Yerevan Journal – May 2006

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A call to a friend living in Moscow revealed a climate of fear there for Armenians and others from the Caucasus and, in general, for anyone not Russian. Apparently, after April 24 commemorations, the situation has become even more tense. The woman told us her teenage daughters had wanted to take flowers to the spot the Armenian youth had been killed in the Moscow subway, but decided it best to stay away. Like they say, the Russian skinheads who are committing these acts of violence, including murder, don’t stop and check passports, just look at the color of the skin and go from there. Our friend, originally from Shamshadin, wants to bring her family back to Armenia to live, but the business climate, and those who often demand bribes when one opens a new business, make their desired move difficult. This leads to the question to if those creating a difficult business climate are doing so merely to make easy money/get rich, or if it is official (unstated) government policy to not let business flourish in Armenia. A related case had a wealthy Hayastantsi paying to set up an entire district of Yerevan with natural gas and, when it became known he had plans to repair the roads in the same district, the man began receiving warnings that it would be “better” if he stopped his good deeds, the warnings becoming serious enough to where the man left Armenia.

A middle-school student told me he that his friends went into a neighborhood school’s playground, where they began eating green apricots, known as “tsogol,” when the school guard chased them off, brandishing a rifle. The reason for the guard having a rifle became clear, as I was told about two murders, this past September, in the vicinity of the school. It happens that Satanists, which the boy called “maniacs,” had hanged one boy and killed another, in a manner not known. Afterwards, at night, they had written on the school walls the name of a nearby school, saying there was going to be a repeat of the murders at the next school. In Yerort Mas, neighborhood men have taken it upon themselves to keep their district and its schools safe, patrolling in cars during the day, and possibly at night. Declaring the action illegal, policemen tried to stop the men, pulling over their cars, but after some sort of altercation or “understanding” the police decided to leave the men alone, likely out of fear. I was told “nobody likes the police anyway, and the men didn’t trust the police to keep their neighborhood safe.” On the cultural front, several Mshetsis involved in Yerevan’s culture scene met at a Mshetsi-owned restaurant, discussing the situation in Moush and in Yerevan, including the Conservatory. A professor said she was still trying to have Armenian spiritual music re-entered into the requirements of the “estrada” division of the Conservatory. After a well known pop star, who often talks publicly about patriotism, thought it unnecessary to learn any sharakans or the music of Mashtots, Sahak Partev, Shnorhali, and others, and after Conservatory professors refused to remove Armenian “hokevor” music from the requirements of the estrada division, pressure from “higher-ups” finally obtained the star’s desired results. Declaring the system corrupt, we enjoyed the rest of the night dancing several versions of the Kochari, mainly from Taron, including Moush, Sassoun, and Alashkert.

In a yertooghayin van this morning, I talked with a neighbor who was going to work at the National Academy of Science on Baghramyan. She joked about going to work close to noon, saying with the salaries they receive, it’s not really worth going to work on time, or even going every day. At $65 a month, she says, people obviously can’t live, so their work suffers, with the academicians running from place to place, or from private student to private student, trying to make ends meet. She said that if they ask for a salary increase, the government says they have no money, yet “they seem to find money if there is something they find more important.” The talk then turned to the terrible plane crash near Sochi, in Russia, with over 100 Armenians perishing in the tragedy. From the van to an NGO office, to a newspaper office, and on Armenian and Russian television, people talked, argued, debated, and discussed the reason for the crash. For now, nothing is clear, although it seems stormy weather caused the crash. Apparently, as the plane crossed Georgia, air traffic controllers suggested that the Armenians turn their plane around and return to Yerevan. The pilots decided to continue towards Sochi. There, the Russians first told them to return to Yerevan, then changed their mind and said it was safe to land, after which they lost contact and the plane crashed. Some say the weather wasn’t bad enough to cause a crash, that the plane was in fine condition and that there might even be terrorism involved, especially since Kocharian became personally involved in the investigation. The Armenian defense minister, while meeting with the Russian transportation minister, was obviously annoyed, if not angry, for reasons unknown. Nobody knows for sure if the complete truth will emerge, some saying the Russian and Armenian higher-ups might get together and say the pilot was at fault or the plane was in bad repair, which would also let the insurance company which owes $20,000 for each victim off the hook. It is also said that Russians have now opened legal proceedings against Armavia and its pilots, saying the pilots were at fault, and there was a shortage of fuel on the plane when it crashed, angering Armavia owner Mikhail Baghdasarov. In the end, a tragic, sad day for Armenia. Names of the victims ran over silent television screens. As the day ended, National Television ran the recent concert of the Armenian symphony, directed by the great Ohan Turyan.

In Armenia, there is a phenomenon known as “Haykakan irakanutyun,” or, Armenian reality. Yesterday after getting in the front seat of a yertooghayin van, next to the driver and another passenger, I tried to close the door, but heard metal on metal, with the door remaining open. “Just hold it closed,” the driver said, continuing that he hadn’t had time to fix the door. It wasn’t a problem, yet, an accident or sudden stop could have played havoc on the situation. “Haykakan irakanutyun,” a friend said, as I told him about the incident. Another case of “Armenian reality” was the fact, at least according to the Russians, that three of the Armenian passengers killed on the Armavia flight weren’t registered passengers. Accusations and allegations are still circulating, with the Russians maintaining pilot error and lack of fuel as the cause of the tragic accident, with the Armenians claiming there was plenty of fuel, and that the pilot had experience dating back to Soviet times, and had been given the responsibility, in those days, of flying many distinguished Soviet political figures. With no one ready to accept fault or blame, the truth may never be told. As someone commented today, is everything in the U.S. out in the open, then referring to the Kennedy assassination and September 11. In the meantime, national mourning continued, with interviews and news almost entirely about the crash, concerts cancelled, and classical music, besides news, being the chosen fare for television. A family member of one of the victims sadly told about his twenty-one-year-old nephew who had just finished serving in the army and, when seeing how hard a time his family was having financially, decided to go to Sochi to work with an uncle, to be able to send money home and help the family.

Close to three years ago, while visiting a friend from work, I met a pilot, who happened to be a cousin of my friend’s wife. A friendly, intelligent man, as I remember. Today, at work, I was told the reason my acquaintance wasn’t at work. The pilot I had met was one of those who died in the crash in Sochi. On this day, declared a national day of mourning in Armenia, similar stories are common, as I heard while visiting a hospital in the Zeitun district, as talk was about a doctor who had died in the crash, and how his entire workforce was in tears. While in a yertooghayin van, while three university-age girls told jokes and laughed in the back of the van, I watched as a woman lost her temper, scolding the girls for not having any respect for the dead on this day of mourning. Later, someone told me he had been to Sochi several times, and how the airport is located in a far-from-ideal spot, with the runway just a short distance from the sea, with rocky mountains awaiting not far away. He blamed the Russians for giving the word to land, saying that in such a tight place, with bad weather conditions, no one should have given the go-ahead to land. Then, the evening news revealed a series of unusual fires in the Brussels airport, where airplanes line up and are checked for safety. In a section of airplanes checked by a certain company, four planes caught fire, two of the planes being Armavia, the same plane which crashed in Sochi. A mystery, to say the least, making some wonder if someone or country is working particularly against Armenia. Time will, or might, tell, yet the main concern by most here is that the situation in neighboring Iran remains at least comparably stable.

A fast, shocking spring storm moved through Yerevan this afternoon, replete with classically loud thunder, lightning, and a driving rain that sent unprepared pedestrians running and shredded leaves from trees on this, the first day following two official days of national mourning. News from Belgium clarified that one of the airplanes which burned in the airport there was an Armavia plane, while the other was from Armenian Airlines, owned by Versant Hakobyan. Concerning the Sochi accident, Russians are still refusing to allow the French and others to help in the search for the airplane’s black box, leading many, if not most, to believe the Russians are afraid of what the black box might reveal, that the Russian air traffic controllers were at fault. Yesterday, as Armenia’s final day of mourning concluded, the fare of classical music concerts and old movies on television also stopped. A comment I repeatedly heard was that it was a pity it took a national tragedy of this magnitude for Armenia’s citizens to have the opportunity for such fine television programming, without cheap talk shows and video clips permeating the airwaves. An example of the excellent movies presented was Khundzori Aygi (The Apple Orchard), starring Sos Sargsyan and Azat Serjhents, the latter, since deceased, a burly, mustachioed character actor who was a close friend of actor Mher Mkrtchyan. At the end of the movie, Sargsyan was at his best, chopping down his apple trees after they became the cause of his new wife’s death due to an inheritance issue concering the orchard. An afternoon set of interviews on Armenian television this afternoon had a pair of modern composer/singers praising each other, one going so far as to say that it’s important to preserve folk music in its original form, yet since the youth won’t listen to folk music in this pure form (according to whom?), synthesizing and modern arrangements of folk music are needed to keep the music alive and listened to . . . all this while Turkish television had large crowds of youth dancing to zurnas and dhols, followed by an old man singing an improvisation accompanied by blul.

Today, on “Victory Day,” Russian television featured parades and movies depicting Russian military victories over Fascist Germany, while Armenian television concentrated on the liberation of Shushi, an important turning point in the Karabagh war. At a large meeting of Defense Ministry officials and Yerkrapah members, General Manuel Grigoryan, a commander during the war and now assistant minister of defense, said that one doesn’t have to be a soldier to be a yerkrapah, that if someone takes care of his family and works hard, for his family and his nation, he too is a yerkrapah. General Manuel, as he is known in Armenia, has clearly stated that Armenia shouldn’t give back an inch of the liberated territories around Karabagh, in opposition to the defense and other ministers who have said the land was taken as a protective zone around Karabagh and might be subject to negotiation, while a Dashnak told me today that he still isn’t clear about what his party thinks on the subject, getting different signals from different party leaders. Concerning General Manuel, it is said in Armenia that he once invited rabiz king Aram Asatryan to sing at his mother’s birthday party, undoubtedly a huge affair, to which Asatryan agreed. After the party, Grigoryan reportedly asked Asatryan what present he had brought for his mother, to which Asatryan replied, he and his band’s performance . . . after which Grigoryan told him to leave the party, and to leave behind the jeep he had come in. True or not, Grigoryan then banned Asatryan from entering Armenia, yet the singer, originally from Echmiadzin, as is the general, often travels to Armenia, from the US, to perform. . . . Later in the day, while watching video material of the battles in Shushi and elsewhere, the conversation turned to the Genocide, about the defense of Urfa, a friend telling how the Urfa Armenians put up a great defense, at least equal to the defense of Van. He told how Turks were unable to penetrate the fortified Armenian quarter, forcing them to request help from the British and Germans, the latter whose cannons bombarded the Armenian quarter until the defense was crushed and the population massacred. The fact that Urfa was basically an Armenian city, and had an area they could easily defend, made the Urfa defense far more successful, until its tragic end, than the defenses of Moush and Sassoun, where a mixed population (Armenians, Turks, and Kurds) and a lack of any fortress made their defenses short-lived.

Arriving at the Echmiadzin cathedral yesterday, I was surprised at the large number of expensive cars and jeeps parked where the stone gate once stood, facing the cathedral. Up to 200 men walked and stood in the area from the gate to the church, apparently with the women inside the church, as is often the case during the Hokehankist ceremony here in Armenia. It happens that the son of a wealthy Hayastantsi had perished in the Sochi disaster, thus the large gathering of well known personages in and near the cathedral. Several police watched over matters, as we listened to the service over the church’s loudspeakers. I was told the deceased’s body hadn’t been found, and that none of the bodies had been found of those who had been sitting towards the front of the airplane. Later, on the lighter side, while conducting business in an office on church grounds, an accountant told someone to close the window I had just opened to get some fresh air (in spite of the hot, stifling afternoon), since as he was perspiring, he might “get a chill.” I said that it was amusing that Armenians here don’t have a fear of the hundred million or so Turks who surround them, but have a fear of getting a chill, to which the accountant replied, laughing, “We can’t do anything about the Turks, but we can do something about getting a chill.” An email I received from a Turk recently reminded about Turkish mentality, the individual writing, in fair Armenian, a common curse referring to one’s mother. A pity that in an era where Turkish intellectuals are admitting the Genocide took place, or are at least willing to discuss the possibility of its happening, there are those who aren’t ready for civil behavior or discussion, but believe that hatchet murderers are national heroes, or that khachkars with Armenian writing on them and in an area named “Nakhichevan” are Turkish or “Albanian,” even though there is no known Albanian alphabet. That aside, an amusing trip to a dermatologist today led to a scene worthy of mentioning. After the elderly doctor looked at a spot on my arm, not getting up from his chair, and saying there was no problem but writing out a prescription, he asked for 10,000 dram (expensive here for such a brief visit) and said to come back in a week. Leaving, we checked several local pharmacies and found out what he had prescribed didn’t exist in Armenia, so we went back and told the doctor the medicine he had prescribed wasn’t in Armenia, to which he replied, “How can I know what is available here and what isn’t,” to which I replied “It isn’t my job to know what’s available here, it’s yours.” The doctor then offered a small bottle of some sort of liquid medicine sitting on his desk, without label or expiration date, saying it would do the trick, after which my wife said something threatening in Russian, to which the doctor rushed to return my 10,000 dram, obviously fearing for his reputation in spite of his advancing age. Downstairs, after telling the assistant director about the incident, he laughed but said the old doctor had seniority, and invited us back to see a more youthful, up-to-date doctor.

Today an Oshakantsi told me why, in his opinion, Armenians living here in the 1940s didn’t accept the “akhpars,” the name given to those who emigrated to Soviet Armenia in 1946-47, from countries like Syria, Greece, Lebanon, and Iran. At that time, he said, Armenians were very old-country in their beliefs and traditions, and when people came with different customs, including freedom in attire, the locals considered the newcomers a threat to traditional Armenian values. Following the Soviet breakup, most of these “akhpars” left Armenia, most never really fitting into the system here, both political and cultural. Unfortunately, this phenomena is being somewhat repeated today, with many local Armenians looking at Armenians from the West as being here only to take advantage of Armenia, to add to the fortunes they amassed in their countries of birth, or to meet girls properly brought up here, marry them, and take them to live in Western countries, where girls don’t have the traditional values or upbringing as girls here do. I remember a bride’s mother telling me, at the wedding reception, that she was tired of Armenian men coming from the Diaspora and taking away our best girls. She said that when someone came from Europe and married her daughter’s cousin, taking her back to Europe, he must have noticed her daughter because he sent his cousin within a few months who “happened to meet her daughter.” Then, the wedding, and her daughter leaving Armenia. . . . Another case of trouble between different groups of Armenians, brewing here since after the Karabagh war, was openly stated by an acquaintance who complained about the advantages Karabaghtsis have, in his opinion, since Kocharian’s emergence in Armenia. This person became angrier as he talked, saying someone had asked him for money to help poor Armenians in Karabagh, going on to say that almost all assistance from the Diaspora is going to Karabagh, be it from the All Armenia Fund or private organizations. “While they send money there, to build roads and hospitals, the basic Hayastantsi is left with the choice of receiving a house and a cow and moving to Karabagh, to repopulate the area, while Karabaghtsis here are getting all the good jobs, in banks, local administrative centers, etc., while Hayastantsi youth are forced into the streets of Europe.”

Some historical information about the Armenian defense in Urfa in 1915, submitted by an Armenian reader from England:

Ourfa was one of the heroic Armenian defensive actions that took place during the massacres of 1915 — like Shabin Karahissar, Van, Hadjin and Musa Dagh. . . . The defence of Ourfa in September-October 1915 was of great significance. Before the First World War there were about 35,000 Armenians living in the city. . . . In the summer of 1915 two Young Turk officials arrived there: Ahmed Bey and Khalil Bey, who had the task of organising the deportations from the city. Having arrested all the notable people, they demanded the handing over of all the arms in the Armenians’ possession within 48 hours. On August 19th, 300-400 Armenians were massacred by the Turkish mob at the instigation of the local authorities. This warned the inhabitants that there was worse to follow. . . . The Armenians of Ourfa decided that they were going to defend themselves and created a military council, made up of Megerditch Yotnyeghpairian, Haroutuin Rastgelenian, Haroutuin Izmirian, Levon Eghperlian, Armenag Aattarian and Khoren Kupelian. Committees were also set up to organise food distribution, a factory for the repair and manufacture of arms and ammunition, and first aid. According to one source, there were about 800 fighters (according to another the figure was 2,000) made up of young men and girls. . . . The Armenian quarter, which was located in the high part of the city, was barricaded and defensive positions created. The whole defensive system was split into 6 sectors with 32 positions. All 12 streets into the quarter were blocked off. . . . The Turks attacked on 1st October and were repulsed, with about 300 killed. They attacked again on the night of the 2/3rd. The military council, realising that it could not win a pitched battle, decided to feign retreat, allowing the attackers to enter the Armenian quarter itself. The Armenian fighters then successfully attacked the invading force from the rear, and about 1,200 Turks were killed. . . . About 11,000 soldiers with machineguns and artillery were brought to the city from Aleppo and were in position by October 6th. The commander of these troops was a German. They attacked and were held off at first, but the weight of artillery and overwhelming numbers soon told and the Turks began to take control of the situation. At the end of the defence, only about 50 of 2,300 houses were still standing. The artillery destroyed all the Armenian positions, and the Turks gradually reduced the size of the siege, and the Armenian military council arranged for the defenders to be centred in the American relief organisations’ establishments, the Armenian cathedral and other suitable buildings. . . . The Turks, on October 23rd, managed to crush the main defence, but resistance continued until the middle of November with some of the defenders (including Megerditch Yotnyeghpairian) committing suicide rather than fall into Turkish hands.

The defence lasted for 25 days. . . .
Turkish losses were considerable.
About 15,000 women and children were deported.

Ara from the diaspora

Debate is raging in Yerevan about Orinats Yerkir leaving the ruling coalition, and the subsequent resignation of its president Artur Baghdasaryan. Talk in the past had Baghdasaryan as the republic’s president after Kocharian’s rule came to an end. Popular opinion is that since most of the promises made by the coalition haven’t been fulfilled, Orinats Yerkir would have to leave the coalition for Baghdasaryan to have a chance at winning the presidency. Also, with the recent scandal concerning former Culture Minister Hovik Hoveyan, and the lack of respect for Sergo Yeritsyan, Minister of Education and Youth Affairs, Baghdasaryan had to distance himself from the party’s recent past. Popular thought also has Baghdasaryan as the choice of the U.S., which some think wants a revolution to take place in Armenia, as has in Georgia and Ukraine, with Baghdasaryan one who would be in the hands of the U.S. if president. And, in case of an unpopular agreement with Azerbaijan concerning the Karabagh conflict, which is said to possibly be pending and may include the forfeit of part of the liberated territories, Baghdasaryan would be able to distance himself from such an unpopular decision, if not part of the ruling coalition. . . . From Sochi, besides word that the dispatcher and his crew are in hiding out of fear for their lives, fearing revenge from the families of some of those who perished in the recent crash, rumor has it that there was gunfire inside the airplane before the crash. Apparently, as the airplane neared the runway, several on the airplane made contact with people in Sochi with mobile phones, making it possible to hear what may have been taking place inside the airplane before the tragedy.

The emergence of Andre into the world pop scene as Armenia’s representative in Eurovision has resulted in a debate about the condition of music and culture in Armenia, and government and television policy of promoting pop music in the country. A few days ago, an old solider who was guest on National Television’s morning talk show, after thanking the hosts for inviting him, said it was too bad there was little, if any, traditional folk music on television, the hosts answering that “of course, folk music is, at least occasionally, presented on our station.” When the elderly man said he meant “real” folk music, the hosts quickly changed the subject, obviously fearing what the guest might say. More and more, I hear people saying they choose watching Russian television over Armenian, since all Armenian television stations promote is pop singers from the Yerki Tadron. This debate has spawned at least two shows, on the two National Television stations, where invited guests discuss the Armenian music scene. On National Television’s second station, a known figure in the culture scene said it was disgusting that high government people, including the president, choose groups like “Shek Aghchikner” (not known for presenting a tasteful show) for the entertainment parts of their public events. A leader of a folk dance group said that all of the Yerki Tadron should be taken to court and tried as traitors. Too bad this show, with both positive and negative outlooks of the cultural scene here, didn’t reach the international Armenian audience, as does what National Television’s main station has been presenting, a nightly gathering of pop stars and friends of Andre saying how important it is for Armenia that Andre is participating in Eurovision, and how everybody loves his music. But Andre’s lack of musical knowledge was shown during an interview in Greece when a caller, in Russian, asked Andre if he knew the meaning of a simple musical term, something to do with scales, to which Andre replied, “Sorry, my memory isn’t so good.” Even though Andre’s song is in English, he was obviously taken aback when the Turkish participant began speaking English to him, saying how nice it was to meet him, causing Andre to summon a translator to tell the Turkish singer he was sorry that he was too busy to talk with her.

Nothing short of amazing is the amount of effort National Televison and its elite put into ensuring Andre’s victory at Eurovision (being chosen as a finalist). As voting by telephone determined those who made the final ten in the contest, National Television disconnected their service in Russia, Europe, and the US immediately after the contest, so Armenians around the world would change to various local stations which listed the phone numbers they could call to vote, as voting was disallowed in participants’' home countries, so National Television wasn’t allowed to list the telephone number needed to vote for Andre. The following morning, television hosts loyally congratulated Andre and his victory, saying how well he sang (even though noticeably off-key), while guests parroted how wonderful all this was for Armenia. Yet, all is not lost, the day continuing with a book presentation at the Writers’ Union for UCLA Professor Richard Hovhannisian, who had translated the first volume of his works about the first Armenian republic, The First Armenian Republic-1918-1919 into Armenian. After a series of speakers, including the author’s son, political leader Raffi Hovhannisian, talked about the importance of Hovhannisian’s books and about their various meetings and relationships with him, the author spoke eloquently about certain parts of the book, about Andranik and Dro, about the dedication of those serving in the government then, and finally giving a kind of warning, possibly to today’s leaders, to learn from what happened during those times, to not believe that just because a document or peace treaty has been signed that Armenia can believe in that treaty, and a wish for today’s leaders to be more nationalistic, to think and act more for the common man. The gathering had quite an interesting array of guests, from the highest bureau of Dashnaktsutyun, to artists, doctors, and intellectuals, to Opposition leaders such as Stepan Demirjyan, Aram Sargsyan, Albert Bazeyan, Arshak Sadoyan, and Ardashes Geghamyan. Later that evening, we went to the presentation of the film A Long Journey Home by opera star Isabel Bayrakdarian. An enjoyable film, with Bayrakdarian narrating her first visit to Armenia, interspersed with her singing Komitas music, a lullaby, and classical arias, backed by the Komitas Quartet, the Minasov duduk quartet, the Armenian symphony orchestra, and others. A touching part dedicated to the Genocide showed Armenians walking up the hill to the Genocide Memorial on April 24, with interesting editing having old photos of the death marches changing and mixing with current scenes of Dzidzernakaberd on April 24.

A friend told about his trip to Moush and Sassoun, where the Kurds said, “We know the truth, we know this is Armenian land.” Yet, my friend said, both he and the Kurds know well how the Kurds helped massacre Armenians early in the 20th century. As Armenians long for their lost homeland in Western Armenia, here in Armenia we long for our culture, buried in an avalanche of foreign influence and those who seem to be working to help advance this leaning. While enjoying madagh, where a sacrificed lamb was prepared into a delicious meat soup, a neighbor began talking about Armenian traditions, and how some are being kept, such as that of madagh, while traditional music has fallen out of favor with those with power and money. “Did you see how Andre was greeted when he got back to Yerevan? A world chess champion wouldn’t have five people at the airport, but Andre had what looked like hundreds. And those who were interviewed, his fans and those part of his ‘entourage,’ well, let’s be glad that if Armenia was ever attacked by Turks, Andre’s friends would all be running the opposite direction.” The neighbor then told about how a young female singer, studying opera, sent a recording to Domingo and Pavarotti, both of whom liked her voice so much they offered to pay a certain percentage of her musical education, in Italy, if Armenians would match the amount. Appealing to the Culture Ministry, she was told, “If you find someone who gives you money, could you tell us, so we could meet them later?” Then, after asking various of the noted wealthy of Armenia, several of whom give unlimited financial support to Andre and similar “stars,” gave the young woman nothing, thus forcing her to forego Pavarotti and Domingo’s offer. “Other nations help their most talented artists, for the good of culture and the nation,” he said. “When will we learn to do the same? Let them take care of their pop stars, they have their place . . . but why squash, or ignore, real talent?”

A Mshetsi stood on the balcony of our new apartment, gazing first at Mt. Aragadz and then at Massis. “My grandfather said he could see Massis all the way from Moush,” he said. “I think he was exaggerating, since Mt. Sipan should be in the way. Unless he climbed the mountains of Sassoun. Maybe you can see Massis from there.” Then he said he hoped the next step Armenians took, after Karabagh, was towards Van and Moush. He then told about a friend’s nephew who had died in the war in Karabagh. He said the youth, physically strong and just as brave, and only 17, had volunteered as soon as the war broke out. During a battle where Armenians were outnumbered and were retreating, the youth saw that one of his friends was wounded, unable to join the others as they drew back. Under fire, he tried to help his friend, when both were struck by mortar fire and killed. Our friend then told about a Chechen who had fought with Armenians in this, and other, battles, saying the Chechen was close friends with the boy who had died. When he went to the boy’s family home to pay his respect, and unexpectedly saw a large picture of his friend hanging on the wall, he fainted, in shock seeing the picture of his friend. Recently, the boy’s father, a folk singer, was singing in a Yerevan restaurant when a president of one of the major political parties approached the singer and said, “Our folk music is more valuable than this, why are you singing for just five dollars a night (the usual pay for a night’s work in Yerevan restaurants)?” “I need the money,” the singer said, adding, “I gave my son in the war of liberation in Karabagh. Tell me, what have you done?” to which the politician hung his head and walked off.

Our friend continued his story about the Chechen who fought with Armenians in Karabagh. “The Chechen’s brother had been killed by Turks,” he said. “The Turks cut his head off. He swore revenge for his brother’s death. In Karabagh, when he killed a Turk, any Turk, he couldn’t control himself, Armenians would have to pull him away from the dead body, so he wouldn’t tear it to shreds.” In this part of the world, force is the way things are done, as opposed to the diplomatic way. Now, with authorities well aware of Raffi Hovhannisian’s popularity, a meeting of Hovhannisian’s Heritage party in Armavir was physically prevented from taking place while in a similar, silent manner, no one in Yerevan is giving Heritage a place to have their annual meeting, or “hamagumar,” this order, and the one given not allowing any news coverage whatsoever about Hovhannisian or his party, obviously coming from those who didn’t allow the Armavir gathering to take place. Yet, Paruir Hayrikian’s party meeting was allowed today, with television news showing Vahan Hovhannisyan and Artashes Geghamyan praising Hayrikian and all he had done for Armenia. Hayrikian even invited an opera singer to present his attempt in writing a new hymn for the republic. In another bit of interesting news, an acquaintance told of her asking a well known government official, whom she had gone to school with, if he could assist her in finding meaningful employment. She was shocked with his answer, that “You know, anyone who wants a decent job in Armenia has to pay first.” A similar story from a musician friend told of her application to teach at a music school, where she had to pay $300 to start working there — even though the pay is only about $40 a month. It is said that to become a judge, one has to pay $100,000 just to have the right to take the examination, and another $300,000 for the actual position of judge. Perhaps Armenia, not to mention her neighbors, should listen to the words of Peter the Great, who declared anyone who had given a bribe worth a piece of rope “would be hanged by that rope.”

Today, on Armenian Independence Day, May 28, we started our day by continuing rehearsals for Shoghaken’s new CD and an upcoming concert in Russia. While the rehearsal continued, I went with friends from work to a village in Echmiadzin for our farmer friend’s mother’s “Karasunk,” as forty days had passed since the woman’s death. Passing St. Hripsime church, we took the road that angled to the right, leading to Aratashen village, near Echmiadzin and on the road to Medzamor and Sardarapat. Nearing the village, we drove down an avenue towards an experimental plot of wheat, checking its progress as we walked along the edge of an open irrigation canal. Finishing our brief work, we went into the village and to our friend’s home, where people were already gathering, eating pastries and drinking coffee, as is traditionally done before going to the cemetery. From the open shed where people had gathered, we drove to the cemetery, located next to a vineyard and seemingly buried in trees. It was an old cemetery, with gravestones of the old, curved style of the past. After the ceremony, conducted by two priests and a deacon, one of the priests, a native of the village, praised the deceased woman’s husband, who had died some twenty years earlier, saying all of the village should have been present there, that the man had helped turn the village from one with homes built from dirt and mud to a nice, thriving village with typical stone houses. Back at the open shed, the priests and others remembered the recently-passed woman, then, as the atmosphere relaxed, more typical toasts began, for friendship and the entire extended family, including friends. Outside, as we left, I overheard a conversation turn to politics, normal in Armenia as the rest of the world. Three men were quietly arguing about who Armenia’s real friend(s) are, with one saying the Russians, another saying Europe and the U.S., and the other saying Iran. Naturally, no one claimed Turkey, Azerbaijan, or Georgia as a friend. The man who favored Iran said he had heard the U.S. had given Azeri Turks $75,000 to stage protests against the Iranian government, with hopes to eventually overthrow those currently in power. He said the demonstrations had turned into protests against the cartoons depicting Mohammed as a suicide bomber or something similar. Also, in Iran, an Armenian had put an Armenian flag in his store, Azeri Turks then taking the flag and burning it. Another said that Armenia wouldn’t have to even be talking about whom their friends were or weren’t if those in power would stop stealing from the people and let the country’s economy grow to something approaching normal, after which Armenia wouldn’t always be dependent on others’ financial grants and gestures.

An early morning departure from Yerevan towards Zangezur presented us with clear, spectacular views of Massis, especially in the region around Khor Virab and even into the mountains leading into Vayots Dzor. We continued our journey, passing Sissian and on to Tegh, a village on the former border with Lachin and Azerbaijan. After checking experimental plots of various grains and vegetables, such as peas and corn, we drove back towards Sissian, investigating several plots of wheat near the main road from Yerevan to Goris. Then, by way of Sissian, we headed towards the village of Ltsen, where we would meet the mayor and several wheat farmers. Passing Vorotnavank, built by Queen Santukht, we wound our way down into the Vorotan Gorge and then back up the mountains into Ltsen. The village, even though nestled in a seemingly high mountain range, doesn’t have a high altitude, and is famous for its mulberry, fig, and other fruit trees. Likely a product of Soviet planning, their agricultural fields lie across tall mountains to the northeast . . . the same fields we had visited along the main highway . . . forcing farmers to drive to Sissian and then eastwards to reach their fields, a trip of over an hour. There is a road winding up and across the mountains, but only Nivas and other jeeps can make the trip, making the transfer of tractors and combines a major undertaking. Villagers told me there is a road east from Ltsen directly to Tatev Monastery, three hours by foot and less than an hour by jeep. Village men often choose going by foot, enjoying a barbecue before returning to Ltsen. In Ltsen, most of the village had gathered to send off one of their youth for his two-year service in the Armenian army. About fifty people were still under a large covered area when we arrived, eating fish, khorovadz, and khashlama and toasting the youth, his family, and the Armenian nation in general. A villager remembered a youth from Ltsen who had died in Karabagh, following with a wish for peace in Armenia and the entire world. After refusing an invitation to spend the night in Ltsen, we left for Yerevan, darkness falling as we got to the Ararat Valley. Again, I noticed the long row of lights on the slopes of Massis, stretching for what looked like several miles, before reaching the two small sections of NATO lights, there since Soviet times. The long row of lights remains a mystery, as due to the lights being in a long row, they can’t be lights from Turkish or Kurdish villages on the slope. Back in Yerevan, we heard another Armenian soldier had been killed while serving on the border with Azerbaijan, in the region of Noyemberian. The soldier was a native of Bert, the regional center of Shamshadin. Also, a Baku-born Armenian was killed by Russian supremicists in a train, stabbed to death as some twenty onlookers in the train car did nothing.
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