Kim Kardashian and North West playing tourist in Armenia. (Photo: Hayk Baghdasaryan/Reuters)
I never thought the Kardashians would inspire me to make a ham sandwich, let alone explore a foreign country — I’ve willfully ignored them for years and intend to keep ignoring them until their inexplicable flame of celebrity finally burns out. I can barely force a half-smile whenever someone hears my last name and jokes, “Hey, Greg Kardashian!” (Seriously, it’s not that funny.)
Yet there I was last week, actually thinking of the Killer Curve Sisters. There’s a whole lot I don’t have in common with the Kardashians, but we do share these two facts: I am, like them, an American-born Armenian. Also, as they just did, I’m about to visit my ancestral homeland of Armenia for the first time. In case you’re wondering, I planned this months before I knew they were going.
Kim Kardashian West and sister Khloe Kardashian spent five days touring Armenia on a trip that ended this past weekend (Kourtney stayed home). Riding shotgun was a certain musician named Kanye West. While I wasn’t exactly riveted to their Twitter feeds during the visit, I couldn’t help but click on a few Kardashian links for the first time in my life, out of curiosity for where they were going and whether I might see the same things.
The following are some ways I can follow in their footsteps during my three and a half weeks in this small, ancient, overlooked, landlocked country. Some of these things will definitely happen, while others are less certain:
Visit the Armenian Genocide memorial
The Kardashian sisters and cousins at the Genocide memorial in Yerevan. (AP Photo/Hrant Khachatryan)
The Kardashians’ visit was timed with the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide suffered at the hands of Ottoman Turkey. The official commemoration date is April 24, and I’ll be arriving just in time for it. I will definitely do as they did and pay my respects to the estimated 1.5 million victims, who include my own ancestors, at the memorial’s eternal flame in the nation’s capital of Yerevan.
I have a feeling that Kim and Kanye received just a pinch more attention than I will — they were swarmed by paparazzi and fans at the memorial. It’s easy for the cynic in me to label it hashtag activism or a shallow PR stunt, but they didn’t have to go all that way for publicity, and if more people now know about the Genocide (Turkey still denies it) thanks to a TMZ report, I guess that’s better than nothing.
An emotional day at the genocide museum. pic.twitter.com/JEQJOy3T8E— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) April 12, 2015
Wear suede — lots of suede — while meeting the prime minister
The Kardashians with Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan in Yerevan. (AP photo/Tigran Mehrabyan, PAN Photo)
The Kardashian clan must have traded notes about jacket coordination while sitting across some much duller-looking politicians, including Armenian PM Hovik Abrahamyan. They even seemed to clone each other, with two Kardashian cousins — Kourtni and Kara — showing up.
Suede is a great call for springtime in Armenia — temperatures will hover in the 60s — though I’m more of a corduroy and tweed jacket guy. Oh, and I’m definitely not getting invited to a table with the Armenian prime minister.
Visit an Armenian after-school program
Visual evidence of Kanye West smiling. (Courtesy: Tumo)
I’ve got them beat on this one! It was Kanye West who visited music students at the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies — a highly regarded after-school program in Yerevan that has recently been documented by the BBC and CNN. What’s most noteworthy about the visit is that the students actually got West to smile.
As for me, the reason I’m staying in Armenia is to teach a digital media class for Tumo. What I lack in Yeezus’s star power I promise to make up for in hip-hop karaoke skills.
Walk on water
Yeezus gets escorted away from the crowds at Swan Lake. (AP Photo/PAN Photo / Vahan Stepanyan)
Thanks to Kanye, I’ve now heard of Swan Lake in Yerevan. It’s where West put on a free impromptu concert that was live-streamed to the world. When he went the full “Jesus Walks” and jumped in the lake, more than a few fans followed his lead, leading to a frenzy that required shutting down the gig.
My goal: to match West by stepping into a body of Armenian water that leads to an eBay sale of that water, with bidding exceeding $800.
Hug an elderly local
(Photo: Brian Prahl/Splash News)
Putting aside the absurdity of the moment, it’s still kind of cute that Kim Kardashian stopped to accept a sprig of lilac from an elderly fan who is said to have waited 12 hours a day outside her hotel to meet her. Now that’s endurance!
Will any there be any such stakeouts near my apartment? Doubtful. But I definitely hope to hug some locals, old and young.
Visit old churches and monasteries
At the Geghard Monastery near Goght. (AP photo/Vahan Stepanyan)
You might someday win Jeopardy with this trivia: Armenia was the world’s first officially Christian country, way back in 301 A.D. That makes for some very old churches and religious sites, which the country has in spades, including remote mountain locations. The Kardashians visited such landmarks as the medieval-era Geghard Monastery, near Goght. While in Gyumri they caused a kerfuffle at the Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God when the local bishop objected to the Kardashian bodyguards obstructing access to other churchgoers. The bodyguards then relented.
Kim Kardashian and company outside a church in Gyumri. (Photo: Hayk Baghdasaryan/Reuters)
Snap selfies with local teenagers
(Photo: Vahram Baghdasaryan/Reuters)
Considering I’m going to be teaching high-school-age students, there’s a surprisingly high likelihood I’ll take after Kim on this one.
Retrace family history
While in Gyumri, the Kardashians visited an abandoned home, where, according to records, the late Robert Kardashian’s family lived. Wading through the mud in their heels, they seemed moved by the experience. My roots in Armenia are likely further removed from even the Kardashians — my family traces back to eastern Turkey before the Genocide forced them to flee for Syria and other places. But maybe I’ll stumble upon some family history I didn’t know about.