Our friend had moved to Russia in 1994, when conditions in Armenia were still what is now known as the “dark years.” With his wife and small children, he settled in a city in the far east of Russia, and, slowly, did well in business, establishing himself in his new country.
“To our meeting, and our new friendship,” he said, readily accepting his role as tamadah (toastmaster). “I’ll never forget my classmates, and those years together. It’s been nearly 30 years. We are all doing well, in Russia and here in Armenia. We need to keep in touch. Without that, our success is nothing, meaningless…”
It was clear our friend missed Armenia. Not in the usual sense of the word. He truly missed his friends, the land and soil of Armenia. His eyes were sad. He sang songs from the late ’70s and ’80s, happy years in Armenia.
“I’d move back to Armenia in a second, if conditions allowed,” he said. “I hear our president issued an order to let small and medium businesses operate freely, without interference from the tax people. If that’s true, there’s hope here. I want to move back to Armenia. What am I, who am I, in Russia? Nothing. For sure, I’m not Armenian. Even if I am, my children aren’t. Already they speak Armenian poorly. What’s in store for them in Russia, away from the homeland?”
In the course of the evening, he spoke about the election for mayor and city council. “Of course,” he said, “that’s all decided. We know who will win. This is Asia, after all. We have to remember we’re not in Europe, the West. After the election, people will protest, take to the streets. But the political parties are all working together. People need to realize that none of the current parties care about honest elections, or the people of Armenia.”
“But, I’ll be voting for the ruling Hanrapetakan party,” his female cousin said. “If I want to keep my job, I have to.” To my question as to how the party will know if she voted for them or not, she replied, “They have their ways…”
Looking outside, we saw several workers and locals scurrying around with shovels, leveling out sand that had just been dumped by city dump trucks. “I see the city is paving your streets and alleyways,” our friend said, laughing. “You need to have elections here once a year. This city would turn into a paradise, no doubt.”
Later, after Hasmik sang a work song and a lullaby, both connected to Komitas, our visitor asked his niece, who sings in the Opera Theater, to sing a well known Komitas song. In pure operatic style, she sang “Kanche Krunk.” Seemingly embarrassed, she stopped part way through the song.
“You see,” he said, “you’re singing Komitas wrong. There’s no need to sing Komitas in operatic style. Komitas recorded folk songs that were sung by regular people, not opera singers. I was always against the Soviet-era mentality that made these songs something elite, to where an opera singer would stand by a piano and sing, making these songs into something they’re not. Komitas songs became distant from our people. I watched the Shant folk singer competition a year or so. When the contestants were singing ashoughagan, they did just fine, but when they did a show dedicated to Komitas folk songs, the singers were all lost, unsure of themselves. Singing Komitas should be like drinking water for Armenians. One thing, if we don’t start singing Komitas, and singing it right, the Turks will start, and then they’ll claim it as their own.”
In contrast to Armenia’s new rich, with their stereotypical thick necks, big stomachs, and immodest life styles, our somewhat wealthy friend from Russia was different, the way I like to believe Armenians were before the current wave of immorality and immodesty took over. Hopefully, he and others like him will return to Armenia, the sooner the better.