Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Three more excerpts from “The First Adana Massacre,” a chapter from Cilicia 1909 — The Massacre of Armenians, by Hagop H. Terzian. For complete book information, see my previous entry.

Suddenly news was heard: “The young Greek men, after driving the Turks from their quarter, are coming to join us.” Some of our young men, cradling their rifles, went to greet the Greeks. Unfortunately, a few minutes later our men returned with a great number of wounded, having suffered heavy losses. We understood that this was another enemy ploy; they had equipped themselves with European hats, making them look like Greeks, so as to advance among us. This happened while the Greeks sat peacefully in their homes giving a thousand thanks that they weren’t born Armenian, and they turned over to the mob any Armenians who had sought safety in their homes…

* * *

On the second day of the ceasefire, word came that the government was demanding our weapons. The people didn’t want to surrender them, but the British consul arrived, saying, “I can promise you, in the name of my government, that nothing further will happen. Surrender your weapons.” Because the British consul gave us his assurance, the Constantinople Patriarchate locum tenens, without knowing what was happening, advised immediate obedience with a pressing telegram. It was under these circumstances that we were forced to surrender all our weapons. Had we not have handed them over before the arrival of the Ottoman Army, there is no doubt there would not have been a second massacre, because despite our lack of military stores, the enemy was very suspicious and had great fears about our strength. Thanks to this imprudent act, the second massacre, which was a hundred times worse than the first, took place and destroyed Adana.

* * *

Warships arrived one after another starting two days after the end of the first massacre at Mersin. They were the French “Victor Hugo”; the British “Swiftsure”; the German ship “Loreley”; the Italian “Piedemont.” Two days after they arrived, a Russian cruiser and two American armoured ships appeared. All of them remained witness to events and occupied themselves with music recitals and plays while at sea and were occasionally lit up, thus conveying their presence from Mersin to Adana. But their presence, and especially their idleness, provided even more encouragement and enraged the mob, and thus had a great bearing on the repeat of the massacre.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The following are excerpts from “The First Adana Massacre,” a chapter from Cilicia 1909 — The Massacre of Armenians, by Hagop H. Terzian, an eye-witness to the massacre. The book1 was published by Taderon Press for a commemorative event in Los Angeles in 2009 by special arrangement for the Gomidas Institute.

The Muslim crowd, made up of Turks, Kurds, Fellas, Cherkez, Arabs, Gypsies, and Cretan refugees split up into 5-10 groups and continued looting, attacking, and killing as they moved towards the centre of the city. We, having retired to our houses in our quarters, didn’t know about the massacres taking place outside and only heard gunfire and saw the looters escape as we waited for the arrival of government troops.

* * *

Armenians in the Turkish quarters (i.e. outside the main Armenian quarters) were all massacred; we, in the centre, knew nothing of these killings.

* * *

The cries of those begging for help, the noise of the guns, the sound of the animals, the screams of the mob, and those of the mob’s leaders—the sheikhs’ and hodjas’ loud prayers—all filled together, filled the air.

* * *

When we understood that crying, sobbing, begging for help and surrendering were of no use, and seeing that the government soldiers and policemen had joined the mob, we were forced, at a critical moment, to defend ourselves fiercely. If we had been even a little late in doing so, there is no doubt that we would all have been finished off. Thus, a group of youths had the courage to go into the street and face the bloodthirsty mob.

* * *

The mob of tens of thousands weren’t brave enough to stand up to these few young men and began to flee. The enormous crowd, terrified of the bravery of this small group of Armenians, began to run away, shouting, “Ermeni fedayileri geliyor!” (Armenian fedayis are coming). The truth was that there were no fedayis. It was that we didn’t want to die, and we defended ourselves against their attack with all our strength.

* * *

The remaining Adana Armenians survived the first massacre thanks to the defence put up by the 173 brave young men recorded above, who stood up against a mob of about 30,000 people.

1Cilicia 1909 – The Massacre of Armenians
By Hagop H. Terzian
Translated by Ara Stepan Melkonian
Edited by Ara Sarafian
A Special Centennial Publication
ISBN 978-1-903656-95-2
146 pages

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Dashnak party member, not of the higher ranks but definitely aware of the current political situation concerning Karabagh, said, “What we think might happen is that the Azeris will start a war, and will gain back the liberated territories. Moscow and Baku will be arranging this, with Armenian agreement, as the Armenian government knows that they will be thrown from power if they agree to giving up the territories, but that if they were lost in battle, they won’t be blamed.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

An interesting conversation about folk culture in Armenia started in the recording studio today as we looked over a new book I had received about the massacres in Armenian Cilicia in 1909 at the hands of the Turks.

“I hate Turks,” the folk musician said. “There’s no other way I can put it. And opening the border, while they still deny the Genocide, is a big mistake. As long as they deny the Genocide, it’s just more proof that they’re the same Turk.

“But, in all fairness, let’s compare Armenians and Turks in another way. See this dhol?” The musician picked up the two wooden kopal and started striking the dhol. “This is the way to hit the dhol,” he said. “Ever seen how the Turks do this? And ever watch the Armenians pitifully play the kopalov dhol? We treat the dhol like we treat our folk music in general. One big ‘oh, well.’ When I watch the Turks on television, I receive satisfaction, and when I see our people doing folk music, or imitating it, as I should say, I get sad.”

As the folk musician talked, I remembered the evening before, when we attended an evening presentation about Komitas’ unfinished version of Anoush opera, in which a musicologist talked and sang and two singers, male and female, sang parts of the opera, both Tigranyan’s version and Komitas’. The musicologist, for some reason, was trying to make Komitas into a native of Lori, I suppose because we were at the Hovhannes Tumanyan home-museum, and the singers were mediocre, especially the Middle-East-born Armenian who was obviously in Armenia because he couldn’t make a go of it in his home country as a singer, him and similar singers another reason folk music has weakened in Armenia.

“The folk music culture in Armenia is one of the most corrupt fields in the country, with people with no idea what folk music is running the show, promoting restaurant singers as folk singers, and the like. But I have to tell you this. A friend who lives on a major boulevard in Yerevan said that one of the oligarchs, who is building additional floors on old apartment buildings in Central Yerevan, asked to buy their apartment, which is located on a top floor of one of these buildings. They said no, that it was their family home. To punish them, the oligarch made sure that their son, who had won a top prize in a science competition, didn’t receive the top prize, but only second or third. They’re lucky they only refused the offer to buy the house, as if they had protested publicly, the oligarch would have had them evicted, one way or the other. This is the atmosphere here now, what a pity. And they talk about fighting corruption?”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

In Yerevan, clouds covered the view of Massis, only occasionally the lower snow-covered part appearing. Nearing the village of Pokr Vedi (Khor Virab), the mountain was revealed, each and every snowy slope seemingly a short walk away.

Entering the large courtyard and eventually the newly-renovated village house, the talk soon turned to our roots in Western Armenia, mainly Van and Moush. “My grandmother, whose name was Mafo, was born in a village in the Plains of Moush, near Bulanukh,” Hasmik said. “Her father’s name was Israel. She was already married and had a family, a husband and two children, when the massacres started. Mafo fled with her family, traveling with General Andranik. Along the way, her husband and children died. In Yerevan, she remarried a Mshetsi from Liz, also in the Plains of Moush.

“Even late in life, she never forgot her first husband, Armenak. But she used to say, about Eastern Armenia, ‘What is this, a land of rocks, you should see Moush, a paradise, if you see it, you’ll know what I mean...’ Years later, I saw Moush, and Bulanukh, and I understood she was right...”

The Vantetsi continued, saying, “I was in Van in 1992, and know what you mean. A land of milk and honey. The Turks left us with 10% of our homeland, and the worst part. We have to make the best of it, and I’d never leave to some imaginary ‘greener pastures’ in Russia or elsewhere, but, in reality, there’s not much here.”

It happened that our host’s father was born in the same village as Hasmik’s grandmother. “My family left in 1914, before the massacres started. They were friendly with a Kurdish tribesman who knew what was being planned. The Kurd arranged for our family to leave the area, to cross into Russian Armenia. I laugh when some say that the massacres were spontaneous, that the Genocide wasn’t planned, and planned for years. The Kurds knew what was going to happen, as did the Turks. They just chose the right moment. Luckily, a good Kurd saved our family. Still, our family elders had seen too much, and until they died, refused to speak Kurdish, even though they knew the language well, saying it was a ‘dog’s language.’”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It happens that composer, ethnomusicologist, and teacher Grikor Mirzaian Suni (born in Getabek, near Gandzak), was also a strong nationalist and political activist, spending much time in Western Armenia after the Young Turks had seized power. In 1908, a disguised Suni escaped from Batumi (the Russian Czars were seizing Armenian churches, etc.) to Turkey on a Laz raft, after which he arranged concerts for Armenians in Trabizon, Kirason, and Samson. In Samson, he tried to organize a break-in at the armory, after which he planned to distribute 2,000 rifles and millions of bullets to the peasantry. The Dashnaks, at that time loyal to the Young Turks, refused, labeling Suni a traitor, this in spite of the fact that Suni had been a member of the Dashnak party while living in the Caucasus.

When World War I broke out, Suni, who was living in Erzurum and teaching at the Sanasarian school, was awakened in the middle of the night and told to leave to the Russian side of the border, as officials knew of the impending dangers for Armenians. His popular composition “Erzurum March” was the likely reason for the goodwill leading to his escape from Turkey.

I learned this by reading and hearing about Suni from his great-granddaughters and other family members, now in Yerevan and spending time at our home taking vocal and oud lessons from Hasmik for an upcoming concert of Suni’s works at the Hovhannes Tumanyan home-museum.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A woman from Kirovabad (Gandzak) told her story about 1988:

“One night the lights went out. The Turks had shut off the power and cut the telephone lines, so we wouldn’t know what was going on. At first, we just thought the power had gone off. Then the Turks started coming, in two groups, from two directions. It was like 1915, the same Turks, the same methods of killing.

“The few Armenians who lived in the Turkish district had no way of defending themselves. What the Turks did was shocking, yet not for Turks. Raping, burning people alive, even burying people alive. Old people too.”

The Armenian priest told his story. “The Turks were trying to break into the church. I was pushing back, while they pushed from outside, trying to get inside. I prayed constantly to God and the Virgin Mary. The door, which is usually quite difficult to close, as it’s very heavy, closed on its own, keeping the Turks outside the church. Is this not a miracle?”

The woman continued: “The Armenians in the Armenian district were able to save themselves, at least many of them. One way they did this was to warn the Turks that if they continued, the safety of those Turks who lived in the Armenian district could not be guaranteed.

“And there are those who say we shouldn’t call Azeris by what they are, Turks. They say we’re being emotional by calling them Turks. But they’re the same people, speak the same language, are culturally the same, are Moslems, and they use the same barbaric ways of killing people. Tell me the difference of an Azeri and a Turk...”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Baku-born Armenian woman, disgusted with the basic opinion of many Karabaghtsis that “all was well with the Azeris till Hayastantsis stirred it all up,” told another side of the story: “In Baku, things weren’t as good as some Armenians say. Armenian girls were careful, even scared, to walk the streets. We didn’t use much make-up, or make-up at all, for fear of what might happen. And we know now that the pogroms were planned, that the Azeris were making plans to kill Armenians. They knew where we lived, were planning when to start, and even what methods to use to kill Armenians, everything.”

Things got interesting when a Karabaghtsi injected his thoughts: “But in Baku, Armenians lived like kings. They even had Azeris for servants!” to which the Baku-born Armenian answered, “So what. We were buried in Azeri culture, which was completely foreign to our culture. Don’t you care about that? They kill you, then later you brag about having Azeri servants? You were the servants, you just didn't know it!”

The Karabaghtsi went silent.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

“I’d be proud if I could say I had roots in Gandzak,” the artist said. “But I was just born there; my roots are in Kars and in Karabagh. My great-grandfather escaped from Kars during the 1896 massacres by Abdul Hamid. He went to Astrakhan, in Russia, but said, ‘I need Armenian soil to grow my wine grapes, and make wine,’ so he moved his family to Gandzak. His wine became famous and was drunk all over Europe, and even won a grand prize at an international festival.” He thought a minute and said, “I hate Lenin more than Stalin. I blame Lenin for giving away important parts of the Armenian homeland to the Turks and their Azeri cousins. Gandzak, for example, is Armenian, and always was. And they gave it to Azerbaijan.”

The gathering had begun solemnly, as it was the “tari” for a friend’s sister, who had died of heart failure one year ago. Slowly, everyone relaxed and began telling stories about their friend, and how much they missed her; others talked about politics or told about their ancestry, as the Gandzak-born Armenian. As several present were artists and musicians (opera singer Arax Davityan, pianist Svetlana Navasartyan, Hasmik, her cousin, baritone Karen Mirzoyan, and others), the talk turned to music and the latest happenings in the local music scene.

“Haven’t you heard,” a woman close to the Culture Ministry said, “the musicians of the National Chamber Orchestra filed complaints against Aram Gharabekian, who as a result is no longer conducting the orchestra. It looks like they’re putting an end to the current orchestra, paying the members a month’s salary, and then starting the orchestra again, maybe with the same members, maybe with new members. That part isn’t clear. They say the new conductor will be the current conductor of the Conservatory’s youth symphony. His father, who doesn’t even live in Armenia, pretty much runs the Culture Ministry, and culture in general in Armenia. They say the decision came from the new conductor’s father, not a surprise...”

Continuing, the woman said, “This isn’t the way it was in the past, in Soviet times. True, there was favoritism and the like. But I remember the story my husband’s uncle told. His father was the great actor, Hrachya Nersisyan. He said that Hrachya was delighted when he met William Saroyan. You can see it in the picture of their meeting, which we fortunately have. In those days, great artists talked up other great artists, were proud when another Armenian was well known in the art world. This isn’t the case today. Mediocrities rule. Great artists are belittled, often driven out of the country. Humanity is a thing of the past in the culture world in Armenia. What happened to Gharabekian wouldn’t have happened in the past. At least not this way.”

Pictures on the restaurant wall were impressive: Yosuf Karsh, Sergey Paradjanov, William Saroyan, Hrachya Nersisyan, Aksel Bakunts...the most noteworthy, perhaps, was a picture of Komitas smiling, probably the only such picture.

Svetlana Navasartyan sat at the piano and played a classical piece. The day ended well, a nice tribute to our friend.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

While most local and Diaspora Armenians, young and old, fawn over the pop/rap stars of the upcoming Armenian Music Awards, even though many are known sect members, etc., a sad reality continues in Armenia for the regular, at least somewhat impoverished Armenian, who isn’t part of the “system.” This morning, while weaving our way through the maze of apartment buildings near our home, a man walked out of the entry to his building, holding his head and talking to himself and whoever would listen: “Every year, at year’s end, the government tries to fill its coffers, and collects money illegally from the people. I just got my phone and power bill, and it was 2,500 dram more than it should have been. Picture how much this turns into, if they collect this much from everybody. Why don’t they just close the country down, and get it over with.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A farmer stood by his newly-sprouted field of wheat near Talvorik, a village in the Baghramyan region of Armavir. “See this field? There’s not a better one in the country. Yet, I’m barely hanging on, what with the price of irrigation water and fertilizer. And there’s no hope from the government. What government?

“If it’s like this now, what is going to happen when the border with Turkey opens? Everybody that’s not afraid to admit it knows that farmers here will be broken, driven out of business, with cheap Turkish agricultural products available. But that’s only part of the picture. They’ll flood our markets with all kinds of cheap goods, which will put our factories, large and small, out of business. This is what the Turks want, and in the meantime, they’ll have a new market for their goods.

“I’m more convinced now than ever that our rulers are doing their best to ruin the country, not just fill their pocketbooks with the people’s money. Why else would they do this? We’ve had more than our share of traitors in our history, but these traitors beat all. If they stay in power, our country will be in ruins, and will be just a playground for the rich and their Turkish friends.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A cousin told of how, as a child, Soghomon Tehlirian was a guest at their house in San Francisco:

“Tehlirian was living under an assumed name, so the Turks wouldn’t be able to find him and exact revenge for killing Talaat. I remember well how he told the story of how he killed Talaat in Germany. ‘I had to track him down,’ Tehlirian said. ‘He was living under an assumed name, and dressed like a European, not a Turk, so as not to be noticed. I had to be careful. When I found him, I wasn’t even sure it was him. I called his name. He turned around. I looked in his eyes. Then I shot him in the neck.’”

Monday, December 7, 2009

“I was in a tramway when the earthquake hit,” a neighbor lady said. “I didn’t feel anything. When I got home, my husband said our 6-month-old baby boy had been crying uncontrollably, just before the earthquake hit. I believe he felt something, something older people, who have lost touch with nature, can't feel.”

Television stations showed films of people sitting next to fires, trying to stay warm, as others tried to move slabs of cement or crumbled walls in hopes of finding their family members or friends alive. Corpses were being pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings. People were lighting candles in churches, praying, crying, wondering why....

Our neighbor continued: “At the time, I wondered if I’d ever smile again. Then things got worse. The war started, and the Soviet Union collapsed. Our people were hungry and cold. There was no food. Young women, who were children at the time, often have trouble bearing children. One million Armenians left the country, to me the same as a genocide. Remembering all this, I think of one thing, that our government was selling electricity to Turkey, supposedly to be able to buy weapons. I don’t believe that, because at the same time they were selling off the country, the factories, everything. That’s why I hate Levon, and always will.”

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hasmik told about one of her trips to Karabagh during the war: “Several members of the Akunk Ensemble decided to go to Karabagh during the thick of the war, and give concerts, anything that might help morale, show unity. Interestingly, one of the male members didn’t plan on going but said that he saw Maryam Astvatsatsin, in the broad daylight, who urged him to go to Karabagh, and that his going would keep the rest of us safe.

“We were lucky to get through the Lachin Corridor, which was being bombed constantly. We traveled by night, and without lights.

“In Stepanakert, we saw everything. Once, in a bombed-out hotel, we all huddled with Karabaghtsis who had barely escaped with their lives from an Azeri attack somewhere near Shushi. Grads started falling. When they stopped, we went outside, but only with lanterns, so as not to be seen by Azeris.

“I remember seeing a group of young volunteers from Yerevan. They were only 18 or so. As we sang folk songs and patriotic songs, their eyes got moist. They were all going to the front line, and knew they probably wouldn’t come back.”

A participant in the liberation of Shushi continued: “First of all, we took Shushi on May 8, not May 9. That may not be important, but that’s the right day.

“Monte gets a lot of credit for what he did in Karabagh. And he deserves all the praise he gets. But Jirair, from Lebanon, did more than he’s given credit for. A true patriot.

“One night, our group of 50 was following Jirair’s, at a fair distance. A group of Karabaghtsis told us to follow them. We said that we were going to follow Jirair, but the Karabaghtsis continued to insist. We ignored them, and followed Jirair. It turned out the Karabaghtsis were trying to lead us into a trap, that if we had listened to them, we would have been surrounded and killed by Azeris.

“This happened more than once during the war. Many Hayastantsis lost their lives after listening to Karabaghtsis, figuring they were local and understood the terrain. Why the Karabaghtsis did this, I don’t know. Believe me, I was fighting for the Armenian homeland, not for Karabaghtsis…

“Another thing about Jirair. He, Monte, and the others who came from overseas to fight…there weren’t many, true, but they were brave, unique men. Remember what Monte said when someone asked why he had come all the way from the US to fight in Karabagh? He said it was the natural thing to do, that they should be asking Diaspora Armenians why they don’t come…

“The other day I saw a show on television where several Diaspora Armenians, who were living in Armenia, were talking about their patriotism and how they love living in Armenia. But I know that several of them came here only to avoid military service in their home countries, basically in the Middle East. One is a singer, who has the nerve to sing patriotic songs. Let him and the others serve in their home countries, then move to Armenia. We don’t need cowards like them here, especially with their hypocrisy.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Our return to Yerevan became complete with a breakfast of khash at a friend’s house in Ajapnyak, not far from our apartment building. I considered myself lucky, as most of the twenty or so men there had fought in Karabagh, which made for a most interesting gathering.

Toasts and songs ruled the day. Even though the television was on in the background, with its ridiculous pop star music competitions, no one paid any attention to it, as singing and telling jokes were more interesting to these Hayastantis than what National Television and the others were offering. I wondered, though, if future generations, even the current young generation, would know the folk, ashoughagan, and patriotic songs these fedayees were singing…

One of the fedayee, commenting about the current discussions between Armenia and Turkey, and the possible settlement of the Karabagh conflict, said, “Let the Azeris start something. We’ll take them again, and they know it. What I’m worried about is that our government will agree to give up the territories and let Azeris move back into Karabagh. If they do, what will be left? Karabagh will go back to Azerbaijan, if not now, later. And without a fight. Right now, Serge has a chance of being a national hero, if he refuses to sign the Protocols, and give up Karabagh, or be the most famous traitor ever, and sign away Armenia for good…”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Although many in the Diaspora (as well as in Armenia) are happy to sing and dance the choreographed music that Armenians were forced to perform in Soviet times and for some reason choose to continue to this day, even more are quite anxious to sing and especially dance the true folk dances of Old Armenia. During the course of our stay in the Bay Area of northern California, Hasmik held folk song and dance workshops with Armenians and non-Armenians in Oakland and San Francisco, and in Portland, Oregon. At each workshop/event, one of which followed a dance hantes where Armenians were dancing a combination of Armenian, Turkish, and Greek dances, and not even knowing what they were dancing, the Armenians became truly inspired when Hasmik showed them the steps of real Armenian folk dances. As all the major dance groups in Armenia continue with their choreographed folk dancing, with real folk dancing rarely seen or performed, especially on television, perhaps the Diaspora is the right place for a folk dance (and song) revolution to take place. Time will tell.

Concerning the concerts with Hasmik and the Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble of Oakland, California, perhaps the most important outcome was, in my opinion, the bringing back of Komitas to the people; this, in effect, meaning that during Soviet times the songs written or arranged by Komitas became something only for opera singers or huge, professional choirs to perform, and although they performed well, the songs became something other than folk music, Komitas’ music thus no longer sung by the people, who were taught to believe that Komitas music was something only for the elite.

In an amazingly short amount of time, the Kitka singers learned several songs by Komitas and two of his students, Parsegh Ganachian and Mihran Toumajan, not to mention several traditional Armenian lullabies and work songs. They also presented segments from a traditional Armenian wedding, at each concert the person playing the groom chosen from amongst the audience.

The seven-member Kitka ensemble’s performance of Komitas songs was exquisite, both in solos and in choir pieces. By the end of each concert, it was clear that Komitas was returned to the people. And, Armenians and non-Armenians alike were more than pleased with the performances, with Armenians often singing along with familiar pieces such as “Koon Yeghir Balas,” “Shogher Jan,” “Hars em Gnum,” and others.

During our stay in San Francisco, Hasmik also performed at the San Francisco World Music Festival, which included conducting two school assemblies, one for a Chinese immersion school and the other at the Krouzian-Zekarian-Vasbouragan School. At the Armenian school, children were taught and then performed several songs and dances, the youngest in the school singing lullabies, while the older children sang “Ayb, ben, gim” and “Hayr Mer,” the latter written by Komitas in 1915. The children also danced to the music of the “Tashkinaknerov Par” and “Yarkhushta.”

Watching the closing concert of the World Music Festival, in which children and young adults from China, Tibet, Kirghizstan, and the north and south of India proudly performed their traditional music, and did it quite well, I lamented the unfortunate and strange opinion most Armenians today have, that “for our youth to listen to or perform our traditional music, it has to be modernized, synthesized…”

Friday, November 27, 2009

An Armenian from a village near Artik, a town about an hour and a half northwest of Yerevan, talked about the recent fund raising for Shushi, in Karabagh:

“I realize the strategic importance of Shushi,” he said, “both historically and militarily. But most don’t know the reason all this money was raised. Recently, rich Armenians started buying land and building homes in and around Shushi. I guarantee you, if this hadn’t happened, the Armenia Fund would have chosen somewhere else. Why not choose Artik? The town is a disaster. But no rich Armenians are going there and building houses. So the town remains in its current bad condition, like a war just hit it. You can’t even drive through the town, the roads are so bad. All this while Shushi gets its new roads and whatever else it needs.

“And the rich won’t care when they let Azeris come back to live in Karabagh. They’ll stay in their palaces, and escape in case things get dangerous.

“Some day the Diaspora will understand this, but no time soon, it seems...”
Before writing about Hasmik’s recent concerts in San Francisco with the Kitka Ensemble and other cultural activities in the US, a revealing story Hasmik told about an interview she did with Hayrik Mouradian in the mid-1990s:

As co-host of a show simply named “Roots,” broadcast at the time on National (Public) Radio, Hasmik was interviewing Hayrik about his life in Shatakh and escape to Eastern Armenia during the Genocide when Hayrik stated, “I wonder if all Armenians had resisted, fought back, like the Armenians of Van and other places, would Turkey be Turkey today, or would it be Armenia?” After the show, Hasmik received a call from a higher-up from the radio station saying they “shouldn’t talk about such things.” A week later, the show was cancelled.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Conversations heard at a Yerevan fundraiser for a charity that finds and assists Armenian families in extreme poverty, in Armenia and Karabagh, proved quite interesting. First, a French Armenian, talking about the possible opening of the border between Armenia and Turkey, said, “You know, it might be a good idea. If the border opens, Turks will do the most menial jobs here, cleaning streets, doing garbage pickup, that sort of thing.” I answered him, saying that the less fortunate here need those jobs, that there’s no need to feel superior and say that Turks will work at menial jobs such as those he mentioned, that they have other plans, like opening factories, buying land, and other activities (like taking over Armenia without firing a shot) far more sophisticated than cleaning streets.

Then, as the fundraiser came to an end, the person in charge whispered in our ear that a foreign born Armenian who had donated a hall for the evening’s events had insisted on taking his “cut” from the night’s income, to “cover his expenses.” This led to several Hayastantsis condemning foreign born Armenians, saying that they come here only to make money, while saying they’re here “to help the homeland and its people.” The French Armenian responded that there are plenty of Hayastantsis with the same mentality, joking not only about the average person taking advantage of Armenian tourists, but about Armenian oligarchs bleeding the country dry.

In any event, life continues here, with the talk of border opening, Karabagh, the upcoming oppostion rally (to be held on Friday), the Armenians of Javakhk, lack of good employment, and similar topics dominating the political and everyday life of people here.

With all this in mind, the Yerevan Journal blog will take a temporary hiatus until approximately November 26, as Hasmik and I will be departing soon for San Francisco and Oregon for concerts featuring Hasmik and the Kitka Ensemble, not to mention an appearance at the World Music Festival in San Francisco, at which Hasmik will appear with the children’s choir from the Krouzian Zekarian School, performing songs of Komitas.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

It happens that certain of Armenia’s oligarch/monopolists (roots outside Armenia proper) have decided to add to their resume and take over the country’s fast-connection Internet service. Independent providers are facing financial challenges, to put it mildly, with their actual physical providing mechanisms now being interfered with by the monopolists. Many individuals have been forced to change providers, as their Internet connections became close to impossible to use. My connection recently became almost unusable, but I decided to give my service provider as much time as possible to straighten out the problem. Last night, dedicated workers struggled, until 4 a.m., trying what they could with an antenna on top of a nearby 13-story apartment building, until finally reaching success.

Friday, September 11, 2009

An Armenian from a village in Yeghegnadzor expressed his disgust about sects in Armenia: “During the war, a member of a sect that prohibits bearing arms, no matter the danger, was told to stand guard at an outpost bordering Nakhichevan. One night the Turks came. The sect member didn’t raise his rifle or fire a shot at the Turks. Not only was he killed, but his fellow soldiers all died. I suppose members of his sect would say he did the right thing. But to me, he was a traitor, and a stupid one at that.

“And the West, the US and Europe, tell us that this is part of democracy, that these cowards have ‘rights?’”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Concerning the massacre of Armenians in Adana in 1909, the Austro-Hungarian diplomatic missions stationed in Aleppo and Adana, eye witnesses to the massacres, stated that some 25,000 Armenians were killed, in the vilayet of Adana alone. But for the tragic nature of the events, Turkish estimates would be considered comical: 1,700 dead, mostly Moslems....

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

News reached the Armenian communities of the world that the Israeli government had decided to deport two seminarians from the Armenian monastery in Jerusalem for getting into a brawl with Jews who had spat on them during a procession to the Holy Sepulcher. This reminded me of the general atmosphere in Jerusalem, at least the atmosphere that reigned in 1984, when I stayed and studied at the monastery for several months. Although supposedly a city of brotherly love, representatives of the different religions were constantly at each other’s throats. One day Armenian deacons placed bats and pieces of wood in their boots before leaving on a procession, due to the possibility that day of something happening similar to what happened recently to the Armenian seminarians.

Also, in 1984, during a procession from the Armenian monastery to the Holy Sepulcher, the same thing happened to us...fundamental Jews spat on the seminarians. Luckily, Israeli police stepped between the Jews and the Armenians, preventing a scene that would no doubt have been the same as the recent altercation.

Due to the politics of the world, this event won’t make world headlines, as the destruction of Armenian khachkars by the Azeris was similarly barely mentioned in world press. One wonders if a filmmaker’s opinion was right when he said that “The Armenian army should have entered Nakhichevan when the Azeris started bulldozing our khachkars. If they knew we weren’t such cowards, and were going to fight for what’s ours, they wouldn’t have done this. If we were destroying Azeri monuments in Armenia, not that there are any, they wouldn’t have sat still like we did. We need to learn from the Turks, and be a little barbaric like them.”

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hayrik Mouradian told how he taught Ruben Altunyan, son of Tatul Altunyan and director of a 1980s folk/ashoughagan group, the song “Adanayi Voghbu.” Hayrik was disappointed in Altunyan’s arrangement of the song, the version most are now familiar with, saying, “Now if you listen to the song, and don’t know the words or what the song is about, you can’t even tell it’s about something tragic. The original song was the story of the tragedy of Adana, and when you heard it, you knew it was about something sad, something tragic.”

Hasmik sang the original version for our guest from Europe, who couldn’t listen until the end. The song, in its original version, was similar to Avetis Aharonian’s “Nazei Oror,” a lullaby recollecting the horrors of the Armenian Genocide.

Earlier, our guest was in another room, and, hearing a song on television, asked, “Are you listening to Turkish television?” It happened that she heard the pop/rabiz singer Razmik, whose singing style is influenced by his upbringing in Karabagh, where music from Baku ruled (and to some extent still does).

Later, of all things, on a concert on “Armenia” television, pop singer Nune Yesayan, after singing a medley of folk-style songs, sang a few lines in Turkish, leading to some conversation on Armenian news networks the next day. Hearing the Turkish lyrics, our guest commented that it was strange that a people who had a culture like the Armenians would so seriously imitate the music of their neighbors, saying, “many nations have lost their folk music, and are doing their best to revive what they lost, and the Armenians don’t seem to appreciate what they have. When they lose it, they will.”

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Probably the most meaningful comment after last night’s Shoghaken Ensemble concert in Yerevan was, “Tonight, I felt like an Armenian.”

In the end, Shoghaken had done what it set out to do: give the audience a taste of Armenian folklore in a non-academic style, and show that in true folklore, one must be able to sing, dance, and play a musical instrument, not sit and perform your specialty when called on. As opposed to the usual “song and applause” or “dance and applause” of basic concerts, the program was set up in musical cycles, or medleys, of wedding songs, dance songs, work songs, and others, so that a thought or mood could be set and completed without interruption. The musicians and singers “communicated” with each other on stage as they performed the music of Komitas, Toumajan, and Hayrik Mouradian, taking the audience on a journey from Moush and Sassoun to Shatakh and Van and Kharberd.

In “Angin Yars,” the musicians alternated between “Angin Yars” and “Tamzara,” weaving in parts of the Armenian mugham on duduk, kamancha, shvi, and kanon.

As the concert concluded, to the dance songs of Mayroke and Yarkhooshta, the younger set could be seen in the upper parts of the amphitheater dancing in long rows, and even more inspiring was when after the concert, in front of the hall, some of the same youth, as young as 10 years old, were singing “Hay Merik, Merik, Merik,” a song about returning to the lost lands of Moush and Sassoun.

One could be negative and tell about how stage workers refused to remove the layered wooden stage at the rear of the main stage, used by the symphony orchestra, as this temporary wooden stage definitely didn’t add to the atmosphere or looks of things, or how the Culture Minister didn’t find the time to attend a concert by the ensemble the ministry constantly requests to “uphold our honor and perform for this or that president, in this or that country (without pay),” but when the typical response by concert attendees was “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I didn’t want the concert to end...” not to mention what I’ll simply call quite positive comments by composer Tigran Mansuryan, anything negative that might have happened merely showed the difference between the average, patriotic Armenian and those who seem to only use their being Armenian as a business.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

At yesterday’s on-stage rehearsal for Friday’s Shoghaken Ensemble concert, at the Aram Khachatryan concert hall, the group was interrupted by a small army of workers who came to set up the stage for a pop concert planned for the next day. We were amazed at the effort they put into their “show,” hoping only for their sake that their music matched up with their rich staging. In any event, with just a day remaining, activity is at a fever pitch for Shoghaken’s Friday evening performance, the very existence of an actual folk concert becoming a point of interest for much of the city’s population.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A recent report on Azatutyan Radio told of a commander beating a recruit to death, on Armenian territory in southern Armenia. As usual, nobody expects anything to happen, punishment-wise, to the commander. This follows a similar event in Shamshadin, at the border post there. According to a resident of Shamshadin, a Yerevantsi soldier had asked his commander for leave, but was turned down. Later, while the commander was on vacation, his replacement granted the soldier a 10-day leave. When the commander returned, he was infuriated that the soldier had accepted permission from his replacement. Soon after, the soldier was found dead, in a dangerous border area near the village of Chinari, close to Khoranashat monastery. Locals believe that the soldier was murdered and then his corpse taken to the border area, so Azeris could be blamed for the killing.

“Azatutyan Radio won’t carry this story,” the Shamshadintsi said. “But we know what happened. People shouldn’t wonder why parents do anything they can, including bribery, so their sons don’t have to serve in the Armenian army. I know these things happen in Azerbaijan, Russia, and elsewhere. But we’re a small nation. We can’t afford this.”

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Returning from Goris, the Hayastantsi farmer added a few thoughts to his recent conversation with the Karabaghtsi: “These Karabaghtsis have no memory. It wasn’t long ago Azeris were killing Karabaghtsis in Baku, Kirovabad, and Sumgait. And they say they were getting along well with the Azeris, that if Hayastantsis hadn’t demanded independence and protection for Karabagh, all would still be well? And, are they forgetting the massacres in Shushi in the early 20th century, again committed by their ‘friends’ the Azeris? Between massacres, they’re brothers with the Azeris, thinking all is well. I was in a village in Karabagh a few months ago and what were they watching on television but Baku…and when I asked them why they were watching Baku television, they just said, why not? I told them why not…that if they ever wanted to be free of the Azeris, to become Armenians, they needed to start living like Armenians…they barely know who Sayat Nova or Komitas are…”

Back home in Yerevan, a friend told what he had learned about the recent suicide of the 19-year-old university student. “Everything seemed to be fine,” he told. “He had just gotten back from vacationing with his parents and family, and had bought books for the coming school year. Then he kills himself. It happens that it wasn’t exactly local sect activity that killed him, but a different kind of sect…that found on the Internet. What he was doing was going to a site where they tell people about the worthlessness of life, post recordings that people download and listen to on their cell phones, and even tell their future victims the day they’re supposed to do away with themselves. Tragic. We have enough trouble in Armenia with the regular sects, now better organized than ever, infiltrating villages like wildfire, preying on people struggling to get by. And now this…”

Friday, August 28, 2009

An actual conversation between a Hayastantsi farmer and a Karabaghtsi, today in Goris:

“Tell me what’s going to happen to our Karabagh,” the Karabaghtsi said. “Are we going to lose it?” The Hayastantsi replied, “That’s up to Armenia’s president and defense minister, both Karabaghtsis. We have no say in the matter.”

“Too bad all this happened,” the Karabaghtsi said. “We were doing fine before the war. We got along with the Azeris real well, then you Hayastantsis started making demands, to free Karabagh. From what? From whom? All was well.”

“If that’s the way you feel,” the Hayastantsi said, “be sure of this. Our boys aren’t about to volunteer, by the thousands like last time, to save your necks if the war starts again.”

“You have no choice,” the Karabaghtsi said. “We’ve taken care of that. Now the Armenian army will take care of us. We don’t need your volunteers.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A 19-year-old university student from a good family committed suicide. At the hogihangist, there were so many people that if one wanted to, he could say he had been there, and no one would have known if he was telling the truth or not.

On the side, people wondered why someone so smart and with such a good future in store would do such a thing. Then it became known that the young man was a member of a sect, one known for their extreme beliefs.

Not all sects are this extreme, of course. Some “merely” advocate breaking contact with family members who don’t convert. And some sect members are only looking for a piece of bread or a ticket to America.

Perhaps the most dangerous are those who, like a pop star on a recent talk show, when asked if he was a sect member, avoiding the question, said, “Oh, I respect the Armenian Apostolic Church and all they’ve done over the years, but, we all worship the same god, we’re all God’s children...”

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yerevan’s streets aren’t known to be the safest in the world. This morning, while in a taxi traveling the street near the Genocide Memorial, traffic came to a standstill, the reason being an overturned Nissan jeep, the cab completely smashed. I hate to think of how it happened or what condition the driver and/or passengers might be in, should they have lived through the accident. Our driver, commenting on Yerevan drivers in general, said, “I drive 24 hours a day. Every night I see 4-5 accidents like this, and almost all of them are driving jeeps like this one. They’re often the new rich, driving drunk or under the influence of narcotics. If our police enforced speed limits strictly, these accidents wouldn’t happen.

“And now they’re fining drivers 5,000 dram if they’re not wearing seat belts. A great law, it’s true, but people don’t know the reason they wrote the law in the first place. One of our wealthy businessmen imported a huge number of seat belts, and to make sure they were sold, the law was written. Only in Armenia...”

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Unfortunate are the unkind words exchanged at times between Diaspora Armenians and Hayastantsis. A musician recently returned from Syria told about what an Armenian there had said to him: “The Syrian Armenian told me he wanted to start a business in Armenia, but that all Hayastantsis were thieves. I told him that he shouldn’t generalize, that all my family and friends were hardworking and honest, and that, on the other hand, I had met plenty of Diaspora Armenians who weren’t exactly honest. Our conversation ended there, which was fine with me.”

Another common belief among Diaspora Armenians is that Hayastantsis are out to cheat Diaspora Armenians when they come to Armenia. Although there are locals who definitely fit into this description, it seems that at least some of this comes as a reaction to the way Diaspora Armenians, and others, come to Armenia with the attitude that Armenians here, being the economy isn’t exactly strong, should work for free or close to it, and be grateful at that. I am reminded first of all of a fellow from Norway, from a wealthy family, who asked to use a few of Hasmik’s lullabies for a film he was working on, but when the subject of an honorarium came up, he suddenly ran out of money, saying his budget was too low, etc. (even though he had traveled here, put the film together, and the like).

And there was the Armenian who recently asked if I could translate several pages of Classical Armenian into English, but when I told this new acquaintance that I wouldn’t mind being paid, he too suddenly ran out of money, complaining about his low budget (I wondered how he got here in the first place if he had no money). Oddly, I think it fair to say that neither of the two characters I mentioned would have thought of asking for free songs or services were they in the West...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Fresno Armenian continued his thoughts, at times bordering a tirade. “Speaking of injustice...when I saw the woman with Parkinson’s during a reportage on ‘Armenia’ television I went into shock. Here’s a woman, sitting there, her hands and arms shaking, and she’s saying ‘I’m a person too, I’ve lived a normal life, I’d just as soon do away with myself, living like this. I can’t afford medicine, as the government gives so little I only have medicine for a few days a month.’ There’s money in this country for everything but those who really need it. This is disgusting, to be going on in our own country.

“But I do like how there are many, especially young, who are protesting this kind of injustice in Armenia. They don’t often make the news, but they’re out there. The government is trying to scare these youth, by setting examples, like the girl who protested what’s going on in Teghut, but I don’t think they can be scared off. These are our real patriots, these youth.”

Speaking about cultural life here and in Fresno, he said, “Things have changed in Fresno over the years. Young Armenians, who have no connection to the old generation, their culture, or their music, don’t know Armenian culture or music. This is natural, I suppose, being the fourth or so generation born in the US. But here in Armenia, I expected more. When I saw a Hayastantsi, on a well known National Television program, singing to a 6/8 beat, I thought I was in Saudi Arabia. When he used, rather, stole, Avetik Isahakyan’s words, ‘mi mrahon aghjik tesa...’ I couldn’t believe my ears. Everyone knows that line is Isahakyan’s, and has never been used anywhere else...And the Armenian girls dancing in the background...dancing like Arabic or Turkish belly dancers. What can I say? I know it’s probably shoved down your throats here. But do your best...protest this, and injustice in general...Armenia is our last hope.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Fresno Armenian had a few unkind, or, more like it, uneasy words about the political atmosphere in Armenia: “I already knew,” he said, “that businesses not under a mafia umbrella have a hard time operating here. But I didn’t know the fear people live in, especially those with a conscience, who believe in certain causes that might interfere with big business (oligarchs) and what they are doing. I just heard about a girl who was simply protesting what’s going on in Teghut, where they’re cutting trees and doing damage to the environment with their mining and all, and they’re charging her with all kinds of strange things, and might put her in prison for a few years. Everyone knows the charges are trumped, invented, but nobody can do anything about it. I hope the protests help, but I doubt it.

“They’re putting fear in people, like it was 1937. You mind your manners, they say silently, and you’re fine, but stay out of our business...But what I don’t appreciate is the way the political leaders here stay silent. Then again, that’s understandable, as most of them have connections with the oligarchs, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the position they are. What’s worse is the Diaspora Armenians, and here I mean the political people, who go on and on about Karabagh and Azerbaijan, but not a word from any of them...not the ANCA or the Ramgavars...about nature, the environment, Teghut, or people like the girl who might go to prison. In other words, nothing about the injustices people here face every day. And I know this is the main reason people move from Armenia.

“These Diaspora people have no reason to fear anything, like the locals here do, but they don’t say anything. Maybe they have connections here they don’t want to tell us about?”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stars and a cold wind reigned over Lake Sevan and the Noyland Resort, where owner Narine Aghasaryan had invited family and friends, including Maestro Aram Gharabekyan and guests from Moscow, to enjoy the music of jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan and members of jazz band Time Report. Earlier, before sunset, several of us had gone to Hayravank, taking grapes to be blessed on this special Armenian holiday.

The party lasted well into the evening, as the musicians played, improvised, and invited guests to join in the singing. With Hamasyan’s piano, Hasmik sang several lullabies and “Im Khorodik Yar,” accompanied by contra bass,drums, saxophone, and piano. Although not part of the musicians’ jazz repertoire, the song was natural, as one of the jazz musicians said later, “these songs are part of us all, rehearsing isn’t necessary.” Later, standing outside and fighting the wind, the same musician said, “Folklore is above everything, including jazz. The best songs in our program are our improvisations of folk music...”

Late at night, we went back to Yerevan, first taking the detour leading through the village of Ljashen and using the old, decrepit road of the past, as the highway between the town of Sevan and Martuni/Gyavar is partly closed due to the rising waters of Sevan, reaching and covering the highway at certain places. Currently, trees and bushes are being cleaned from the area, with work planned to continue till 2010.

Our Week of Jazz, as I called our recent week of jazz activity, came to a close with a concert at the Open Music Fest featuring the same Time Report. Jazz music, and perhaps the fact that Time Report has quite a following in Yerevan, filled the amphitheater again, as it did for last week’s Tigran Hamasyan and Friends concert. Saxaphonist Armen Husnunts, the group’s leader, played folk improvisations and his own compositions, playing expertly and with ease, as did dudukist Vardan Grigoryan. Grigoryan’s new composition was a highlight, playing a 5/8 beat in in the mugham key of “shur,” his playing speed at times shocking the audience. Their encore number, the folk song “Kakavik,” had the crowd cheering and on their feet.

In the meantime, activity is picking up for the upcoming Shoghaken concert, with rehearsals and other various arrangements leading up to the Sept. 4 concert, the city now witness to Shoghaken banners, posters, and television advertising.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The week of jazz continued with the “Tigran Hamasyan and Friends” concert at the Open Music Fest in Yerevan. Unlike the excellent concert of about two weeks ago, featuring opera singer Arax Davityan and Maestro Constantine Orbelyan, when there were a good number of vacant seats, the jazz concert was completely sold out, with people sitting on steps and standing along the amphitheater walls. Hamasyan was a crowd-pleaser, both with his jazz piano arrangements and playing with guests on trumpet, saxophone, contra bass, and drums. Also, an Arab oudist/singer from Tunisia performed, drawing huge applause with his mugham-style singing.

The concert’s finale featured Hasmik and Aleksan Harutyunyan singing “Done Yar/Jakhraki Vot” to Hamasyan’s arrangement, accompanied by Hamasyan’s band members and dudukist Vardan Grigoryan. The Harutyunyans sang in true folk style, mixing well with Hamasyan’s free-flowing piano playing. The joining of pure folk with jazz, new to the audience, and to Yerevan for that matter, promises a good future, judging from audience reaction and comments after the concert about how natural it all seemed.

A phone call the next day from folklorist Arusiak Sahakyan revealed that two pop singers, on occasion passing themselves off as folk singers, are part of the evening at the Fest dedicated to folk music. That evening, the two singers plan on singing a duet originally performed by Ruben Altunyan’s folk/ashoughagan group of the 1980s, a song originally discovered/recorded by Sahakyan. As it turns out, the singers announce only that the song is a “Ruben Altunyan” song, failing to mention Sahakyan’s name, as Sahakyan had said less-than-kind words in the past about the singers’ supposed folk style. A pity, such small-mindedness, as Sahakyan, who has done so much for folklore in Armenia, is a victim of a culture here in which people are punished for daring to speak up about/against falseness in presenting folk music in Armenia.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Although it can be safely said that I have never been a serious jazz fan, a step in that direction was taken due to the week’s musical activities in Yerevan. Several days ago, Gyrumi-born jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan, now living in New York but in Yerevan for several concerts, called and said he had written arrangements for Hasmik’s “Butanya Oror” and “Done Yar/Jakhraki Vot,” from Shoghaken’s Music from Armenia CD. The next day, sitting at our piano, he played his arrangements as Hasmik and Aleksan sang these old folk songs to jazz piano accompaniment. Interesting was how the songs were sung in their original version and style, with Hamasyan accompanying with his quite good improvisations. Later, at the Malkhas Jazz Club on Pushkin Street, rehearsals continued, now also with duduk, drums, and other instruments, all for the open-air concert at the Kino Moskva amphitheater, planned for Thursday.

I had heard that jazz guitarist Stanly Jordan had been invited by the American Embassy for a concert at the Opera Hall, but hadn’t planned to attend until an invitation from the embassy arrived, both for the concert and a reception at Ambassador Yovanovitch’s home. There, we met and were then treated to Jordan and his band’s music, backed at times by Yerevan jazz musicians, notably jazz pianist Vahagn Hayrapetyan. Jordan’s virtuosity was obvious, but his playing style, playing the guitar as he would the piano, was new to most there, who looked forward to the next day’s concert.

Without doubt, the Stanley Jordan concert was a huge success, as his numbers, both as soloist and with his two band members, at contra bass and drums, had the crowd sitting on the edges of their seats, clapping along with Jordan and totally involved in the music. Amazing was when Jordan sat at the piano and played the piano with his left hand and guitar with his right hand, all with total ease. His version of Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven” showed the jazz pianist/guitarist’s versatlity and ability to step into other genres of music. But the highlight for many was when, at concert’s end, he invited Vahagn Hayrapetyan to the stage. After a rousing reception for Hayrapetyan, the local favorite played a version of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” that nearly had the crowd out of control. Although ending late, the crowd was ready to stay as long as the music continued.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Folk musicians and others are talking about comedian/singer/etc. Ashot Ghazaryan’s recent show on National Television in which Armenia’s best known rabiz singers were featured, in this case singers who try to sing what’s known here simply as “Baku” or “Istanbul.” As one folk musician put it, “After seeing this program, I see one positive aspect in the opening of the border with Turkey. If good Turkish singers sang here, these miserable Armenian rabiz singers would hide their faces, and we’d never have to see or hear them again.”

Towards the end of the show (fortunately I turned it on too late to see the start of the program), Homenetmen youth from South America, in the country for olympic games, were invited to the stage to say a few words and meet Ghazaryan. Although I thought it would have been nice if these Homenetmen youth had refused to attend the show in the first place, being it featured Baku-Istanbul style singers (fine in Baku or Istanbul, but not in Yerevan), I was happy to hear the songs the Homenetmen youth chose to sang: “Yerevani Sirun Aghjik,” and the patriotic song “Getashen.” As a friend watching with us said, “Maladets,” Russian for “aprek,” or, simply, “Good for them.”

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Vanadzor-born Armenian now living in Siberia had an interesting take on the future of Armenia: “I’ve been in Yerevan for just a week, and I’m already counting the days till I leave. It’s not that I’m not enjoying seeing people, the good food, the good times. But I’m seeing things I didn’t see here in the past, and I don’t see these things as positive. For instance, in the way people dress, carry themselves, it’s like I’m in Istanbul, or, even more so, Baku. Not so much the older set, but the youth. There are plenty of smart, well educated youth, but most are like Turks, in the way they dress and act, and the music they listen to.

“On one hand, I can’t blame them. I’ve been in Los Angeles, and sometimes it’s hard to tell Armenian youth from Mexican. People are only so strong, and most get swept up by the culture of where they’re living.

“Here, we’re surrounded by Moslems...Iranians and Azeri Turks to the south, Azeris to the east, Turks to the west, and Georgians, who are Christian one day, Moslem the next, to our north. So here’s my point. Even though we talk about losing or keeping Karabagh, Genocide recognition, corruption in Armenia, etc., I think the most important issue we’re facing is that we’re losing our national characteristics, culture, and way of life. We can blame it on a bad government, on sects, and all that, but even though these things make a difference, let’s be realistic. We’re a small nation, surrounded and being swallowed up by Moslem Turks and others. And there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Friday, August 7, 2009

The world of culture here continues to be both entertaining and, at times, shocking in what people allow themselves. On the comical side, now that singers are no longer allowed to lip synch at concerts, several have dropped from the scene, except in the world of video clips, and fewer of the “stars” are giving solo concerts. Not to be denied, however, the stars have gotten together for a gala concert in Yerevan, the list of singers so long it becomes somewhat a comedy in itself. Each singer will be presenting one or two songs before passing the microphone to the next singer. In this way, no singer is forced to actually sing more than a song or two, about the extent of their ability.

On the disgusting, almost shocking side, is a discovery we made while at the tearoom/bookstore Art Bridge. There, we discovered a book including stories by several noted Armenian-American writers, each story translated into Armenian by Writers Union member Aram Arsenyan. Happy with our discovery, we took the book home, where we began to discover just what this book was.

The book included the short story “A Lesson to Remember” by my brother, William Michaelian. The first sign of something awry was the one word translation of the title, to simply “Das,” meaning “lesson.” As we began to read the story, so well translated in the past by Yerevan translator Samvel Mkrtchyan, we saw what was a terrible translation, made worse by the simple fact that no one, the translator or otherwise, had contacted any of us, for permission to translate and/or publish the story.

The translator, in answering an initial email asking him to explain himself and what he had done, simply said, “I promise not to do this in the future without permission,” obviously hoping we’d be satisfied and let the matter go. The translator’s email, in quite poor English, made sense in that it corresponded with his poor translation.

In the preface, noted in Armenian is the word “petpatver,” meaning sponsored/funded by the government, possibly the Culture Ministry. Needless to say, follow up on this matter is in order.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

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’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.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The fallout from the wedding continued throughout the weekend, as word reached us that a heated exchange took place when the parents and immediate family of the bride and groom met at the bride’s parents’ home. “It happened that the tamadah (toastmaster) of the wedding was there,” our friend said. “I told him it was disgusting how he praised the singer and his Baku-style music, and he said he didn’t like the music either, but it wasn’t appropriate to say so in front of everybody. Then I told the tamadah that as a good Dashnak, and one who had fought in Karabagh, he should have asked the musicians to stop playing Baku music, and what did he say but ‘what can I do?’ (Armenian sickness of not speaking up, repeated). Then I thought to myself, what should I expect, Dashnaks like Simon Vratzian and Nzhdeh were in the past, and will stay in the past...”

Later, I met with a wise sort who was at the wedding. He blamed the groom’s family, with their Karabagh roots, for choosing the Baku-style music for the wedding. “When the Karabagh movement started, back in Soviet times, I warned people about Karabaghtsis. I told everybody that the whole Karabagh movement was ordered from outside, that money was given to organize the rallies, which played on our patriotism and became a real movement. Outsiders worked with Levon to get the movement going, with the purpose of destroying Armenia. What did we get? Levon helped destroy the country by selling off the factories. Then Karabaghtsis took the country over. And now that time has passed, we see what they’ve done.

“The Karabaghtsis were happy with their lives, and were against the movement until fighting started and they had to fight back. Too bad we can’t turn back the clock. They were satisfied with what they had, and we were too. Now what?”

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Hayastantsi girl was getting married to someone with roots in Karabagh. The music, chosen by the groom, was pure Baku. A Hayastantsi I was sitting close to didn’t appreciate the music. “Let me tell you a story,” he said. “During the war, a group of Karabagh Armenians were brought to a village in Armenia. They were hungry, wounded, lucky to be alive. The villagers took them in. After all, they thought, these were Armenians, being attacked and killed by Turks. One evening, we heard them playing Turkish music. We told them hundreds, thousands of Hayastantsis had gone and fought and died in Karabagh, fought against the Turks, to save part of our homeland...and then asked how they could come here and start playing Turkish music. And what was their answer?

“They said, ‘You Hayastantsis started all this. We were fine with the Turks, in Karabagh and Baku. We got along with them well. We were living fine. Then you disturbed everything, started this war...’ after which a fight started, barely broken up before blood was spilled. These are the Karabaghtsis. They won’t change. They got along with the Turks all those years, intermarried, broke bread, everything, and aren’t about to change.”

Another Hayastantsi started arguing with someone in the groom’s family about the music. It wasn’t a pretty scene. To the Hayastantsi’s complaints, the groom’s family member said, “Why should we play your music all night...why can’t we play our music?”

Interesting in all this was that the groom and his family are hardcore Dashnaks. When one was asked how a Dashnak could be such a fan of Turkish/Baku music, he simply answered, “Why not?”

The Hayastantsi shook his head in disbelief...

Friday, July 31, 2009

Our guest had some less-than-kind remarks about where he had stayed, at the city center hostel, happy to be able to leave the place. Leaving all that behind, we journeyed to Echmiadzin, visiting the churches of St. Hripsime, St. Gayane, and the main cathedral. Especially impressive to the traveler, who was in Armenia for the first time, was St. Hripsime and its classic dome, almost being more impressed by when it was built, some 1400 years ago, than with the actual construction.

Back in Yerevan, as we ate lahmajoon on Tumanyan Street, he told me of a conversation he had had the evening before with some young, well educated Hayastantsis. “They told me that most in their generation were getting good educations and learning foreign languages for one be able to leave Armenia. And this is the generation that should be building Armenia’s future, I thought to myself. When I asked them why, their reason was simple: ‘everything is mafia here,’ they said.’

Walking towards the area of the National Opera building, we passed the small lake and towards the side of the building, where tickets are sold. It happened that some sort of scuffle was going on, in the area of the Opera Club. A middle-aged man was shouting at some youths and chasing them from the club, or so it seemed, when one of the youth appeared from up above, with a well-pummeled, bloody face. As he began chasing somebody, the police entered the scene, running after the youth.

“My first comment is this,” our guest said. “Why is a club like this part of the Opera complex? And second, look at the quality of the young people gathered here, who are obviously working for or frequenting this club. It would be nice if this type would leave the country, not the ones I was talking to last night. It’s hard to believe that there are Armenians who have sunk to this level.”

“Does Armenia have hope?” he asked.

“Good question,” I answered.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

After yesterday’s experience taking a tourist to a place that I suppose could be termed a hostel, it seems the best thing to do would be to write a tourism manual that told the truth. After greeting a guest from Fresno at Zvartnots, we took him to the address listed in the travel manual (not published by Armenians) where he was to spend 3-4 nights. Arriving at the building, near the city center, we realized that it was the wrong building, so we called the phone number written in the manual. A woman answered that their address must have been written incorrectly in the book, and told us the correct address. Finally finding the building, and the right entrance, we entered to a damp, unpleasant odor, surprising in a city center building.

Knocking at the door of the hostel apartment, a woman answered, overweight and dressed inapropriately, to say the least. Taking a step into the apartment, we saw that it was in what’s known here as “petakan” condition, meaning, no renovation whatsoever has been done since being built (the manual said that the rooms were well-renovated and clean). The woman said that her apartment was already full of guests (where they were going to sleep, scattered in different rooms, I won’t describe), so our friend would have to go to the apartment one floor up from her. As she spoke, the landlord of the upstairs apartment/hostel arrived, smiling as he greeted us. His lifestyle was one we won’t go into now.

After walking up a flight of stairs, we went into his apartment, and he showed the “bedroom” where our friend would be sleeping. It was a side room of sorts, with two old couches, which turned out to be where our friend and another guest would sleep. When we asked about the damp, odd smell in the apartment, the landlord said it was because of a large dog that someone keeps in the basement of the building, or possibly because the roof needed repair, seemingly not in the least concerned.

After leaving, an uneasy feeling later in the evening caused us to call our new friend, and offer him to stay with us the next day or two. “Thanks,” he said. “The apartment wasn’t exactly what I was expecting...”

In other words, if anyone wishes to rent an inexpensive apartment in Yerevan, be careful, no matter what the travel manual might say.

Monday, July 27, 2009

“The Mujaheddin sent 3,000 soldiers to fight in Karabagh,” the Karabaghtsi said. “When they’re fighting for their homeland, they can’t be defeated. But they were fighting as mercenaries, and we took care of them. After they lost 600 men, they left Karabagh and went home.”

Such were the words of this proud Karabaghtsi from Chaylu, a village located just north of Talish, in the region of Mardakert.

“Our village land borders Talish’s,” he continued. “A river runs by Chaylu. Each street has its own stream, or tributary. It was a beautiful place. Now, the Turks have our village. Instead of living there, they’ve flattened everything. I’m not sure why, maybe they know they won’t have it for long.

“In the mid-1940s, when the repatriates were arriving in Armenia, some came to Chaylu and Talish. They were Khoyetsis, Armenians from Iran. They stayed until the war, always remembering their roots. My wife is Khoyetsi. If someone asks her where she’s from, she says she’s Karabaghtsi, but if they ask about her roots, she always says she’s Khoyetsi.

“Not far to the south of Chaylu is Yeritsmankants (three youths) church. Have you seen it? Did you know there’s secret openings into the wall, where they hid people if Turks or Persians were attacking?

“Nobody can defeat Karabagh,” he said. “They might rule us, but only for a while, like the Soviets did. Even Genghis Khan couldn’t conquer Karabagh. He gave it a try, then said, ‘enough, we’ll just pass through this place on our way to other conquests.’ And the Azeris...they’re all talk. God gave us a great gift, giving us Azeris as neighbors. All they do is make noise. If they start a war, they’ll be defeated. All the weapons in the world won’t help if the one using them has no heart, and, let’s not forget, isn’t fighting for his homeland. That’s why they’re going to the international community, crying about their lost lands. They know that’s the only way they have a chance.

“If war breaks out, we’ll take care of them. Even Karabaghtsis living elsewhere will go and fight. Not all of them, of course, as some who left their homeland fell in love with money. But don’t worry. We’re a wild tribe...we’ll take care of everything.”

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A friend from Tsaghkavan village in Shamshadin arrived at our home with a big smile and a large sack of kanach lopi (string beans), the long, thick variety grown specifically in the area. “I also have a bottle of honi oghi (vodka made from a variety of sour cherries), made in our village,” he said. “It’s been a while.”

As we talked, and as Hasmik prepared the kanach lopi, another friend arrived, this one from Echmiadzin. I was saddened to hear about the death, from cancer, of a farmer friend from Echmiadzin, one who had fought in Karabagh and battled all his life for justice in the country. Once, he had said, “We live in a bad country, with leaders who don’t care about the people. But they’ll come and go, and we’ll stay. We have to keep up the struggle...”

Hearing about the death of a freedom fighter, the Shamshadintsi (Shamshadin is a region in the northeast of Tavoush, bordering Azerbaijan) started telling about the war: “One day, when standing in the central square in our village, the Azeris shot a grad missile into the village. I think it came from the mountains near Paravakar, or maybe from near Aygebar. Two or three men who were standing and talking were blown to bits. I saw this with my own eyes. And they tell us to trust the Turks?

“Shamshadin is a paradise, forests and farmland, a mild climate, everything you want. Of course, that mild climate might change if our greedy government gives the go-ahead and they start cutting our forests, like they’re doing in Lori.

“Shamshadin is in the ‘Turki beran,’ (Turks’ mouth), and if a war starts in Karabagh, the first place they’ll try and enter is Shamshadin. We don’t have a buffer zone like Karabagh or Zangezur do. I’m a little worried, as during the first war, our village men defended the border, and they did it well. Now, half or more of the men have gone to Russia to work. This, I blame on our government, as they could have done more to improve the situation here, opened factories, something.

“Before coming here today, I was downtown, a place I don’t like to go, as it’s all cement now. Close to the Justice Ministry and Prosecutor General’s office, a group of 30-40 had gathered, and were shouting ‘Azat, ankakh Hayastan’ (Free, independent Armenia) and ‘Paykar, paykar, minchev verj’ (Struggle, struggle, till the end). I’m not even sure what they were protesting, probably about the political prisoners, but it doesn’t matter, they were protesting, so I joined them. Today, 30-40, tomorrow, 10,000...we can’t give up...”

Luckily, our friend was speaking in basic Eastern Armenian, as the dialect of Shamshadin, something like Karabagh’s and Zangezur’s, isn’t the easiest to understand.

Later, having dinner, he raised a glass of honi oghi and said, “To our freedom...and I mean real freedom, not what we have today. And our safety and security. I have a friend who wants to get married, and have the wedding at Khoranashat Monastery, right on the border of Azerbaijan, near Chinari village. It’s a famous monastery, and Mkhitar Gosh spent time there. But it’s not safe, as going there without soldiers could be your last trip anywhere. So I wish for peace, prosperity, and security for Armenians, wherever they are, Shamshadin, Karabagh, Yerevan, and unity...why not, we’ve never had true unity, as a nation, but with our backs to the wall, like during the war, we were unified. This is our last stand, this Armenia, but if unified, we can make it...”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Continuing the discussion from the most recent blog entry, the first Hayastantsi said, “You see, here’s another reason protesting is something we can only dream about. Without even protesting, just handing out fliers announcing an upcoming opposition rally, government police beat the people handing out the fliers. They took one of them to prison. Democracy? This is more like a police state. Actually, it is a police state.”

Another opinion expressed was the following: “They’re scared of the opposition, any opposition, weak or strong. And the opposition here isn’t strong, like in Georgia. When they put a basic citizen in prison for passing out fliers, you know they’re scared. But this is how police states operate. We need to stick with the political prisoners, even if they’re supporting Levon Ter Petrosyan. If we don’t like Levon, and I don’t, we can’t just say, ‘so what, he’s a Levon supporter, do you know what Levon is?’ We need to stick together in this, otherwise there will be no hope.

“If we’re ever going to be able to stand up to the regime, take to the streets, we need to make noise and back our political prisoners. These days, not only protesting but doing anything they consider to be anti-government is dangerous. We need the people, all the people, on our side to have a chance. Soldiers and police are people too. A year ago, they turned on the people. Maybe next time they’ll turn on the government, this den of criminals...”

Monday, July 20, 2009

A question by a Diaspora Armenian as to when Armenians in Armenia might rise up and protest against the various injustices faced in the country today prompted me to ask two different Hayastantsis what they thought. “We protested, demonstrated, and marched to close Metsamor, and then, about Karabagh,” one said. “We know how to protest, to rise up. What happened then? We faced the Dark Years, no electricity, people, young and old especially, sick and dying. Many, up to a million, understandably left the country. To a point, at least, our back was broken. I’d like to see what would happen in the West if they had to face even a week, a month, of no electricity with the temperatures at -20, -30, or worse. We faced this for several winters.”

The other Hayastantsi continued: “After the war, unity prevailed, and nobody thought about being Karabaghtsi or Hayastantsi. We were all Armenian. Then, Karabaghtsis took over the government. With the help of certain oligarchs, they stole everything, made it hard for the small guy to make it, and were proud, sat back and smiled about it all. I won’t even mention how Karabaghtsis started getting most all the good jobs...anyway, all of this together created a situation to where it’s hard to be patriotic, or even think of protesting against this or that injustice. Like after the last presidential election. People protested, took to the streets. And what happened? Our Karabaghtsi leaders took care of everything, if you know what I mean. Several of our fighters, our patriots, are in prison. When you imprison leaders, it’s hard to organize protests and the like. The Turks did the same thing in 1915.

“And we demonstrated, by the thousands, a year after the flawed presidential elections,” he continued. “Our so-called leaders did their best to keep people uninformed, so they wouldn’t find out about the demonstrations. Not only that, they stopped transportation to and from the regions, so people couldn’t come to Yerevan and take part. ‘Administrative resources,’ they call it...”

“Who is going to protest?” the other continued. “Armenia is full of Karabaghtsis. For sure, they won’t protest. And there are lots of Diaspora Armenians here now. This is fine on one hand, but are they going to take to the streets against injustice? No way, not more than a few. They all have money, or are at least comfortable, and comfortable people don’t protest, they just talk. Remember the rich Armenians of Van, of Istanbul? They thought because they had money nothing could happen to them. Then, they found out...”

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A request (demand) by the team from Karabagh participating in the “Hye Aspet” program on National Television has turned into a major discussion in Yerevan with musicologists and others trying to find out just who wrote the lyrics to the song “Cknagh Hayastan” (wonderful, marvelous Armenia). It happens that the song lyrics were written praising the mountains and nature of Armenia, but the Karabagh participants insist the lyrics are about Karabagh, and want to sing, during the program, “wonderful mountains and nature of Karabagh,” etc., in spite of the lyrics being otherwise. The debate even reached the Culture Ministry, where workers have more or less given up on finding out who wrote the lyrics, knowing that in the end the team will do what they want, and no one will have the nerve, program judges included, to question the Karabaghtsis.

Friday, July 17, 2009

"We're in a tough neighborhood," the musicologist said. "Our best friends are the Iranians. But I don't like them buying houses in the city center, and marrying our girls. And haven't you been to the big markets in Yerevan, and heard what language is being spoken? Not Farsi, which is a nice language, but Azeri Turkish. They are from the north of Iran, and many lived here before the war.

"And then there's the Georgians. I heard that the police caught a Georgian architect trying to blow up St. Hripsime church, because it's the oldest church of its type in the world, just a little older than a similar Georgian church. The Georgian wanted their church to be the oldest, so he was going to blow up St. Hripsime to take care of the matter.

"We know the Georgians won't do anything good for Armenia. The Turks have a plan to take control of northern Georgia, and create a bridge into Central Asia. They're already buying land in and around Batumi. The Georgians have agreed to give the south of their country...Javakhk and the Turks and Azeris. It might stay Georgia in name, but Turkey and Azerbaijan will control everything but Tbilisi.

"And then there's the Turks. Does anybody really think they have any plan other than our destruction? First of all, do you know what they're doing in Javakhk? They're paying families of Meskhetian Turks $50,000 each to settle in Javakhk.

"If the border between Turkey and Armenia opens, we're finished. It's true that the border being closed harms our economy. But that's better than what would happen if the border opens. Picture this. There are nearly three milllion Islamized Armenians in Turkey. All the Turks would have to do is choose which ones they wanted to settle in Armenia...they could choose 100,000, or more, even half a million...and pay them to come to Armenia. They wouldn't choose Armenians that showed any sign of patriotism, just those who would come to Armenia and start making demands..."We need radio stations, schools, books, it's too hard for us to learn Armenian, so we need all these things..." At that point, you'll hear Turkish spoken as much as Armenian.

"And what influence the border opening would have on our culture, goes without saying..."

Monday, July 13, 2009

A high-powered attorney, formerly associated with the Justice Ministry, was noticeably agitated as he spoke, saying, “The only honest person at the Justice Ministry, someone with a very high position, was asked to resign. When he protested that he had done nothing wrong, he was told, simply, ‘you have no choice.’ When he refused to resign, they opened a case against him, inventing charges that had nothing to do with reality. Now he’s no longer with the ministry.

“This is what’s going on in Armenia today. And under our current leadership, it’s getting worse. Why are there people leaving Armenia today, who have no financial problems, and are doing, in general, fairly well? Because of injustices like this. People who have talent, and this goes for all fields and walks of life, science, culture, you name it, are often under pressure to not speak up, to sit by and watch as untalented, dishonest people get to the top. It’s not easy for someone with talent and brains to sit by and watch as monkeys become kings.”

As we talked, Shant’s “Folk Dancing” competition played quietly in the background. The pairs, in their Armenian costumes, weren’t dancing according to the dance being played, yet, of course, were being praised by dancers and former dancers from the State Dance Ensemble, etc., those groups which in Soviet times choreographed folk dances to where very little remained of the original. Suddenly, our attention was grabbed as an Arabic song and dance was presented, as a dancer from Syria performed a dervish-style dance. I recognized the song from a cassette I had bought some 20 years earlier in Fresno, the song sung by a well known, at the time, Arab singer.

“This was the best song and dance of the night,” the attorney said. “It was pure Arabic. Whether it’s Turkish, Arabic, or Armenian, there’s nothing like the original. The Armenians tonight weren’t doing the original, and it was nothing, a failure. You see, this is another case of mediocrities in Armenia running the show, while real singers and dancers sit on the sidelines. I don’t know if Armenians were always like this, but that’s not really important. The important thing is for us to wake up, because if we don’t, when the border opens, Turkish culture will take over even more than it has already.”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Armenia continues to be a land of stark contrasts. Yesterday I went, for the first time in months, to the offices of the Aghbyur children’s journal, and spent some time looking through the last few issues. The issue with a short piece I had written about William Saroyan and his relationship with our family, in the old days near Fresno, had several pictures painted by school-age children in Armenia. Several of the pictures were good, surprisingly good, by 8-12 year-old children, especially one that reminded of village scenes painted by Minas Avetisyan, and another in the image of an illuminated manuscript, the painter seemingly a future Toros Roslin.

The same evening, on National Television, competitions took place to see who would represent Armenia in Junior Eurovision. Last year’s contestant, an Armenian girl from Baku, sang, in the words of many here, “like someone’s morkuyr (aunt).” This, while other countries featured individuals and groups who actually sang like children, after all, it is a competition for children. This year’s Armenian contestants, while being interviewed, spoke in either street slang, or mixed in English, with some acting like little mafia characters or rap stars. Even our 11-year-old guest, visiting with his parents, became disinterested and shut the program off.

While some blame our bad cultural situation on the Diaspora, some on our leaders, who love rabiz and pop, and some on forces trying to destroy our national culture, now, Armenian singers and actors who had been working in Los Angeles and elsewhere are returning to Armenia, due to the financial crisis in the US, and are appearing in serials, concerts, and the like…”with their new accents and movements, how disgusting,” as a local actor put it. “And not only that, besides the mafia serials, there’s one starring orphans, several being the sons and daughters of those in other serials…I guess they want everything, all the money, for themselves…”

In closing, a joke is going around Yerevan about an Aparantsi who can’t find a job, and who changes his approach, telling possible employers, “I’m from Aparan, but my heart and soul is in Karabagh,” referring to the general feeling here about Karabaghtsis getting so many of the better jobs in Yerevan.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

An academician friend walked through the door smiling, saying he had heard the latest absurdity going around Yerevan: “Have you heard, (pop singer) Sirusho is the Armenian ambassador to Greece? Even though this might not be true, the fact remains that in Armenia, it’s a possibility. Now that Sirusho is a member of a ‘royal family,’ and that family is from Karabagh, it’s more than a possibility.”

This statement didn’t go over very well with a Karabaghtsi visiting our home at the time. Nevertheless, the academician continued his thoughts. “Many who remember the Dark Years in Armenia, and what Levon Ter Petrosyan did during those times, think that it’s better to have these Karabaghtsis in power. But in Levon’s time, our culture hadn’t slipped to where it is today, with oligarchs promoting their girlfriends into becoming major stars, and, education was still at least fairly strong, which isn’t the case today.

“And you can’t say that Karabaghtsis aren’t favored when it comes to getting jobs, good jobs, in banks and the ministries, especially in Yerevan,” to which the Karabaghtsi answered, “This is because they’re good at math, and are better workers,” to which the academician said, “I’ve seen Karabaghtsis working in banks who barely spoke Armenian, and had no experience in banking at all, so what are you saying? Karabaghtsis and oligarchs, together, are ruining our country.”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

An anti-Dashnak said, “How was it that after 1918, when Armenians had the Turks on the run, chasing them out of Armenia, from Aparan, Sardarabat, and elsewhere, that by 1920 the Dashnaks signed the Treaty of Alexandropol, giving the Turks the right to overlook Armenia’s railway system, and to prevent Armenians from returning to Armenia? The Dashnaks never should have signed that treaty. It was the Soviets, disapproving of the Alexandropol treaty, who signed the Treaty of Kars, which wasn’t all that great but was definitely better than Alexandropol…”

Such continues the conversations being heard daily in Yerevan, all connected to the possible opening of the border with Turkey, and its positives and negatives.

“We’re not ready for it, the border opening,” a Dashnak said. “Between globalization and a government that propagandizes rabiz and pop music, culturally speaking we’d go under in a second if the border opens.”

A note about Bishop Nerses Bozabalian, who died recently after being beaten by intruders at his apartment in Holy Echmiadzin, as told by three elderly women in the courtyard at St. Gayane church, where the hogihangist took place:

“Bishop Bozabalian was going to be elected Catholicos,” one of the women said. “He had passed the first round of voting, and we all thought he was going to be elected. Then ministers and others started mixing into things, and the result was, Bozabalian wasn’t Catholicos.”

Another commented, “He was a man of the church, an honest man. It’s obvious there were those who thought he wasn’t the right man for the job, as he wouldn’t have agreed with a lot of what’s going on these days.”

Continuing, the third woman said, “Why haven’t they found the guilty? Who were the guilty? Nothing is even being announced, possible suspects, nothing. And it’s disgusting to me, that hoodlums were able to get to a bishop’s apartment right on the grounds of Holy Echmiadzin. Remember the old walls around the vank, which they decided to tear down in 2001? Do you think they would have gotten to his apartment if that old wall had been there, with guards at the gate, like in the old days? No way.”

Friday, June 26, 2009

“Sometimes I like to talk about the past,” the Diaspora Armenian said, “just to forget about the situation Armenia is in today. You look around, we’re at peace, and Yerevan, at least the city center, looks like a European city, the streets and coffee shops full of young Armenians and hundreds of tourists. But think about what’s going on around us. It won’t be today or tomorrow, but in the future, Georgia and Azerbaijan will be in NATO. Our only friend, Russia, will be unable to help us, with Georgia blocking the way. We need to stay close to Iran, as our interests are closer than most realize.

“And then there’s the Turks. I’m worried that our government will agree to open the border with Turkey, if the opportunity arises. They’ll do anything to stay in power. I know it’s not easy, playing ball with Turks, Russians, the US, and Europe, but making crazy deals with the Turks is the last thing we need. Here we are, sitting in a nice coffee shop. If they open the border, who will be sitting at the next table but Turks, and there will always be some of our girls, with either financial or moral problems, ready to be there sitting with them. Our youth is already listening to rabiz, Armenchik and the like, which is just a poor imitation of Turkish music. These lovers of rabiz, and there are plenty, will welcome the Turks and their culture with open arms.

“This music, if you can call it that, is a slap in the face of people like Komitas and Toumajan, who saved our folk music from being totally lost. We owe Komitas more than people realize. If you look at the music he saved, his work, it is of a higher, more refined quality than others who did similar work. He was a genius. People say that Komitas, before being sent to the asylum in Paris, spent time in a Turkish asylum, because rich Armenians wouldn’t give the money needed to send him to a good hospital. I can picture what the Turks did to him there.”

Again speaking about the possibility of opening the border with Turkey, our friend continued: “If the border opens, and what happens here is what I think will happen, I’ll never return to Armenia. I’d rather live in the US or Europe, or even Turkey. I am Vanetsi, on both sides. I might consider living there, maybe in the same village my mother was from.

“My parents were both in Van in 1915. After the defense of Van, they both came to Eastern Armenia, then returned to Van with the Russians, and stayed there until the Russians left. They were there when Aram Manoukian declared the Van region independent, which lasted a month or so. There was also a Dashnak named Hambartsumyan who declared Van independent, again lasting just a month. They even printed their own money.

“Aram Manoukian was Karabaghtsi. Ruben Ter Minasyan, another important commander, was from Javakhk. At the time, Dashnaktsutyun considered it of the utmost importance to maintain the regions of Van and Moush, to make Armenia complete, and they came from everywhere to help.”

Commenting on the fall of Kars, he said, “It wasn’t the Dashnaks’ fault that Kars fell. Khatisyan was in Kars during the fighting, waiting for word on what to do. Then the Russians took Eastern Armenia, so Khatisyan had no say. He signed a treaty, which in fact meant nothing, as the Dashnaks had given up the government to the Russians. But keeping Kars was impossible, with the Russians advancing from one side and the Turks from the other.”

Then, quite seriously, he added, “What the Turks didn’t finish in 1915, they’ll finish in 2015. And without firing a shot. Just by opening the border.”

Note: As Shoghaken will be leaving shortly for a folk festival in Slovakia, the Yerevan Journal blog will take a short break, and will resume on July 9.