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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Longer Update from/on Armenia

I haven’t been following up on the situation in the ME lately (although I did read about the assassination of George Hawi and the train crash in “Israel”), but I have decided to post on the situation (economic and otherwise) in Armenia. My first impressions were definitely NOT good. When I landed at Zvartnots Airport I was given a lot of trouble for something that made no sense: apparently they didn't like the fact that my passport had an "old" picture of me (the picture was taken some 6 years ago, and the expiry date of the passport was extended twice [legally of course]). The passport expires in July 2006, which is a good year away from now. The airport official asked me about the picture and I told him the passport was valid, and that I didn't see what the problem was (I was given U.S and Canadian visas with that photo...). He then asked me why I hadn't changed the picture on the passport. From there on, you get the picture. After much trouble and waiting for more than an hour, with no clue who took my passport and where it was taken, I was given a 21-day visa (another note: I got a 2-year U.S visa with that same picture...) which is a standard (but also stupid) procedure, thanks in no small part to 2 Russian military women deployed in the airport. Now, the first impression was NOT good, I can tell you. Not good at all. The airport was quite old and small and confusing, but I managed to find my way out, and miraculously didn't have my luggage opened. My guess is that I was given so much trouble because they saw I had Canadian and U.S visas, and figured that if they gave me enough trouble I'd just give them money... Or maybe it was my accent - I don't know. But I was the only one who was held for that long, although there was also another woman who was questioned about her photo and was given her passport back without any delays...

Going on to the economic situation in Yerevan, it's not as bad as people think. Houses and apartments are usually old, but a significant majority of the people always dresses well, goes to the opera (which is mighty cheap, I must add!), theatres, cafes, etc. To be sure there is a lot of poverty in the city, but it's not too visible except in certain areas. I get the feeling that most of those who have lived through the Soviet regime and survived the tough years following the independence, although keenly interested in the "outside" world (e.g. USA, Canada, UK, France, etc.), prefer to live in the city/country if economic and other conditions allow them to. In fact, one thing that struck me as very interesting was the questions they asked to diasporan Armenians and foreigners. For example, I met a man from Kotayk a few days ago who asked me where I was from, and when I said Lebanon, his face immediately brightened up and he said, "so you took part in the revolution?" The way people talk about revolution here is quite indicative of their aspirations. They want to remain in Yerevan but they would like to get rid of the corrupt government and for once have a government that is sincerely interested in the welfare of its citizens. Sure they are fooled by the propaganda of "revolutions" going on around them, but I think that their want for a revolution stems from the utter need for change in the country. The country has adapted to the post-Soviet era quite well I must say, and I must give some of the credit to diasporan Armenian volunteers and repatriates (most of whom are from the Middle East). There is surely a lot to be changed, but I was expecting much less, and was actually impressed.

Most people converse in Armenian, as opposed to Russian, which I am told was used a lot in day-to-day dealings in the Soviet era. The level of knowledge of English needs a lot of improvement: most people don't know English, some people are at an intermediate level, and a very low number (mainly those who attend the American University of Armenia) are quite fluent. I must admit, though, that I was not too impressed by the attitude of locals towards speakers of Western Armenian (the dialect that I use). Yesterday I went to an Advanced course in Eastern Armenian, and I was told that the spelling and grammar I used were WRONG. Mind you, Western Armenian has a much more correct spelling than Eastern Armenian does, and at some points it is also cleaner in the spheres of grammar and vocab. I don't want to get into a childish back-and-forth "debate" about which came first and which is more correct, but let's just say that I was not impressed when I was told I was WRONG (as opposed to, say, "that's how WE say/write it). Another interesting aspect of Yerevan is transportation. The metro (subway) system is pretty awesome (metro stations have pretty artistic designs I must add! They're not your regular Toronto subway stations) and there are also minibuses, which are very crowded. I would prefer to take the metro, except that my location doesn't favour that option, so I am obliged to take the minibuses, which are quite fun when you get used to them. People in the minibuses are quite nice and thoughtful of others (most people share their seats so that others wouldn't get tired because of standing up in an awkward position for so long. I wonder why they don't use bigger buses, but that's for me to discover (hopefully soon). I haven't started full-time work yet, so I've had the chance to do some walking-discovering around the city. Yesterday I went to a food store called "Aleppo". The owner is a repatriate from Aleppo, and his store had everything from the A to Z of Aleppo food products (olives, olive oil, cheese, etc.).

Locals are generally VERY helpful and hospitable. I've stopped a few people on the street and asked them for directions in broken Eastern Armenian (I don't like speaking Western Armenian around here for some odd reason) and they've been quite understanding and courteous.

Last but not least, I would like to share a few photos:

The Opera house

View from a hill in Khor Virab

Khor Virab Monastery


Comments:
Hello,
First, I wish you good stay in Yerevan.
I read your post completely, as it represents for me a special meaning. I lived 11 years in Yerevan, and would like to tell you some of my experiences, regarding to the points you mentioned here.

1 For the dialect: who is right and who is wrong!! EASTERN ARMENIAN is the right. They have clearly 3 different sounds for (t-d)(p-b)(ch-j)...complexes, whose the third sound is lost in western armenian. For example: Italia, we spell in western armenian Idalia, which is wrong, because the real spelling sound is Italia, as the whole world, and the letter d (in our spelling) is in fact t. Take another example: Germany, Germania, we spell it Kermania, which is to be Germania, as the original, and so the letter k, is to be spelled like the sound g.

2 Airport: I agree with you that airport officials are so silly. They sometimes don't respect the circumstance that you are an armenian, a tourist, moreover a foreign citizen. Anyway whatever they say, don't be upset, because nothing will do they, as far as you don't have anything wrong in your case.

3 Locals attitude towards western armenian: This has emerged not as an innocent human feeling, but it also has some reasons. And not all hate western armenian, sure a lot of them respect western armenian, and go happily eagerly to Hagop Baronian's plays, presented in western armenian.
When western armenians repatriated in huge numbers in 1945-1946 and later also, they had better social conditions, due to money, or goods they had brought with them, comparing to local people. This naturally comprised 20% of the jealousy, let's say so. Repatriates also, due to having this, comprised a separate category, unfortunately, and didn't deal with locals, as one nation. This was bolstered also by the stupid policy of the soviet government then, not allowing repatriates to go in serious jobs, as heads, directors, pilots, governmental high officials, and other "sensitive" posts.
The "enmity" increased highly during the 70-ies and up, when a huge flow of students came to Armenia to study. Those had vast amount of money, spending extravagantly, while the local people had 1/100 of that money. Plus the privilages, free tuition, and accomodations given to them. I have witnessed very ugly instances of hostile attitudes between students and locals. I have in some cases managed to reconcile the opposed sides, and some are not. Also if robbery would have taken place in students lodgings, these should have to be viewed as simple robbery, not as local-to-western armenian hostilily. Unfortunately always the feelings were towards confronting.
And in nowadays, rich western armenians, are going sometimes into corrupt deals with Armenian officials to do businesses, in which are damage to the rights of simple poor people. In this case, already, repatriates also are as the locals. These damages include, buying someone's property with cheapest measures by urging, threatening, etc.

4 Most of them have nostalgia to soviet times. They were living 10-20 times better then. No poverty then. Now no bread money. I hope you write something in economics, and tell the truth about this, because the western media has lied a lot on this subject.

5 My suggestions: Try to be kind with them, with understanding the poverty problem, even and you speak in western Armenian.

Finally, keep in writing, and have good times.
 
1. I already said I'm not going to get into this "debate", and I think my opinion on this one is VERY clear. Regardless of which came first, Eastern or Western Armenian, the two are different dialects. Saying what you just did would be equivalent to saying that American English is wrong and British English is right. If you're going to debate this based on English, I could also argue that Eastern Armenian is wrong too, because in English you pronounce the "g" in Germania as the letter "j" rather than as the letter "g" in for example "galvanise".

3. At any rate, whatever its roots and causes, I think this way of thinking is wrong, and I despise it very much, because it tends to paint us all with the same brush. Just like THEY don't want us to stereotype them as hooligans or "rabiz", I don't want them to stereotype me. But whether or not they do that is irrelevant - at the end of the day we will all go our separate ways and it is they who are not contributing to the unity of our people. Maybe they should start to think about reconciliation (for whatever wrongs Western Armenians might've done them.... such as being in such circumstances as to be better off financially....) with Western Armenians before talking about reconciliation with... Turks. A divided nation can make neither demands nor participate in reconciliation with an enemy, even if that enemy is common. You say Western Armenians are going into corrupt deals as if it's a characteristic of Western Armenians. Look, there were many corrupt Eastern Armenians who squeezed the money out of many POOR Eastern Armenians. How about they start talking about THEM? It's always easy to talk about the thief from "outside" (if that's what they consider Western Armenians) rather than the thief in your own home, eh? Maybe that's why Armenia will never advance. A classical case of "esh en, esh al guh menan" (they are donkeys and they will remain so), perhaps?

4. Actually, there is bread money here, at least for a significant number of people. You see, you can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't expect to be freshly out of Soviet control (and believe me, 15 years is a very short time) and have money for bread AND dressing like queens. Armenian women here dress like they're going to cocktail parties and then they whine that there's no money for bread? Come ON. Get real! Even the Lebanese are much more realistic than that.

5. I AM kind. I am staying here for 2 months from my own money and I am working without getting paid. I don't think I could be kinder. Now it's their turn to be kind (no money required too).
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
Some arguments:

1 The letter g, is in basic Latin is g, and not j. J is a later development. And even western Armenian, was like eastern in middle ages. Not any of the dialects is older than the other, and nothing came before another. They existed TOGETHER. The distortion of western Armenian, as to me, occurred in the 19-th century.

>….. A divided nation can make neither demands……
Our nation is never divided. I don't see so much division, if so, this scope exists in other nations too. Some to mention – Germans, British, Spaniards, Arabs, Indians… etc, even some of these, are divided to the extent of going to war.

If you live an April 24 day in Yerevan, you will feel that the whole Armenia is ONE, living, feeling, the genocide claims' alert nation's level. In 1965, eastern Armenians were who first demanded the subject to be recognized without fearing Soviet regimes tough response. They were who protested, and urged finally the government to accept it. If you ask scholars, let them tell you some details. My teacher's memory tells me an image, where an Armenian general, on a tank, directed it to Dzidzernagapert to set alight the eternal fire.

You maybe understood me wrong. The matters are not that evil to blame western Armenians for wrongdoings. Funny, what's this? NO. Don't complicate matters. Moreover, those ages have gone, and now all are under one roof.

>…… You say Western Armenians are going into corrupt deals as if it's a characteristic of Western Armenians…..
I didn’t say all western Armenians are going into corrupt deals. No way. And eastern Armenians who are accomplices in these acts, automatically are corrupts. But one example is enough to resonate corrupt. I know too, that their officials are 90% corrupt. Corruption is worldwide problem.

>…. It's always easy to talk about the thief from "outside"…
They are talking pretty much about their thieves; read their newspapers.

>…. Maybe that's why Armenia will never advance….
Yes, but not because of western and eastern Armenians dislike each other. In fact Armenia is poor in resources. And during soviet times, all energy-material had poured from Soviet Union, and Armenia was contributing with its industrial product, plus scientific capacity. Now no Soviet Union, everybody will cover his head with his hands, "dabber ra-sak" in Arabic. Also no routes are available for trade, due to unfortunate geographical position, an enclave between Turkey, Azerbaijan (2 enemies), Georgia (near enemy state), remaining Iran as a gate for outer world.

My aim: I will combat every divisive tendency in any Armenian's mind. It is evil for our nation. Forget the words: We-and-You. There must be only WE.

Remember that Armenia is the core for any move. Without Armenia, diaspora Armenians are nothing. The whole world recognizes Armenians as the people of Armenia; likewise you recognize other nations as to their homelands. Without homelands people are on way to disappear; Assyrians, for example.
Feel that you have something in Armenia. You have the right to have it. When you speak for example for Yerevan, say "weather is hot in our Yerevan" instead of "weather is hot in the Yerevan" while speaking with a citizen.

>…. I AM kind. I am staying here….
Sure, you are kind :) I can't think otherwise :)
Your work is thankful.
Thanks.
 
The distortion of western Armenian, as to me, occurred in the 19-th century.
In case you didn't know, there were also huge distortions in Eastern Armenian during the Soviet times and its effects can be heard and read even today.

Our nation is never divided.
Well, denial is not a positive step towards correction. But then again, that's your choice.

If you live an April 24 day in Yerevan, you will feel that the whole Armenia is ONE
Oh so only on April 24 is it united... I see..very undivided of them I must say.

In 1965, eastern Armenians were who first demanded the subject to be recognized without fearing Soviet regimes tough response.
Wrong again. Those who did that were actually Western Armenian repatriates who had immigrated to Armenia in '45-46. They were the ones from Romania, Iran, Iraq, etc., many of whom / whose parents were survivors of the genocide.

Hey listen buddy, my grandparents were one of those repatriates. They were mocked and ridiculed EVERY day, called "akhpars" by the Eastern "Armenians". DOn't give me this "we're not divided" crap, because I don't buy a cent of it. I don't feel comfortable speaking Western Armenian in Yerevan. I don't speak it. I prefer speaking English or trying to speak broken Eastern Armenian. Today I was at a workshop where Eastern Armenians from various regions (marzes) were present, they were mostly young people, I introduced myself in English. There was a translator there, but she knew I knew Armenian, and she asked me if I also wanted to say that in Armenian. I said "but I only know Western Armenian". Instead of immediately saying "oh that doesn't matter, just go ahead anyway", she asked the people present "do we want to hear Western Armenian?" They said yes, but that's another issue.

They are talking pretty much about their thieves; read their newspapers.
Good. Maybe they've gotten over their jealousy now and have seen who their real enemies are.
 
Nice pics. Have you started teaching yet? I didn't even know there was a feudal thing going on between the East and West, is it similar to (what were) East and West Germany?

(Nadia)
 
No, the teaching job is in Lebanon, not here, and I will be starting that one when the schools open in Lebanon (October).

The feud is very much rooted in the Soviet era and its influences on the way "eastern" Armenians think of those who didn't live through the "regime", in my opinion. They think that because they suffered all sorts of 'oppression' and also survived it, they have a moral and national high ground over "the other" Armenians. Moreover, the Armenians of Bourj Hamoud are more nationalistic and Armenia-loving than the Armenians of Armenia... Someone made a very accurate observation the other day - that there are no Armenian flags in Armenia, that the flag that his mother has in her backyard is bigger than the one on the parliament house. Funny but true, I would argue. Western Armenians have been very culturally aware and in many cases more preserving of history, literature, etc. than Eastern Armenians. That is not to say that there aren't nationalistic / patriotic Eastern Armenians. In fact, I met one of them just the other day as I was touring the open arts and crafts market (called Vernissage). I was looking for a book about Monte Melkonian, the Lebanese Armenian (who also fought against Phalangists and Lebanese Forces and the "Israelis" in the early 80s) who fought against Azeris in Karabakh. He is, in many ways, a hero of the struggle of Karabakh Armenians, and the first victory of Armenians in recent years. The man I talked to almost brought me to tears. So my point is, I don't want to put people into neat little boxes, but when the majority of people act a certain way, talking about it in general terms is not the equivalent of generalisations.
 
>the Armenians of Bourj Hamoud are more nationalistic and Armenia-loving than the Armenians of Armenia.
This is complete UNREALITY, because the figure is just other.
-western armenians comprised only 5% of all Karabagh's war during nineties.
-Bourj Hamoud's armenians have the highest rate of listening Turkish cassettes, and other Turkish media. It is about 70%. In Aleppo it is also something near to it.

>Someone made a very accurate observation the other day - that there are no Armenian flags in Armenia
This doesn't mean that every country must be like Lebanon, in showing and pretending the "patriotism". Patriotism is not dependent on the number of flags. It is more traditions, rather than "patriotism".

>Western Armenians have been very culturally aware and in many cases more preserving of history, literature
All Armenians are aware. East Armenians, rather Soviet government is who built the huge Madenataran (with sophisticated antiques preserving system) to preserve the Armenian culture and manuscripts from perishing.

>So my point is, I don't want to put people into neat little boxes, but when the majority of people act a certain way, talking about it in general terms is not the equivalent of generalisations.
You are doing it, consciously. You did put people in your neat little boxes.
Stop dividing people for the sake of god! for the sake of Mesrob Mashtots, Aram Khatchadurian, for the sake of millions victims!!! Please tell me, how and what will you teach your students in Beirut!!!
Better to divide eastern and western armenians on their dicks' and vaginas' appearances than on Patriotism.

Western Armenians are still living the complex of not having a homeland. This is the cause of hidden envy to Eastern Armenians. Although this should be put an end to, because Armenia is homeland for all Armenians worldwide. The major cause of this is some political parties' propaganda in the Arm-diaspora, taughht his followers not to believe to Armenia, when this was in Soviet Union. Armenia then, was not Armenia. Something different, something evil, as Ronald Reagan's a bit of evil empire. But days have changed, and we must believe in Armenia, as our Homeland, and the first step to further organize our struggle.
 
-Bourj Hamoud's armenians have the highest rate of listening Turkish cassettes, and other Turkish media. It is about 70%.
Where did you get that number from - Halab?

This doesn't mean that every country must be like Lebanon, in showing and pretending the "patriotism". Patriotism is not dependent on the number of flags. It is more traditions, rather than "patriotism".
In the absence of real patriotism and the so-called "traditions" in Armenia (or at least in Yerevan - now Artsakh is a different issue altogether), one would expect at least some pretend-patriotism. But that's absent too in Armenia (as I said before, there are exceptions).

All Armenians are aware.
Have you ever been to LA, where I would argue there is the largest Eastern Armenian population outside of Armenia? Did you know that LA Armenians have given Armenians in general a bad name? So Eastern Armenians built the Madenataran - great. And Western Armenians have built 10 such structures, including but not limited to the Armenian Catholicosate in Antelias, which also houses many manuscripts. You should come and see how pathetic the Genocide "museum" at Dzidzernagapert is.... One would think that those culturally and historically aware "Eastern Armenians" would know something about how to build museums.....

Stop dividing people for the sake of god! for the sake of Mesrob Mashtots, Aram Khatchadurian, for the sake of millions victims!!! Please tell me, how and what will you teach your students in Beirut!!!
I'm not the one doing the dividing. It's already on a silver platter... A week ago I took part in a talk show here in Yerevan, about Eastern-Western Armenian relations, and you can't imagine how some "Eastern Armenians" responded to the issue of giving citizenship to diasporan Armenians. I mean, sure there are many reasons to be against doing such a thing, but none of these reasons were given. Anyway, I don't see that I will be giving up on my Lebanese citizenship (which in the case of my family took many sacrifices to get a hold of) to go and live amongst a bunch of lazy (I call them "boshadams"), unpatriotic sellouts. Maybe it's for others to do it. But it's not my thing. Maybe one day when they allow dual citizenship I will be proud to get an Armenian passport.

Western Armenians are still living the complex of not having a homeland. This is the cause of hidden envy to Eastern Armenians.
Look who's dividing.... Buddy, Armenia is Armenia. I don't think that Western Armenians care more about the lands lost than about the lands that "we" have at the moment...

You are delusional, my friend. Time to wake up.
 
Yes, it is the difference in education, plus I have lived in Armenia for a decade. I see things different.
You are supposed to be so, I don’t expect else from you.
 
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