Yerevan Journal – March 2007

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With the recent news and threats emanating from Turkey, following the Hrant Dink murder, continued bellicose statements emanating from Azerbaijan, and the U.S. Congress considering recognition of the Armenian Genocide, a recent bit of history sent by a friend in England brings it all closer, an interesting account of a meeting with one who helped perpretate the events of 1915. . . .

The Old Man from the Black Sea

I’d gone to Turkey by train with my mother to see our relatives in Istanbul in 1968. We met them and, in the next few days, got to know them quite well. One, my cousin Zaven, who was a shoemaker in a small factory, was a young man in his thirties, who’d lived all his life in the city.

Zaven and I got on well. He was unmarried and living at home with his mother and stepfather, a wonderful man who was from Montenegro. We’d wander about the city, going into Armenian churches and shops.

One day we were in a small butcher’s shop in the Taksim area of the city. Where we were was quite run-down, and the streets dirty. There were very few Armenians there; many had left and those who still remained were too poor to go elsewhere. The butcher’s shop was just a room with an open window onto the street, and a drain for the blood from slaughtered animals in the floor.

Zaven, who had many skills, was also the one person among my relatives who could butcher sheep and lambs, so he’d come to this “shop” and, having negotiated prices etc. with the owner (a friend of his stepfather’s) a half carcass of a sheep was produced and he began to cut it up, so that we could take home several cuts for a dinner his mother was going to serve in our honour.

Having done this and wrapped it up, we were invited to have a cup of coffee. This was served by a boy who’d been sent to get it, on a tray, from a coffee house. We sat outside in the shade, watching a “tavli” (backgammon) game played by two old men. As we drank our coffee, I turned to Zaven and said, “I can play nard.” Now I spoke in Armenian, as I don’t know much Turkish, and Zaven knew little or no English. He said nothing. I didn’t know why he didn’t answer, and, unthinkingly, said, “We ought to play sometime.” He still didn’t answer. Shortly afterwards he turned to the shop owner, thanked him for the coffee (as far as I understood) and paid him for the meat. We left.

After we’d walked some distance, he turned to me and said, “You must be careful when we are with old men like those; they don’t like Armenians much.”

I apologised, telling him that I’d not realised how sensitive things could be.

“Right,” he said. “We’ll go and see an old man who speaks some English. You pretend to be an English tourist and let him practice his English on you.”

I naturally agreed, always having liked to listen to older people.

Next day Zaven and I went to another part of the city, to a reasonably well-to-do house, owned by the man who spoke English. We shook hands and sat down, after expansive Turkish courtesy, in a large room that seemed to be a sitting room, although it was quite dark as the shutters were drawn across the windows. Zaven introduced me, giving me an English name, as we’d agreed beforehand.

I’ll try to give the conversation as nearly as possible. I can recall some of the Turkish words he used, and will include them.

“Oh, I pleased see you.” he said with a smile. He was an old man, wearing a collarless shirt done up to the neck, baggy trousers, and held a large tezbeh, or string of worry beads. I think he was either a Turk or a Laz. He must have been in his eighties.

I groaned inwardly. It was going to be one of those conversations.

He talked to Zaven for some time and, I suppose, asked after his stepfather, as “Shaban Effendi” was mentioned several times.

I should perhaps explain that Zaven’s mother had married Shaban Effendi when she was in her fifties, having lost her previous husband. Her second husband was from Montenegro, and had been, before he retired, a customs officer.

Anyway, the man’s wife, who never said anything, served coffee. She just smiled shyly and nodded.

The conversation continued. “I with British Army, Istanbul, after seferbelik (World War I). I help speak English.”

I was intrigued. This was more like it! I always wanted to meet someone who was alive during those times. He talked at some length; the gist of it was that he acted as an interpreter for an officer who dealt with people who wanted some kind of document (I didn’t understand what it was, as the description was somewhat strange. I did understand it involved the applicant’s name etc.) He also said he got “bakshish” (bribes or tips) from some of the people who came to the office.

“What did you do before that?” I asked.

“In seferbelik I in home at Kara Deniz (Black Sea). We had good time.”

“What did you do?”

“I genj (I was young). I join army, but told, ‘stay home, we call you,’ so I did. Then many Ermenler (Armenians) come town. We told, they bad. Must go in boat and into sea. So I and friends do this. We” — he made the motions of throwing people overboard — “and they under the water.” He smiled. “We did many time.”

I was horrified. I held my nerve and kept my face as expressionless as possible. This was a member of the mob who’d killed thousands of Armenians in the Black Sea towns by drowning them. I eventually put my coffee cup down and said, “Thank you for the coffee. It was very good.”

Zaven talked to him in Turkish for a few moments, having sat silent during the conversation, then we got up and prepared to leave. As we did so, the old man looked at me and said, “K--- Effendi good. He no Ermeni. I speak English, yes?” Zaven’s surname was K---ian. We said our good-byes; his wife, as is the custom in Istanbul if one wants a guest to return, poured some water on our shadows.

*     *     *

When we reached Zaven’s house, I asked him if he knew of the man’s past. He told me he didn’t, and asked what he had said. I told him. He was annoyed, but not surprised. “There’s many like him,” he said. “That’s why we must be careful when we speak in Armenian in the street.'”

— Ara of the Diaspora

Fortunately only a week passed after my return to Armenia that I was able to travel outside of Yerevan, to the village of Khor Virab. Arriving in the village, we drove down the main road before turning left to go to our friend’s house, where we were going to eat fish from the nearby Arax River before going to his fields to check the growth of a new variety of corn. “We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “The fields are still half frozen, as is the river.” As his wife brought pickles (from cabbage, cucumbers, pears, and watermelon) and dolma to the table, he told about his ancestors, which happened to be from the same village in the Plains of Moush as my wife’s. “We are from Gharaghyul,” he said. “There were two Kurdish villages close by, and ours, which was almost entirely Armenian. In 1914, the Kurds told the Armenians of Gharaghyul to leave Turkey, as the Turks were planning to massacre Armenians. They escorted the Armenians of our village all the way to Igdir. Then, the villagers, which included my father, went to Eastern Armenia, to Leninakan and elsewhere. The Kurds had told the Gharaghyul Armenians that if they ever wanted to go back to their village, they would give it back to them. My father went there, some time after 1918, but saw that it was no place for Armenians to live, that he would have to live as a Kurd. He left his birthplace and never went back. I want to go and see my father’s village.” When I told him what my Sivas-born grandfather’s aunt had said, that the Turks were mean but the Kurds were worse, he didn’t agree. “The Kurds helped us,” he said. “I think that when they killed Armenians in 1915, it was because the Turks forced them to, and also because they were promised a homeland of sorts. Either way, I want to go there. I speak some Kurdish. I’ll be able to tell if they want us there or not.” As he talked, his wife continued bringing different dishes to the table, including homemade cheese, something resembling spinach, cooked mushrooms, corn, madzoon, and lavash, all which she had made or had been made in the village. As we talked and ate, two farmers walked into the house, one from the village of Kosh, located between Udjan and Arooj just past Ashtarak. “I have a bottle of wine I made last autumn,” he said. “It’s from Muscat and Anahit grapes. Let’s drink to the coming of spring. You are all invited to our village. It is a good village. We can go into the caves, where there are ancient historical items from Urartean times.”

A year or more ago when National Radio officials removed most programing that featured traditional music or talk shows about Armenian culture, the reason they gave was that “ratings” were more important than anything. Most new shows and music they then offered were little different than what is featured on pop radio. Recently, a quite popular weekly show hosted by folklorist Arusiak Sahakyan was removed from the airwaves. No reason was given. Obviously, ratings, the supposed reason for removing similar shows in the past, wasn’t the reason. The show, which featured discussions about Armenian folklore, along with folk singers performing old Armenian music, had such a large listening audience that higher-ups probably decided such a show, highlighting real Armenian culture, wasn’t necessary. Many here are further convinced that the powers-to-be are trying to take the national face of Armenia and turn it into something else, what we don’t know. As was the case a few weeks back when a caller to National Radio protested during a show hosted by a male and female from National Television (naturally of the same mind as National Radio), the caller complaining that the airwaves were completely controlled by Yergi Tadron pop singers, that it was made to appear there were no other singers in Armenia, when the talk show hosts quickly and loyally defended the “stars,” saying “everybody loves them, they are our friends, our best singers . . .” trying to make the caller seem like someone from another planet.

Recently a list written by a deacon from Holy Echmiadzin, listing several pop stars and which sect each belonged to, appeared in Groong news and other outlets. Andre, Arminka, Arsen Grigoryan (television host, singer, actor, etc.) and other well known singers were in the list. All, naturally, denied that they were members of any religious sect. It is known here that anyone in the entertainment field who joins one of the sects is pretty much guaranteed a secure future, financially and otherwise. I was guided to a website of a major sect operating in Armenia, and was amazed more than anything by the success of the Hayastan-born preachers in attaining the look and expression of American televangelists. It is said that to destroy a country, one attacks the national religion and education. Although not clear where the money or orders are coming from, most think it is from somewhere in the West. In a related story, this one from Jerusalem, a gay bar was recently firebombed, either due to the undesirable elements frequenting the bar, along with the accompanying crime and noise, or an upcoming gay parade to be held in Jerusalem. The firebombed building is owned by the Jerusalem Armenian Patriarchate. Letters from citizens living near the bar to the Patriarchate’s business manager complaining about the bar and its activities have up to now gone unanswered. Unclear to date is whether Holy Echmiadzin is aware of the way the Jerusalem Patriarchate is conducting business, and to whom it is renting its various properties.

A young woman told of her ancestral village. “Getashen is a beautiful village, located in a forested area in the Plains of Karabagh on the side of a mountain, close to Mountainous Karabagh. My grandfather built two bridges there. One is over the part of the river that flows directly through their front yard. All my ancestors are buried in Getashen. When I went there in the early 1990s, I knew it would be my last time there, so I stayed a few days longer than planned. Besides Russian soldiers, only old people were still there, as the Russians had forced everyone else out of the village. The fedayee were defending Getashen and surrounding villages, and were waiting for word from Yerevan as to what to do. Vazken Manukyan was defense minister then. He called on a special communication line and gave the order for the Getashen Armenians to leave. Some say the order came from Russia, but I don’t believe it. The fedayee could have easily kept the village, but weren’t allowed. The great fedayee Tatoul was killed there. No one knows for sure if he was killed by Azeris or Armenians. I think it was Armenians, but I’m not sure. Now, Azeris are using the houses, mostly three-storied, for summer houses. We want Getashen back, but it depends on negotiations. Who knows what will happen.” Others I talked to believe the order for Armenians to leave Getashen came from Russia, not Manukyan, whom they believe was removed from office due to having more successes in the war than the Russians wanted. Manukyan, they say, should be given the same honors that Vazken Sargsyan was given, that he is a true national hero. Opinions, of course, abound, as they do about the upcoming parliamentary elections, with word spreading that Hanrapetakan (Republican Party) is already giving 20,000 dram for each vote, and Dashnaktsutyun is giving $200 for anyone giving them a list of 30 voters, along with their names, addresses, and phone numbers, who promise to vote for Dashnaktsutyun.

It happened that everyone I talked to today had watched the boxing match between Vanadzor-born Darchinyan and a Mexican boxer, broadcast on “Armenia” television. All had watched in amazement as the Mexican boxer somehow remainded standing, apparently not hurt badly, during 12 rounds of direct punches by Darchinyan. A visiting family member then told how the Mexican boxer had died following the match, and how the match should have probably been stopped earlier, and how difficult a time Darchinyan is having finding opponents, whose fear of the boxer will doubtlessly increase after his latest opponent’s death. As we finished a dinner of pumpkin soup (from Byurakan-based pumpkins), steamed beet leaves with madzoon and garlic, cabbage salad, hajar pilaf, and oghi made from “hon” berries, television news had updates about the murder about a year ago of a high ranking tax official and his driver, the car blowing up as the ignition was ignited. The suspect in the murder happened to have ties, they say, with a certain member of parliament. With the upcoming elections, Yerevantsis figure the accusation is nothing more than a setup, that there are those that don’t want the certain parliamentarian to be reelected, and to ruin his name they invented the tie between the supposed suspect and the parliamentarian . . . much as Vazken and Aram Sargsyan’s brother was accused of murder in the recent past. As the news concluded, we briefly watched “Shoghakat,” the station operated by Holy Echmiadzin, and were fortunate to hear the voice of Baruyr Sevak, reciting one of his poems, to a film created after the poem. Interestingly, as we came across a show on Turkish television featuring two Turkish clarinetists expertly playing Turkish-flavored jazz, a three-year-old family member sat in amazement, even protesting as I prepared to change the channel . . . then walked away from the television as “Shoghakat” played the music of Yergi Tadron singers advertising their upcoming concerts intended to raise money to remodel their downtown concert hall.

We were awakened last night by strong wind and rain, strong even for the unpredictable month of March. As the day opened and the rain turned to snow, my wife was reminded of the story of the old lady taking her lambs to the mountain to graze, even though the weather was something like what we are currently experiencing. “Why are you taking the animals to the mountain, old woman, it’s snowing, you’ll freeze up there,” the husband said, to which the old woman answered “It’s springtime, don’t you know what month it is?” Putting off my daily tasks and errands, I turned on the television and came across a Soviet-era documentary about Catholicos Vazken I, on the “AR” station. Filmed in the 1980s, I saw the Catholicos in his latter years, once in a procession to the Echmiadzin Cathedral along with Bishop Hussik, Der Narek, and others I recognized from my visits to Echmiadzin during that time. Earlier shots had a dark-haired Khoren Palyan teaching Morning Service songs to young students, and a still-youthful Vazken I and his mother sitting at his desk. I was reminded of how things have changed here, of a story a California Armenian told me recently, how a wealthy Armenian had donated well over a million dollars, possibly several million, to Holy Echmiadzin, but was told that due to the dollar being somewhat worthless here now, that he would have to donate more. . . . Yesterday’s news had another, similar story, where government officials said that for the same reason, they wouldn’t be able to complete road building projects with the money the Americans had given . . . everyone here knowing where a good part of that money ended up. Huge amounts of money are flowing into Armenia these days, often if not always with strings attached, unfortunately, as we watch, for instance, unsuccessful composers getting rich arranging concerts with questionable money, unsuccessful ensemble directors getting money from sects and foreign sources and suddenly performing more Western music than Armenian, but with concerts galore. Simple musicians, however, are told there isn’t enough to go around, as a recent trip to Moscow by the State Dance Ensemble where each member got a mere $100 for their week-long activities and concerts, a small fraction no doubt compared to what their leaders got, not to mention the concert’s main performer, whose name has become larger than culture itself here, even though his best friend is a synthesizer. For those who know how to work the money flow, all is well, yet for others, life remains the same. And, on another subject, while huge effort is spent on Genocide recognition, no doubt a worthy cause, little noise is raised when restaurants or coffee shops are built in front of Haghbat or Noravank, something which undoubtedly has Vazken I turning in his grave.

Yesterday a special on CNN had an African claiming to have developed a cure for AIDS, inviting the doctors of the world to come and see for themselves those who have been cured of the dreaded disease. Cure or not, a pity Armenicum, the Armenian-developed drug, would never be thusly featured on an international news show, for political reasons we are all aware of. Yet, Armenians themselves often do the work of those against Armenians being recognized for their achievements, as in the case of the great opera tenor Avak Petrosyan. Today, as “Shoghakat” television station featured archival films of Petrosyan in his most famous role, that of Saro in the opera Anoush, one of our guests commented “I didn’t know Avak had died, when did this happen?” The death of Petrosyan, who died in 2000 at a fairly old age, went almost completely unnoticed in Armenia. The tenor, who was named People’s Artist, was second to none, and was without doubt in the same class as Armenian greats Armenak Shahmuradian and Shara Dalyan. During the “Shoghakat” program, Petrosyan was praised by Hovhannes Chekijian and Tigran Levonyan, who had also sung the role of Saro in Anoush. As actor Sos Sargsyan properly stated, Petrosyan, who also expertly sang folk and ashoughakan songs, was “taken straight from the rocky mountains of Armenia.” In 2000, when Petrosyan died, not a word of tribute or notice was given by the government of President Kocharian. This lack of respect for Armenia’s opera singers, even those named People’s Artist, continues today, while at the same time, although nothing against her personally, a pop singer killed in a car wreck was granted a government funeral and buried in the Pantheon. I wonder if we have the moral right to protest when the Turks don’t put crosses on the domes of the St. Khatch church of Aghtamar.

In this election year, where the authorities are promising a clean, fair election, word has it that Vazken Manukyan, who is obviously not on the best of terms with those running the government, recently went to one of the provinces to give a speech, and was faced with a situation shocking even in local terms. First, he wasn’t allowed to give his speech. Then, he wasn’t given a place to stay, as the local population had been warned to not show any hospitality to Manukyan. Also, Manukyan was warned that if he dared give a speech, “his head would be broken.”

March 21 marked seven years since I arrived in Armenia, yet more important was that it was the first official day of spring, and the birthday of the god Vahagn. A day or two earlier, I received a call from a pagan Armenian inviting me to commemorations of the Armenian New Year (old calendar) in Garni, also on March 21. Due to the death of Hasmik’s uncle, I was unable to go to Garni, but my pagan acquaintance said he’d be informing me of the next commemoration at Garni, I believe falling on the day of Christian Easter. This day, in Yerevan, we spent most of the day, as we had the previous three days, at Hasmik’s uncle’s home. Arriving around noon, we went into the house, where the deceased rested in an open casket in the center of the living room. Hasmik joined the women who were sitting on benches and chairs that lined the walls. I went back outside where men stood and talked. A crowd of perhaps twenty to thirty slowly grew to where at two o’clock, when the body was brought outside and placed on a narrow, wooden table, some 300 friends and relatives had gathered. It seemed an entire classroom had come, likely friends of the deceased’s grandchildren. As the sound of duduks came to an end, the man’s children paid their final, tearful farewells, his nephews then picking up the casket and turning it to the left three times. As many dwellers from the tall apartment building stood at their windows, paying respect to their neighbor, the large crowd below walked slowly behind those carrying the open casket, all the way down the small street to the hearse waiting ahead. The happy man, who sang, danced, gave long, comical toasts, and raised four children, is no more.

A family elder from Aparan began the remembrances at our deceased uncle’s home: “Misha’s ancestors, from Bulanukh in Moush, were known as blacksmiths. His mother, Mafo, came to Eastern Armenia with General Andranik, during the 1915 massacres. Her husband and children died along the way. She then remarried, to another Mshetsi. My parents lived in Aparan, in the same village Mafo lived in. Their ancestors had left Bulanukh in 1828, then returned, escorted by Russian soldiers, and lived in Bulanukh until 1915.” We had just returned from the cemetery, where the “inknahogh” and “yot” ceremonies were performed. Along with the family elder, several other men from Aparan who hadn’t been at the funeral came this day to pay respect to Misha. All bore the old country look still found in Aparan and similar regions, yet becoming rarer in Yerevan. One old man, continuously sliding the beads on a “hamrich,” had a mustache rivaling Saroyan’s. Another told me he had been with Saroyan in Jermuk, and promised to take me there and show me where Saroyan had carved on a stone “My heart’s in the highlands.” Standing outside the house, the conversation turned to the opening of the renovated St. Khatch church on Aghtmar island, on Lake Van. A younger male stated “we should take the Turks up on their invitation, and attend the opening ceremony. We need better relations with the Turks, even if for reasons of economy” to which someone answered “that would be fine, if they admitted destroying the other Armenian churches of Van, and not say the church architecture had Turkish influence.” Another went on to say “while the Turks invite us to the reopening of St. Khatch, they’re doing their best to deny their past, telling the Americans and others how nice they are, that they couldn’t have committed genocide, that if so, how could they renovate an Armenian church. . . .” A woman, just arriving to the house from work, added “just so we don’t go to the ceremony like sheep, and remind the Turks that even though it might be nice they renovated St. Khatch, that we have a memory, that we won’t forget.”

After asking me about my ancestors’ roots, a young, educated taxi driver said he was tired of city dwellers just saying they’re Yerevantsis, not knowing or caring about their roots. “If someone happens to be born in an airplane, they don’t say they’re from an airplane. We all need to remember where our ancestors came from. Mine are from Moush and Kars. I want to go there, but I’m afraid of how I might act when I meet Turks. True, there are good Turks. I know about those who saved Armenians during the Genocide. But what good do a few good Turks do when the government has other plans? This whole business of opening borders and renovating St. Khatch has me angry. The Turks don’t admit to the Genocide. To me, this means one thing. Not that they’re worried about paying reparations or giving land back. It means they want to continue their work, and get rid of all Armenians. For now, they just have the Azeris do their work for them. As the Turks stood back and watched, as did the whole world, the Azeris destroyed Armenian khachkars in Nakhichevan, adding insult to injury by saying the khachkars weren’t even Armenian. We shouldn’t have been so ‘civilized’ when they were destroying the khachkars. We should have sent in an army. Maybe there would have been a war. Fine. We can’t live scared, or in the future, we won’t be here.”

This Sunday morning, March 25, I was surprised to come across a patriotic movie on National Television, not usual at this early morning hour, and not usual at all, for that matter. The movie is a new one, about the life of fallen fedayee hero Aghvan Minasyan of Ltsen, a village in the Sissian region. Two of Minasyan’s cousins had roles in the film, a good accounting of battles in Karabagh in the early 1990s. After the movie ended, we translated the lyrics of several work songs, including horovels, saved from oblivion by Komitas, before turning the television back on, again surprised, this time by seeing Tsori Mrro, starring Sos Sargsyan. The movie seemed timely, with continuing issues with Turkey and Azerbaijan, with Sargsyan’s character fighting Turks in the Plains of Moush before escaping to Eastern Armenia. With the second movie of the day on National Television featuring such national flavor, I became suspicious something was in the air, only soon to find out that Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan had died of a heart attack. Although the announcement wasn’t made until late afternoon, many think he died early in the morning. The nation truly mourns Margaryan’s death, as he was known to be different from others in the government, financially helping both actors and theaters in Yerevan, not to mention other worthy causes, and was one who actually worked for the betterment of Armenia’s economy. Politically speaking, it is said he was a balance to Serzhe Sargsyan, and perhaps the only politician (in the Republican Party and elsewhere) Sargsyan couldn’t easily contend with. A few have even gone so far to suggest that Margaryan’s death was planned, to get him out of the way, especially with the upcoming elections, his absence affecting things in a dimension that won’t be apparent on election day. In any event, Margaryan’s death doesn’t bode well for Armenia, yet, time will tell, as the elections will have to pass in order to choose a new prime minister. After dinner at a neighbor’s, we returned home and watched news on National Television, which was followed by an interesting presentation from the late 1980s, as opposed to the usual cheap martial arts flicks usually shown after the news. The presentation was of a play written by Gorky, and featured the best actors of the time, including Sos Sargsyan, Mher Mkrtchyan, Henrik Alaverdyan, Karen Janibekyan, Anahit Topchyan, Vladimir Msrlyan, and Sherentz. Sherentz was a close friend of Mkrtchyan, his death so deeply affecting Mkrtchyan that the great actor scarcely lived a month after Sherentz’s death.

I remember my first visit to Armenia in 1982, when the death of Soviet leader Brezhnev resulted in several days of national mourning, including television programming that featured classical music, both Armenian and Soviet. These post-Soviet days, similar programming is usually saved for April 24, and now for the death of Andranik Margaryan, who it turns out was only a few days away from traveling to France to have heart surgery before being felled by a heart attack. Yesterday, we watched Hin Oreri Yergu, a movie starring Mher Mkrtchyan and his famous scene where he ate the “sev tught,” a notice of a soldier’s death which was Mkrtchyan’s duty to deliver to the family (without doubt one of the most heart-breaking scenes in movie history). We had the opportunity to see the movie twice in one day, yet the second showing, on “Armenia” television, had the computerized, colorized version, losing the original, black and white atmosphere, with specially planned shadows, etc. Such is technology, the good thing being the movie is now saved for eternity. In another, quite touching film, Karot, a Genocide survivor crossed the Arax River from Eastern Armenia and traveled to his home village, now in ruins, kissing the graves of his family as he walked through the village and remaining houses, intermittently flashing back to the massacres. An interesting documentary on “Armenia” television told the story of the 1901 defense of Arakelots Vank in Moush by General Andranik and a small band of fighters, priests, and villagers. The group included Gevorg Chavush and Hadji Hakop, who organized the ill-fated self-defense of Moush in 1915. The heroism of the defenders of Arakelots was inspiring, fighting off an army of 6,000 Turks, who finally asked Andranik what his demands were. After hearing this story, and seeing the old photos of Andranik and the others, I wondered if we are worthy of these Armenians, especially our leaders here in Armenia. Sad that no one, here at least, is surprised about the news coming from France that a governmental entourage left behind over a million euros in a casino during a presidential visit there. I am reminded of the latest, or one of the latest, methods thought up by some political people to attain their goals in the upcoming elections. To be worthy of one’s bribe, the individual has to prove he voted for such and such a political party, by taking a picture of his marked ballot using his or her cell phone as a camera.

Perhaps a university student put it best: “When I saw all the people paying respect to Andranik Margaryan, I felt good. He was quite wealthy, true, but stayed a man of the people, and helped anyone who asked. He lived in a regular apartment building, not like others in their palaces or special government buildings. I watched as government figures walked past the casket. Those who were wealthy, but have no respect from the people. I wondered if they would change, perhaps, seeing all the respect Margaryan was receiving. Don’t they know that when they die, and the government arranges a similar ceremony, that people will come, but only as a curiosity, and nothing else? Then, when the Catholicos and other bishops and priests arrived and performed the funeral ceremony, I was proud, as an Armenian. Finally, at a major government funeral, such as this, an Armenian Apostolic service was performed. I’ve had it with the sects here. I wish they’d get the message and leave the country. And, too bad Silva Kaputikyan wasn’t given such honors. I know she spoke unkindly of the president, but he should have made sure she was afforded the highest honors. To give these honors, recently, to (pop star) Vartuhi Vardanyan was ridiculous, especially after ignoring Kaputikyan. Our government needs to get its priorities straight.”

As she watched the opening ceremony on “Yerkir Media,” a Yerevantsi with roots in Van told me, “Isn’t it better to have St. Khatch without a cross, even if they’re calling it a museum, than to build a new church that looks like the St. Grigor Lusavorich church in central Yerevan? And to be embarrassed by UNESCO reconsidering Haghbat and Noravank due to Armenians themselves building coffee shops in front of the monasteries?”
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