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Mouradian: Armenia: The Cold Realities

The taxi cuts the cold night in Yerevan like a razor blade as it speeds through silent streets. The driver, Ashot, had begun criticizing the authorities while we were putting my luggage in the trunk, and stop he did not. “Welcome to Armenia! This country is run by people who couldn’t care less about the average citizen.”

How much time does it take you to finish something like that, we ask, pointing to the intricately carved ornament in front of him. “Depends on my mood. If I am in good spirits, 3-4 hours.”

He charges, “When it comes to the responsibilities of the citizen, we are in Switzerland; when it comes to duties toward them, it’s a jungle here.” A recent law making car insurance mandatory for all cars is his first example. “I have a car in my driveway that I have not driven for 20 years. It has to be insured, they say, even if I will never drive it. So far, so good. But insurance costs you a leg and an arm, and the minimum wage cannot even sustain a dog here.” He stops at a red light, turns to me, and continues, “I work day and night and can hardly support my family. We can’t afford keeping the heat on these days. We turn it on, warm the house a bit, then turn it back off.”

A dozen similarly themed stories later, we are almost at my hotel. “Enough about Armenia, though,” he mutters. “How is life in America?”

***

Our group heads to Geghard the following morning. In part carved out of a mountain, the 13th-century monastery has something for all the senses—and more for the spirit.

In the freezing cold, we are greeted by a few women selling bread and homemade jams. They pose behind the tables they have set up as the TV crew films them and the rest of us take pictures. Can we record an interview with you, we ask one of the women. “I’d rather not because I will only complain, and you won’t be able to resolve our problems,” she says, with a kind smile.

Inside, we are reminded of the monastery’s perfect acoustics as the Geghard Vocal Quintet performs for our group, their beautiful voices embraced by the centuries-old walls and ushered to the dome, and beyond.

***

In Dilijan, a beautiful summer resort some 20 kilometers north of Lake Sevan, we visit Grisha, a local woodworker. His workspace is uncluttered and cozy. Who said a carpenter’s door is always broken? On the wall behind him, he proudly points to a photo of the Christmas tree at the White House with then-president Bill Clinton and his family posing next to it. Underneath the framed picture is a letter from the White House thanking him for his beautifully carved ornaments.

YouTube Preview Image
A short video of the sights and people of Armenia from our recent trip, prepared by Liana Aghajanian of Ianyan Mag.

Grisha tells us he learned the craft from his father, that he’s been carving for a living for 15 years now. How much time does it take you to finish something like that, we ask, pointing to the intricately carved ornament in front of him. “Depends on my mood. If I am in good spirits, 3-4 hours.” Outside, darkness has already settled on the small strip with a few stores, restaurants, and a hotel. The warm lights from the stores and houses make sure the strip’s beauty is not lost on us—even in winter. It is difficult to not be in good spirits here, I think.

My mind races back to Yerevan, where Ashot likely hasn’t had any sleep, working hard to be able to turn the heat on for a few hours a day. Then I think of the energy and dedication of the five talented performers who sang for us in the freezing cold in Geghard. These men and women, each in their own way, are paving the way for a better tomorrow, despite the cold realities.

17 Comments on Mouradian: Armenia: The Cold Realities

  1. I really wish more stories like this were featured on Armenian news websites rather than the Genocide. The Diaspora has lost focus on what is most important, investing in what is left of our home land.  If we pooled our money and efforts together since 1994, I am convinced that Armenia could have been a country of well over 5 million with a GDP of well over 70 billion. Alas, ANCA and the rest of us are still trying to fit a cube into a cylindrical hole not realizing that a million Armenians- half of which are located in California i.e. always gonna be a blue state or aka not a swing state like FL – will never get the Resolution past unless we change our approach. I.e. Coalition build and work with other groups/governments. I hope after 2015 we all realize the best move is for the Diaspora is to invest in Armenia rather than holding on to the dimmer and dimmer memory of the atrocities that occurred to our grandparents.  Cause, all I know is that this generation does not have the vivid memories of their grandparents and are assimilating far faster than the past two generations. And if we don’t change our strategy now or Diaspora will unfortunately be our last chapter.

  2. I agree, Marc. I very much enjoy stories related to Armenia such as this one. The two stories posted on the Weekly website today, this one and the one on the Ararat climb, were very heartwarming and inspirational! But then if you think about it, both are, somehow, connected to the genocide… It is unescapable. The important thing is to find a balance.

  3. I don’t think I agree with you, Mark.  The diaspora has BEEN sending money to the republic since independence.  In fact, a large fraction of the economy is from remittances from abroad.  Also, the ANCA has been lobbying in the US for financial assistance to Armenia.  And you’ve never heard of Armenia Fund?  Plus, don’t think that all donation money reaches the people.  Only some of it does.  In order to insure that all of it reaches the people, you have to donate through the most secure organizations like the Armenia Fund or the Armenian Relief Society.

  4. avatar Varaz Syuni in Amsterdam // December 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm // Reply

    Mark B,

    I applaud your comment. It is SO TRUE  what you say. It is so true.

    Or if only 30-40 % of the lobby money would have been invested/spent in Armenia/Artsakh and Armenian liberated territories.

    And if  Diaspora had put some pressure on Armenian authorities at certain important moments. If only.

  5. Tro, you are conflating donations/financial assistance with investment. A big reason why Israel is where it is today is because the Jewish diaspora invested into the country – they bought bonds in debt offerings by the Israeli government so the government could invest in infrastructure. Further the Jewish Diaspora in-tandem with the Israeli government coalition built in the USA (Christian conservatives) whereby these coalition members invested in Israeli and lobbied for Israeli causes without having an ethnic kinship to the nation.  Why can’t we do that? We have a ton of historical churches and sites and an Evangelical sect – AMAA. We can do the same thing and build a non-Armenian constituent from Dallas to Hamburg.  Also, Armenia is famed for Brandy- why don’t we work with famous Diaspora members and have Kim Kardashian /Anre Agassi, etc, with a bottle of Armenian Brandy in the next Maxim spread? Why can’t some diaspora members pool their money together and buy one of the Brandy businesses and start marking it to Europe and the Americas? In addition, growing up in Queens, NY I saw how the Greek Americans stayed Greek; they went to Greece every summer and spent time in the motherland. Why can’t the diaspora build condo-hotel structures in Yerevan and Lake Sevan and do something similar. Have Camp Haistan in Armenia instead of MA?   There is a plethora of consulting reports enumerating Armenia’s strengths and potential, HOWEVER, no private sector capital has ever taken action on it? Why because the risk reward is not there. The excuse is because it is too corrupt and the payoff is not there. WELL THAT IS THE DAISPORA’S PROBLEM TO FIX. That, my brother, is true patriotism.  Unfortunately, too many of our TRUE leaders (and I am not talking about the barabs who don’t have anything to do but go to ARF and AGBU meetings) are in France, Russia and the USA minding their own law firms, medical practices and investment houses rather than fixing the Armenian nation’s biggest cancer – CORRUPTION.

  6. I agree with you Mark.  And I would add that if Armenia were to become a more attractive destination then more Armenians would repatriate to the Homeland, especially since the West may be down and out for good.  Furthermore, what Armenia really needs is the intelligentsia from the Diaspora to lend their services and talents to it in one form or another.  Much more of an emphasis needs to be placed on this issue.

  7. Mark, I agree with most of what you said in your 2nd post but I would like to add and correct a few notions that you present.

    First, let’s not compare ourselves too much to the Jewish Diaspora.  They have 2000 years of experience living in foreign nations and also accumilating great capital in that period, not to mention that they got to experience the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, etc. first hand.  While Armenia was stuck in backwards empires for the past 1000 years, such as the ottoman and Persian, jews lived with the more cultured Germans, Poles, Dutch, English, etc.  True, from 1000-1600 things were not that great for the jews in Europe but nonetheless come the 18th and 19th centuries after the so called liberation of the jews, many of them were at the forefront of industry, commerce/banking, and science.

    Armenian brandy the most famous of which is those made by Yerevan Brandy Company (YBC) is run by the French firm, Pirnod Ricard Group.  The quality is very good, I would say better than 99% of French cognacs, and it is distributed round the world.  But I really like your idea of getting Kim or Andre to do an ad for YBC.

    The rest of the article is pretty much spot on.  Armenian summer camps should be in Armenia, not random places like New England.  And Armenian businessmen if they work together can put quite a lot of pressure on the government of Armenia to not hound their business interests in Armenia.  They will get the message.  One does not need to be as rich as Kirk Krikorian or Eduardo Eurnekian.  Strength in numbers.  While there have been investments made into Armenia by rich Diaspora businessmen from Russian, Iran, Europe, South and North America, it has not been enough.

    Also, the much talked about Pan-Armenian bank needs to get off the ground and start getting Diaspora money to lend it to Armenian entreprenuers in Armenia and even in the Diaspora, but at lower rates than avg.  So it could be a business but also a charity as well, combine the best of both worlds.  Anyway, just my 2 cents.

  8. avatar Darwin Jamgochian // December 24, 2010 at 12:06 am // Reply

    The hard truth is that a noose is around Armenia’s throat. Our motherland is slowly strangling through no fault of its own. You might say that Armenia could be called collateral damage in today’s vernacular. Amazingly, every effort by Armenia and the diaspora to right a wrong is stonewalled.

  9. avatar Random Armenian // December 24, 2010 at 2:31 pm // Reply

    Darwin Jamgochian
    Can you be more specific? There are a lot of internal issues in Armenia with respect to corruption and oligarchs. These are self-made problems which do not help make Armenia friendly place to invest in.

  10. In this (part 1) article, Khachig Mouradian paints a realistic picture of the unfortunate state of Armenia.
    While we are not to blame personally for causing this misfortune directly, Mark B is correct: We have not done enough!
    I have heard many people complain that “the Russians have bought-up” this or that entity in Armenia, but when I ask them: “What proportion of your investment portfolio is in Armenia?” they realize that on average it is next to nothing!
    Camp Hayastan is a wonderful place for our youth to spend part of the summer and Mark B is also right that we should be encouraging our youth (sending them) to vacation in Armenia. We already have such good organisations and the Weekly has published articles on them (see http://www.armenianvolunteer.org and http://www.birthrightarmenia.org ) why not channel our donations to help them offer opportunities to a larger number of our youth!
    I had completed a study in 2002 “Retirement and Assisted Living in Armenia: How can we make it possible for 5% of the 600,000+ Diasporan Armenians aged 64+ to retire in Armenia?” which was supported by Armen Ayvazian in his book ՀԱՅԱՍՏԱՆ-ՍՓՅՈՒՌՔ ՓՈԽՀԱՐԱԲԵՐՈՒԹՅՈՒՆՆԵՐԸ ՀՀ ԱԶԳԱՅԻՆ ԱՆՎՏԱՆԳՈՒԹՅԱՆ ՏԵՍԱՆԿՅՈՒՆԻՑ see page 124:
    http://books.nt.am/readbook.php?ID=93&page=124&LangID=4  Why can’t we move our subsidized retirements homes to Armenia and let our elderly enjoy the Hayreniq they always dreamed about!
    Remember, every drop counts. Everything we do to help Armenia develop counts toward helping solve the present problems our sisters and brothers are facing, but our and our youths presence in Armenia will help us see the reality of Armenia ourselves and motivate us to work better towards a solution.
    Come move mountains (is the very appropriate Armenian Volunteer Corps motto)

  11. Darwin, when you say “Our motherland is slowly strangling through no fault of its own.” I don’t know a more emphatic way to disagree with you unless I start cursing or writing in all CAPS.  This defeatist and hopeless attitude from diaspora members (especially from Haiastancis!) is probably the second or third worst sickness Armenians have, amongst our numerous community traits/ailments.
    I want to caveat that for the below paragraph I don’t want to come off as a know-it-all or that my ideas are the best (even though I know most will feel this way). I just want to get the movement going through dialogue so one day we can turn talk into action.  And I promise, once I get off the waitlist at Wharton or get into a good B-School, I will go to Armenia for 4 months and get the wheels moving.
    My original point is that there needs to be a large battle cry in our community to strengthen Armenia through our diaspora. What’s more is that this action to strengthen Armenia can also create great dividends for our diaspora (unfortunately the cold truth is that most Armenians are a people who love to ask “What’s in it more me” first and foremost for them to perform “magnanimous” tasks).   Unfortunately this cry HAS to come from our current diaspora organizations, AGBU, ARF, AMAA, ARS, etc. And the reason it has to come from our existing organizations is because the last thing we need is another Diaspora group that further splinters our interests, money, many power, etc. So if you are donating and involved member in one of the aforementioned groups listen up! If the comments and dialogue continue of this page, I would love quickly enumerate a few ideas I have that can strengthen our Diaspora, Diasporan Armenianness, and Armenia at the SAME TIME. Further if you have any additional comments ideas, PLEASE POST THEM. WE NEED THIS DIALOGUE. I know there are a lot of people whp agree that we need a new approach, we just need to be heard by our “leaders”.
    To the author Khatchig Mouradian, I am sorry I am trying to hijack the comments on this page. The LinkedIn message boards have been filled with spam and solicitations from both Armenians and non-Armenians alike.

  12. avatar gaytzag palandjian // December 26, 2010 at 3:44 pm // Reply

    What Mr. khatchik Muradian has described  above  is   B  L  E  A  K ,but the stark truth.Outside of Yerevan,I go there ,have also been to NorthWesternmost area,to south East  of RA,same picture. There is poverty even in suburbun Yerevan, quite a bit.My annual pilgrimage to RA since 1989 Spring after earthquake with Mission of delivering my begged  for and received near 6 tons of Food (airlifted9 to Leninakan,now Gyumri, I saw what  was tantamount an nuclear devastation..but they have recuperated   somehow by now.This last Summer  again in Gyumri,thank God  many many bldgs were up and many repaired too. Getting back to what one compatriot above mentioned  to have  old age retirement housing (whether for local or Diasporan so9 is a good idea…but when our own house  here in Diaspora is in SHAMBLES…..
    An example,-this with no mention of names-when I saw behind church a plot a good plot of land whereon  one benefactor could extend just  the seed money, then according to my suggestion all rest -including especially those old bachelor Armenian and spinsters, widowers-who ,may have by now passed on-some I suppose- could also invest, in order with a few nurses from RA  that some alreaady here  and jobless..after erecting the motel like 12/24 room bldg with indeed facilities and visiting we have q few Armenian Coctors in the area  once a week  each…picture what I´m driving at.then MAIN ISSUE NOW…WHEN  ABOVE PASS AWAY  THEIR WORTH GOES TO UNCLE S…..whereas  if done as I ¨suggested,and still do their worth would go to Armenian Old Age homes  here and why not ARMENIA…who will be  lending  an ear to above  comptariot or to me ? heaven knows  NOBODY!!!!! ARA Baliozian comes to mind   the BBB´the bishops , Bosses and Benefactors  will  do so, hopefully after  those riches  have slipped out of our fingers the Bachelors Widoweers etc.,
    Eh …Armenians, the toughest people to deal with  it  when it comes to asking  to do ;.
    T    E    A   M     W   O   R   K  !!!!
    Hama Haigagani sIRO

  13. Bravo AR, Mark B and Antoine.
     
    Finally, well balanced, objective and truly nationalistic sentiments and ideas regarding our homeland that go beyond the typical Armenian’s peasant mentality…

  14. Hye Weekly Editor/Crew, all the joys of our holidays, and all God’s blessings for the New Year!
    FYI, I have been ‘commenting’ in the “www.atlantapost.com” re the Kobe issue… This appears to be a tertig for the members of the black race… 2 comments printed… 1 ‘under consideration’… just thought you might like to know of AtlantaPost’ stance… Manooshag

  15. avatar mike arroyian // December 30, 2010 at 9:52 am // Reply

    Why was this story written?What was the purpose of telling this story?Incase you people have been in comas for the last 10 years let me tell you something,the whole world is a mess and suffering not just Armenia.You talk as if everyone in Armenia is starving or cant turn the heat on in their homes and that is not the truth.Try coming to America and visit all the ghettos and”hoods”in every American city and you will see poverty.Do not be fooled into thinking America is some great country to live in where everyone has jobs and money because that is far from the truth

  16. The Armenian Cause  is sacred,or near so…
    Whether some European States acknowledge  it or not,(they will, by and by)our thrust ought to be non-stop and meanwhile  think,decide  to regroup around sound ,healthy and logically created establishments, such as  this servant  of the armenian people is,has been advocating, around ´PROFESSIONAL COLLEAGUES   ASSOCIATIONS¨…A 100,000 strong,.throughout the diaspora(s) …which is  where  our HUIMAN RESOURCES AND  ECONOMIC  POWER  RESIDES.Then we can talk…
    A Healthy, prosperous New year and a cozy  ,happy Armenian Xmass  to all who believe  in our OWN …..

  17. avatar Darwin Jamgochian // December 30, 2010 at 5:01 pm // Reply

    Give it up!

    As long as the United States continues to stonewall acknowledgement of  the Armenian Genocide and put its interests ahead of the Republic of Armenia, why are we Armenians wasting our time?

    Ask yourselves who gains by suppressing “The Armenian Apocalypse”? 

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