Sunday, February 15, 2009

A celebratory weekend began with a trip downtown to the Painter’s Union, adjacent to Kino Moskva, to visit the exhibitions at Art Expo, which was sponsored by the Culture Ministry. Our original invitation to attend was from Garegin Chukaszyan, whose organization had created a website dedicated to William Saroyan. After a brief meeting with a film director at Kino Moskva, Hasmik and I went to the exhibit hall, where we found the prime minister and culture minister talking with Chukaszyan. Garegin introduced the site,, explaining its interactive nature and his plans for expansion.

After meeting with friends from the Malyan Theater, who invited us to a special presentation of Saroyan’s short stories, we went to Orran, where Hasmik’s sister had organized “Drntes,” a church holiday with roots in pre-Christian Armenia and known by the Armenian Church as “Presentation of Christ to the Temple.” A large crowd gathered in the Orran lobby to listen to explanations of the meaning of the ceremony, after which the teachers and children of Orran sang and danced to traditional Armenian children’s songs and dance melodies before going outside to the patio, where a large fire had just been lit. According to tradition, older people were given an entire, round gata, which they placed on the back of one of the Orran children, who were bending forward, then cut the gata into slices to be served later inside. After walking several circles around the fire, everyone took their turn, usually in pairs, jumping over the fire. As the fire died down, and the sun sank in the west, everyone went inside to eat gata and other treats.

Arriving home in Ajapnyak, we lit our own fire, this one to barbecue chicken, watching the courtyards down below as Drntes fires burned everywhere, with noise and smoke filling the air. The next day, before sunset, the celebrations continued, as technically Trntes was from around five p.m. on Friday until sunset on Saturday. Our participation continued at the family home in Charbakh, as family members gathered to celebrate the recent engagement of Hasmik’s niece, with future in-laws invited to join the festivities. Just before dark, the fire was lit in the street down below the house, with the family and in-laws joining hands as they circled the fire, singing and occasionally tossing wheat seeds on people and into the fire, signifying the respect, almost worship, of bread in Armenia.

Everyone then gathered inside for dinner and an assortment of treats including gata, halva, and pokhind, the latter made from gorgod (pearled barley) and flour.

As we were leaving, I talked with several with roots in Karabagh, including two who had participated in the liberation war, about the peace talks and the new laws, or proposed laws, limiting activities of sects operating in Karabagh. “We are two few to let those people operate freely,” a freedom fighter said. “I don’t think they even know it, but they’re tools of people from outside, trying to weaken our new state, our will.”

Another who had helped in the war effort spoke angrily about the rumor of giving up the liberated territories: “Now they say they’re giving up Kelbajar,” he said. “This is crazy. I don’t even want to give up Fizuli and Jebrail, but to give up Kelbajar is like suicide. Serge says our land has no price, that it is something we can’t negotiate. We’ll see in the end what he agrees to. He could be a national hero, or another Melik Shanazarian.”

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