In a perfect case of what is known here as the “Armenian reality,” Shoghaken played a short concert of sorts for President Serge Sargsyan and his wife and the first lady of Russia, even though a call the night before from the Culture Ministry assured they would be playing at a banquet for the well known Abkhaz conductor Gergiev as well as several classical musicians visiting from Russia. Watching from outside on the sidewalk, as I had been asked to leave the quite small restaurant by one of seemingly dozens of security guards, I saw the president and his wife walk in the restaurant, but wondered where the conductor and musicians were, thinking simple-mindedly that they had slipped in through another entrance, or while I was talking to or being questioned by security personnel.
After an hour or so had passed, Shoghaken members left the restaurant, located on the edge of the Cascade in downtown Yerevan, holding their instruments and smiling but with shocked looks on their faces. Still unaware of anything unusual, I asked how the concert had gone, and they laughed, saying the room was so small they were told to play quietly so as not to disturb the small presidential party, until they were asked to leave for “security reasons.” They also said that the restaurant owner continually apologized, as he hadn’t been told that eight musicians were going to perform, and that he had no place for them to change into their costumes, thus their changing in places I won’t mention…
While still waiting outside for the musicians, I sat down at a sidewalk coffee shop and ordered a glass of berry juice, when I saw a painter who I knew had just returned from an exhibition in Europe. After talking about his exhibition, the talk turned to his family:
“My oldest son just finished his army duty. My youngest son is serving in Vardenis, and still has a year to go. All I can say is, from what they tell me, is that it’s understandable why many of our youth enter the army with all the right patriotic feelings, but when they’re done serving, they leave the country, disillusioned.
“They say the food is terrible, not fit for beggars. One of my sons got sick, which isn’t the end of the world, as he got better, but the reason he got sick, pneumonia we think, is that one winter day, when it was minus-20 or so, the commander had the soldiers all line up to check whether their shoes were clean or not, and by the time he got through all of them, the result was that within a couple of days, nine of the soldiers had pneumonia.
“We have to be smarter than this. We’re a small country, and have to use our heads better than this. We don’t have the population the Russians do.”