What started out as a personal return trip to Armenia soon snowballed into an official visit for Mayor Ara Najarian this past week.
Once word got out in Yerevan, Armenia, that Najarian was in town to attend a conference on the future of the Western dialect of the Armenian language, it wasn't long before he was invited to meet with a slew of high-ranking government officials and dignitaries, including President Serzh Sargsyan and Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan.
His trip also attracted attention by a number of Armenian media outlets.
"It really turned into an unexpected official trip," Najarian said Monday. "I think the people of Armenia are very aware and very cognizant that Glendale is one of the leading cities in the world for the Armenian culture and preserving the Armenian language and traditions."
While it turned into an official visit of sorts, Najarian did not use any public funds for the trip to Yerevan, where he said he hadn't been for seven years.
During his rounds of meetings, Najarian shared information about the Armenian community in Glendale and learned about the nation's efforts to increase tourism and trade.
Najarian, who returned Saturday, said he was impressed by infrastructure improvements in the downtown area and surrounding cities, as well as an overall more positive outlook by the area's residents compared with the last time he visited.
"I told them that I need to help them take that message back to the residents of Glendale and Los Angeles — to let them know there have been some great improvements in Yerevan, and residents who have not been to Yerevan should definitely make it a point to go," he said.
Officials also informed him of "Return Home," a new two-week program for youths of Armenian descent who spend two weeks with a host family brushing up on Armenian language and culture.
Najarian said he thought many local youths could benefit from the program, including his 15-year-old son, Alexander, who accompanied Najarian last week and hopes to return next summer.
"I think it's critical that Armenian youth … take some time and return to Armenia and really put their Armenianism in perspective," Najarian said.
Leonard Manoukian, co-chairman of the Glendale chapter of the Armenian National Committee, said the official response to Najarian's visit was understandable given his position in a major Western metro area.
"With Glendale being the largest Armenian community outside of the Republic of Armenia, it was natural that they would reach out to Mr. Najarian," Mankoukian said. "We look forward to getting the news of the homeland."