Monday, July 31, 2006
Sunday, July 30, 2006
700 Homenetmen scouts have arrived for a camp from around the world, so the city will be teeming with teenagers before they head off to the countryside. Late September is the Armenia-Diaspora conference, so the city will be crowded with a whole different demographic...
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
I am not big on following politics here, but there has been some big movement going on. I logged somewhat recently about Dodi Gago's extremely well funded new "Prosperous Armenia" party. This appears to have become Kocharian's new political base. The current ruling party - the Republican Party, was recently joined by Serzh Sarkisian, the defense minister. Neither of these was known to have a party affiliation before this. Serzh has also made comments about Kocharian and Prosperous Armenia - though I don't think Kocharian himself has even said a thing about the party officially, let alone join. Also interesting is that Kocharian presumably (according to the constitution) cannot run for a third term (never mind that he likely should not have run the first two times on the technical reason that he was not an Armenian citizen for 10 years, just like Raffi Hovanissian). So let's see how all this shapes up. The speaker of parliament (Artur Baghdasarian) was recently removed by Kocharian/Sarkisian for making too many pro-democratic/western statements, though whether he was saying this things to curry favor with the US is not clear.
In other news Justice Minister David Harutiunian "outlined on Tuesday an impending reform of Armenia’s judicial and law-enforcement systems which he said is aimed at making them more independent and less corrupt." The proposal seems likely to do nothing to help make them less corrupt.
The third bit of news - good news! Moody's (a western risk assessment company) now has a rating for Armenia. This means Armenian government bonds and t-bills have a better market, since people know what they are getting into now. Armenia's rating "BA2" is a medium level rating, equal to oil-rich Azerbaijan, and better than Georgia and Turkey.
Friday, July 21, 2006
Yerevan's labrynth cave
What a crazy discovery... I'd read about the cave in the outskirts of Yerevan that this guy has been carving for so many years now, but you have to see this place in Arinj village to believe it...
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Hoagland confirmation pressure... calling on California
"How many people died, and during what period, in the Armenian Genocide? What were the causes of these deaths?"
–Senator Paul Sarbanes
"Do you personally believe that these atrocities meet the definition of a genocide? If not, please specify why not?"
-Senator John Kerry
"I am not sure how we can continue to have Ambassadors to Armenia who can be effective unless they give recognition to the Genocide."
-Senator Norm Coleman
"What instruction would you give to Embassy staff concerning statements about the Armenian Genocide?"
-Senator George Allen
"Not only should we not play word games with a matter as serious as genocide, we should also not play political games with issues of genocide."
- Senator Barbara Boxer
"Has the State Department received any communication - written, electronic, or spoken - from the Turkish government concerning Ambassador Evans?"
- Senator Joe Biden
My personal favorite was Biden's quote... just get straight to the point... are you being bribed? :)
CALLING ON CALIFORNIANS!!!!
Of course, Bush is still pushing the nomination through, so we need to keep fighting. My sources say that the major push we need to make is to have more Californians calling Senator Boxer's office asking for her to put a block on Hoagland. To find out how, visit www.anca.org.
The bottom line is this. US needs good relations with Armenia, and conflict in the region is making our position more valuable to the US. What possible good can an Ambassador who denies history possibly do representing the US in Armenia? Believe me, after all this, Armenians will not work with this Ambassador. We have the Senate fighting our battle as a result of Armenian Americans raising their voices, but we need to keep pushing until the State Department and Bush Administration have no option but to either say it was genocide, or they are taking orders from Ankara.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Vacation is over, the world is in mayhem, LA Times gets it right!
So back in Yerevan, I officially have an office. I'll explain more later when the time is right, but I have reached a point in life that seemed impossible... I love my work. Like anything else, nothing is perfect. But the great aspects cast a huge shadow over the rest and I find myself NOT wanting to leave the office at the end of the day. This is a new thing for me.
But not all is well in this region of the world. Everyone in Armenia seems to be on the edge of their seats about the situation in Beirut. Many people are cancelling vacations there, many are waiting for family and friends to arrive from Beirut. I believe a group from Beirut made it out on a bus through Allepo just befor all the roads got bombed between the border of Lebanon and Syria.
This has stirred curiosity on how this will impact Armenia. Will this ignite a mass repatriation movement for Armenians living in Lebanon? Will this start WWIII and leave Armenia vulnerable to Turkish/Azeri aggression? Will Armenia step in and side with Lebanon and the Arab world against Isreal and the US (and Turkey)?
I noticed extra US military uniforms around the Marriott Hotel recently, as well as a sign for "WMD Crime Scene (Session)" or something like that. Perhaps just training, but with increased harsh language towards Armenia from the US, it raises concern. The firing of Ambassador Evans goes without saying. The Senates action to reject the nomination of his replacement was evidence of strong Armenian grassroots advocacy in the US. Good job guys. But this isn't the end, and who knows if the State Department will ever have the guts to say why they fired Evans. It does put their backs against the wall. But otherwise, the OSCE Minsk Group US co-chair Matt Bryza recently made comments that Armenia's government needs to follow Azerbaijan's example against corruption, which is a rediculous comment to make for a country that claims to be neutral in the NKR dispute (or once claimed). Armenia isn't perfect, but Azerbaijan? And of course, let's not forget the major slash in aid to Armenia down to $50 M. The MCC was not supposed to be granted as a replacement to aid to Armenia.
But my highlight of the week was the LA Times editorial on the firing of Evans. WOW what a great piece. Read the full text below:
From the Los Angeles Times
Speak no evil?
July 16, 2006
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU refer to Turkey's 1915-1923 genocide of Armenians, accurately, as "genocide"? In Turkey, you face a possible three-year jail term, even if it wasn't you using the term but a character in your novel. In the United States, you just lose your job as ambassador to Armenia.
The novelist is Elif Shafak, who learned last week she will go on trial for defamation of the Turkish Republic. The former ambassador is John M. Evans, who was recalled from Yerevan in May after referring to the "Armenian genocide" in a speech before a group of Armenian Americans in February 2005. As one State Department bigwig told an Armenian newspaper: "Ambassadors serve the president, and they are obliged to follow his policy. President Bush's policy as regards the mass killings of Armenians is precise."
Precisely what purpose this policy serves is clear: avoid using the most truthful word in the English language to describe an eight-decade-old atrocity for fear of offending a crucial NATO ally. As Bush's proposed replacement for Evans, Richard Hoagland, put it last month during his confirmation hearing, "Instead of getting stuck in the past and vocabulary, I would like to see what we can do to bring different sides together."
Vocabulary may not be the president's best subject — Bush himself has poked fun at his frequent malapropisms — but he's shown he knows the meaning of the word "genocide." Campaigning for the White House in 2000, Bush told Armenian American groups that "the 20th century was marred by wars of unimaginable brutality, mass murder and genocide" and that "history records that the Armenians were the first people of the last century to have endured these cruelties … If elected president, I would ensure that our nation properly recognizes the tragic suffering of the Armenian people."
It's one of the more blatant of Bush's broken campaign promises. Luckily, the Senate is showing signs of giving this rhetorical appeasement the rebuke it deserves. Half of the senators on the Foreign Relations Committee have demanded that the State Department give an official explanation for Evans' premature recall, and some have hinted that Hoagland's appointment could hang in the balance. They should block the nomination altogether until the ambassador-to-be dares to utter the g-word.
And the Bush administration should have the courage of its lack of conviction and explain forthrightly — not just to Armenian Americans but too all Americans who believe in calling evil by its proper name — why U.S. policy is being dictated by Ankara nationalists.
How I ended up in a crowded alleyway in Artashat with a watermelon in one hand and a cellphone in the other
So, I received a phone call a couple of days back. Apparently, Sunday is the day when our young cadets take their military vows or some such thing, would I like to accompany the cast to meet up with our director ? Well, of course I would! For one thing, he was indeed our darling director; a very nice guy. Secondly, I had heard so many stories, good and bad, about our army, and compulsory military service, it would be fascinating to go and have a look with my own eyes the goings-on of our armed Armenians.
As it was a group that was going, and as we were all Armenian, and - to top things off- some members of the group were girls... You guessed it, we were late. In fact, we left two entire hours later than planned. Still, left we did, and it was decided to buy a watermelon en route, so as to not show up empty-handed.
I had never been to Artashat before, and I didn't get to go exploring around the place, but it seemed like a decent-sized town. There were, as I knew, ruins nearby of two of our greatest ancient capitals - Artashat itself, and Dvin. But all that for another day; we were making our way to the zoramas or, to make use of the more commonplace expression, the "chast". ;-)
There was a MULTITUDE there. It was a narrow alley, and friends and relatives of 400 conscripts had made their way to the place. The actualy oath-taking ceremony had finished already, and the crowd was wending through cars, trucks, buses and people and more people. Oh, there was a Mormon church there, too, strangely enough. Anyway, I was given the privilege of carrying the watermelon as we tried to find our director-in-arms, and my brother called just then (cf. the name of this post; I thought it would be a cute title). We finally found the guy. Members of his family had come, too, and we spent an enjoyable few hours together afterwards.
Things in the army are... interesting. It's strict, disciplinarian, with a rigid schedule, but it seems that things are relatively easy, at least at that base the atmosphere was easy-going. Loads of conscripts have cellphones, so they keep in regular touch, even though it's not officially allowed. They are supposed to receive 1200 drams a month in pay, which they don't. They have regular exercise routines, classes on military-related and other subjects, but plenty of free time, too. They just don't really have anything to do in their free time, it seems. Weekends are relatively off. Nutrition and toilet facilities weren't up to par, though...
This was an interesting insight into the whole deal, and I especially wonder, if we have this double-citizenship thing, how the younger dual nationals might feel about serving in Armenia's army.
Paka (Goodbye) Russian!
A great sign of what appears to be a big turnaround in this trend was written about in an RFE/RL article today. There is a huge increase in those wanting to study English or in English. All I'm saying is it's past time. TV stations need to start running cartoons in English rather than Russian, movies on TV need to have Russian or Armenian subtitles, rather than Russian dubbing, etc, etc... but it appears that the inevitable is happening, and the pace is quickening. :-)
Sunday, July 16, 2006
PHOTOS PHOTOS PHOTOS!!!!!
So far I managed to upload photos from Bambir's concert, Gor's concert, and some of Nuné's concert. The rest of Nuné's will be added throughout the week since there are SO many of them. After that, there is sooooo much more to catch up on. I will keep updating. :) I'M SO HAPPY!!!!
Here's a quick glimps of what you might see:
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Importing a car VAT free?
Monday, July 10, 2006
World Cup Fever
Yesterday, I headed to Garni with some friends to visit their "dacha" (amaranots, summer house). It was quite nice to get out and just lay under the trees, breathe some fresh air, spend time in a slightly cooler place. It was also good to see a fellow American-Armenian repatriate my age, who moved to Armenia in 1998 and moved to Garni about 3 or 4 years ago. He lives there with his (also Ameriga-Hay) wife and their baby girl. They've built a very nice life for themselves, and are starting a real estate company to make it easy for other Diasporans/foreigners to buy a place in Garni. I'll let you know when the site is up, since I myself was quite tempted (as usual!).
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Shoes, Shoes, Shoes
My MO up until now has been to leave my clothes shopping to when I travel to the US about once a year. In light of this, I'm sure you'll understand my excitement when I spotted a newly-opened Skechers Shoes store on Moskovyan, adjacent to the Tumanian Museum. Two other bloggers and myself made our first visit there, along with my dog (and they even let Jessie in to enjoy the cool air-conditioning--the earns them extra points), and I bought my first pair of shoes in Armenia, and pledged to do word of mouth advertising for them, just because it is so much nicer to know that when my oxfords wear out on the dusty, hot streets of Yerevan, I don't have to wait until Christmas to get my next pair, but can walk down the street and pick up a pair.
The place was clean, with very nice service, computerized inventory, and a large choice, and surprisingly, well-priced, just slightly more than what one would pay in the US. I know that at a time when there are so many real issues to log about, a new shoe store is not the most important observation to share, but the sliver lining is that next time your suitcases are lost or delayed by the many carriers coming into Armenia, you'll have a place to buy "normal" shoes, without spending your entire vacation money on them!
Now, onto the new bakery in town--Shooshig, care to take a stab at it?
Friday, July 07, 2006
Square One opens at Zvartnots Airport
I am happy to report that those of you who have to wait for a departure at Zvartnots airport can now sit in a rather nice place and have some hot food or drinks. The views, as you can see, are fantastic. The planes coming and going, as well as Mt. Ararat right in front of you.
I am quite proud of my old repat friends Sam and Stepan, who have turned Square One into an institution in Yerevan, which now has two branches, plus caters at the US Embassy and the AUA business center. While so many Diasporans will explain to you why they can't do business in Armenia, these young Diasporans have moved here and just done it. (not to discount those who have tried and been spit out by the system here)
So now if you're taking off at 5am and want a midnight snack, you can head to the airport early and take your time... and of course if your winter flight out is delayed for weeks by winter fog, you have a place to wait it out :-)
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Out with the old, in with the new
One can only imagine how relatively parallel the image was to Paris where the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Erik Satie, or Alphonse Mucha would populate the Closerie des Lilas, Les Deux Magots or Café de Flore.
Whether meeting places for intellectuals or just art-work for walkers, old buildings have always been important in the public life of a capital city; they have always been the place to go to read, to write, to dream and to inspire.
That sensitive Yerevan culture is now breaking down, and with it, some would agree, is the intellectual streamline of the nation.
Walk through any street in Yerevan, and you are bound to bump into new and eye soaring buildings that have replaced the gorgeous artistic landscape that once adorned this city. I’m just imagining what Tamanian is doing in his grave at the moment while he sees how the city he once had developed is being completely transformed – a city that was once filled with historical and heritage buildings.
All capital cities in Western and Eastern Europe have in fact gone through these changes over time, but none of them have transformed their city so much so as to abolish the constructions of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier or even of Bauhaus school-inspired Art Deco. All cities have in fact modernized themselves over time, but none have truly destroyed or removed the gorgeous landscaping created by their edifices.
Urban developers in Yerevan are reassuring the public that all heritage building facades in Yerevan will be transferred over to a corner in the city called “Hin Yerivan” or Old Yerevan. But what a tale this is. We already know that the true value of Yerevan has diminished thanks to the disappearing of refined artists and professionals. But add to this the destruction or removal of the buildings in which they had created their work, and we are erasing the entire memory of these people and all they had represented.
The new buildings in Yerevan are pointing to the growth of a new mentality in Armenia. Yerevan is turning into an exclusively business-oriented central station. Multi-millionaires, it seems, will be the only ones to afford living and/or working in Yerevan in the near future.
It’s so sad to see how the sidewalks of Apovian or Mashtots are falling apart – stones on which many generations of intellects and professionals have walked which are now collapsing; whereas adjacent to them, the new sidewalks of the Northern Avenue are being meticulously set, colored and nurtured.
When will we learn that not everything related to the past is bad? Why can’t we have leaders of this city and this nation who can appreciate what has been and continues to be culturally inspiring in this country? New technologies and modern methods are always great, but we should never forget the past, or ignore the beauty of the old.
‘Out with the old and in with the new’ is not always necessarily a welcoming trend.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
The “Dollar” Store
Right. This had to be checked out.
It is most unfortunate that I didn’t have a camera on me, otherwise I would have posted a picture of the billboard, and also of the store. It’s all ready, and it says “My Dollar Store” right there, an extension of that big supermarket. When I tried to go in there, though, a bunch of “paredes ardakinov, minchev 30 daregan” ladies duly informed, in unison, and I quote, “Pak a!”. So, it’s closed yet, but it seems to be well-stocked in non-perishable stuff, like photo frames and shampoo, so I guess they’re buying excess stuff in bulk and selling it. For one dollar and eighty-eight cents. As a dollar store.
Well, my theory is that they’re all priced at a thousand drams, although, at the current, meandering rate, that doesn’t quite work out so well. Perhaps they’re importing everything, paying a dollar for every item from wherever, but, once in Armenia, what with this tax and that duty, they have to raise the price to make ends meet… In any case, I don’t get how they can, in the same breath, call it a “dollar” store, and mark everything $1.88. I hope the place opens soon, so that this latest turn of mysterious events in Yerevan gets solved.
A couple of stores down, at the corner of Tumanyan and Abovyan, is also a new teahouse. (When winter comes along, and the 400+ cafes of Yerevan shut down, teahouses all across the city are completely full.) It's good to see Abovyan Street improving really fast over this past year. Lots of new boutiques, teahouses, nice cafes, etc.
Monday, July 03, 2006
Sunday, July 02, 2006
So I’ve had a while to settle, and I’m getting there. I spend the days working and nights with friends. I am enjoying my summer and good for me.
The protest at the hrabarag made me feel like I was back in DC. That was nice. It was a great way to spend my birthday, especially by sharing my support for Ambassador Evans.
Another great moment in the hrabarag this week was the Meg Azg Meg Mshagouyt closing ceremonies last night of which I caught the end. I met up with the mass group of diasporans dominating the middle of the hrabarag just in time to see the end of Andre’s set and then the fireworks explode. WOW! I’ve seen fireworks, even in Yerevan. But the feeling of thousands of Armenians gathered in the center of Yerevan, and there you are with all your friends in the dead center having a blast was amazing.
Lots of diasporans continue to filter into Yerevan this week, including fellow blogger Shooshig Avakian. She’s planning a blogger party since so many of us are here. I just had coffee with Raffi K, Shoosh and Der Hova. Earlier I had dinner with Meneshian and ran into Alex and Madlene at the restaurant. I also finally met a commenter Harmick who seemed quite disappointed by the England vs. Portugal game. Sorry dude.
On that note, there are CRAZY World Cup fans out on the streets. Yerevan is like one big outdoor sports bar. Every night feels like the biggest barahandes with everyone just lounging around. People are roaming, laughing, eating, drinking, kefing, and running into each other on the streets.
Surreal moment of the day: I was sitting with my fellow bloggers at a café when I got a call from Meneshian who handed the phone over to someone who wanted to talk to me. It was Ara Gevorgyan. I did some work for him over email last year, but never met in person. So I hopped over to Hin Yerevan where they were, and as I walked in, I heard the other café across the street playing one of his songs. I entered and said hello, chatted, and he was pulled outside on the balcony for a moment to hear his song playing. It was surreal. He’s such a nice guy and very humble. And now I’m seeing him on TV on Armenian Idol or whatever it’s called. Small town.
Tomorrow, I am traveling with the AYF interns to Garni and Geghard, but should make it back in time for Edelle Hovnanian’s big bash tomorrow night at Vahakni. Also, I apologize, I do have photos of lots of this stuff, but my connection is still very weak and it's difficult to upload. When I find the right connection, EVERYTHING is going up. EVERYTHING. This includes photos of Bambir, Nuné, a fashion show, the protest, Sonya Varoujian, trips with Birthright and AYF to Haghpat, Sanahin, Khorvirap, Noravank, the AIPRG conference, you name it. It's all sitting on my desktop waiting to upload. :(