real.

Scout remembers a few lines of William Saroyan, the American-Armenian writer: "the glance, the gesture, the smile, and through these things the swift rebirth of the race, timeless and again strong..." More than history, more than religion, more than suffering, more than political claims - an innate sense of what it means to be Armenian, in and out of Armenia.

Produced by Cicely Fell

An Above The Title production for BBC Radio 4.