A Yerevan-born Armenian and good friend of Shoghaken arrived at our home just as rehearsal was coming to an end. In the midst of music and other activity, a long table was set, complete with fish, chicken, salad, and hajar pilaf (translated as rye, but similar to bulghur) to welcome our friend to our home and to Armenia.
“I haven’t been to Armenia for about 10 years,” he said. “Seeing the country, and all of you again is great. And your hospitality is something I don’t see in the US. In spite of all the problems in Armenia, hospitality is something you can’t breed out. The US is a good country in some ways, but there’s no communication with neighbors, sometimes even friends...it’s like I’m living on a desert island there.”
Our friend, pointing outside our five-story apartment, said, “If I saw somebody being murdered down there, I don’t know if I’d call the police,” he said. “One bad thing left over from Soviet times is that if someone calls the police and reports anything, from a murder to the most simple thing, he’s called a gorts tvogh (meaning someone who gives work to the police, which in Soviet times meant turning someone in, often for personal gain of some sort). And now that the Soviets are gone from Armenia, oligarchs have taken over. It’s like a feudal state, from what I see. In time, things might change, but in the East, it could take longer.”
I was amazed by how little this Hayastan-born Armenian has changed in his 10-plus years in the US, compared to many who change into something I find hard to define. He definitely didn’t have, as a friend puts it, “the Glendale look,” meaning a certain manner of dress and hair color, known in the Armenian community of Glendale. I wondered if he had stayed here, in this atmosphere where one is often forced to lower his morals/standards to stay afloat, if he’d have remained the Armenian he now is.