Finding a home, 4000 km away

Journalist: Hasmik Baleyan,

Photographer: Hakob Margaryan


For Armenian fans of stand-up comedy, he is an accomplished comedian who speaks fluent Armenian. 

For patients at Best Life Medical Center in the capital Yerevan, he is a promising heart surgeon.

For students at the National Institute of Health, he is one of the 4295 foreign students studying in the country.

 But for the residents of the Nor Nork district, Dr. Shafi Al Caprio is simply a very good neighbor. 

"My neighbors accept me as a member of their families. They always smile, ask how I am. We have warm and friendly relations,” he says. 

Shafi Al Caprio, an Indian citizen, has been living in Armenia since 2012. He says he is Armenian in spirit and calls Armenia his “homeland” and India his "motherland."

Shafi, 28, says he decided to live in Nor Nork because, with its reputation as a place where community matters and people know their neighbors, it reminded him of the close relations between neighbors in his hometown, Salem, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.   

Aneta owns a shop near his apartment and the two have become friends. She even opens the store so he can buy things after hours when he needs something.

His neighbors note he is famous in the district, both as a doctor and as a good neighbor.

"Shafi is a very kind, sociable and positive person. He is a good neighbor and a caring and kind doctor. There have been cases where I have had heart problems․ Just one call, and Shafi came to the rescue. He is very careful and is well-known and loved in our district," notes Aneta Harutyunyan, who owns the neighborhood store. 

Shafi, moved to Armenia in 2012 after stumbling upon it on Google. He had traveled extensively before his first visit to the country, but he says he immediately felt a connection with the Armenian people.

“I decided I had to go to some country, study and settle down when I was 17,” he says, adding that becoming a doctor was a childhood dream and he heard the medical education in Armenia was good.

During his first trip to the country, before he entered the university, Shafi traveled widely outside Yerevan. He recalls he brought a tent, planning to camp outdoors. But the people he met were so friendly, he never even had to roll out his sleeping bag.

“Wherever I went, they said, ‘Brother, come to our house, you will spend the night in our house today,’” he recalled. 

“I have been hosted in the homes of people with different social classes․ Everyone treated me to the best and most expensive food in their home. It is impossible not to love Armenians and Armenia․ This is how I fell in love with Armenia and decided that I would live and work in Armenia.”

Shafi adds that Armenian culture reminds him of the traditions in southern India.

"I have been to South Africa, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Dubai, Russia ․․․the family model in southern India and Armenia and the worldview of the people are very similar, maybe that is the reason why it is easy and pleasant to communicate with Armenians, to have a warm relationship. In Salem, as in Armenia, neighbors have warm and friendly relations,” he says, noting that he has never experienced any discrimination or prejudice in Armenia. 

Vahan says that the Armenian-Indian relations have been friendly for centuries, and Shafi is popular in the district as people love the culture that he represents.
"My neighbors accept me as a member of their families. They always smile and ask me how I am. We have warm and friendly relations," says Shafi.

Over the nearly ten years he has been in the country, Shafi has become fluent in Armenian, studied the country’s history and learned how to make traditional Armenian dishes.

He studied at the Mkhitar Heratsi State Medical University and also  graduated from the ''Haybusak'' University, completed three of the four years of medical residency. Shafi has already performed open heart surgery and plans on becoming one of the handful of heart surgeons working in Armenia. Although he is not a citizen, he has a medical license and treats patients as part of his residency.

Over the decade, he has cultivated a rich personal life, including a girlfriend and a stint on TV.

Shafi says his neighbors have accepted him and treat him as part of their families.

“I love humor and I like to make jokes. My friends, naturally, noticed that... One of my acquaintances said that he knew the organizers of a comedy show on the Armenia TV channel and gave me a phone number. He said, ‘Call, go for an interview, your talent will definitely be noticed,’” Shafi recalled.

Before he knew it, he was a cast member on the show, telling jokes that made people laugh despite their culture differences. 

Even when he is in India, he craves Armenian food: during a recent trip home, he taught his mother how to make lavash, traditional Armenian flatbread. He cut his trip short when the war broke out over Karabakh in 2020 and returned to Yerevan to treat wounded soldiers. 

In his heart, Shafi says, he feels Armenian.

“India is my motherland,” he says. “Armenia is my homeland.”

Shafi says that he is especially loved by grandmothers, the elderly women who hug and kiss Shafi when they see him.
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