Yerevan Journal – May 2007

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People here are watching what happens with the various appointments, pre-election and post, concerning the position of defense minister. With the now prime minister, Serzhe Sargsyan, appointing former army head Michael Harutyunyan to his former post as defense minister (leaving the Dashnaks angry their man wasn’t chosen), and leaving the head of the armed forces position open, people wonder if the new armed forces leader will be a Hayastantsi or Karabaghtsi. Here, they remember how Vazken Sargsyan controlled the army, and could have turned it against Kocharyan with the snap of a finger, which leads to the presumption that the Hayastantsi army head was removed, opening the path for Karabagh’s army chief Seyran Ohanyan to take over as head of the army of Armenia . . . thus keeping the Armenian army in the control of Karabaghtsis, and removing the possibility of the army being used against Kocharyan. Just speculation, but who knows. As to the subject of election observing, someone who attended a meeting of party loyalists who observe voting at polling places all over Armenia told us two methods of cheating they were to keep a watch for. One reminds of when a few political parties were gathering up passports, telling people they needed them for this or that reason, one of them turning out to be that they were putting a certain stamp, or seal, somewhere in the passport, to where people who weren’t the passport’s owners could present the passports to people working at the polling stations, people “working” for that certain political party who knew the person wasn’t the passport’s true owner, and vote even though the passport wasn’t theirs. Another method is that people enter the polling booth with an already-marked ballot, cast that ballot, then bring the empty, unused ballot out with them, hidden from observers of course, and present that empty ballot to someone waiting outside . . . proof that they voted with the already-marked ballot, the proof needed to obtain their bribe.

While visiting a friend in his office, a worker entered and told about his problems with the local authorities in Yerevan. It turns out he had planned to rent his downstairs apartment to Raffi Hovhannisian’s Heritage Party, for use as a campaign headquarters, but pressure from the district mayor put a stop to these plans. He was told by the district mayor (one of Yerevan’s central districts) that he shouldn’t rent his apartment to Hovhannisian’s Heritage Party, which in effect put a stop to the process. It also happens that city authorities have invented some sort of violation, and are taking the man to court. My friend, a member of one of the major parties (not Heritage), said simply, “This is the way it is here. If they want, they’ll put drugs in your pocket, and say you’re a dealer. Or, like two days ago, they’ll kill you, like they did just down the street (near Barekamutyun Metro).”

Yesterday was Hayrik Mouradian’s birthday. Hayrik was born in Shatakh, region of Vaspurakan, in about 1904. I remember meeting Hayrik in August, 1999, in Kaghtsrashen village, near Ashtarak, where he was staying with relatives. In his last year of life, he was barely able to make it to the table, where we sat, ate peaches, and sang “Im Hayrenyats Hogi, Vardan.” Later that year, in December, Hayrik died. Last night, at a niece’s birthday party, a special toast was said, honoring Hayrik. “I remember going to Kaghtsrashen in the middle of December,” the in-law said. “Hayrik was lying down, listening to the radio. When the song ‘Hayasdan’ began, sung by Armenak Shahmouradian, I saw tears in Hayrik’s eyes. Hayrik loved Shahmouradian’s singing. I remember when William Saroyan, who also loved Shahmouradian, came to Armenia, and people offered to take him to see the State Dance Ensemble and other groups, and Saroyan said, ‘take me to see Hayrik Mouradian. That’s the Armenia I want to see.’ Anyway, the day after our visit, we got word Hayrik had died.”

On the lighter side of the elections, local observers who are to man the polling stations on election day were told to make sure and take enough to eat and drink that day, so as not to take advantage of the “hospitality” offered by political parties, simple things such as water, soft drinks, sandwiches . . . it happens that during the last elections, “substances” were put in the water and soft drinks that caused certain of a person’s bodily functions to activate, in other words, forced them to spend half the time in the bathrooms, giving unscrupulous election workers the opportunity to switch ballot boxes or carry out whatever method of violation their hearts desired. Also, the election commissions, set up to make sure the elections are carried out in an honest manner, and to promote “democracy,” have found their own ways to juggle numbers. Members of the various political parties are appointed to these commissions, who in turn appoint a president to each commission. Higher ups then tell the president how many votes need to appear in that particular region, after which, if the number is reached, the president receives his bribe. In case not enough votes are cast, the president then tells commission members he will add a certain number of votes to each party (paying each member a certain amount for their silent agreement), in the end helping each party and resulting in the particular region reaching the desired number of ballots cast . . . then, that particular commission’s president will be worthy of his bribe from the various political party “higher ups.”

After a Shoghaken rehearsal, and a trip to FedEx, we went to the Yerort Mas square, where the Heritage party was to have an election rally. Literally hundreds were present, as the sunny day contrasted with the rainy day rally of a few days ago, which was held near the Aram Khachatryan statue at the Opera, and at which a small crowd of loyalists stood in the rain and listened to Raffi Hovhannisian and Vardan Khachatryan, who is also on the Heritage list of candidates to parliament. Today’s crowd enthusiatically responded to Hovhannisian’s and Khachatryan’s calls for victory and taking back their country. An interesting conversation between a Dashnak party member and someone from Heritage revealed a possible shift of Dashnak voters to Heritage. The Dashnak said that he had heard many academics with Dashnak leanings now saying they were voting for Heritage, and that had him worried for Dashnaktsutyun . . . which he believed played into Kocharian’s hands, taking votes from the Dashnaks and giving them to Heritage, which for now isn’t as strong as Dashnaktsutyun. Another, on hearing Kocharian’s name, began talking about how the president had merely nodded, instead of shaking hands, when passing the deceased prime minister’s son at what I believe was the forty-day commemoration (adding to rumors about the prime minister being poisoned to give the government completely to Karabaghtsis). He continued by complaining that Kocharian never makes the sign of the cross, wherever and whatever the religious occasion, whereas other goverment officials, including Serzhe Sargsyan, do this without fail. This, he claimed, is poor protocol, that as the president of a Christian country, it is his duty to make the sign of the cross . . . as Russia’s Putin does, for example. After the rally, I talked with two freedom fighters, both of whom had participated in the recent war in Karabagh. Both began complaining about the movie put out by National Television called Mi Vakhetsir, about the war in Karabagh. “All they did was use their friends, most of whom either aren’t actors or don’t know how to act. They aren’t telling the story anything like what happened. They use street lingo, slang, and we didn’t talk like that. And their use of ‘hooligan’ characters is sickening, with girls in saunas, etc. At least with this low quality production they did one thing right . . . Haiko’s voice suits all this.”

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the liberation of Shushi. “We (Agunk) were on stage in Milan, performing for a Dashnak audience,” Hasmik told. “Word reached that Armenians had taken Shushi. You should have seen the crowd. It was crazy. We started singing patriotic songs, Dashnak songs. At five a.m., we were still singing. By then, only the men were able to sing. When we got back to Yerevan, we heard about all the soldiers, most of whom we knew, who were in the hospital. Doctor Harout was doing his best to patch everyone up. I remember being in Karabagh, during the war, with Agunk. I remember meeting with Monte in Martuni, where we had a concert. Monte told us how he knew one day he would be killed, but not by Turks. . . . He told about how once he was in an outhouse and heard noises outside, and knowing it would be another attempt on his life, pulled himself up towards the roof, avoiding being shot. . . . Those were crazy years, driving to Stepanakert in the dark, with the lights turned off, so the Turks wouldn’t see us and bomb our vehicles.” A Karabaghtsi taxi driver continued: “I knew Monte. I know who shot at him that day. Monte was great, a legend. But they killed him, and killed our first president, Artur Mkrtchyan, also a great man. Here I am, trying to make a go of it in Armenia, but I wonder if we have hope. I’m tired of the way my countrymen, from Karabagh, are running things. They have no respect for our people, our land. I am embarrassed. I plan on moving back to Russia.”

Pre-election tensions are increasing, as I found out today at Heritage’s final rally, held in the Tigran Mets hall in the Armenia Marriott. Sitting in a chair, talking with painter Karen Smbatyan, a Heritage faithful sat down, appearing somewhat tense. “Personally, I’m fine,” he said. “And there’s no doubt about Heritage entering Parliament. But what happened last night on Nalbandyan Street scares me. After a rally at the Matenadaran, where Aram Sargsyan (Republic Party), Aram Karapetyan (New Times) and Nikol Pashinyan (Impeachment) gave their speeches, people marched down Sayat Nova, and up Nalbandyan, when Interior Ministry police came from behind and forced a confrontation, where they beat many people. Aram Karapetyan was hurt, although I don’t think very badly. The people in charge of the government are worried about the election. They know if they falsify the results, as in the past, things could explode, and they aren’t that confident about who wins, and who loses, if that happens.” As the rally started, I saw the hopeful looks on the faces of the crowd, be they intellectuals, actors, translators, teachers, whoever. After words by Vardan Khachatryan and Raffi Hovhannisian, a lively set of entertainment started with a song by Arto Tunboyajian, who was followed by Vahan Artsruni and Gor Mkhitaryan, who sang a song or two each, before the entry of Shoghaken. Not a quiet place by that time, Shoghaken brought out the zurnas and dhols and started singing Mayroke and Ververi songs, not to mention the famous Yarkhushta, and, as is often the case, solo and line dancing spread all over the hall, in between shouts of “haghtanak” and “jharankutyun.”

As nothing in Armenia should surprise anyone, we rode in a taxi from Echmiadzin to Yerevan with someone who claimed to be from ASALA, who had fought in Karabagh. True or not, his story was like this: “Without Monte, most would have given up. He gave us all strength. Both Karabaghtsis and Hayastantsis. Many think we would have lost Martuni without Monte. That’s not true. We would have lost all of Karabagh. And it isn’t true, that Armenians killed Monte. I was there. I saw a shot come from where Turks were hiding. It might have even been a Russian bullet, I don’t know, but it definitely wasn’t done by Armenians.” Our conversation continued thusly for twenty minutes, with our friend complaining that Armenians don’t have the nerve right now to take their government back, that they’re in a frightened state. Reaching Yerevan, I met with a journalist who spoke along the same lines. “Don’t believe everything you hear about the beatings two nights ago on Nalbandyan Street,” he said. “They (‘Impeachment’ and the others) wanted a confrontation with the authorities, to draw the attention of the international observers, to help their cause. And, Heritage is going to get into the Parliament, thanks to the help of the Americans. . . .” to which I answered, maybe, maybe not, but even if so, why can the Russians help some candidates and that’s fine, but if the Americans help Heritage, that’s bad . . . and so our conversation went. In the end, not really knowing whom to believe about these things, the election is finally taking place, and afterwards we’ll see if things pass relatively peacefully, or the opposite.

A trip to Byurakan’s old village center had us visiting first the St. Hovhannes Mkrtich church, a basilica built in around the seventh century, then walking to a relative’s home, near the church. A cousin offered to drive us to Tegher Monastery, located across the river canyon and up Mt. Aragats. We walked the monastery grounds, visited Tegher villagers, then began walking the nearby rocky mountains in search of mushrooms, urts (thyme), shushan, and other kinds of greens abundant in this rainy spring season. Back in Byurakan, at a cousin’s house, a neighbor said he had just voted, and said it looked like the villagers had mostly voted for the Republican party, led by the prime minister and others. He said that party people had been in the village several times, and recently had passed out 15,000 drams to villagers in exchange for their votes. He first complained that people had accepted the bribes, yet said he couldn’t blame them, saying that when someone doesn’t have flour to bake bread, he is somewhat forced to take the money. “Had we not taken the money, they would have later made sure the price of flour was raised, to punish us. And they say they work for the people.” The neighbor went on to say most people he knew wanted Heritage to win, but had voted for the Republican party, for understandable reasons. After having eggs and mushrooms, potatoes, cooked wild greens, and apple vodka, we wandered the area around their house and then left for Yerevan. Late at night, into early morning hours, we watched the pop festival Eurovision, as I suppose most of Armenia did, to see how “Haiko” fared against the twenty-plus Europeans countries. At around two p.m., a friend who had served as an observer at a polling place in Yerevan called, saying at her polling place the Republican party had come in first, Heritage second, followed by Prosperous Armenia, the Dashnaks, and others. She said a friend at another polling place had a similar report. Her friend had said that Republican party people were pretty much running the show at her polling place, doing some campaigning, even so far as to try to enter the voting booth to “help” people vote. Complaining against these people, she said, was in vain.

After visiting the Vernisage, we walked towards Tumanyan and past the Opera, where we saw the preparations for the post-election rally planned by various opposition figures, along with some from Levon Ter Petrosyan’s former government. Most opposition members must be in shock, as it seems almost none will be in the new Parliament. It is likely the result of self-destruction on their part, with a good shove from the ruling coaltion. With the government-created Prosperous Armenia party, no one could say the Republican party had complete control over Parliament, as both, not just the Republicans, gained large percentages of the vote and thus seats in Parliament. The remaining seats, besides the seats taken by those who ran independently, were taken by coalition member Dashnaktsutyun and former member Legal State, followed by Heritage. The Opposition parties’ votes were divided to the extent that familiar names such as Shavarsh Kocharyan, Arshak Sadoyan, Stepan Demirjyan, and Manuk Gasparyan won’t be in Parliament. Their position in the voting was obviously weakened by the existence of Prosperous Armenia, as after they and the Republicans had split most of the votes, not enough was left for the oppositionists . . . if they are, indeed, oppositionists, as many think they are merely playing the parts of opposition, to make things look good for the ruling coalition, but that is another question. In any event, as we walked through the Vernisage and later down Tumanyan, we overheard several conversations where people were commenting about Heritage entering Parliament, none worrying whether they had been helped by the Americans or not, just seeming glad and somewhat surprised that Heritage had overcome a television blockade of their leader, rejections when asking to rent public meeting places, refusals to post campaign posters, etc. What remains is what effect Heritage can have on a government which has quite the control over the life and economy of Armenia.

Someone who had stayed late into the night at one of the polling places in Yerevan said that before the boxes holding all the cast ballots were sealed and locked, certain individuals came and stuffed the boxes with pre-marked ballots. No one dared say anything. This is likely the reason that, for instance, earlier counting had Heritage in second or third place in the voting, while in the end they had only six percent. If this happened to Heritage, it means that it happened to others too. Locals, journalists included, are now saying that falsifications were far more this year than in the past, the difference being the falsifications were done in the pre-election period, with less on the actual election day, with certain exceptions, as the above-mentioned.

Yesterday evening, National News had Raffi Hovhannisian talking about the elections, thanking his supporters, etc., also saying he knows he received, in reality, some 250,000 votes, not the 80,000 that were announced. The announcer, loyal to the ruling powers, added her own thoughts, saying that Hovhannisian had no proof of this. True, he doesn’t have pictures of 3-4 a.m. ballot box stuffing and the like. He only has the word of local observers from all over Yerevan who said that after the vote was counted, Heritage was in second or third place in most of Yerevan. This was, of course, before the late night shenanigans took place. Today, a woman whose husband has close ties to the ruling Republican party called and said she hadn’t told her husband, but she had voted for Heritage, and that all her friends had too. “Amazing,” she said, “that they only gave Raffi six percent. We all know he got a minimum of ten to fifteen percent. Now, we have to stand with him, give him a chance.” Also, a new joke, if it can be said, has arisen from Gyavar, near Lake Sevan. It has it like this: “Another four years under the rule of the Turks.”

A friend here recently stated her opinion that Armenians are barbarians, and for that reason have been able to stick around all these centuries, while other nations have passed by the wayside. “Intellectuals, artists, and scientists can’t fit in, and leave. Or things are made uncomfortable for them, and they leave. Some stay, of course, but they are small in numbers, and usually never reach the reknown they would elsewhere.” After telling her I kind of enjoyed the uncivilized nature of life here, she laughed, and answered that if uncivilized life is what I like, that I should have enjoyed the recent elections; then, getting more serious, she mentioned the likely murder of someone in the Shengavit district of Yerevan, someone who ran up against some of the “barbarians” she had talked about, and been shoved out of a window in police headquarters (although the police say he fell out the window reaching for a glass of water). Although many here are trying to do something about this crime, those guilty, unfortunately, will probably continue their lives as before. . . . One example of an artist who stayed here, and was definitely a world-class artist, was opera singer Gohar Gasparyan. True, she became famous in Soviet times, and the question arises as to whether she would be appreciated now, if she were singing opera now. But that’s another story. As today is Gasparyan’s funeral, National Television broadcast video recordings of Gasparyan singing, mainly Komitas songs such as “Yerkinkn Ampel a,” “Hov Arek,” etc. As “Anoush,” Gasparyan was likely the best, although I can’t comment on Haikanoush Danielyan, her predecessor in the role, as I haven’t heard any Anoush recordings with her voice. Some say she had a more national flavor to her voice than Gasparyan. In any event, today’s government funeral, to be held at the Opera building, will undoubtedly be attended by thousands.

Today a musician admitted he had turned down a request to play at a Heritage political rally, sheepishly saying that if Heritage hadn’t entered Parliament, he felt he would have been looked at by the ruling parties in an “unkind way.” Kind of sad, yet in a country Armenia’s size, such things might be expected. Republican party member Galust Sahakyan put it this way: “We are willing to work with those parties who came close, but didn’t make it into Parliament.” Everyone knows he was talking first of all about the United Labor Party (known to be close to Armenia’s president), who didn’t gather enough votes to gain seats in Parliament. A couple of years ago, ULP was given the go-ahead to name the next Culture Minister, who turned out to be Hasmik Poghosyan. The previous words by Sahakyan mean that, without doubt, Poghosyan will keep her post. One can further surmise that Sahakyan was offering the same privileges to any other party who would “fall into place” like ULP (yet definitely not Stepan Demirjyan’s or Aram Sargsyan’s parties, as they are considered direct competition to the country’s current rulers). In the cultural realm, Hasmik and I were guests today on “Dipvadz” (chance, or accident), a weekly show on the Kentron station in which the audience guesses who the hero of the week is, and discusses a certain theme. As Hasmik was the show’s hero, and the story of my search for Hasmik after hearing her voice on a CD some eleven years ago was to be told, we had thought there wasn’t anyone left in Armenia who hadn’t heard this story, yet it took almost until we emerged from the Narekatsi center’s office, from where we had been watching the proceedings, to finally guess who the hero was. Gevorg Dabaghyan and a friend who had helped us meet had already told their stories, and after our entrance everyone listened as Hasmik told her version of the story and sang “Im Mourad” and, with all her brothers and sisters, “Bari Luso, Astgh Yerevats,” a song they learned from their teacher, Hayrik Mouradian. Afterwards, we were happy to talk with several from the audience, and were amused by the young women who said they hadn’t heard such a story, which they compared to a “fable” or “fairy tale.”

A neighbor who had served as a partisan observer walked in today and immediately began giving her assessment of the recent elections. “The most bribes were passed out by Prosperous Armenia, by far. Then came the Republicans. The Dashnaks and Legal State did more than their share, and the United Labor party, Kocharyan’s friends, joined the parade. People are laughing at those who went to vote with their bribes still in their passports, thinking they were supposed to present the money to the election workers to prove they voted for the right person. But far more serious violations happened, in spite of what our friendly observers said. The observers obviously had their agendas.
. . . Once, when I noticed a violation, and said I was going to report it, a woman from Legal State started making noise, not wanting the violation reported. ‘Why did you call me a hav (chicken)’ the woman shouted to me. Of course I hadn’t called her a chicken, but she needed to make noise so I wouldn’t report the violation, but I did anyway. Most interesting to me was the silent union of parties to go against Serge and the Republicans. Propserous Armenia, Heritage, Legal State, and the president’s team all were working together, against Serge. It was a union I hadn’t expected.” Will the union continue, I asked. “If I knew that, I’d be running for president myself,” our neighbor concluded.

Walking our usual path from our building to the bus stop, we passed several old men sitting on a bench, talking politics, as one might expect. “The Karabaghtsis are going to take over Armenia,” one said. “They already have,” another said. “Where have you been?” to which a third said, “And after we gave our best sons to help them win the war. Ungrateful, the Karabaghtsis.” Later, a younger couple in a yertooghayin van complained that the dollar had again lost value, that the dram was now at about 348 per dollar. “All they’re doing is gathering dollars to pay for the election, all the bribes they passed out,” the man said. “People getting remittances have to give more of their dollars to get enough drams to live on; that way they get all the dollars they need. And, prices continue going up, which should be the opposite with the current changes in money rates. We have no tie here to international money markets. They do what they want.” Continuing today’s upbeat talk by citizens here, a woman with close relatives in Iran said, with quite an alarmed expression, that her relatives said the government there has shut off their satellite communication systems, so the US couldn’t listen in on their various strategies. “What do you think?” she said. “Are my relatives safe there?” I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders. What could I say?

Today Yerevan passed another “Verjin Zang” (Last Bell) for those graduating from high school. On the way to Echmiadzin, where I had business at the St. Hripsime souvenir shop, I must have heard Tata’s “Verjin Zang” at least five times, usually from cars with youth hanging from windows and sticking their heads out sun roofs. Reaching St. Hripsime, I first lit candles in this ancient masterpiece of Armenian architecture, then took care of business in the shop. “Several Italians were here yesterday, and wanted to hear your Traditional Dances CD,” the seller said. “When I put it on, they all started dancing, right in the store. They bought all the dance CDs we had.” Across the street from the monastery, I stood waiting for the Yerevan bus, but accepted an offer from a taxi driver instead. As I sat in the back seat, the driver continued his conversation with a soldier sitting next to him. “I fought in the war in Karabagh,” he said. “I lost several good friends fighting in Mardakert. At the time, I thought we were doing the right thing. I still do. But these Karabaghtsis are starting to irritate me. Last week, I asked a Karabaghtsi woman working in a bank why she didn’t go back to Karabagh, now that it was free, and since the economy was getting better there. She laughed at me. That isn’t the first time I’ve had that reaction. If they love their land so much, why don’t they go live there? We liberated territories, and they’re basically empty now, except for a few poor Hayastantsis. Sometimes I think we don’t deserve to keep those territories. If the Turks had taken new territories, they would have populated them in no time. Armenians should wake up.”

This is a tough neighborhood. An NGO member told about how only two or three international observers he talked with said they were satisfied with how the recent elections were run, yet we are all familiar with the supposed praises by international observers heaped on Armenia for its progress towards meeting Western standards in conducting elections. The NGO person added that he personally knew people who had agreed to be observers but later backed out due to fear. All this while election commissions were looking into “serious” violations like tearing campaign posters off walls, in spite of thousands of false passports being printed and untold cases of bribery. So be it. Maybe toughness and the like is needed to exist in this area. Everyone here remembers the day after the 1999 parliament slayings when several “in the know” were given visas and slipped out of the country overnight, most say to the US. Such are reasons many stay away from politics here, but, as many say, in a country so small, the right president, or leaders, could change things for the better almost overnight, as those who were whisked away in 1999. Time will tell. . . . Speaking of bribery, perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing after all. Here, for instance, if someone needs his passport updated, he is told it will take a certain amount of time, and he will receive his updated passport. If the person is in a rush, slipping some money to the passport worker gets the job done faster. I’m reminded of a Canadian citizen who says he’s been waiting over four months to get his new passport, and that there’s no one or no way to ask to see what the problem or delay is from.

I remember about two winters ago, when Shoghaken reached the airport before leaving for Dubai, and word reached that Khoren Aprahamyan had died, the looks on the faces of the musicians. I further understood their reaction as we watched Yerkunk (meaning “birth throes”), starring Aprahamyan, Sos Sargsyan, Azat Gasparyan, and others. Aprahamyan played the part of Armenian Communist leader Miasnikyan. The movie took place at the time Nzhdeh and his followers fled to Iran, and General Pirumyan, one of the heroes of Sardarapat, was being instructed to sign a paper saying he wouldn’t work with anybody against Soviet Armenia. At one point, a young Djivan Gasparyan played duduk, while Melania Abovyan sang “Krunk.” In the movie, Azat Gasparyan did a fine job in the role of Yeghishe Charents. After watching the movie, I realized what intellectual and theater expert Henrik Hovhannisyan meant during an appearance on a cultural program this morning, part of special programming on this Independence Day. Hovhannisyan, talking about today’s actors and theater, said he found it difficult to go to theater presentations in Yerevan these days, as “you can see from their faces, the actors, that many have never read a book in their lives. There is nothing in their performances. All they’re interested in is material things, money.” Doubtless, many of today’s actors are, as opposed to the years following independence, making a fair living, yet aren’t “living their art,” as did the actors in Soviet times. Shortly after the movie had ended, a folk musician stopped by, making plans for a trip to Europe. “Miasnikyan was communist, sure, but he was a good Armenian, as were the Dashnaks of that era,” the musician said. “I’d like to see our leaders of today show the patriotism Miasnikyan had.” He went on to say that he had just met a neighbor who had served as an observer in the recent elections, and that she had said Heritage was in first place in her precinct . . . a report similar to many following the elections. Commenting indirectly on the unfairness of the elections, he said the following: “Yerkir unenk, ashkharu chuni,” meaning something like “we have a country that the rest of the world doesn’t have.” In other words, Armenia has no tie to the outside world, and the way it’s run. With programming changing to the “stars,” with one of their competitions where they all praise each other and people send messages by cell phone to vote for the best singer, the musician said, “Dodatsnum en Hay jhoghovrtin” . . . meaning, they’re making Armenians stupid. “Ashkhari heru shun darna” he continued . . . meaning, the creator of the world has become a dog. In other words, the words proclaim injustice. . . . “Look at who is ruling the country now, who has the power, and, who have become our face, our art. . . .” We then began dinner by eating salad made from tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, and dondur, a plant that grows wild, or did, in the Thompson vineyards of Fresno. We toasted Armenia as the best place in the world to live “in spite of it all,” remembering Saroyan’s words on a visit here, telling Hayastantsis that even if they don’t understand it, they are lucky to have been born here, on this part of the homeland. . . . Also, word reached from Cannes that someone had won an award presenting a play by Saroyan. So ends another Independence Day.
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