Yerevan Journal – July 2004

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Yesterday I talked with a farmer from Amasia, the northeastern-most region of Armenia, part of the province of Shirak. The farmer was born in Meghrashat, a village south of the regional capital of Amasia. As the name signifies, there are many beekeepers in Meghrashat, and even though cold winter temperatures (reaching -35 Celsius) prevent the cultivation of most kinds of fruit, apples and pears are abundant, as is the growing of wheat. A church built in 1897 stands in the center of the village, which was partly populated by Azeri Turks until the earthquake and Karabagh war resulted in population shifts in Armenia and Azerbaijan. I was invited to visit the region, unfortunately now one of the most economically deprived in Armenia. As the conversation about Amasia concluded, others nearby began talking about the young male sentenced to a year and a half in prison for tossing an empty plastic Jermuk container at a policeman during a recent anti-government protest. The opinion of most was that the president, currently resting on the laurels of his quite successful speech in Strasbourg, should use this opportunity to show lenience to the youth, instead of taking the iron-fisted approach, to create good will and gain the respect of the population of Armenia.

On a television talk show, guests from the U.S. and Germany talked about the unbelievably fast rate of deforestation taking place in Armenia, saying that if the current rate continues, there will be no forests in Armenia in a mere twenty years. Projects exist, however, including in Vanadzor where cuttings are being planted which will be transferred to depleted areas, and fifteen million trees planned for the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Genocide, just eleven years away. In spite of orders possibly coming from powers above the Armenian government, it would be nice if our leaders would at least slow down the current rate of deforestation, a problem with possibly more serious consequences for the ecology of Armenia than the reopening of Nairit or the operation of Medzamor.

In Yerevan, journalists are having a field day with the news that the government gave a large sum of money to the Ag Ministry and the Water Department to offset the money farmers would have had to have paid to irrigate their apricot fields this spring. The money was supposed to benefit apricot farmers in this difficult year, where in most areas the apricots were completely destroyed by frost and hail, by paying their irrigation bills for them. As it happened, the farmers didn’t irrigate their orchards this spring or early summer, partly due to the complete lack of a crop, and partly due to an unusually wet spring . . . thus, since the irrigation never did take place, the money given to the water department and Ag Ministry didn’t help the farmers at all, but did a good job of helping someone else.

It had been several months since we visited the Avetik Issahakyan Home/Museum, a large home close to the Writers’ Union on Baghramyan, and where the great poet lived the last years of his life. The staff consists of several women who serve as guides and organizers of cultural events which take place at the museum. We reminisced about my first visit there in 1999, when I went with my future wife, who delighted all of us when she sang “Sev Moot Amber,” the words by Issahakyan. This time, we went as part of the Shoghaken Ensemble, to film a program for National Television to be shown in the greater Los Angeles area. After filming the show, which included interviews, songs, instrumental solos, and my wife and her brother dancing the Mayroke, we sat in the garden behind the home, eating apricots, drinking coffee, and enjoying the atmosphere created by the poet and the staff of the home/museum. The great culture of Armenia’s recent past was continued on television with the showing of The Color of Pomegranates, a fine-art film by Sergey Parajanov, presented as part of the “Golden Apricots” film festival taking place in Yerevan. Several Armenian film makers are in Yerevan presenting their work, with special attention given to Parajanov, who languished for years in Soviet prisons for various trumped up reasons, his health deteriorating in prison and leading to an early, unfortunate death.

Television news showed a large outdoor gathering in Javakhk, the Armenian-populated region of southern Georgia, people celebrating the birthday of the great ashough Djivani, a Javakhtsi by birth. A traditional dance troupe and singers, some traveling from Yerevan, performed. It happened that on the way back, at a concert in Gyumri also honoring Djivani, the stage collapsed, several in the dance troupe suffering broken limbs and other injuries. Today in Yerevan I talked with a woman who was born in Akhaltsikhe, a region separated from Javakhk, and bordering Turkey. She told how the Georgians and Turks, with help from Azerbaijan, are working to resettle the Meshkhetian Turks of Central Asia in southern Georgia, with the purpose of eventually ousting the Armenians from southern Georgia, further opening the door of Pan-Turanism and easing the path of the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline . . . making the presence of the Russian army in Javakhk even more vital.

This evening we met with a recently married friend who is going to live and work temporarily in Russia, after also spending some time in London and the U.S. While in London, she explained, she was continually thinking about and missing Armenia and Armenians — a complete contrast to the U.N. worker, born in Yerevan, who recently stated she “can’t live in Armenia, and just loves London.” To each his own, yet after watching a teenage boy sing “Gna Krunk” on the ALM program where villages and towns visit the ALM studios and present songs and recitations, I fail to understand the mentality of the girl who “can’t live in Armenia.” The boy sang a very heartfelt version of the song, about someone pleading with the krunk (crane) to go and bring all Armenians back to their homeland, and toward the end of the song, he broke down in tears and couldn’t continue, this from the emotion he felt as he sang. In spite of classic examples of Armenian culture, as with the boy and his singing, culture in Armenia remains unrestrained, as, almost shockingly, a young woman followed the boy’s song with a dance and song with all kinds of tasteless insinuations, both in her movements and the words of the song, the audience unfortunately clapping along with the girl instead of reacting as an audience of the past would have.

Yesterday we traveled with family members to Ohanavan village, home of the famous Hovahannavank monastery, located on the edge of the Kasakh River gorge just a few kilometers past Ashtarak. As home purchasing was our initial purpose for visiting Ohanavan, we stopped on the main road and asked a villager if he knew of any homes for sale. He said he knew of a home on the same street for sale, but first he invited us to his home for coffee. We drank coffee and ate great tasting apricots on his balcony, which had a spectacular view of Hovhannavank and the river gorge. After meeting his neighbor and conducting our intended business, we all walked to the monastery, a ten-minute journey through the winding streets of Ohanavan. The eleventh century Hovhannavank, situated on the edge of a flat area overlooking the gorge, has been under reconstruction for several years. We lit candles and walked through its several chapels, gavit, and main church before walking along the gorge and photographing the monastery and surrounding nature. Later, back at our new friend’s home, we spread a huge tablecloth in a shady area under his apricot trees and ate bread, cheese, madzoon, tomatoes, and an endless supply of apricots. After exchanging telephone numbers and promising to return to their home, we drove to the neighboring village of Saghmosavan. There, we visited Saghmosavank (Monastery of Psalms), which also overlooks the Kasakh gorge. As we walked along the edge of the plateau and through the churches of Saghmosavank, we were pleasantly surprised when we met an acquaintance from the village, who invited us to her home next to the monastery. With evening approaching and the infamous winds of Saghmosavan getting stronger, we sat in her yard, talking and enjoying her delicious tahn and cucumbers, with the sounds of the river Kasakh echoing from below.

An early morning call and invitation to travel to Dzaghgadzor (Valley of Flowers) was readily accepted, a chance to see old friends and visit Kecharis Monastery. Meeting our friends in central Yerevan, we left for Dzaghgadzor, by way of the town of Hrazdan. Entering the resort town of Dzaghgadzor, we drove to Kecharis, where we spent close to an hour walking through the renovated church, gavit, and chapels, a large complex from Armenia’s Middle Ages. Scores of Armenians, both from Armenia and the Diaspora, were enjoying the monastery and its lush trees and gardens. From there, we went to the picnic grounds of the USAID-sponsored Junior Achievement buildings, where long tables were already set with hajar pilaf with mushrooms, khorovadz, salads, and drinks of all kinds. It was a great reunion for a family with roots in Kharpert, cousins and offspring living in Armenia and the U.S. I met friends from my days at Fresno State College, with much time and many toasts remembering old times and, for the relatives, honoring the past generations and the future where they can all live together in the Armenian homeland. Toasts turned to singing and dancing, my wife singing songs of Kharpert and Old Armenia. This lasted until near dark, then we drove back to Yerevan, continuing our reminiscences of Fresno and stories of the old generation. Back in Yerevan, news continued to feature stories about the Ossetian request for a Russian presence to keep peace in their area of Georgia, refused by the Western-backed Georgian president after Ossetia’s recent demand for independence. Also, in this ever-changing part of the world, rumor has it that the U.S. has asked Armenia to withdraw from the territories it seized surrounding Karabagh, the apparent demand thought to be a testing of the waters, to see what Armenians think about withdrawing from these territories. Generally, people here are completely against such withdrawal, saying that any withdrawal would be suicide, that the Turks wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than the elimination of Armenia.

After meeting with the owners of a tourism agency about our plans to celebrate Vardavar this Sunday, I was somewhat shocked at the roadblock they faced in organizing the event. The agency president called the Der Hayr at Haghardzin Monastery, near Dilijan, to let him know they planned on celebrating Vardavar for a group of tourists, the celebration to be complete with traditional singing and dancing to the music of zurnas and dhols. The Der Hayr said he needed permission from the Catholicos, something unheard of in all Armenian history, having to obtain permission to go to a church and celebrate a religious holiday. Unless there is some sort of strange decision from Echmiadzin, our celebration will hopefully take place this Sunday. Later in the evening, my wife and I went to the Arkina (Armenian city in old Cilicia) restaurant near the Genocide Museum in Yerevan for a baptismal party for a granddaughter of Anahit Bakhshyan, widow of slain parliamentarian Yuri Bakhshyan, a victim of the 1999 parliament murders. At the party, I met with Aram Sargsyan, brother of Vazgen Sargsyan (also a victim of the 1999 massacre), and his parents, who had served as godparents at the baptism. Down-to-earth people and lovers of traditional music, we talked about Armenia’s future and about the songs being sung that night by my wife and others, particularly “Bari Luso Astgh Yerevats,” a song by Khrimian Hayrig, and “Drdo,” a dramatic love song from Taron. In several conversations, both inside the restaurant and outside in the cool Yerevan night, people talked about the positive economic trends in Armenia, that the recovery seemed to be affecting more people than in the past, and that, without any interference from any of our less-than-friendly neighbors, Armenia's future, especially with the help of a leadership which respects the rule of law, has great potential.

Yesterday afternoon Shoghaken dudukist Gevorg Dabaghayan arrived at our home with a large watermelon, a once-a-year humorous reminder of our first meeting when I wouldn’t leave his home until he promised to introduce me to my future wife, in the process eating all the watermelon in his house. It was nice that he waited until locally grown watermelons were in the markets here, Armenian melons having a sweetness not found in the early melons from Central Asia or Iran. The blistering heat which has settled over Armenia has also resulted in great tasting apricots, plums, and, finally, the first peaches of the year. While Gevorg was at our house, we were treated to an old clip on National Televison of baritone Arshavir Karapetyan singing the role of “Mosi” in Anoush Opera. His voice was powerful, yet refined, as he sang about the need to restore his honor after losing a wrestling match with Saro. After the clip had ended, I was told that bass singer Barsegh Tumanyan, possibly the greatest living Armenian opera singer, studied under Karapetyan. Later in the day, while at the UN building in downtown Yerevan, the mood changed as a worker told about meeting friends in Utah, who were born in Yerevan and had made a permanent move to the U.S. several years ago. Even though they were working day and night to make ends meet, the Yerevan-born Armenians said that at least there was law and order there, that they knew what they could do or not do, not like in Armenia, where laws are strictly on the books, resulting in uncertainties they could no longer tolerate.

Vardavar 2004 at Haghardzin Monastery Yesterday all of Armenia celebrated Vardavar, a holiday commemorating the transfiguration of Christ, and with roots in Armenian paganism. In ancient times, the holiday was associated with the worship of water and the goddess Astghik, thus the drenching, expected or not, Armenians are subject to from morning to night on Vardavar. As my wife was responsible for the celebration which was going to take place at Haghardzin monastery, located in the Pambak mountain range near Dilijan, we worked into the night to prepare crosses and costumes for the participants, members of the Hayrig Mouradian Children’s Ensemble. On Vardavar morning, we left with a contingent of two buses and several vans for Haghardzin, stopping first near Lake Sevan to pick wild flowers, used to decorate the crosses and to weave into wreaths which most females placed on their heads for the celebration and until the day’s festivities were over. Our stop at Sevan was cut short by a brief downpour, the day’s first drenching taking place with the help of Mother Nature. Another stop in Dilijan had the pilgrims racing back to the bus, attempting to avoid a surprise rain and hailstorm, bringing into some doubt the completion of the day’s festivities at Haghardzin. Yet, upon arrival, the skies opened, with ensemble members donning their costumes and hundreds of pilgrims anxiously awaiting the beginning of the celebration. As the musicians and dancers started, with zurnas and dhols blaring, I met with cousins and others in the crowd, now nearly impassable. Next, everyone entered the St. Stepanos church for the Vardavar ceremony, the priest blessing the water and cross, now decorated with wheat and various kinds of fruit, in ancient times symbolizing the tree of life. Outside, the ensemble began their songs and dances appropriate to the holiday, including “Sona Yar” and “Vardavaru Galis e,” by now nearly everyone joining the ensemble in song and dance. As the celebration passed, I was pleasantly surprised to see a student I had met at Cornell University during the recent Shoghaken U.S. tour, the student in Yerevan visiting family, and cousins from Yerevan, who said they had been to Kecharis monastery where a similar celebration was taking place. Soon after the completion of the festivities, a sheep was butchered and matagh (sacrifice) offered to all present, participants rushing to the thirteenth century “seghanatun,” or dining hall, as a steady rain returned to the scene. Brief sunbreaks led me down the hill behind the monastery, towards the river below, to photograph the classically beautiful Haghardzin, once home to the Bagratuni kings and a famous music school in the Armenian Middle Ages.

On another house-hunting trip to Ohanavan, we arrived in the village around six p.m., evening winds already descending from Mt. Aragats, causing most of the remaining apricots to fall from the trees. We drove straight to the home of our new friends, who were waiting for us on their high balcony overlooking Ohanavan. After greetings, the teenage daughters disappeared for about ten minutes, then reappeared with Armenian coffee, tahn, and a large bowl of apricots and cherries from their garden. With business to conduct in the village, we traversed most of Ohanavan, on foot and by car, meeting villagers, occasionally helping them as they gathered apricots in their huge backyard gardens, most of which resembled small farms. As we stood on the street talking with someone, a man appoached and offered a house for sale which he said had a great view overlooking the Kasakh River gorge. As we walked, I saw that the building barely resembled a house, and was surrounded by rocks in a dry, uninhabitated area unfit for man. Yet, with Hovhannavank appearing nearby, I gravitated towards the vank, discovering an ancient cemetery and an old man tending his flock of goats. I greeted the man, who looked toward the vank and the crane which had been idle for years and said, “They’ll never finish renovating Hovhannavank, they stole all the money meant for renovation.” I assured him that someday the vank would indeed be renovated, as I came upon a pile of rubble, partly made up of broken khachkars. I said my farewells to the old man and returned to our friends’ house, where a fresh pitcher of tahn and sliced watermelon awaited us. The girls told us that they had wanted to go Vardavar celebrations at nearby Saghmosavank, but were too busy gathering apricots in their yard. We told them of the previous day’s celebration in Haghardzin, when the talk turned to the odd behavior of the Der Hayr and his helper who, after the celebration, admonished us for leaving behind husks of wheat which had fallen from the crosses (khachburs) used during the celebration. Shocked at his accusations, we agreed to clean the area, and asked him for a broom, which he angrily said he didn’t have, then walking toward the priest to tell him about our sins. The priest, who had claimed to the organizer that he needed permission from Echmiadzin to hold Vardavar at Haghardzin, also accused us of having left a mess, which led to an unfortunate exchange of words, revealing also that the priest had refused to allow the use of the ancient dining hall for the pilgrims to partake in “matagh,” the sheep specially sacrified for the occasion, only giving in as a rainstorm drenched the many pilgrims there. Then, as darkness began fallling in Ohanavan, we got up to leave, when our hostess said she had a surprise, to wait another five minutes, disappearing into the yard and complex of farm buildings. A few minutes later, she returned with several containers of fresh milk, telling us that the milk from their cow made excellent madzoon, after which we said our final farewells and left for Yerevan.

Last night a fierce rain and wind storm woke up all of Yerevan, as the twenty or so minute storm drenched Anastasavan and flooded parts of the city. Tonight the unsettled weather continued, although less active than yesterday. A look outside the window revealed several older women sitting on a huge pipe, passing time as they do daily, and a group of men sitting at a table under a grape arbor next to the bakery, eating, drinking, and playing cards. One can bet their conversation wasn’t about the latest Turkish offer to open the border with Armenia, if only the Armenians leave the Genocide issue to “historians,” but likely about the value of the dram changing from a fairly steady 570 to the dollar to around 500. Although official Yerevan denies any money laundering, word on the street has it that millions of dollars of illegally earned money (casinos, drugs, etc.) were brought into Armenia in suitcases, and are now flooding the money market as they try and make the money “legal” here . . . thus the drop in the dram, with so many dollars now in circulation. Those suffering the most from the unsettled money situation are, as usual, the least secure segement of the population, in this case those receiving remittances from abroad. Since the remittances are in foreign currency, they have to be changed for the Armenian dram, in order to trade in the Armenian marketplace . . . but due to receiving less dram for their money, Armenians will have less to live on, especially with the unexplained rise in prices of so many goods in Armenia.

Just a few hours after my wife appeared on “Aklor Kanch,” Artur Bakhtamyan’s late-night show on National Television, a call came from Los Angeles, a friend calling to say how much she enjoyed the show. Last night’s program, which was broadcast to seventy countries outside Armenia, centered on the Armenian lullaby and Hasmik’s new CD of traditional Armenian lullabies. Hasmik talked about the importance of the lullaby as a first step in giving the child a strong Armenian upbringing, maintaining a tie with our ancestors by singing the same lullabies that have been sung by mothers and grandmothers over the centuries. During the show, the new CD served as background music, Hasmik and Artur often commenting on the song being aired, as to its region of origin, dialect of the region, or subject of the song, as with “Nazei Oror,” a lullaby about the Armenian Genocide, the words by poet Avetis Aharonian, also Culture Minister of the first Armenian republic. Tonight another cultural venture took us to National Radio, located on Alex Manoogian Street near Yerevan State University, for an interview on Stereo Studio’s Friday night program of music and interviews. Hasmik talked about Shoghaken Ensemble’s activities over the past year and their new CDs, including Traditional Dances of Armenia, from which several dances were played, including Alashkerti Kochari and Shatakhi Tsernapar, a dance learned from Hayrig Mouradian. Listeners called in with questions and comments, and a contest was held for the best song and singer in Armenia today. Several callers told of their longing for traditional Armenian music, television and radio being somewhat inundated with synthesized music and singers, according to most of those who called. After the show, we stopped at our actress-friend’s house to say goodbye to her daughter, who is leaving on vacation to Dilijan. Before arriving at her house, we saw a car parked near her apartment building, the trunk, and entire car for that matter, loaded with watermelons, so we stopped to purchase what turned out to be quite an excellent melon. Reaching home, we couldn’t resist the aroma coming from the freshly baking bread at the neighborhood bakery, the bread still so hot from the oven I was barely able to put it in the sack handed to me by the flour-covered baker.

The winding road to Byurakan is becoming quite familiar, today traveling to the village for the Karasoonk for my wife’s uncle. The ceremony at the cemetery took place later than usual, as the priest who was conducting Badarak at St. Hovhannes church didn’t conclude the service until nearly two o’clock. Relatives and friends from Byurakan, Yerevan, Moscow, and Astrakhan gathered at the family home to remember their deceased relative and friend. After the mid-afternoon lunch, everyone went outdoors, many into the garden area to help gather a small berry called “hagharj,” string beans, and some late mulberries and apricots. An aunt from Aparan told about a recent hailstorm that left only the stakes remaining from her robust string bean garden. Outside the house, the same group of men from the previous gathering in Byurakan seemed to be drawn together, the elder of the group again telling the history of the area, this time about the king Ashot Yergat and nearby Ambert fortress. When I asked him how he knew not only about Ashot Yergat but his family members and how they were involved in a certain battle, he said these stories are passed down from generation to generation in Byurakan and neighboring villages. After leaving Byurakan, we decided on the way to stop in Ashtarak and visit the ancient Karmravor church, built in the sixth century. Upon arriving, I noticed the bad condition of the church, the roof in a state of near-collapse. Inside, as we lit candles, the caretaker entered the church and told us that the church is now being renovated, with architects often there measuring stones, etc., to complete the renovation. From the church, we walked up the street and visited friends originally from the Mardakert region of Karabagh. It happened they were celebrating an engagement, the future bride being from Haterk, a village just above Chapar village and Dadivank monastery in Karabagh. After eating dolma and drinking toasts to the future couple, they told of their plans of living in Ashtarak, yet planning on establishing a business in Haterk, insisting on keeping a tie to their home in that historic part of Karabagh.

Yesterday my wife and I traveled to Akhourian village to interview a wheat farmer with land in the Amasia region, located about fifteen kilometers north of Gyumri. The man had an unusually strong tie to his land, and the land of Armenia, telling how he walked behind the ox-drawn cart as a child, with others clearing rocks from the land and throwing them into the cart, and how he is much more at ease walking through his wheat fields than sitting in a coffee shop talking with friends. He told about his ancestors, who had come to Eastern Armenia from Moush in 1828, following the Russo-Turkish War that swept the entire region. In spite of almost 200 years passing since his family left Moush, he said his dream was to live in Moush and plant wheat on the land of his ancestors. He added that his forefathers had lived in the Bulanookh region on the Plains of Moush, which happened to be where my wife’s grandparents were from. Concluding our conversation, we rode in a yertooghayin van back to Yerevan, where in the evening we went to the apartment building on Kochar Street where painters, sculptors, and other artists live, for a brief business meeting. We were pleasantly surprised to see a gathering of several acquaintances who reside in the building, and who were entertaining guests from Ireland, a government minister, and an actress. My attempts to translate for the Irish couple soon proved futile, as the language used by this crowd of artists went far beyond my capabilities. Yet, as the actress performed small parts of her recent performances, my wife sang, and the painters talked about their work and famous painters they had known, translating what they said became almost secondary. Later, as we were leaving, a strong wind blew through the open window, knocking a huge painting over and spilling a can of paint on another, smaller painting. This wind was the beginning of a brief storm, which we heard later on the evening news had resulted in a hailstorm in Gyumri, again damaging area wheat fields, just days before harvest.

This morning, as my wife was reading a book about actor Mher Mkrtchyan, I watched a few minutes of Raymond Massey and James Dean in East of Eden, seeing it from a different point of view, due to the Russian dubbing. On the morning news which followed, news cameras followed the destruction of greenery, namely trees, in different parts of Yerevan. This time, however, the tree cutting isn’t because of a lack of electricity to heat homes, as in the mid-Nineties, but to build restaurants and coffee shops — a fast way of making money and a place for the wealthy to spend their money, using their fortunes for building unneeded eating and drinking spots. As one Yerevantsi said, if this continues, Yerevan will soon resemble a desert, or all of Armenia, for that matter, as the cutting of forests continues at an alarming pace. As important as Genocide recognition and the Karabagh issue are, Diaspora Armenians should consider the slaughtering of Armenia’s forests in their efforts to help the homeland. Back in Yerevan, City Hall has also allowed the confiscation of land owned by citizens near the center of town, using the claim that they weren’t cultivating the land, which was part of the agreement signed by the landowners, to cultivate the land in order to maintain ownership . . . when in fact at least part of the land was being cultivated. Such is the world of official Yerevan.

Gathering in Davitashen Without hesitation, I accepted an invitation from a friend to go to Talin, knowing it meant another visit to his relatives’ home in the village of Davitashen, located in an area which includes several villages exclusively inhabited by Sassuntsis. This would be my second visit there, and the first by a friend from Australia. Arriving, we were drawn to the coolness of the garden area and ripening apricots, known to be some of the best in Armenia. As we talked, the video player was being set up to show footage taken in 1994 in Jibin, a village near Aintab in the old Armenian kingdom of Cilicia. The highlight of the film was a blind villager named Nuri, a seventy-five year old man whose father was Turkish and mother Armenian. It happens that during the 1915 massacres, the Turks kept twenty Armenian girls in the village, to marry Turks and thus improve the looks and general intelligence of the local population there. One of those twenty girls was Nuri’s mother. Nuri spent the first ten years of his life in Beirut, before moving permanently to Jibin. In spite of speaking only Turkish in the village, Nuri not only spoke perfect Armenian, but sang Armenian folk songs and even an aria from Anoush Opera. Deeply impressed by the man’s devotion to his language and nation, lost in this corner of former Armenian Cilicia, we went outside to a long table set up under apricot trees, smoke wafting from behind the house where the khorovadz was being prepared. As the heat of the afternoon passed and cool evening breezes set in, we enjoyed the khorovadz, lavash, cheese, and vegetables, while toasts to a recently deceased relative, our ancestors, mostly from Moush and Sassoun, and Nuri lasted well into the night. As usually happens in villages where Sassountsis live, everyone began singing the songs of Taron (Moush and Sassoun) and dancing the Mayroke, Yarkhooshta, and Kochari, while we danced the “Sasno Kochari” and “Msho Khur,” the Kochari from Moush. Unable to restrain themselves, the children of the family joined in, learning the Kochari from Moush, and the boy singing a well known song about Arabo, the first fedayee leader of the late 1800s. Before leaving, we heard first-hand stories about the war in Karabagh and about the arrival of the Sassountsis in Talin in 1920. "Turks lived here," we were told. “We killed them, and they killed us. But we killed more of them. They all left for the Ararat Valley, where they stayed until the war broke out in Karabagh.”
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