Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A quite interesting travel show of sorts on Turkish television had a young couple in the Kurdish village that leads the bravest of mountain climbers up Mt. Ararat, in Eastern Turkey. A pity I don’t understand Turkish, as the narrator told about different monuments in the area, including khachkars. It happens that several of the exact same style of khachkar that stand in the area of the St. Khach church on Aghtamar Island, on Lake Van, are on the base of Mt. Ararat. The khachkars are ancient, with only a simple vertical and horizontal line forming the cross. Another surprise was a rock identical to those at the Karahunj rock observatory near Sissian, in the southern Armenian region of Zangezur. The camera showed how in the past one could look through the hole in the rock and see different views of Mt. Ararat, as opposed to those in Karahunj, which were used to study the stars. I wondered why these monuments hadn’t been photographed or filmed by Armenians who were in the area before climbing Mt. Ararat.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rumors abound after Levon Ter Petrosyan’s surprise announcement of a two-to-three- month break in opposition rallies while the Karabagh conflict is undergoing serious negotiations by the major powers. The latest talk has Ter Petrosyan having secret meetings with Robert Kocharian, with the latter becoming prime minister and Ter Petrosyan being named as president of parliament, the post currently held by Hovik Aprahamyan.

Many say Ter Petrosyan is satisfied with the way negotiations concerning Karabagh are going, as they are close to what he wanted back in the Nineties. Others go so far as to say that the reason Ter Petrosyan has been able to win over so many who hated him not so long ago is the kind of music being played over loudspeakers before and after opposition rallies, saying he has help from secret, foreign organizations who are experts in the area of brainwashing.

All these rumors were at least somewhat forgotten today, as the ninth anniversary of the October 27 parliament slayings was commemorated at the Pantheon and Yerablur, the latter where Vazgen Sargsyan is buried. At the Pantheon, we expressed condolences to Anahit Bakhshyan, who lost her husband, Yuri Bakshyan, that fateful day in 1999, as well as Aram Sargsyan, whose brother, Vazgen Sargsyan, also died that day.

The large crowd that gathered at the gravesite of Karen Demirjyan included Stepan Demirjyan, his son and former presidential candidate, Heritage party members, other opposition politicians, and Levon Ter Petrosyan. While there, I remembered being in Yerevan on that infamous day in 1999, and watching the shock and panic of Yerevantsis when the news of the shootings was broadcast. I remembered the tens of thousands who lined up at the Opera building to view the victims, and the way many, if not most, Hayastantsis lost hope in their future.

Today, opposition politicians declared the case unfinished, a cover-up, while coalition politicians claimed the case has been solved and the guilty punished. As to what Yerevantsis think, it is safe to say that most side with the opposition, believing the murders were well planned and organized, with the organizers, be they Armenian or, as some say, powers from beyond our borders, still free.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Karabaghtsi originally from a village near Togh, in Hadrut, lamented the way his countrymen have taken over so many important positions in Armenia, a major reason for the ill will many Hayastantsis feel towards Karabaghtsis. “Everybody was together during the war, and afterwards, at least for a while,” he said. “And now, seemingly every day, we hear news like this, like what I heard just yesterday. The former education minister of Karabagh was shown in his new position, as pro-rector of Yerevan State. He deals with students from abroad. ‘Why didn’t he stay in Karabagh?’ people here ask. ‘Doesn’t he care about education there?’ I have nothing to answer them. It’s beginning to look like Karabaghtsis came here, took over, and now are ready to give Karabagh back to the Azeris. A few of those at the top are giving us all a bad name. Once, we fought together, now, this.”

A farmer from Voskevaz, a village neighboring Oshakan, and whose ancestors happened to emigrate from Karabagh some 200 years ago, overheard the conversation and continued: “I can’t believe how most Karabaghtsis who came to Yerevan already own homes and property, and have good jobs, like the one you’re talking about,” he said. “The big shots own half of Armenia, from Tsakhkadzor to Jermuk, and no longer seem to care about their homeland. True, they funnel money there to upgrade and renovate the country and its infrastructure, but many Karabaghtsis have no love for their land, and are quite happy here, in Russia, Europe, wherever.”

The Karabaghtsi from Hadrut sat silently.

Our conversation took place in one of the villages of Echmiadzin, where several of us had gone to check on plantings of winter wheat and corn and vegetable harvests. A fifty-year old farmer, who I found out is battling lung cancer, energetically prepared us a barbecue of pork chops and freshly picked peppers and tomatoes. During the early Nineties, he fought in Karabagh, yet, being the modest type, never talks about those years. Tired, and without color in his face due to his illness, the farmer took care of the entire barbecuing process and then served us tsirani oghi, the tasty result of two large trees behind his home. Without doubt, he will continue with such hospitality until no longer able; he knows no other way.

Leaving the village, and reaching the road leading back to Echmiadzin, we came across two old women who were standing on the side of the road, alongside several large bags of peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. The women, who appeared to have come from another, long-past century, had come from Echmiadzin, and had gleaned the fields after their final harvest, with plans to can their goods for winter use in their homes. As they weren’t local, and weren’t part of the huge makeshift vegetable market near the main road, they had been left behind, and were waiting for someone willing to take them to Echmiadzin. Tossing their bags of vegetables into the back of our Niva, we all headed towards Echmiadzin.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A head doctor, an attorney, and a young mother with a small child sat in a hospital room in the Zeytun district of Yerevan and talked about life in Armenia. “Of course,” the attorney said, “a battle against corruption is underway in Armenia, as the higher-ups say. But the laws are changing so fast I can’t keep up with them. With so many rich businessmen in parliament, they write a law, it’s accepted, then when it no longer suits them, the law goes back to what it was. And money still changes hands, but now they’re being careful, and accepting money only from trusted sources. I hate to see the judicial system in this condition. I know of a case where a family of Karabaghtsis moved into a house and refused to leave, lived there a few years, gave a judge some money, and got ownership of the house, with the innocent party out of luck. Sometimes I go to sleep at night hoping I won’t wake up.”

The doctor, who has a quite good reputation in his field, continued the conversation: “I hide my head when I have visitors from outside Armenia, especially those we work with professionally. A Swedish colleague told me, in so many words, that it’s ridiculous for Sweden to continue funding our program, as it’s obvious the government here could be doing better than they’re doing. ‘Leaving the airport, all I see is expensive jeeps and casinos,’ he told me. ‘In Sweden, you don’t see so many Mercedes, BMWs, and jeeps as you do here in Armenia. And the government says they have no money. If there was no money here, there wouldn’t be so many of these expensive vehicles on the streets. Something doesn’t make sense.’ I don’t know what to say. People have lost their sense of modesty. Haven’t you seen the weddings here now? They spend $5,000 to shoot off some fireworks, and bring in pop stars at over $1,000 a song. I just heard one of them recently demanded $8,000 a song. Why not, one of the oligarchs is supporting her, took her out of the restaurants and made her famous.”

Hearing this, the young mother angrily said, “How can I bring up my daughter in this country? We turn on the television and all we hear is pop stars. None of them has a good voice, and not one is actually a singer. They close the door to anybody who knows how to sing. And the male singers, many of them, are starting to talk with a certain ‘less than manly’ kind of slang. That’s all we need here.”

To note, this morning the culture station in Armenia was broadcasting a circus, from wherever in the world, while Turkey’s culture station had Turks aged forty or so and up, in national costume, in a house in Kharberd, singing Turkish folk songs.

Monday, October 20, 2008

At the opposition rally, a Hayastantsi fedayee told me his thoughts about the Karabagh conflict, and if fighting resumed: “Even though I, personally, would return to fight the Turks in Karabagh, I would never allow my sons to go there. Whatever happens there, I can handle it. But I remember well what Karabaghtsi commanders were saying to Hayastantsis under their command. ‘If we want, we can put you on the highest mountain and shoot you. Or in the lowest valley.’ I remember the beatings and threats of beatings of Hayastantsis during the war. Maybe this is why Karabaghtsis don’t serve in the Armenian army. They probably know what would happen to them. And now, like Levon says, the proposed peace deal, apparently approved of by our leaders (from Karabagh), has us giving up the liberated territories and having Azeris move back in, and not only that, back into Karabagh proper. Then they’ll have a vote, some time in the future, to determine the status of Karabagh. The Azeris will fill the place up, and easily outnumber Karabaghtsis. And I can guarantee you, none of the thousands of Karabaghtsis now in Yerevan or Russia will go back to live in Karabagh. Mark my word.”

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Walking up Mashtots Boulevard, known here by its old Soviet-era name, Prospect, short for Lenin Prospect, the crowds became thicker, as a large number of Yerevantsis and others had gathered near the Matenadaran to hear Levon Ter Petrosyan’s plans for the newly-formed Armenian National Congress and his thoughts about the political strategies of Serge Sargsyan concerning the solving of the Karabagh conflict and other matters. Arriving just before seven, we heard Ter Petrosyan’s voice echoing over the loudspeakers, and slowly made our way through the crowds up the stone steps, noticing people standing and sitting throughout the entire area beneath where the speaker and his entourage were standing. Although not adept at estimating crowd sizes, it would seem that up to 50,000 were present, not what organizers had hoped for but still a sizable throng. Looking down the stone walkway, I saw several Armenian flags waving, and one that simply said “Aparan.” Heritage party members gathered in an area alongside the walkway. Noteworthy was the fact that people were seriously listening to what Levon had to say, even though many there undoubtedly disapprove of the politician, but support the cause, including the ousting of the current rulers.

“All I have to do is look at the faces of the higher-ups in today’s government, and I get sick,” an acquaintance said. “Something has to change, before it’s too late.”

Another said she had come for the “cause,” as she said, “Hearing Levon’s voice makes me sick, but if things stay the same, we’re finished.”

Just after darkness fell, it was announced that the rally would continue at Northern Avenue, and directions were given as to which route to take to get there. Most of the thousands present, young and old alike, marched down the right lane of the street below the Matenadaran, with police walking along the white lines and traffic crawling along the other lane. Marchers waved flags and shouted “Serzhik heratsek,” “Levon Nakhagah,” and “Hayastan, azat ankakh.”

“Whether one sides with Levon, or Serge Sargsyan,” an onlooker said, “It’s good to see the energy here, to see that people haven’t given up. That fact alone gives me hope.”

Thursday, October 16, 2008

At times in Armenia, one is given a stark reminder that not only we are far, distance-wise, from the West, but just as far concerning culture. Today’s trip to Byurakan was such a reminder. The occasion was a sad one, as Hasmik’s fifty-two-year-old first cousin, Jivan, was laid to rest, passing away after suffering a stroke some three weeks ago. I remembered being at his house during St. Khach, and his lamenting how we hadn’t bought a house close to his, saying he would have watched over the house if we were gone from the village, and what good neighbors we would have been.

Reaching Byurakan, Hasmik, a sister, and I walked down one of the main, winding streets to the home where the funeral was to take place. On the way, we passed St. Hovhannes church, entering the oldest part of the village, almost overgrown with walnut and other fruit trees and vines. At the family house, men were sitting on benches under the trees and most of the women were in the living room, where the open casket was set on a table, lamenting their dear father, brother, relative, and friend, in the quite vocal way practiced in this part of the world. Soon, two duduk players and a man with a dap showed up outside, took their places on three chairs, and began what is known in the village and area as Bayati, or, more completely, Bayati Shiraz, a form of mugham in which the singer carries on a conversation with the deceased, asking why he doesn’t answer, why he left his family, and whatever comes to the singer’s mind.

Up to this point, most of the wailing, or lamenting, was done by the women. Then, the casket was brought outside and placed on a table with a carpet on it, with the family men now joining the lamenting women.

After a few minutes had passed, the casket was taken to a nearby waiting van and placed in the back, with the two back doors left open. The long procession to the cemetery then began, with most of the men walking behind the van all the way to the cemetery, with two lanes of cars following behind.

Near the entrance of the cemetery, the casket was put on a large, flat rock, where the women bade farewell to Jivan. Since according to custom women don’t go to the actual gravesite, they started heading back to the village, with the men walking alongside the casket all the way to the edge of the cemetery to the gravesite.

Again, the duduk players and singer began their mugham. After lowering the casket and filling it with soil, several wreaths and bouquets were spread over the fresh dirt. In the distance, to the east, I saw the village of Agarak and the city of Ashtarak. To the west, at the end of a ravine, the dark-stoned Tegher Monastery loomed over the landscape.

An elder relative spoke: “Jivan left us at a young age. In his entire life, he never said anything to hurt anybody. No one can say he ever did anything bad to anybody. He never asked anybody for anything. Our village lost one of its best sons.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A closing note concerning the Saroyan Conference: although most of the participants gave quite interesting talks about the author, a few proceeded on more or less invented themes, which weren’t necessarily based on anything real, in order to receive an invitation to attend the conference. A certain expert on Arshile Gorky, for instance, presented “When Saroyan met Arshile Gorky.” During the talk, she theorized that Saroyan might not have approved of Gorky, possibly because he changed his Armenian name, or some other similar reason, and talked about circumstances under which the two might have met. After her presentation, a guest commented that it didn’t really seem Saroyan had ever met Gorky, to which the presenter admitted that there was no record of them meeting, but that “it certainly is possible.”

On a different subject, someone who owns a store in the city center said that during an investigation by tax people she was told “We’re going to charge you with a violation, so you might as well cooperate.” The store owner then gave them a copy of a relative’s passport, as if this relative was working illegally at the store, thus giving the tax people the reason they needed to levy a fine. If she hadn’t done that, the store owner said, her penalty would have been much more severe.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The much awaited Saroyan Conference has come to an end, almost sadly, with a flurry of activity following three days of speeches, reports, meetings, interviews, and studies of the great writer.

On the final day, Friday, October 10, participants visited Garni and Geghard and several museums, notably the Martiros Saryan home-museum, where a special gathering was organized to honor Saroyan and talk about the relationship between the two cultural giants. A great-granddaughter of the painter showed the two portraits Saryan painted of Saroyan, including the famous one often used in books of his paintings.

During the program, Hasmik, backed by Shoghaken blulist Levon Tevanyan, sang “Gorani,” a song of Moush, “Tnen Ilar,” a work song from Shatakh, and “Bari Luso Astgh Yerevats,” a work song written by Khrimyan Hayrik. Later, at a reception held in the artist’s studio, we were told that Saryan had painted the portraits of twelve Armenians known in the arts and sciences, and how these paintings were all burned one day in the Opera square by the Soviets. We were also shown a certificate given to Saryan by the French government, and told that when the Soviets found out about the certificate, they decided not to send Saryan to Siberia (in 1937), where he would have likely met the same fate as many other Armenian intellectuals. Standing on the outside balcony, we saw the dome of Zoravor church, and the tall apartments buildings facing Pushkin street. Saryan’s granddaughter told us how angry the painter became when the buildings were erected, as it blocked the view of Mt. Ararat from his home.

After leaving the home-museum, we made our way through a traffic jam, caused by several roads being blocked due to a concert of pop stars to be held that evening in the central square, to the Congress Hotel and then to the Painters’ Union. There, hundreds of guests and noted figures in the local culture scene attended an exhibition of paintings by the well known painter Arevik Petrosyan.

Leaving the exhibition, we were drawn to an open air presentation in front of Kino Moskva, where a group of African singers and dancers performed ethnic African songs to a throng of somewhat enthralled Yerevantsis. A parliamentarian who had stopped there on his way to the painting exhibition told us his opinion about the presentation at the Sundunkian theater, another of many done this year of works by Saroyan.

“Again, someone took money and said he could put on this play, and again, the result was nothing short of a disaster. It was sickening. I only hope people start to tell these people their real opinions, not just say, ‘oh, what a good job you did,’ as I think these directors actually believe they have great talent and anything they produce is noteworthy.”

Then, after talking with several friends and relatives near the African presentation, we walked to the American-Armenian University to attend a reception there for someone in the law department, after which several of us crowded into a taxi and went to the Paplavok restaurant, where we ate, drank, and listened to jazz, tonight played quite well by Yerevan Armenian musicians. We then made our way to the Congress Hotel, where we bade farewell to our cousins and friends, which included Haig and Connie Mardikian of San Francisco and other Saroyan experts we had met over the past week.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Saroyan Conference continued with reports given to small groups by the writer’s relatives, Hank Saroyan and Jackie Kazarian, who gave both personal and professional stories about the author, and others who had known the writer on a professional basis or who had studied his works, this taking place at the Picasso hall at the Congress Hotel. Another cousin, Bruce Janigian, in his talk, related the story of when General Andranik arrived in Fresno and went to Aram Saroyan’s office, where he met with Uncle Aram, as he was known, and a young William Saroyan. When General Andranik asked Saroyan what he wanted to be when he grew up, he answered, “A writer,” to which Uncle Aram stated, “I’m already a writer. I write checks.”

Closing the day’s presentations, Garegin Chukaszyan presented the beginnings of an interactive website about Saroyan, a site which promises to be on the level of Chukaszyan’s organization “Internet Technology Education” CD-ROMs about Aram Khachatryan and the Armenian Genocide, both of which won international acclaim.

After meeting with several friends, old and new, from Fresno, everyone went to lunch before attending the evening’s presentation of Saroyan’s Hello Out There, at the Chamber Music Theatre and directed by Davit Hakobyan. The highlight of the operetta/ballet was the bass singer from the National Opera, who played the part of the character unable to escape from prison. Besides his fine singing, we watched with amazement as mediocre dancers pranced around the stage, further amazed by the way the story was changed and how it didn’t end at all in the style Saroyan intended, not to mention a music score that definitely won’t be something remembered. Fortunately for Saroyan, he wasn’t present, or he likely would have joined the culture minister official who, not holding back, told us and others nearby what a fiasco we had just witnessed.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

“1937 has returned,” a store owner said. “You can’t trust anybody. If you say something that would have stayed a secret before, forget it, those days are past. Part of the reason is jealousy, and age-old Armenian problem. But part of it is due to the political atmosphere. If someone who has a big business considers you as competition, and he has connections in high places, usually parliament, all he has to do is make a phone call and the tax people start putting pressure on you and your business, making unrealistic demands, eventually forcing you out of business or bringing you to your knees with payoffs. But the worst thing is not being able to trust anybody anymore. This day will pass, but it sure is making it tough on a lot of people.”

Such was a conversation I had, of all places, in the lobby of the American Armenian University, during the first day of the William Saroyan Conference. The general atmosphere, however, was festive, with local cultural figures and guests invited to deliver addresses both at the opening ceremony and at short presentations to be held at the Congress Hotel this week. Guests included the author’s nephew and niece, Hank Saroyan and Jackie Kazarian, and another cousin, Bruce Janigian, all from California.

During the opening, several speeches about Saroyan were given, the most interesting probably by Professor Dickran Kuyumjian, newly retired Armenian Studies head from Fresno State, who talked about the author’s paintings and sketches, comparing them by picture and words with several great painters, Picasso included.

Introductory speeches were given by the prime minister, culture minister, and new ambassador from the US. A low point was the scene created by three Georgian women in the audience, one of whom had translated several of Saroyan’s short stories into Georgian. The women talked the entire time, in Georgian, not listening to the speeches at all, be they in Russian, Armenian, or English, even though all were being translated and could be listened to using the headphones by each seat. Obviously mocking the ceremonies and Armenians in general, those sitting near them asked them to lower their voices, leading to a loud but brief scene, the women finally moving themselves to the back of the auditorium.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

In my artist-friend’s studio, a first glance went to two new paintings, or at least paintings I hadn’t seen before. One was of a woman, with the mountains of Garni in the background. “This girl was in a beauty contest in Yerevan,” the painter said. “She reached the finals, then it became evident that a bribe was needed to either win or place in the top five or ten. She didn’t pay, and of course didn’t win. Disappointed with what she had seen, she eventually left Armenia. The other painting is of Beethoven. I tried to capture him as he lost his hearing, which happened when he was a little over fifty. It’s something; Beethoven died in poverty, as did Wagner, who idolized Beethoven. There’s a story of a rich Englishman who had composed a classical piece and took it for Beethoven to listen to. Beethoven, who didn’t like the English anyway, wouldn’t meet the visitor, but as Wagner was there at the same time, the Britisher made his way in to meet Beethoven. Beethoven hated his work, and told him he should stay far away from music. Wagner kept the negative note Beethoven wrote to the Englishman, just to have the handwriting of the great master.

“Notice the Garni landscape in the first picture,” he continued. “Da Vinci used this same backdrop in a few of his paintings. The Italians say Da Vinci was in Armenia, and painted the portraits of several rich merchants. The men are in native Armenian costume, that which only the intellectual class wore at the time.”

On the radio, one of Hayrik Mouradian’s famous songs, “Khio, khane,” recorded years ago with Agunk, was played. “I remember when Hayrik started singing,” the artist said. “The Soviets wouldn’t let him on television, giving airtime only to Ruben Matevosyan, Ophelia Hambartsumyan, those types, who didn’t sing folk music. Both of these singers, and most others who gained fame, sang pure Baku style, which is why both were far more comfortable singing ashoughagan songs than folk, as ashoughagan music is far closer to Turkish and Arabic than Armenian. People here got so used to hearing Ophelia and Ruben singing Baku style that when the famous singer Zaynab came to Yerevan from Baku, the entire Hrazdan stadium was full.

“Once Hayrik Mouradian tried to teach folk songs to Ruben, Ophelia, and Hovhannes Badalyan, for a concert or recording, I’m not sure. Hayrik said that none of these singers were able to sing a folk song from start to finish. Badalyan did succeed on one song, ‘Makruhi Jan.’ The influence of Baku radio was just too much here, and is at least partly responsible for Turkish music being so in demand here, and for the pop singers to sing Turkish songs with Armenian words, or sing songs with Turkish-style melodies. The ashough Jivan complained that if he didn’t write Turkish-style melodies, no one would listen to his music here in Armenia. I understand why the Communists did this, to keep Armenians away from their true culture, but why our leaders are doing it now, not only not promoting true Armenian folk music but not allowing it to be aired on national television or radio, I’ll never understand. Or maybe I understand but don’t want to.”

Friday, October 3, 2008

“Everyone sure seems tense these days at the Conservatory,” a student in musicology said. “First of all, this is the time of year a lot of decisions are being made, and a lot of money is passing from one hand to the other. I won’t go into that. But Armen Smbatyan is back in town, and people are talking about his tie with the apartment building adjoining the Conservatory, and saying that it was paid for by Conservatory funds, with the purpose of serving as a dormitory, but now has been sold, with only people of means living there. And then the article in Azatamtutyun, accusing Smbatyan of everything under the sun, including ruining the Conservatory. What comes of it all, no one knows.”

All this aside, this week was an excellent one for culture in Yerevan, first of all with the Tatevik Hovhannisyan concert early in the week. Hovhannisyan, daughter of Ophelia Hambartsumyan, showed her professionalism, not to mention her good voice, in front of a full house at the Aram Khachatryan hall. Yet, Hovhannisyan occasionally had trouble hitting high notes, and showed an occasional shortage of energy, as the passing years seem to have begun taking a toll on this quite fine jazz singer. Also notable was the extreme ease which Hovhannisyan sang American jazz compared with Armenian songs, the arranging of which she did herself.

As good as this concert was, the cultural highlight of the week for me was the Malyan Theater presentation of several of Saroyan’s short stories, which they titled “Stories in a Train.” Eleven actors sang, danced, and brought the audience to laughter and tears with their acting. Six of the actors were long-time theater members, all with their comical facial expressions and gestures, only to be found in Armenia, and which I saw in the US only in the Saroyan generation of Armenians. Five quite capable newcomers also joined the cast. The story of Uncle Khosrov and the Arab who longed to see his family back home was a highlight, in typical Malyan style with both sadness and humor.

As it was Henrik Malyan’s 100th birthday, the theater was full, with culture ministry officials, actors from other troupes, and others in attendance. After seeing other presentations of works by Saroyan that were less than successful, such as the Metro Theater’s recent production, this was a breath of fresh air, as the actors truly captured what Saroyan was all about.

Afterwards, I found myself shuffled off into the back reception room, where the actors, Malyan’s daughter Narine (director of the troupe), movie head Ruben Gevorgyants, culture vice-minister Davit Muradyan, and friends gathered and began giving toasts, singing, and telling whatever stories they knew about Saroyan and Fresno and, amidst all the noise, even imitating the various hand gestures made famous by the writer and his male relatives, including the famous Uncle Aram, with several of the actors adding that the most important thing to them was to keep the taste, the feel of Saroyan in the presentation. It was a party the great writer would have definitely enjoyed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A report from a Yerevan Armenian who just spent some time in Los Angeles: “Of all Hayastan Armenians who have moved to Los Angeles, I’d say eighty percent are rabiz, ten percent are all right, and ten percent are educated, intelligent people. The Armenians that leave Armenia for Los Angeles aren’t usually of the highest class, and when they get to Los Angeles, they go downhill. Fifteen thousand, maybe as many as 18,000 Hayatantsis are in prison there. What disgusted me was how they brag about beating the system there. One said, ‘With fake credit cards, which we use to draw money out of the bank and get gasoline, we make $50,000-60,000 a year. I haven’t worked since I got here. Armenians own all the houses on this street. Almost none of them work.’”