by Sevak Hakobyan

In 2005, obstetrician and gynecologist Varduhi Asirian was invited to attend a wedding in the United States. The invitation would prove to be life-changing for the young doctor. She went on to move to America with her family. Varduhi finds it painful to discuss the reasons behind the decision to leave Armenia.

Born in the city of Ijevan, Tavush Region, Varduhi studied at Yerevan’s Mkhitar Heratsi State Medical University. Subsequently she continued her studies in Moscow. She had just graduated when she and her family moved to the United States.

“In was very difficult in the beginning,” she recalls. “I didn’t speak English. Apart from that, I was expecting a child. But I was very young and not afraid of obstacles. I used to read books constantly, armed with a dictionary. I was determined to master the English language and obtain my license to practice medicine in the United States.”

Varduhi’s hard work paid off. A year and a half later, she passed her exams, obtained her license, and landed a position in New York. “It was all very grueling actually, but I’m glad I went through it because it grounded me and helped build the confidence I needed to thrive in my new environment,” she recalls.

One reason that Varduhi could face challenges head-on was that she had already been “forged,” having gone to school in Armenia in the 1990s — which are remembered as the most strenuous years in the history of the young republic. “I graduated from the Medical University in 2000,” she says and adds jokingly, “Already by that time, there was light in Armenia,” referring to the gradual end of rampant power shortages.

Although her work is complicated and demanding, Varduhi has no complaints. “I’m very happy because I love what I do,” she says.

Despite having lived in the United States for 11 years now, Varduhi stays connected with Armenia and tries to instill the Armenian heritage in her children. This was the reason she decided to move her family to Glendale, California, so that her daughters would come into contact with the large local Armenian community and grow up with a strong sense of cultural identity. But before making the move to Glendale, Varduhi needed to find a job there. “I applied at Glendale Adventist Medical Center (GAMC),” she recalls. “During the interview, they asked what languages I spoke, and I told them I was fluent in Armenian and Russian. They hired me at once. Since Armenians in Glendale have difficulty communicating in English, the hospital needed doctors who spoke Armenian. I’ve been working at GAMC for a year now, and couldn’t be happier.”

For the second consecutive year, GAMC doctors and other healthcare professionals have provided free medical services at Noyemberyan Hospital, benefiting patients from throughout the Tavush and Lori regions. The initiative is part of a far-reaching partnership between Armenia Fund US Western Region and GAMC. It is also noteworthy that the medical services — including check-ups, general and ophthalmological care, and maxillofacial, gynecological, and other surgeries — have been provided in a facility, namely Noyemberyan Hospital, that has been completely renovated, equipped, and furnished by the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund.

Among the close to 50 doctors and other medical staff participating in this year’s joint GAMC-Armenia Fund mission to Noyemberyan Hospital was 38-year-old Dr. Varduhi Asirian, for whom the mission had special significance: she was back in her homeland, where she reconnected with family and friends.

“I feel at home here,” Varduhi says. “The air, the soil, the water, and the food of the homeland are all very close to my heart. I regret to say that I have been in Armenia only once in the past 11 years. I would love to visit more often, but I’ve got my plate full. I don’t know, probably I should try harder,” she notes, overcome with emotion, and adds, “But I’m happy that, at least within this short period, I was able to enjoy my people and homeland, where I was born and went to school. Even some patients at Noyemberyan Hospital recognized me. I didn’t remember them, but they knew me and my family.”

On the last day of the medical mission at Noyemberyan Hospital, right after completing her work, Dr. Varduhi Asirian traveled to Ijevan to see her grandfather and other relatives. She also promised to return to Tavush next year along with her colleagues from GAMC, and perhaps this time accompanied by her children.

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Photo Credit: Areg Balayan