About Gregory

Hi. I'm Gregory Diehl. I have a pretty unusual story about my life and how I ended up in Kalavan village. I welcome you to check out my business and personal development books, including the one I wrote based on my experiences living in Kalavan called Everyone Is an Entrepreneur (Ամեն ոք ձեռներեց է) or my personal website. You can also read my interview for Repat Armenia about how and why I moved to Armenia and Kalavan.

From the time I was 18 years old, all through my 20s, I traveled around the world as a nomad. Often living out of a suitcase, sometimes staying in cities in apartments for months at a time, taking jobs wherever I could and learning a lot about myself and the world as I made my way to more than 50 countries.

By the time I was 30, about five years ago, I had decided it was time for me to change my lifestyle a bit, to become more sedentary, to settle down in one place to maybe semi-retire somewhere I could feel comfortable becoming a pillar of a growing community, where I could be appreciated for my presence, and where I could really feel like I belonged.

The whole time that I'd been traveling up to that point was very much the opposite. It was about rampant exploration, seeing as much of the world and learning as much as I could from the novelty of each experience. The idea of committing to one place with people who really wanted me to be around was very attractive to me.

How I Ended Up in Kalavan Village

I first came to Armenia because my grandmother was Armenian, which makes me 25% Armenian. Ever since I first came here and was granted citizenship through my family descent, I found myself returning to Armenia quite frequently. It seemed like the best place for someone like me to begin to put down roots, not just because of my family connection but because I really liked a lot of things that I perceived about this country that are quite rare around the world. It seemed like a country that had a lot of raw talent, creativity, and intelligence among its youth particularly.

I knew I wanted to settle somewhere rural. I knew I wanted to be away from large population densities with lots of noise and chaos. I had spent most of my time in Armenia up to that point in Dilijan, a small town about an hour from Kalavan. I liked the general area, but it was still too many people for my liking. I wanted to be somewhere more remote but still with access to the benefits of civilization so that I would have as much lifestyle freedom as possible with as little intrusion as I could get into how I wanted to live my life. That's quite a luxury—something most people struggle their whole lives to achieve even a modicum of.

I spent months looking at many villages and rural areas around Dilijan that seemed picturesque and pleasant. But Kalavan was the only one promoting itself as a place of social innovation with a focus on cultural and economic development. There had been some recent investments by the government with taxpayer money to open guesthouses and a community center here. This, they told me, was supposed to be just the beginning of an organized movement to spread principles of entrepreneurship that would empower the locals, who mostly consisted of subsistence farmers (like most of rural Armenia). The politicians and community leaders who met with me during those first few trips to Kalavan in 2018 wooed me with their vision of wanting to build the economy of the village, bring more tourism in, and help everyone here to start their own business so that they could become economically self-sufficient and self-determined.

I informed these politicians and leaders about my experience in business development and teaching economics and entrepreneurship in developing places around the world. I'd already written my first business book at that point called Brand Identity Breakthrough (ԲՐԵՆԴԻ ՀԵՂԱՓՈԽՈՒԹՅՈՒՆ). I told them, as well, that in addition to being the only native speaker around, I was a globally experienced English teacher and that I would love to help with the language education of the children or adults who wanted to become at least conversationally fluent in the humanity's global lingua franca. This would obviously help them cater to foreign tourists and other business interests as well as open up countless travel, education, lifestyle, and economic opportunities compared to rural Armenians who only spoke Armenian (or even Russian).

When they learned of all this, they welcomed me with open arms and said they thought I'd be a big asset to the community of Kalavan and its publicly stated mission. They went to great lengths to help me purchase the last derelict house still for sale in the village, as increasing public interest had already caused most of them to be sold off. There was no way I could have completed the purchase or moved here without their help, and I would not have wanted to without their explicit invitation.

There were several other reasons they told me they wanted me to come here, such as my experience in book writing and publishing, as they stated they wanted to promote artistic creation here and eventually publish books about what they'd accomplished with Kalavan. As well, I am a former music teacher, and they said they'd love it if a proper music program could be implemented for the children here to stiumlate their artistic development.

Kalavan just seemed like a really natural fit for me—somewhere I would be appreciated for who I was and what I had to offer. There were other places that were more conveniently located. I certainly could have moved somewhere closer to civilization. But the promise of a meaningful part to play in the community is what sealed my decision to buy my house here and move to Kalavan.

The Truth About Kalavan Revealed

I moved into my house in the spring of 2019, just a few months after buying it. When I arrived here, the politicians and leaders who invited me to the village and helped me buy the house changed their attitude toward me. I showed up in Kalavan expecting a warm welcome. I thought that the locals would be eager to help me integrate into the community. They should have wanted to help me learn the Armenian language, find people to start doing much-needed construction work on the old house I bought, and get involved in using my skills and experience to help the community grow.

At the time, my house wasn't even in a livable condition. There was no power or water. There were holes in the roof. There was debris everywhere. I expected all this stuff to be very easy to take care of because of what I'd been told about what to expect when I got here. I was ready to start employing a local construction team at better-than-typical local rates. But the reality was that it just seemed like the Kalavanians were quite uncomfortable with my presence as an outsider in their village, despite the show they put on to welcome me here and help me secure the property.

Even the people I had met with several times before, the people I made all these agreements and had all these conversations with that filled my head with such positive expectations, seemed like they didn't know what to do with me—like they were surprised that I had actually moved in after buying the house. Perhaps, if they ignored me enough, I'd eventually go away. Some took things further by taking advantage of my ignorance by lying about the prices of various services and building materials, while others took money for services that were never performed, such as installing plumbing and electricity in my house, lying to me for a year about when the work would be done or I would at least get my money back.

So, it became very clear from the beginning that I was not truly welcome here. The only conclusion I can draw is that they never actually expected me to move to Kalavan when I bought the house with their assistance. They were putting on a show for me just to get me to buy the house, from which I'm sure they got a healthy commission. They assumed I'd leave after that—because what kind of young American businessman moves into a rural Armenian village alone? Only a crazy one like me.

It also quickly became clear to me that the residents of Kalavan were not truly interested in any of the progressive ideals of entrepreneurship and cultural development they were promoting the village with and that virtually everything repeatedly claimed to the media about Kalavan seemed to me like solely a media narrative. In fact, I've seen a lot of evidence in the past five years to suggest that they are adamantly opposed to entrepreneurial development in the village. They will go to great lengths to shame their neighbors who take it upon themselves to try to establish new industry and income sources among the local populace, all the while promoting themselves as entrepreneurial supporters, incubators, and enthusiasts. 

The New Vision for the Kalavan House

The disappointing revelation of the truth about Kalavan, which is that they are not actually interested in any of the progressive social ideals they promote about the village, forced me over the next few years to refine my intentions for being here. In those early days, it was essentially like camping before the house was even moderately comfortable and certainly not as nice and modern as it is now.

In spite of all the difficulties, I kept expecting that, eventually, things would improve here. I still enjoyed the social freedom that came with being somewhat cut off from the world. I was in complete control of my time. It almost felt like there weren't even any people in Kalavan at all except me.

Fortunately, I am a very adaptable person. I eventually found ways to solve all the problems that came with this major lifestyle choice I'd made by moving to Kalavan. They could have been incredibly simple and easy if there'd been even the most basic sense of community and commerce happening here.

In the years since I moved here, I've brought a lot of people out to the house who, frankly, were just very glad to have a chance to get away from the city and their normal life in Armenia, including the very oppressive cultural expectations forced upon young people here. I now see my house as a hub for personal growth and development for people who otherwise would not have the opportunity to explore how to fully express themselves and develop into the kind of people they want to be.

I know that I was very fortunate to grow up in California, a very open-minded place that encourages free inquiry and self-expression. After that, I had more than ten years of experience traveling around the world to figure out what kind of person I was and what kind of role I wanted to play in the world. Most people don't have that, especially here in Armenia.

I'm looking now to collaborate with people who share these kinds of values of authentic self expression and cultural development. I want to do the kinds of things that Kalavan pretended it wanted to do a long time ago and why they said they wanted someone like me to come live in their village and play an active role in their community.

I believe that with enough mere exposure to people who think differently, live in a better way, and have better ways of solving problems, eventually, these values will spread for the benefit of everyone. We can act as beacons to make that happen.

I encourage you to come see Kalavan for yourself and form your own conclusions about me, the village, and Armenia. 

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