Yerevan Journal – October 2003

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While shopping for a new refrigerator this past week, I was shocked not only by the excellent choice offered in the major electronics stores, but the quality and style of the stores themselves, more modern than anything I ever saw in the West. Today was our lucky day, buying a Korean-made refrigerator from a store on Mashtots Boulevard. As I rode up the elevator of our building with the moving men and the refrigerator, one of them said that I must be from somewhere other than Armenia, judging by my accent. When I told him I was from Fresno, he began praising William Saroyan, Fresno’s most famous native, and me for being a relative of the great writer. He went on to say he had gone to Hollywood with his family, but found it unlivable, adding that there was no work available there. His wife and children, he added, stayed in Hollywood, but he chose to return to Armenia, and congratulated me for moving to the homeland. After our new purchase was in place and the old refrigerator hauled off, we went to a birthday party in a restaurant in the Shahumyan district of Yerevan, known as “Tootastan” due to the large number of mulberry trees there. The party was a lively affair, with singing and dancing and some of the longest toasts I’ve ever heard. One toasting friendship lasting close to fifteen minutes. After my wife sang “Im Murat,” a song from Van, and “Yeraz Im Yerkir Hayrenik,” a folk song made famous by Hayrig Mouradian, the dancing and toasting continued well into the night.

Armenians tend to be more critical of fellow-Armenians than of anyone else. A friend from Australia just left Armenia quite upset, telling of her trip to Zvartnots to arrange to send her luggage ahead of her to the U.S. After four and a half hours of being sent from office to office, with no positive results, my friend apparently lost her temper, telling them and then me later she would never return to Armenia, as long as she was treated this way. After reassuring my friend that all Armenians here don’t behave in this manner, she relaxed and said she would come back to Armenia. As it happened, today in the yertooghayin van, an older woman entered the van and a young man, sitting relaxed in his seat near the door, failed to get up and offer his seat to the woman. The driver, who had a look that would frighten any Turk, gave the youth a heated lecture for not offering his seat, the result being the woman sitting and the youth standing by the door. Another inspiring event today was my wife’s interview on National Radio, known here as “Yerevan.” She spoke about the state of the Armenian folk song in Armenia today, what an actual folk song is (as compared to songs written over the past few years), and how many people there are who want to hear this music, yet are forced to listen to music with Turkish, Arabic, or Western influences. Many called just to say how much they long for the true Armenian folk song, songs passed from generation to generation, such as Hasmik’s closing song, “Akh Ninar,” a children’s song reaching us from pagan Armenia.

Two days of occasional rain didn’t affect our decision to go north to Haghbat and Sanahin monasteries, located near Alaverdi in the province of Lori. Including my wife, her sister, and friends, we entered Alaverdi and, near the twelfth century Sanahin Bridge, turned right toward Sanahin village. Sanahin Monastery is in a hilly part of the village, nestled in oak and a few walnut trees. The three churches, gavit, library, and the seminary room with three khachkars under an open archway are all intact, while chapels and khachkars stretch up a hill aside a cemetery. After investigating the church grounds, we sat outside the seminary room and ate a lunch of dolma, bread, and salads. While enjoying our lunch, a worker told us we were sitting next to the grave of King Gagik Anhoghin (meaning the king had temporarily been denied his kingdom), and should either move or pay respect to the king. A rain shower then ended our visit to Sanahin, so we gathered everything and drove toward Haghbat, about fifteen minutes north of Alaverdi. As we wound our way up the hill to Haghbat, we looked to the left to Tsevank, located on the top of a mountain facing Haghbat. We learned later that Tsevank was used as a refuge during sieges by Turks and Persians, the main protection being huge boulders which were rolled down the mountain onto the enemy. Once, after a long siege, the invading Tatars decided to cut off the water supply of Tsevank, finding out from an old woman (then killing her) where the water supply came from. But a sudden rainstorm saved those at Tsevank, who later fought back and killed the attackers. After reaching Haghbat, during a late afternoon rainstorm typical in Lori, we traversed the churches and chapels of the monastery, using umbrellas outside the church buildings. We decided to return to the monastery later in the evening, so we went to visit our new acquaintance, Ashot, whom we had met during a visit to Haghbat two weeks earlier. He welcomed us to his home, located just behind the monastery, and insisted that the six of us stay the night. Delighted, we agreed. After relaxing in their garden, we walked up the hill to Goosanats Anapat (Hermitage of the Virgins), where three khachkars mark the burial places of three virgins martyred there. Late that night, after dinner, we walked to the monastery. The church buildings were outlined by the light of the stars and a tipping half moon. While walking through the dark buildings, using flashlights when needed, Ashot told us the history of the monastery, including the ten years Sayat Nova spent there after being exiled from the Georgian king’s court. We were shown were Sayat Nova sang, and the priest’s cell where he lived. We were also told about the khachkar with a crucified Christ on the cross, probably the only khachkar in Armenia carved in this manner, due to Armenians believing that after Christ’s ascension to Heaven, it was improper to carve his figure on a cross (khachkar). Apparently, either an Armenian with Catholic leanings carved the khachkar, or the khachkar was brought as a gift from France. We also learned that the bell tower was built to withstand an earthquake of up to twelve on the Richter scale, and that an iron rod extending from the top of the tower to the base prevents the possibility of damage from lightning. After our nighttime walk through the classically beautiful Haghbat monastery, we retired for the evening at Ashot’s home in the shadows of the famous monastery.

Sunrise in Haghbat village was a little before eight o’clock, a clear, quiet morning. Before even thinking about breakfast or anything else, we walked a couple of minutes to the monastery, the sun still hidden behind the high mountains to the east. We photographed the bell tower and St. Nshan church from the east, overlooking the distant Tsevank and the town of Alaverdi. A neighbor invited us in for a morning shot of salori oghi (vodka made from plums). Anxious to see Goosanats Anapat in the early morning light, we walked up a hill through the village cemetery to the church and khachkars, where the morning rays of light shone brightly over the khachkars. Behind the church, we ate small, green peaches that were surprisingly sweet. Returning to the house, we ate breakfast and began getting ready to leave. We visited the neighbor woman who had offered us plums and lavash two weeks earlier, walked through the monastery grounds one last time, and left for Odzun village, located south of Alaverdi on a large plateau above the Depet River gorge. Upon arriving in Odzun, finding the ancient church was easy, the dome rising above the homes in this village of about 5,000. Fortunately, the church guard was there. He opened the door and showed us the church interior. Part of the ceiling was in a basilic style, yet the dome was in the Armenian architectural style. We were told the church was built starting in the late fourth century, continuing until the sixth century. After about an hour of looking over the church and its khachkars, including the famous funerary monument, we decided to go on to Ardvi village, about twenty minutes to the west, where a church rivaling Odzun in antiquity still stands. We bought cheese and bread in Odzun village, then drove through the hilly landscape to Ardvi. We were drawn to an old cemetery overlooking the church; from there we photographed the ancient Ardvi church. There were interesting drawings of people and animals on some of the gravestones there, probably dating back to the building of Ardvi. The church itself was locked, yet the bell tower door was open. I was told that until recent times, the dead were taken to the church and the bodies were left all night, as people now do in their homes. After investigating this part of ancient Armenian history, we drove into the village and bought madzoon, then parked under a tree near the ruins of St. Sargis church, and enjoyed a lunch of bread, cheese, and madzoon from Odzun and Ardvi. With the sun starting to set on this clear, cloudless day, we headed back to Yerevan.

After winding down the hill from Odzun and turning south toward Yerevan, we saw several men and women sitting alongside the road selling buckets of raspberries, figs, pears, and walnuts, so we decided to stop, buy some fruit, and enjoy the nearby rushing waters of the Depet River. Most of what the people were selling grows wild along the forested hillsides around Alaverdi, those selling the fruit picking what they think will sell that day. While we were buying a bucket of raspberries and some figs, a bus stopped alongside the road, about twenty people descending on the Armenian fruit stand. Two men in suits seemed to be doing all the deciding, in the end buying around eight buckets of raspberries. This scene, typical of Armenia during the summer and fall seasons, reminded me of my wife’s nephew and his disappointment about his recent trip to Siberia as a member of a musical group. He told of the drinking habits of the men (and women) there, and their less-than-clean way of speaking to people — all in all, as he put it, not a place to live, or even work. Considering the hundreds of thousands of Armenians in Russia, not to mention elsewhere, it becomes even sadder knowing not only the life many are living, but the life they leave behind in Armenia.

A change in programming and the addition of a second station for National Television has been welcomed by many in Armenia, the change making it easier to choose the kind of programs one wants to watch. The original station has more of a modern approach, with talk shows featuring youthful hosts and modern music from America and Europe, including videos of those in Armenia with tendencies towards the West. The other station sponsored by National Television tends to show more cultural programs, both from the past and newly produced specials, including pilgrimages to Western Armenia and Javakhk in southern Georgia. Yesterday, on the birthday of the great musicologist and priest Komitas Vartabet, two old recordings were played, of Komitas singing “Hov Arek” and the epic song “Movkats Mirza.” While the songs were being played, photos of Komitas, some rarely or never seen, were shown. In spite of the great respect given to Komitas, there are always those who take freedoms they probably shouldn’t, as a singer who recently announced that she was “arranging” works by Komitas. Along with independence and freedom in Armenia comes a freedom in culture which, when in the hands of the mediocre, can take a turn for the worse.

Cool nights and warm, sunny days prevail in Yerevan, the streets in town bustling with Yerevantsis, tourists, and enthusiastic school children. Yertooghayin vans are often full, partly due to the large number of university students now attending classes. This morning I rode in a crowded van from our home in Anastasavan to a bus station near the new church in the center of Yerevan, to take another yertooghayin van to Sisavan village, near Artashat in the province of Ararat. I took the van going to Vedi, since Sisavan is on the road to Vedi. As we passed Artashat and turned on the road toward Vedi, the view of Mt. Ararat became so clear, from the slopes to the snowy peaks, it seemed one could start walking and reach the mountain within a few minutes — in reality, not far from the truth. We passed several small villages, including Nor Gyank and Vanashen, before reaching Sisavan. After asking an old woman where the mayor’s office was, I walked down a tree-lined street to a large building where several old men were playing cards and nardi. One of the men asked me who I was and where I was from and, after hearing I was from Fresno and related to William Saroyan, I was treated to some lavash and cheese and was invited to join in a game of nardi. Having prior obligations, I took several pictures of the men, promising to return to Sisavan sometime soon, and went into the town hall to meet the mayor. After our business was completed, he began talking about his ancestors, telling of General Dro staying at his great-grandfather’s home while the Bolsheviks looked for the famous general, and about his ancestors founding the neighboring village of Gharakhach in 1828, after arriving in Armenia from Khoy, in Iran. Standing in front of the building and looking at Mt. Ararat, he stated that he didn’t know when, but that the Armenians would one day take Ararat back, saying that with this many people longing for the return of the national symbol, no other result was possible.

Ashnak, Oct. 2003 About ten a.m. Sunday morning, my wife, her sister, and several other family members left for Ashnak, a village in a Sassountsi-populated area just south of Talin. We took five kilos of lamb to make khashlama, a soup made with lamb, carrots, onions, and greens. Our return to Ashnak was awaited by many in the village, since during a visit a couple of months ago my wife’s niece had broken her leg, resulting in a village-wide effort to take care of the girl. As we drove through the village, we were greeted by waving children and older people we had met and visited with during our earlier trip there. Reaching the home of “Siroosh Dadig,” we were greeted and invited to join her for a lunch of lavash, cheese, butter, hard-boiled eggs, and a mixture of walnuts and honey, everything made by her and the villagers of Ashnak. An older relative arrived and, after easily beating me at nardi, offered to take me to visit Santukht, the only native of Sassoun still alive in Ashnak. Four of us walked to her house, a large dwelling somewhat overgrown by bushes and walnut trees. The ninety-five-year-old woman was standing at the top of the stairs of her two-story home, smiling and asking who we were. We sat upstairs and listened to the Sassoun native talk about her homeland, her beloved “yerkir,” and her family here. “I am a woman with much pain,” she said, telling that her three sons had all died during the past two years. Every day, she makes her way to the cemetery to visit her sons’ graves. “A woman must be subject to her husband’s decisions,” she said, adding that one person can accomplish only so much, but after getting married and becoming two, obtains the strength of God, since God is love. Although the woman’s memory seemed to waiver a bit, she was steady on her feet and appeared healthy. After photographing the old woman and bidding farewell, she began crying, possibly associating our departure with those of her sons. Back home with the relatives, we continued with nardi and billiards and visiting, several neighbors coming to say hello and helping prepare the khashlama. About twenty friends and neighbors gathered for dinner, where the toasts centered around the recovery and health of the niece who had broken her leg, and the grandmother of the family, who was enjoying the many relatives and friends visiting her home. She sent us back to Yerevan with a van full of cheese, madzoon, walnuts, and apples, wishing us a safe trip and another visit before the coming of winter.

Last night an actress-friend came for a visit, bringing another actress and her daughter, to borrow a traditional costume for a photograph. My wife served the guests various delicacies, in this case each happening to be from various regions in Armenia — honey from Kyavar, walnuts and cheese from Ashnak, and wine from Karabagh. The actress, wondering if the honey was pure, poured some on a small dish and lit a piece of paper. The flame immediately went out, proving the honey was pure. She said that were the honey adulterated with sugar, the flame would have followed the sugar, and not gone out. Talking about Ashnak, in the Talin region, the other actress said she had an acquaintance in Tsamakasar village above Talin, and stated that Tsamakasar was a 100 percent Mshetsi village, as was neighboring Sooser village. She went on to tell about her ancestors, who were from Moush, and who left Moush in 1915 and arrived in Aparan, by way of Tblisi. In one story, her great-grandfather had wanted to marry a certain girl from one of the villages of Moush, but the family didn’t accept his visit. Instead, they sent him some of the girl’s clothes, saying, you can see how tall she is, if you like, you can marry her. It happened that the girl was known for her beauty, and was indeed tall, taller than her husband. Another story our guest told was of the savagery of the times. One soldier became so enraged by seeing Turks cut unborn babies from their mother’s wombs that he killed several Turks who were in hiding in Moush, cutting off their heads and throwing them into a tonir. The woman told of a real event during the Karabagh war, of a bus of Armenians being stopped by Azeri Turks, and the Turks beginning to kill the Armenians. The Armenian bus driver grabbed a Turkish child and held a knife to his throat, telling the Turks he would cut the child’s throat if they didn’t leave. The Turk’s leader said, he’s an Armenian, he won’t kill the child, kill him. . . .

A twenty-one-year-old economics student told me about his great-grandfather’s escape from Moush during the 1915 massacres. He said the man had already lost his family to the massacres and was traveling alone. Passing a Kurdish village, he asked a Kurd if he would give him something to eat. The Kurd said he would, if he was able to get past his dogs without being bitten. “If you are a good man, the dogs will let you past them. If you are a bad man, the dogs will bite you, and I will kill you.” The Armenian passed the dogs without being bitten, so the Kurd gave him something to eat and let him stay in his house a few days. When Turks came to the village and asked if there were any Armenians there, the Kurd said there weren’t, thus saving the Armenian’s life. With these kind of stories fresh in everyone’s minds here, and the neighbors of Armenia still being less than friendly, it’s no wonder people here drive their cars a little on the wild side, and, at least in some cases, live the same way. As a Persian-Armenian friend once said when I asked him why he wasn’t wearing his seat belt, “After seeing people thrown from windows when the Ayatollah was taking over, how can I think about wearing seat belts?”

My first trip to Karabagh in three years was for business reasons, yet, as is usually the case in Armenia, it became a kind of pilgrimage, which involved visiting villages and friends from earlier trips there. My wife and I left Friday morning, driving with a friend from work. In one spot near Yegheknadzor, where roadwork took us off the main road, we passed through Malishka, the largest village in Armenia. Malishka is well known for its walnuts. We stopped along the road where we saw an old woman gathering walnuts and a tall man in a tree hitting its branches with a long pole. We bought several kilos of walnuts for just 1,000 dram a kilo, and ate at least a kilo before reaching Goris. In Goris, we stopped to look at farm equipment. We also found time to see friends at their house, which is situated on a typical Goris street lined with trees and built with local stone, as opposed to the tufa so widely used in Armenia. We ate apples and dark muscat grapes from their garden. After showing us the new monument for Garegin Nzhdeh and the school dedicated to slain parliamentarian Yuri Bakhshyan, our host pointed out sides of buildings with large holes. The holes were made when Azeris were using Grad missiles not only in Karabagh, but against Armenians in the Zangezur region of southern Armenia, especially in Goris and Ghapan. With these impressions, we left Goris for Stepanakert, which had also been the victim of Grad missile attacks until Armenians captured Shushi in 1992.

Upon reaching Stepanakert, we went to the Ministry of Agriculture to make plans for our work the next day. Then we went to the Heghnar Hotel, a small, quaint hotel located a bit off the beaten path. We relaxed with a dinner of jhangalov hatz, made with around seven different kinds of greens. The next morning we left Stepanakert for Khramort village, in Askeran just past the old fortress ruins and not far from Khojalu and Aghdam. Khramort is a farming village, situated on mountain slopes overlooking wheat fields and vineyards. With the help of an Armenian organization from Fresno, the villagers have planted wheat and new vineyards, the old vineyards having been destroyed or abandoned during the war. “Khram” literally means the hole in the ground where grape cuttings are buried, and “vort” means vine. Villagers told of the year and a half when Azeris controlled Khramort, when most of the inhabitants went to Stepanakert and the young men of the village stayed in the mountains above Khramort. Finally, forming a line in the mountains and surrounding the village, the men descended on the Azeri soldiers and retook Khramort. While under Azeri occupation, the homes were all destroyed by Azeri cannons, burning, etc. New homes have since been built, on slopes just below the ruined homes. Now, with agriculture beginning to flourish there, few if any are going to Russia to work, and entire families are now employed in the vineyards or growing cuttings to sell in Karabagh or Armenia. After walking through their fields and vineyards, we went to the vineyard manager’s home, and were treated to a lunch of bread, khorovadz, pickled cucumbers and peppers, eggplants, and “tzi oghi,” vodka made from figs. Knowing this was the kind of oghi made by the first generation of Armenians reaching the Fresno area, including my grandparents, I didn’t hesitate in enjoying this Old World delight. After eating, we went into the yard looking for pomegranates to take back to Yerevan, but unfortunately none were ripe. We left Khramort impressed with the bravery and will of these Armenians of ancient Artsakh. That evening, back in Stepanakert, we walked the paths of the old neighborhood where I stayed for a couple of months in 1999. We also wound our way through apartment buildings near the university and found our taxi driver and friend from the late 1990s. There we met Edig, who had taken us to Hadrut and Dadivank, and his daughter, with whom we had traveled to Gachaghagapert, and who is now married with a new son. We toasted our past and present friendship, promising to meet again next year.

I was shocked yet not surprised when I overheard a conversation in a yertooghayin van this evening. Two Americans, members of one of the sects operating in Armenia, were talking about their day’s activities evangelizing Yerevan’s Armenians. Thinking no one in the van would understand their conversation, they were talking and laughing about the day’s successes, telling which neighborhoods were easier to work, how they had convinced certain people, etc. I turned to them and told them I wished I had had a tape recorder, so I could expose their true intentions to the whole nation. Embarrassed, they had no answer.

A journey to the province of Armavir took us past Echmiadzin and Sardarapat to the Baghramyan region, near the border with Turkey. My only other trip to that region had been to Bagaran, located on the Araks River bordering Turkey. Before reaching Bagaran, we turned right toward the village of Shenik, our destination. It is in a rocky, hilly area known for growing wheat and great-tasting watermelons. A farmer we met there told us that the village was founded in 1975, when the region and town of Baghramyan were also founded. The man’s ancestors are from Moush, coming to Armenia in 1915 and going back to Moush, then returning to Eastern Armenia to stay in 1919. They had lived in the Sassountsi-populated region around Talin, about 15 kilometers northeast of Shenik. The farmland around Shenik and its neighboring village of Karashen (made from rock) has been cleared of rocks. Yet the field we saw, plowed and irrigated after the wheat harvest, still had rocks that needed clearing — something the farmer took for granted, showing a perseverence almost unheard of in the West. At his home, he served pomegranates from Karabagh and watermelons he had grown, a local variety which had a flavor hard to find in the imported varieties. In his yard, he had a large piece of canvas spread out, with bulghur spread and drying in the sun. He lamented that the bulghur still had several stages before being ready for pilaf, saying he wished he could give us some to take to Yerevan. “It makes the best chicken-pilaf you’ve ever had,” he said. He offered us a few watermelons to take home, and invited us to return, insisting we stay longer the next time. We drove off, away from this rocky, half-forgotten area of the Armenian homeland.

Today I decided to get my hair cut, so I called Armen, whom I had gone to over the past year or two. Armen had been having difficulty making ends meet, and had talked about going to the USA to work. I was told by the receptionist that Armen was no longer working there, adding that he had gone to Moscow to work. Unfortunately, the tide of Armenians leaving to Russia, or elsewhere, hasn’t abated, Russia now being the home of some two and a half to three million Armenians. As Russia’s president Putin said recently, much to the chagrin of the Azeris and Chechens, Armenia and Russia are on the best of terms, following the advice of Peter the Great, who said that the Armenians are builders and artists, and that the more Armenians living in Russia, the better. Although this may be better for Russia, I don’t know what it means for Armenia, now home to an estimated million and a half Armenians. Yet, an influx of some proportion continues, as Armenians from the diaspora continue to come to Armenia to work, and some to live permanently. As a friend recently wrote, due to his negative feelings about life and politics in America, he is now actively searching for work in Armenia. An interesting aspect of all this is that many Armenians from abroad find it easier to find work here than local Armenians, due to possessing skills and knowledge of different languages now used and needed in Armenia — at least in part changing the face of Armenia.

Yesterday evening we went to a wedding at the Valensia restaurant/hotel complex in the north part of Yerevan. The ceremony began in the daytime at the bride’s family home, where my wife sang the tradtional “Aravotun Demin,” a song about the future bride’s feeling on the morning of her wedding. Hasmik was accompanied by kanonist Karine Hovhannisyan, a member of Shoghaken Folk Ensemble. Later at the wedding dinner, Aleksan Harutyunyan, also of Shoghaken, sang another traditional song after the evening’s first toast, by the “kavor” (godfather). The evening continued with food, toasts, and dancing to the duduk and zurna of Gevorg Dabaghyan, founder of Shoghaken, and stars from a modern musical group from Yerevan. Each table had its own “tamada,” the name given to the person responsible for saying the toasts, or giving permission to someone who wants to make his own toast (genats). Our tamada was a Karabaghtsi, and when he left for extended periods on the dance floor, a Kyavartsi took over. Our table also had Armenians from Gyumri, another from Karabagh, one from Aparan, and me from Fresno. We left after a “salute” of fireworks sometime after midnight. By then a drenching rainstorm was sweeping across Yerevan, clearing the air for morning views of Mts. Ararat and Aragats, now covered with new blankets of snow.

Most of downtown Yerevan is again troubled by massive traffic jams, due to some bad or incomplete work on the new roadwork on Baghramyan Boulevard. With traffic re-routed down Proshyan (Khorovadz Street) and back up Saryan or elsewhere, cars are often in stop-and-go situations or taking smaller roads to avoid the traffic. Also, to add to the strain on people’s nerves, the water in the Komitas and Arabkir districts, and down Proshyan into the Aygetsor district, has been declared undrinkable. People who unknowingly drink or cook with the water end up with some sort of intestinal illness. While this problem is being taken care of, there is an unrelated water problem in parts of the Ajapnyak district, including Anastasavan, which has been without water for a day and a half. The cause has not been made clear to the public. Some say it is due to the current battle for the “mayor” of Ajapnyak, called “taghapet.” At times, certain things go wrong, or are “made to go wrong,” for the sake of gaining votes during an election. A neighbor told us yesterday that one of the candidates paid for fixing the elevator in their fourteen-story building, the result being the residents of the building would be voting for that candidate. Such are politics in this part of the world.

Last night strong winds swept through Anastasavan, blowing so hard sleeping was almost impossible. The morning revealed another coating of snow on Ararat, snow now settling on the lower slopes, appearing so near it seemed no more than a short walk to reach the mountain. The day started our third day without water, our local bakery again coming to the rescue, as residents from two tall apartment buildings came to collect water in buckets, plastic containers, or anything they could get their hands on. After taking care of the water issue and other errands, my wife and I went to the Avedik Issahakyan Home/Museum, on the event of the fortieth anniversary of the opening of the museum, and of the 128th anniversary of the birthday of the “varpet,” or master. The museum’s director welcomed the guests to a program of speeches, music, recitations, and stories about Issahakyan’s life. Honored guests included poetess Sylva Kaputikyan, architect Varazdat Harutyunyan (expert on the City of Ani), and Levon Issahakyan, the master’s son — each nearing or past ninety years of age. My wife sang the haunting “Sev Moot Amber” (Black Dark Clouds), the words to the song by Issahakyan. During the last verse, my wife invited Varazdat Harutyunyan and Sylva Kaputikyan to join her, to the delight of everyone there. At the program’s end, Issahakyan’s grandson, Avik Issahakyan, repeated the words of the master, who said that no matter how good one felt living on foreign soil, he would never be so strong as in his homeland.

On this last day of October, a cold wave has descended over Yerevan, or at least colder than the balmy autumn weather of last week. While riding a yertooghayin van past an open area near the Republican Hospital, I was surprised to see a crowd of huddled Yerevantsis listening to a concert which appeared to be recorded music blaring over loudspeakers. With the Ajapnyak election just days away, the candidates are holding such events, hoping to capture the fancy of the voters. While passing the gathering, the van driver began complaining about the candidates, saying they were probably passing out 1,000 drams to everybody there to get their vote. Returning home later, another gathering was taking place, this time blocking the intersection and causing a minor traffic jam. Looking past the gathered crowd, I looked in wonder at Mt. Ararat, buried in snow and a blue layer of clouds, with clouds in front of the large peak and clouds over Turkey behind the small peak. With this impression of Massis, I went into our flat, only to hear that our friends in the neighboring Georgian parliament, when they wish to insult a fellow parliamentarian, call him “an Armenian.” It’s nice to know who your friends are. Later, the sounds of fireworks and concerts continued well into the Ajapnyak night, as the election draws into its final days.
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