Vardavar in Los Angeles?

I’ve been thinking it would be really fun if Armenians in LA started publicly celebrating Vardavar in Los Angeles.  It might even catch on beyond Armenians.  If the city of LA were to organize a block or two set aside for Vardavar festivities in Little Armenia, I think it would be quite popular.  Glendale could do the same.

What is Vardavar?  Well to give you a hint, the Americans that live in Armenia tend to call it Bucket Day.  It’s in the middle of the summer, 14 weeks after Armenian Easter, and it involves a lot of water.  Basically, kids in Armenia have license on that day to splash anyone outdoors with water, and they take full advantage of the opportunity.  They fill buckets with water to splash each other and any adults brave enough to venture out, and some now use water guns and balloons.  It can be quite refreshing on a hot day to get drenched – you just have to prepare by either leaving your electronics at home, or putting it in a ziploc.  That’s why it might make sense to cordon off a zone which is set aside for this, and anyone entering could do so at their own risk.

Vardavar is on July 27 this year.  Time to spread the tradition??

Great birthday party for Yerevan

Sunday was Yerevan’s birthday…  her 2,794th birthday to be exact.  Yes, Yerevan was founded thousands of years ago, even before Rome!  Though Yerevan’s fortress of Erebuni didn’t grow quite as fast as Rome, the city has a very long history.

It was one of my favorite days ever in Yerevan.  Why?  They closed all the streets in central Yerevan.  It was awesome!  People were having a blast on every single street, walking in the middle of the road, bicycling, rollerblading, standing around.  The whole center was packed, and events were going on all over.  At one point I saw a large crowd coming down Aram Street and assumed that one of these events had just ended, but as I got closer to the source, I saw they were all coming out of Republic Square subway station.  The metro was the only way to get into the center of the city, and it was great to see so many people using it.  I really wish they’d expand the subway system and close down some of the streets, so that more people could use it regularly, and we could get some of the cars off of the roads.

At night there was a lot of fireworks, and the festivities drew to a close.  I guess the party in 6 years (2,800th birthday) will be huge.  Put it on your calendars!

Janapar Trail in Karabakh ready for more hikers!

Janapar Trail - Zontik Waterall

I spent some quality time in the Republic of Mountainous Karabakh this year, hiking on the Janapar Trail and along with the help of others, we whipped the trail markers back into shape.  The trail is now not only very well marked, there’s a whole trail guide online (which I highly recommend taking along), high resolution topographic maps, and even an iPhone/Android app that can be used to follow the trails without even looking up from your phone screen!  Hikers from Israel, Russia, Austria and Belgium have already hiked the newly worked on trail, and no doubt others who I haven’t heard about.

It’s a beautiful time of year to hike in Karabakh, but I realize most people reading this won’t be able to make it over there before the winter.  You do, however, have loads of time to plan a great hike next year!  The trail takes you from the southernmost city of Hadrut, all the way up to Stepanakert.  The sights and nature along the way are really beautiful, and the hospitable people are even more so.  Your hike will be unforgettable, unless you accept too much of the mulberry vodka hospitality, and your memory is impaired by drinking too much.

The hike takes a week, and each night you’ll end up in a different village where you can stay the night at a villagers home if you don’t want to bring your own camping gear.  It’s not terribly difficult terrain, you’re hiking in the foothills, and most of the time the trail is wide and clear.

So plan on spending a little time hitting the trail on your next visit to Armenia!!  And meanwhile, please help spread the word about the Janapar Trail…  posting the link to the facebook page, emailing it to friends and talking about it will all help spread the word.  Here are the important links – please visit the facebook page and like it!

Turkey Agrees to Pay Armenians Reparations!!

Alright, so Turkey hasn’t agreed to pay reparations yet, but I’m extrapolating from their own hypocritical actions which were highlighted in the NY Times this week in the article “Seeking Return of Art, Turkey Jolts Museums“.

But seriously, if you read the article, your mouth will be left agape at the hypocrisy and how everything they are saying, if applied to the Armenian case, would mean they should give us all our lands and property back.  Here are some of their arguments:

  • Turkey can judge art objects to belong to Turkey without any proof – and then it is up to the person who owns it to prove it is not excavated from Turkey somehow.
  • Turkey’s director-general of cultural heritage and museums, Murat Suslu said “We only want back what is rightfully ours.”
  • Turkey is now citing a 1906 Ottoman-era law — one that banned the export of artifacts — to claim any object removed after that date as its own.  So Turkey openly is admitting it is the beneficiary of all Ottoman wealth – and in our case debts.
  • Thievery and looting are wrong, Turkey says, no matter when they occurred.  They even are going back to object removed in the 16th century!!  In other words, there is no statutes of limitations on these crimes.  Certainly that would apply to the little case of our genocide as well.
  • They’re even claiming art treasures dug up in Lebanon or other countries, because they were part of the Ottoman Empire when they were removed.  So we can likewise demand reparations for later losses of property in the Middle East by the Diaspora because they were forced out by the Ottoman Empire.

Ironically of course, none of the art that Turkey seeks the return of is even created by Turks, it was all stolen by Turks when they arrived in Anatolia.

Our demands for reparations and land need to start becoming more vocal, and all of these Turkish policies need to be used against them.

Have a drink Armenia, you’re 21 today!

Yes, it seems like forever, but Armenia is just 21 years old today (well, the current independent Armenia anyway).  If Armenia was a Californian, she’d only today be allowed to take her first drink.  It’s been a crazy ride, and certainly there have been growing pains, but there’s no question she’s come a long, long way.

After 70 years of pseudo-communism, the Russian Empire (USSR) collapsed again, and Armenia found itself independent again.  Sure we’d voted for independence, but we only really got it when everything fell apart.  While the USSR was collapsing, Armenia was dealing with the aftermath of the catastrophic Spitak/Gyumri earthquake of winter ’88/89 still, Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan, a conflict with Azerbaijan that was turning to full-scale war, a blockade by both Azerbaijan and Turkey combined with tenuous links to an unstable Georgia and even more tenuous links to Iran at the time.  That, plus the complete collapse of the Soviet economy, which arguably hit landlocked, blockaded Armenia harder than anyone else.

Some of these problems were handled much better than others.  The Karabakh war ended with freedom for Karabakhtsi Armenians, albeit with no international recognition.  The borders with a now stable Georgia and Iran allow a relatively normal flow of goods.  We have electricity again, and natural gas, and petrol.  Everything has been privatized and people are doing business.  Thousands and thousands of earthquake victims were given new homes.  Ties with the Diaspora have been reborn – though again with some hiccups.  Armenia went from firing a Minister of Foreign Affairs for mentioning the Armenian Genocide, to actively lobbying for its recognition worldwide.

One big failure was the poor reception most Armenians from Azerbaijan received.  Hundreds of thousands should have been welcomed and incorporated into the new republic, but most were driven out as much by discrimination about these refugees who spoke little Armenian overall as by the completely collapsed economy.  Additional hundreds of thousands have left due to the same poor economy.  In the early days that economic failure was no fault of Armenia, and today the economy has grown many times over from that base.  But it should have grown much much more, and would have if it hadn’t been for the stifling effects of corruption.

The early 90s were a time when the people made great sacrifices – truly great and heroic sacrifices – for their new country.  They lived with a couple of hours of electricity or water a day.  They lived somehow without money.  They climbed 15 story buildings to their dark freezing apartments, and carried their water up with them.  They made these incredible sacrifices gladly, for themselves and for Karabakh, where they sent many of their boys to fight for its freedom, many never coming back.  When they saw that their leaders were not sharing in their deprivation, and were in fact helping themselves at the people’s expense, disillusionment set in, and the tide of emigration became a tidal wave.  People who should have been building this new nation, people who should have fighting all that was wrong with society, they left and left.  The young especially, and the young men even more so.  Combined with a large drop in the birthrate, Armenia now faces a demographic problem that it yet has to solve.

So much more has happened, and many books will be written about it all.  The nuclear power plant being restarted, the presidential re-election that Levon Ter Petrossian stole, as well as banning the Tashnags and dual citizenship, the good relations Armenia shares with three very conflicted world powers (Russia, the USA and Iran), the construction boom that transformed the heart of Yerevan, and then ended with the world economic collapse, the presidency of two consecutive presidents of Armenia from Karabakh, the lifting of the ban on the Tashnags and dual citizenship, massive growth in tourism and IT, and so much more…

Armenia is now deep in talks to create a free trade zone and eased visa regime with the EU.  That’s huge.  It’s also talking about free trade with Russia, Georgia, and even Iran.  It has created a stable, independent and democratic Karabakh.  Big changes are happening.  Turkey is becoming more and more tolerant of the word genocide, and recognition and open borders will come.  That will be another game changer.  If they have any decency, they will offer reparations of all kinds, to make up for our loss of life, culture, land, livelihoods…

I can’t imagine where Armenia will be in another 21 years, but I have hye hopes ;-)   (forgive the pun)

Azerbaijan rewards murderer of Armenian

In case you’ve somehow missed the story, here’s a quick summary.  In 2004 an Azeri military officer and an Armenian military officer (among many others) were attending a NATO Partnership for Peace language training course in Hungary.  The Azeri officer, named Ramil Safarov, says he felt that the Armenian officer had in some way insulted Azerbaijan.  Whether that was simply by being Armenian or by saying something is not clear.  What is clear is that that night, Safarov went and hacked the Armenian officer to death while he slept, almost severing his head.  He was sentenced to life in prison by Hungary.

About a week ago it was announced that Azerbaijan may be buying three billion Euros worth of Hungarian bonds.  Yes, 3,000,000,000 Euros worth.  Armenia heard rumors that Azerbaijan was trying to get Safarov returned to them, and called Hungary on it, which denied it up to the last minute.  Then Hungary sent him back to Azerbaijan anyway.  Azerbaijan had apparently promised that Safarov would have to spend at least 25 years in jail before being eligible for parole, based on Azeri law.

A jet was charted from Azerbaijan to pick up their new national hero.  He be brought back, given a free apartment, 8 years of military back pay, and a promotion.  He had a meeting with the Minister of Defense, and the President put a photo of this “national hero” on his Facebook page.

What are we to make of all of this?  We know that Azerbaijanis hate Armenians for merely existing.  They’ve made this abundantly clear.  They try to wipe our existence off of the face off the earth every way they can.  They’ve destroyed centuries old Armenian masterpiece khachkars in Hin Jugha, Armenian monasteries, declared that all Armenians everywhere in the world are enemies of Azerbaijan, and have forbidden any ethnic Armenian from any country to visit Azerbaijan, unless and Azeri organization can literally guarantee their safety.  This is their stated policy, and they have told me this in person at their embassy.  They are saying in no uncertain terms that their people are bloodthirsty, murderous animals, who will slit Armenian throats at every opportunity they get – much like they did in Sumgait and Baku most recently in the late 1980s as they hunted Armenians to death from door to door as the police stood by or helped.

The Armenian President suspended relations with Hungary immediately and demanded the international community condemn this act.

His first action was correct, his second, meaningless.  We don’t need their condemnations, we don’t need their opinions.  Azerbaijan is a spoiled brat, that wants every one of us dead.  They also continue to threaten war to retake Karabakh.  Enough is enough.  It is so abundantly clear that the Armenians of Karabakh can never live under any sort of Azeri rule or supposed autonomy, and that the word and guarantee of the Azeri government is worth less than a pile of cow manure.

Armenia must recognize Karabakh’s independence immediately.  No more negotiations, there is nothing to discuss any more.  Azerbaijan is not a country that can be trusted.  Not when it promises to keep a murderer in jail, not when it promises Karabakh autonomy, not when it has one Armenian within its reach.

It is game over.  If the international community wants any outcome other than Karabakh independence, let them come and attack Karabakh themselves.  They’re worthless, their words are even more worthless, and we need to learn that nobody will take care of us but ourselves.

Armenia must recognize Karabakh today, and tell these hypocritical countries that are expressing dismay at this action to put their money where their mouth is and recognize Karabakh’s independence, just like they did Kosovo.

You can visit the house I stole from you… ie Western Armenia

I just got a trip report from my father, who took a trip through Cilicia and Western Armenia.  It reminded me of the trip I took back in 2004, which was much the same route.

It’s a very strange thing to experience and look back on.  I imagine it’s much like one day your house is attacked by a band of thieves, who kill some of your family and move into your house.  Then, many years later they tell you that for a price you can visit your old house, which you certainly can’t have back.  And you do.  You can’t help but wonder, but want to see what it was you lost.  You go back and although they’ve remodeled and added on some new wings and torn down some of the old sections, you can see the room where aunt Ester and uncle Khosrov were murdered.  You can sit in the huge yard and marvel at the fruits and veggies.  Your hosts will be kind enough to offer you tea.  After you’ve paid for your Turkish visa, hotels, transport and food…  it’s a bittersweet experience.  Years have gone by, and I still don’t know if it was more bitter or sweet.

Nevertheless, 2 days ago, as we drove past the Ararat Valley on the way to Karabakh, I was remarking how this was the only real, large valley we have left as Armenians.  That in Turkey it was one after another, many much larger.  It stunned me.  To see it on a map is one thing, to drive through…

Yesterday, driving through Karabakh, and hiking up to Gtichavank again on a beautiful mountain, we only knew that this land was ours, and we could never let it go…

Summertime, Karabakh, Janapar Trail

It’s the middle of summer in Yerevan.  The weather has been great lately, not too hot, but nice and warm.  I’ve been on the road a lot, and really enjoying the countryside.  You forget just how beautiful the landscapes can be, and the wildflowers in the early summer are something else.  This year saw more rain than usual, so I think the wildflowers were better than ever.

I spent a few weeks in Karabakh in June, hiking on the Janapar Hiking Trail.  Again, I can’t tell you how many wildflowers, butterflies, crazy bugs and amazing landscapes I saw.  It had been a while since I’d spent time in villages as well, and it was really nice.  The slower pace of life, with people living off the land and producing almost everything they need.  I got to eat at people’s homes where virtually everything on the table was grown and produced there.  From the fruits and vegetables (obviously) to the wine and the honey.  You can see a lot of photos of the Janapar trail on the Facebook page.

So why haven’t I been blogging more often?  Well I didn’t intend to be a lone blogger on this page.  Over a half a dozen others agreed to blog – but this year only one post was made by someone other than me.  I enjoy blogging more when there are other voices on the page.  So I’m putting the call out again…  anyone want to join?  There’s less pressure to write all the time, and this site already has a pretty good audience.  Anyone who’s interested in writing should let me know, regardless of your background or where you live.  Let’s talk

Smoke free coffee and sandwiches

Long overdue in Yerevan is a spot for a coffee and a sandwich, salad or bagel… without cigarette smoke!!  It’s July, it’s hot out, and although I love the outdoor cafes, this cool new air conditioned cafe is a long overdue option in the Yerevan food scene.  Normally I go to outdoor cafes in the summer to avoid the smoke, but even sitting outdoors the smoke is ever present.

Say hello to Green Bean from lump sum.  They go to great lengths to secure the cleanest ingredients they can – organic when possible.  The salads are great, plus they have sandwiches, bagels and some baked goods which I haven’t tried yet.  Coffee (including to go), beer, and some other drinks round out the simple menu.

Literally a breath of fresh air.

http://thegreenbean.am

Give Syrian-Armenians space

There is a large Armenian community still in Syria, though it has been reduced quite a bit mostly by emigration to the west.  Now that the situation in the country has deteriorated rapidly, many have been applying for Armenian citizenship as a backup plan, and many others have thinking about or actually moving to Armenia.  There is already a community of Syrian Armenians in Armenia who have been doing business in and living in Armenia for many years, which helps to some degree in encouraging others to come.

Most of the immigrants will no doubt want to live in Yerevan, but as an alternative, they should be given another option.  Many of them are part of a tight-knit community and it may help to give them the opportunity to recreate their community here as something of a Nor Haleb.

Perhaps a town close to Yerevan like Armavir or Ashtarak could be the focus of official resettlement?  Or something further like Ijevan or Shushi?  Open a school there where Western Armenian is the language of instruction, but Eastern Armenian is also taught.  Convert a building into a community center for them.  Make them feel welcome and have a real and familiar community rebuilt so that they don’t move on from Armenia as soon as they possibly can, but instead put down roots and establish themselves in their homeland…

Little Armenia Walk of Fame

Little Armenia is a fairly large designated neighborhood in east Hollywood.  The northern boundary of the neighborhood is Hollywood Blvd itself.  It also has Sunset Blvd running through the center of it, and Santa Monica Blvd is the southern boundary.  Many of the Armenians who first moved to this neighborhood have moved on to Glendale, Burbank and the Valley, but a sizable number remain.  Some of my favorite Armenian businesses remain here – most of them revolving around food.  The neighborhood doesn’t have particularly great visibility however other than some Armenian signs and one nice church that’s a bit tucked away.

Hollywood Blvd is famous of course for among other things, it’s Walk of Fame.  The black sidewalks with pink stars that are dedicated to some of the most famous people in the entertainment industry.  That sidewalk, in the central part of Hollywood is a must visit for tourists, and the stars stretch many blocks until they end at the world famous Hollywood and Vine corner.  Four (somewhat long) blocks east of that is where the official “Little Armenia” neighborhood starts.  I think it would be great PR for Armenians if we built our own Little Armenia Walk of Fame on our section of Hollywood Blvd.  Just one block should be sufficient.  We could give stars to really famous Armenians, including Cher (who already has a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star to the west), System of a Down, Kirk Kerkorian, William Saroyan, Charles Aznavour, etc.  Same type of idea, but maybe the stars could be Armenian in design – we have beautiful 5, 6 and 8 pointed stars carved all over Armenia we could take inspiration from.  Just as fun would be to have hand and footprints of those who get stars in cement, like at the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd.

If we made this happen, it would be a great way to highlight Armenian contributions to the US and the world.  It would educate Armenians and Americans, and I hope would get mentions in many guidebooks for tourists to head a bit east to see this.  Choosing the right block would be tricky, but it would have to be on Hollywood Blvd for sure.  You could go for the westernmost block of Little Armenia, to put it closest to the original walk of fame, I do wish there were more Armenian businesses there though.  You could put it on the block between Mariposa and Alexandria, or Alexandria and Kenmore.  Those have a few Armenian businesses, and are close to the nice Armenian style St. Garabed Church.  And you could go to the easternmost block of Little Armenia, between Edgemont and New Hampshire or Vermont.  This is below the very nice Barnsdall Park, right by the popular Los Feliz area, and still pretty close to the Armenian Church.

Can’t you see the Little Armenia Walk of Fame already?  Can we make it a reality?

Midnight at the Museum, Rose Day and Gay Haters

Tumanyan Museum on Yerevan Museum Night

Saturday night was the annual museum night in Yerevan.  So many museums to go to – all free!  From 6pm until midnight you could go to your favorite museums, and they were all having events coinciding with museum night.  The result?  The streets were packed all over downtown with people and families walking.  The museums of course were even more packed than the streets.  It was really really great, as everyone was having a great time.  The only downside was that it may have been too successful.  It could be hard to see much in the museums, since the crowds were so large.  It’d be great if they would make this a monthly event, but perhaps that would hurt revenue too much?  If that’s the case, how about making it at least twice a year.  Something like this early in the winter would be really nice.

Yesterday (May 20) was Rose Day – an annual celebration of Sayat Nova’s birth – though I have conflicting dates for his birth.  In any case, this celebration was started by Hovhannes Tumanian while he was still in Tiflis and it carries on to this day.  This year celebrated Sayat Nova’s 300th birthday.  The mayor of Yerevan participated in a march down Sayat Nova Ave, to the Sayat Nova statue.  There was music, girls in traditional costumes.  It was cool.

Today there was a march of tolerance in Yerevan.  There have been two late night attacks on a bar in Yerevan known for being accepting of people of all sexual orientations, and this march was to show support for tolerance.  It seems strange to me that a small Aryan group here would target the gay community.  It’s even stranger that the Tashnagtsutyun seems to be backing the attackers publicly.   Two Tashnag politicians have bailed out and publicly supported the attackers, and I heard there was a Tashnak anti-tolerance group following the marchers.  Disgraceful.  I hope the US Tashnagtsutyun stands up strongly against this kind of attitude and violence.  Sexuality is not a choice, and therefore no amount of discrimination and violence has ever managed to “stamp out” homosexuality.  It never will.  Trying to force people into the closet only creates miserable people and broken families and marriages.

The fact that there is an Aryan group in Armenia confuses me.  Armenians and other people from the Caucasus are beaten to death in Russia by white supremacists there for being “black”.  So does this Aryan group in Yerevan agree that Armenians are inferior to Russians?  I’m really curious about this.