Our farmer friend from Echmiadzin ate, drank, and worked like a madman all his adult life. This visit was different, as cancer has literally brought him to his knees. In his living room, we sat at the table as he slipped and slid to the floor to try and ease the pain. “A year ago I was fine,” he said. “This is agony,” he continued, as his wife put a pillow on the floor under his knees.
“I feel for the villager, the farmer, in this country,” he said. “I worked all my life, and we’re just getting by. I fought in Karabagh, in Hadrut. While I was gone, my family put up with the cold winters and lack of food. The generation born during those dark years has grown up sick, all sorts of problems. I blame Levon. Even if I could, I wouldn’t go to the rally on March 1. Levon and his gang are all criminals. They sold our electricity, everything, while Armenians froze to death.”
Another farmer, loyal to Ter Petrosyan, gave an opposing view: “How can you blame Levon for all that happened in the dark years? There weren’t any taxes being collected at that time, nothing. How was he supposed to run a war, get weapons? I don’t blame him for selling electricity and whatever else he did. Without the money from that, we would have lost the war. I don’t forgive him for everything, but he’s better than what we have now. They should hang our leaders, let the people know that nobody can get away with selling off our country, stealing all that money.”
Two patriots, two different opinions…
Later in Yerevan, I ran into a director who had produced one of the several bad productions of Saroyan stories or plays during last year’s Saroyan Centennial. “Haik (who played Uncle Khosrov in the Malyan Theater production of Saroyan short stories) was overdone. There’s no way Saroyan and his clan talked that loud, that exaggerated.” I proceeded to tell him that Haik had done a great job in capturing the Saroyan family’s exuberance, coming quite close to the real-life characters of Uncle Aram and Archie Minasian, Saroyan’s uncle and first cousin, and then told him his production didn’t have any of the feel of Saroyan’s works. Needless to say, it didn’t enhance our friendship.
A meeting with a small store owner from Erebuni was less than heartening, as he told how the major stores had falsely advertised just before New Year celebrations, his store unfortunately losing a lot of business to these stores. “I had borrowed money to buy extra stock for my store,” he said, “then this happened. It’s going to be hard to recover my losses. The big stores made it known they were selling popular holiday items at discounted prices, but this was a lie. They drew lines through the original price, wrote a new price, then charged the original price. People didn’t realize this until they got home, and due to being busy, transportation problems, etc., they didn’t go back to the stores to get things straight. They cheated people on weight, too, for example, saying a block of sujuk was cheaper if bought whole, not cut in half or whatever, but then charged as if the sujuk was cut in half, or wrote the wrong weight on the label. But another thing is bothering me. They won’t let people work in a normal, legal way here. In the morning, they say there’s a new law that you have to follow, then someone else comes in later in the day and says something else. You don’t know whom to listen to. You pay legal taxes, and illegal taxes. I’m trying to sell my store, and when I do, I’m leaving this country. Not because I hate Armenia, it’s just that I’m becoming a walking time bomb, due to all the tension they create, and I’m afraid of what I might do. And I don’t see change. All I hear is talk, but nobody means what they say. The same goes for Europe and the West…they just talk about democracy and the rule of law in Armenia, but close their eyes to reality.”