Yerevan Journal – June 2005
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A Mshetsi farmer from a village near Vardenis told the story of why his family left Moush, just before the Russo-Turkish war of 1828. At the time, he said, after a wedding in his ancestors’ village, the new bride was forced to spend the first night with a Turkish pasha. His father’s grandfather, however, didn’t accept this dishonor, so he dressed himself as a new bride, and, completely covering his face, entered the room the pasha had prepared for the new bride. He then laid in the bed and waited for the pasha, pulling a knife from under his belt and slitting the pasha’s throat. During the night, before the Turks discovered the murdered pasha, the entire family, including cousins, left the area, knowing what their fate would be had they stayed in Moush. Some, he told, settled in Hrazdan, others in the Vardenis region, and others in Karabagh. During the Karabagh war, the farmer, also a teacher, would teach in the daytime and smuggle weapons at night. His wish, he said, was to visit Moush, but not as a tourist. . . . Now, this man is farming wheat near the site of an abandoned village, over 2,100 meters in altitude, trying to help others cultivate land abandoned after privatization, when farmers could no longer afford to haul equipment or whatever was needed at this high, distant place. Near the abandoned village, several ancient khachkars stand near the memorial built for village men who had lost their lives during WW II fighting the Nazis. Close to the memorial, villagers who had driven jeeps or come by donkey and horseback were preparing land to plant potatoes, while others were gathering greens, probably to sell in the villages below. After walking through wheat fields and enjoying nature at the top of this mountain, a hailstorm finally forced us to depart the area and leave for Yerevan.
This morning while standing in a co-worker’s backyard, several fighter jets roared overhead, drowning out our conversation as the jets zoomed over southern Yerevan towards the northwest. The upsurge in recent such appearances is possibly due to the visit of two U.S. senators, seen on television praising Armenia’s military readiness. Local Armenians, however, don’t place much importance on Armenia’s relationship with NATO or the West, as was apparent with the recent sigh of relief when Russia’s Putin pressured Georgia’s president into delaying the pullout of Russia’s military base from Javakhk, the base being important both to Armenians in Georgia and the general stability of the Caucasus. This, after the recent opening of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, in which Armenian statesmen, including those not particularly known for their patriotism or honesty, showed a serious, quite somber side when asked about how and why the pipeline was diverted past Armenia, again leaving the country out of the area’s economic network and development. . . . Returning from a trip visiting farmers in the villages of Khor Virab, Vosketap, and Ararat, the appearance of a scantily dressed girl in Yerevan led to commonly heard lamentations about the state of life and morals in Armenia today, as compared to Soviet times. “In Soviet times,” a Yerevan-born Armenian said, “no girl would dress like that, not because the Soviets wouldn’t allow it, but because people had modesty, and pride. Teachers had respect then. There may have been graft and corruption, but not on the scale of today’s leaders.” He went on to tell about a talk show he had seen on National Television the previous evening, where a couple was arguing about who had run off with whom and why, with the hosts supposedly trying to iron things out with the couple. “It’s not enough they bring their movies and music (from the West), now they’re bringing their everyday culture. How much longer can we stay Armenians?”
A walk up the street from our apartment revealed an amazing amount of work going on for such a small area. Those selling fruits and vegetables seemed unusually busy, with several customers standing at each small shop and bagging up strawberries, cherries, greens, and newly picked grape leaves, stacked neatly and ready to be cleaned and put in jars for dolma. Just up the street, a driver moved a garbage truck, while someone with a shovel scooped up garbage which had gathered along the gutters of the street. Also, as one group of workers used jackhammers to prepare the way to fill in potholes, another group filled in the holes as huge rollers were driven over the filled-in holes to smooth the area out. With this much road work being done, it was apparent that a local election was underway, as when the “taghapet,” something like a district mayor, is being elected, suddenly money is found to repair roads and other work forgotten the rest of the year. In Davitashen, the neighboring district, the favored candidate, known as “Tsaghik Rubo,” was somehow defeated by a member of a more powerful political party than his own. In Yerevan, the common belief is that no election, no matter how many election observers are sent from the European Union and U.S., will result in the ruling party being removed from power, that the only way for a change of power would be in the model of Georgia or Ukraine. The latter method, though, is not favored by the population, which doesn’t want any future leader to be dependent on the whims of the West. . . . After we finished our shopping, we walked home in a light rain and got ready to take a visiting cousin to Saghmosavank, located just north of the town of Ashtarak. As we approached the monastery, our visitor remarked that with the rain continuing, it might be a good idea to return to Yerevan, yet, fortune was on our side, as the rain subsided and the monastery was revealed, which my cousin simply described as “a miracle.” After walking through the two churches, heavy with incense after a Sunday church service, we walked to our friend’s home next to the monastery, where we walked down stone steps to a wooden table and benches. From there, we had a clear view of the monastery and ravine, decorated with red, white, and yellow wild flowers, a result of Armenia’s continuing spring rains. We were then treated to village tahn, after which my cousin said he had never felt that good, that with the internet and transportation, why live in Yerevan?
A visit with a farmer in a village near Yerevan was interesting, partly because the farmer also had started operating a flour mill and has an internet business and taxi service in Yerevan. Yet, when I asked about the difficulties in maintaining such businesses, he talked about how the government and banks did nothing to help, even interfered by sending various officials asking for impossible documents, forms, and taxes. Then, he stated that with much more interference, he might consider leaving Armenia, to work somewhere where the government and laws worked with the people, not against. A similar conversation took place in an exchange shop in Yerevan, where a worker threatened to go to the U.S. and take care of children for rich people. Yet, as people gathered in front of the Marriott Armenia Hotel to bid farewell to a visiting cousin, several stated their decision to stay permanently in Armenia, that living elsewhere would be out of the question. The interesting difference was that those not wanting to leave were, for the most part, those born in the Diaspora, and those wanting to leave were born in Armenia, unfortunately not being able to earn money with the ease as those born in Europe or overseas. Also, Armenians born here have seen and heard things others know little about, such as the story broadcast this evening on Yerkir Media telling how several heroes from the Karabagh war were killed, believed by many to be by the orders of Levon Ter Petrosyan. These heroes, operating from Russia, were sending weapons to Karabagh to be used in the war against the Azeris. They had also formed a political party, and were becoming so strong, that apparently those in power in Armenia considered them a threat. The party was the precursor to “Yerkrapah.” Other killings, such as Artur Mkrtchyan and Monte Melkonian, killed in Karabagh, most probably by Armenians, also remain unsolved.
While our defense minister was meeting with NATO officials, discussing ways to strengthen ties between Armenia and the Partnership for Peace program, and soldiers serving in Iraq were shown by satellite talking with their relatives in a studio in Yerevan, I was traveling to the far reaches of Armavir, to the small village of Shenik, located near Bagaran and just this side of the border with Turkey. Shenik, populated by Mshetsis and Sassuntis, was built in Soviet days to be able to have workers for a new collective farm, and possibly to populate this dry, rocky area just across a mountain from Turkey. We talked with a farmer who grows alfalfa and watermelons, just about the only crops which grow well around Shenik. While drinking tahn in his backyard, I saw ants and bumble bees of frightening size, making the appearance of a simple wasp a welcome sight. Driving back towards Yerevan, we stopped in Vanand and Dalvorik, checking wheat fields and meeting with farmers, who were thankful for the spring rains that had at least temporarily solved their irrigation problems. In Yerevan, I found that Hasmik had added to our library with a song book by Hakop Harutyunyan, a student of Komitas, a book of Armenian games, and two more volumes of a dictionary of cities, villages, rivers, and monasteries located in and near the Armenian homeland. I was particularly fascinated by the song book, where Harutyunyan, who studied music at the Jemaran in Echmiadzin, collected lyric, work, and ceremonial songs, many of which I have heard Hasmik and her family members sing. Besides well known songs like “Dle Yaman,” “En Dizan,” and certain work songs such as “Sandi Yerker,” I was surprised to see “Nani Bala,” a lullaby I first heard performed by Hasmik on the 1996 Music of Armenia Folk Music CD. It happened that Hasmik had learned the song from this same book, in the early 1990s. After a dinner of dondur, tahn, and soup, I learned that the Central Bank had closed all but one of the exchange shops near the Yerevan Cinema, and had started to close those on Gassyan, just north of Parekamutyun Metro. Although there are positive elements of living in a land where the people aren’t suppressed by too many laws, rules, and regulations, in some cases, like the closing of the exchanges, it’s a pity there aren’t bodies of government to keep such moves more in check.
A busy Sunday started with a visit with a woman working on a Russian-English dictionary, with idioms, slang, and most everything remaining in both languages. After our meeting, in which I was informed that the current “price” for an Armenian citizen obtaining a Russian passport is around $10,000, I took a yertooghayin van down Baghramyan to the Aram Khachatryan Home-Museum, where an official from the culture division of the French Foreign Ministry was auditioning individuals and ensembles to appear during the 2006 year-long Year of Armenian Culture. As Shoghaken members waited in the dressing area, I listened to two excellent violinists, followed by a group of musicians playing a wide range of music. In fact, the range was so wide it included “Sabre Dance,” “Krunk,” “Summertime,” and, to top it off, “Silent Night.” By this time, the culture official seemed somewhat in shock, as I was, when I found out the group had become a government-sponsored group (bedagan), likely due to one of the members recently joining an appropriate political party. Finally, Shoghaken appeared, performing a twenty-five-minute array of lullabies, Sayat Nova songs, duduk and kanon solos, and dance melodies, finishing with Yarkhooshta. The official, by then, was carefully watching the dancers’ steps as he clapped along with the beat of the zurna and dhol. “I feel like I’ve gone back 1,000 years in time,” he said, as we made plans for a 2006 autumn tour of France. Departing, Hasmik and I went home and rested for all of a half hour before leaving for Echmiadzin, where Hasmik and I were to become godfather and godmother to a friend’s twenty-year-old daughter. A small group gathered in a chapel used for baptisms inside the gates of Holy Echmiadzin, as Hayr Artak conducted the ancient ceremony. Surprised I knew the godfather’s response during the ceremony, he asked if I had served in the church and, receiving a postive answer, suggested I serve in one of the Echmiadzin churches on Sundays. As other groups gathered for baptisms, we left for Yerevan, where we had ice cream, juice, strawberries, and wine with our new “saniks.” A young friend of the family, after hearing about today’s short Shoghaken concert, commented about a recent concert in France on Armenian Independence Day, saying several of the “stars” of Yerevan, after charging a hefty price for tickets, held a concert not in the hall they promised, but in the entry to the hall. As the audience stood (no chairs were provided), the singers turned on their CDs and mouthed the words, somewhat disgusting the crowd, who apparently made their disapproval known to the singers. Yet, back in Yerevan, talk shows gave opportunity for the singers to tell Yerevan Armenians about their “fantastic reception” in France.
After making arrangements with Cafesjian Foundation officials for Shoghaken’s first major concert in Yerevan, likely to be held on August 5, work took me to Holy Echmiadzin for the second time this week. After a short meeting, I returned to Yerevan and to the home place in Charbakh, in time to take part in the year’s first gathering of toot. Even though we had bought “sev toot,” this was the first I had eaten of the greenish-white mulberries which people eat and use to make the famous “tuti arak.” In Yerevan’s outskirts, where the mulberry trees are in abundance, the smell of ripening berries, not to mention those that have fallen on the streets and sidewalks, have all but taken over the town. From Charbakh, we went to the huge Malatia Shooka, one of Yerevan’s more inspiring places, where literally hundreds of sellers are crowded into a kind of side-street selling fruit, vegetables, fish, and similar items to even larger crowds of shoppers. There, cars are backed up to the street, some loaded with cabbages, others with bunches of greens, others apples, while sellers stand next to giant sacks of potatoes and small, new apples, whose abundance was overwhelming. After buying five fresh fish for under a dollar, we took transport back to Anastasavan, cleaning the fish before having dinner. Television news continued telling about the anniversary of the forced exit of Armenians from the Shahumyan district of northern Karabagh, with footage of people leaving their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs. Armenians from Shahumyan, part of which was known historically as Gulistan, complained that the Armenian government was doing nothing to get back Shahumyan, that it hadn’t been made a subject of discussion with Azeris, who feel free to claim land they had no historical tie to whatsoever. During credits, I noticed the name of Artak Ghulyan, born in Gulistan, as two of his poems had been read during the program. Ghulyan, a noted painter and architect, had designed what would have been the new church in the center of Yerevan, until the decision was made to use the design of the current church.
Aroosiak Sahakyan continued her program on National Radio today with an hour devoted to the great opera singer Armenak Shahmuradyan, born in Moush in 1878. Sahakyan talked about the importance of Shahmuradyan’s music, which was often accompanied on piano by Komitas, and Vahan Der Arakelyan, who sang with Komitas. Sahakyan played “Krunk” and other selections by Shahmuradyan, each from the CD Voice of Komitas. Sahakyan’s show takes on all the more importance due to the decision by National Radio officials to play, almost exclusively, music by modern stars, as opposed to the music of Shahmuradyan and others of the past and present who sing classical opera and folk music. I was reminded of a recent meeting with an individual working at National Radio, one with high status at the station, complaining about this sad state of affairs, hoping someone would come along and put things back on the right track. A major change in power in Armenia might help in other, similar matters, as in the case where Raffi Hovhannisyan was denied meeting with students at the Economic Institute in Yerevan. At a news conference, Hovhannisyan announced that he had made arrangements, which were accepted, to meet with students, but that, at the last minute, permission was denied. Perhaps higher-ups in Armenia fear that Hovhannisyan, if one day elected president, might do something about bribery in higher education, thus interfering with their enriching themselves at the expense, in this case, of students in institutes of higher-learning.
Last week, after Hasmik and Aleksan sang at an awards presentation in Yerevan, two university-age girls approached Hasmik and thanked her, saying, “After we suffered through models prancing across the stage and the singing of two modern stars, we finally saw something worthwhile.” In spite of the words of these girls, and many others, official culture and media continue to propagandize that young people will only listen to Armenian folk or classical music if put to synthesizer, thus more palatable to the modern ear, the result being the acceptance of those who put the music of Komitas and Ekmalian to synthesizer being considered composers. Yet, in Turkey, as witnessed on Turkish television this week, a group of folk singers began singing a song by Komitas, not even changing the words to Turkish. Then, male and female youth in the audience began dancing Anatolian folk dances, to the music of zurnas and dhols, with no sign of synthesizing or change from the original . . . something rarely if ever seen on Armenian television. It appears that the Turks, even though bent on denying the existence of Armenia and its culture ever having been present on Anatolia, seem to understand the worth of Armenian and Anatolian folk music in its true form.
While riding in a yertoghayin van, on the way to Jrvejh to eat cherries at a friend’s summer house, I witnessed a great scene where a passenger challenged a thief who had just stolen a woman’s cell phone and wallet. As the woman accused the thief, who proclaimed his innocence, a man who witnessed the crime told the thief to give back the stolen goods. After the thief refused, the man started hitting the thief, while two or three other men joined the melee. By then, the driver stopped the van, as the thief dropped the phone and wallet and ran from the scene. Justice also reigned in Armenia in the government decision not to build a new road through the “Shikahogh” forest in Zangezur. Had the government gone ahead with their plans, the unique forest, home to specific trees and animals, including parrots, would have been irreparably damaged. Not surprisingly, the transportation minister announced that the decision wasn’t influenced by the massive media and other protests, in Armenia and the Diaspora, against building the road. Another protest is needed in the case of the Nairit chemical factory, located in the Arajin Mas district of Yerevan. While visiting friends in Nork one evening, in a spot where most all of Yerevan was in view, darkness revealed the burning release of various chemicals into the air, affecting not only Arajin Mas but Erebuni, Yerort Mas, and Shengavit. Sad is the fact that the factory produces rubber for tires, while cheaper, higher quality rubber is available from Armenia’s neighboring countries.
Talking with two Armenians from Iran, both having settled permanently in Armenia, revealed a different reason for leaving their place of birth. Besides the desire of having land and living in Armenia, they said they feared what might happen should the U.S. decide to invade Iran, that Iran may end up in the same condition as Iraq. On our western borders, Turkey continues to vent their anger towards Germany for their possible future acceptance of the Armenian Genocide, while the European Union is telling Turkey to open its borders with Armenia. Our great neighbor to the north, Russia, apparently put Azeri fears to rest by saying the weapons transferred from Georgia to Armenia would only be in the hands of Russians at their military bases, that the weapons wouldn’t reach the Armenian army. Perhaps these angry and suspicious parties should take a lesson from the Azeri Turk shepherds from southern Georgia who became lost and confused in the mountains and crossed the border into northern Armenia, where Armenian shepherds took care of the Turks’ medical needs and sent them back to Georgia. On the cultural front, the ministry of culture suggested the State Dance Ensemble take on Karen Gevorgyan as their artisic director, with the current director unable to work due to health problems. Television news showed dancers and other staff stating their reasons why Gevorgyan, leader of the Bert Dance Ensemble, shouldn’t be director, one stating that Gevorgyan was “sold-out,” old news. This would be the second time the minister’s suggestions concerning Gevorgyan were denied, as several months ago instructors at the Dance Institute protested to the point that Gevorgyan’s appointment for artistic director was withdrawn. Also, after hearing one of the newest pop stars state on a television talk show she was attending the Komitas Conservatory to learn more about Armenian song and dance theory, I learned from Conservatory staff that the star had stopped attending classes, that she was using “connections” to attain her grades and eventual degree, something unheard of in Soviet times.
For the second or third straight morning, large tents cover the grounds around the meeting place of one of the sects operating in Armenia, this one unfortunately facing our view to the west. I’m not sure about the need for the tents, as grape arbors cover most of the grounds, but such is the case here. As well-dressed Armenians sing pitiful, sad songs, we close our windows, waiting for the latest gathering to come to an end. Later this morning, I went to a village just eight kilometers from the Charbakh district of Yerevan, to investigate wheat fields and an area of office buildings and stables which were for sale. Back at the farmer’s home, as we met and visited with his family, several women and girls prepared a nice lunch of pilaf, salad, potatoes, and home-baked bread, which we ate under a tree in their garden. After asking about small, red apples which I saw growing on a nearby tree, the farmer told one of his daughters to pick and wash some, the apples revealing small, pomegranate-like seeds and a sweetness unusual for apples of any kind. Our host told us about their village, named Niami, which is three percent Kyavartsi and ninety-seven percent from the Plains of Karabagh, including Kirovabad, known as Gandzak in Armenian. After concluding our business in the village, we went back to Yerevan, where I found out we were going to Charbakh for another gathering of toot. After finishing the two trees at the home place, we helped a neighbor involved in the same work, afterwards going into his home to eat some of the newly-gathered toot. It happened that a neighborhood meeting of the Dashnak party was just finishing, our friend then inviting us to stay to eat dolma with his Dashnak friends. I listened as each, during his toast to Dashnaktsutyun, told about his desire to see the land of his ancestors, an older Dashnak saying he refused to die until he could set foot in Armenian Igdir. Another told of his village in Musa Ler, now in the hands of the Turks. They decided that after each toast, the person offering the toast would sing, leading to songs about Soghomon Tehlirian and other famous Dashnak leaders from early in the twentieth century. As I looked at these determined faces, I had no doubt each would defend his country, if called upon. Later, at home, it was difficult watching the strange, foreign-looking faces of those leading Yerevan’s talk shows, mostly on National Television, and even the looks on City Hall officials’ faces as they announced the selling of land on the property of an important chemical institute in the Zeitun district of Yerevan. It happens that scientists there do experiments and work on inorganic material, with the danger of explosions always present, thus the need for the land, now sold to developers, as a buffer zone of sorts. One scientist, appearing both angry and sad, said it was obvious the government was trying to obliterate science in Armenia.
Today historian Samuel Karapetyan continued his series on Armenian churches and other monuments throughout the homeland, shown weekly on Yerkir Media television. Currently, Karapetyan is working his way through Mountainous Karabagh. Showing slides, the historian told the history of the monuments of Avedaranots village, located about an hour south of Stepanakert. Photos included those of Kusanats Anapat and Astvatsatsin church, in the village, and other churches in the vicinity. I remembered my trip there in 1999, walking two hours up a mountain to an old, abandoned monastery, afterwards running down the mountain all the way to the village in a steady, drenching downpour. I also remember the villagers of Avedaranots, hard-working people with a close tie to their land. Yesterday, I was told by an election observer for the recent elections in Karabagh that he had gone to villages in the region Avedaranots and south to Martuni, where people were trying their best to guarantee honest, open elections. Unfortunately, I was told, unsavory characters occasionally appeared, illegally, at voting places, influencing matters in a way they do best. Also, the opposition apparently fears protesting the vote, a sad state of affairs for the new republic. . . . As Karapetyan’s show concluded, we were again treated to music and preaching over loudspeakers from the tent meeting next door, with speeches and preaching in both Russian and Armenian to large crowds of admirers. Once, looking out the window, I saw a policemen knock on the gate where the gathering was taking place, and talking briefly to one of the participants. Soon, the sound was turned down, as someone in the neighborhood had apparently called and complained about the loud noise coming from the meeting. An hour later, the meeting and the entire neighborhood were disturbed again, as a car ran over some steps and down into a store. Joining the growing crowd of curious onlookers, we were told that the car had avoided an oncoming car which had crossed into his lane, forcing the car off the road and crashing into the store. Fortunately, no one was hurt, yet the guilty driver had plenty to answer for, including destroyed ice cream machines and store windows, not to mention the wrath of the store owner and his following, by then numbering close to 100. Matters such as this are usually solved on the spot, avoiding police and courtrooms, in an old world style not likely to be affected by orders from the European Union or U.S.
Two days of work-related trips had us visiting farmers in Echmiadzin and in the northern province of Lori. In Aratashen, in the region of Echmiadzin, we helped a farmer plant an experimental field of wheat, a summer planting unheard of in Armenia and likely elsewhere. As the area of land was small, some 2,000 square meters, the farmer decided to sow by hand, happily filling several buckets with seed and handing the buckets to each of us, giving a student from the agriculture institute a lesson in “old style farming.” As he emtpied each bucket, he used the bucket to pick up rocks, an ongoing process in much of Armenia’s fields. Back at his home, as we ate a dinner of khashlama and potatoes, he told of his wish for Armenia’s government to work closer with farmers, and for peace in the world, especially in Karabagh. He expressed sadness concerning the Armenians of Javakhk, where he served in the Soviet army some thirty years earlier, describing the area as a paradise, with rich land and thick forests, lamenting the fact that Armenians are leaving that corner of the Armenian homeland, most for economic reasons. . . . The next morning had us driving past Aparan and on to Tashir, a town and district in the northern-most region of Armenia. Driving through Tashir, I noticed that close to half of the houses were abandoned, hearing later that Tashir’s men, and often their entire families, were working in Russia. A wheat farmer told us his wife and children were visiting relatives in Moscow, and that even they were thinking of staying there. The farmer, however, said he would stay on, no matter who stayed or not, that he couldn’t live without “the Armenian lexicon, humor, culture, and land.” We worked with the farmer, talking about varieties of wheat which might grow well in Tashir’s harsh climate. With several other stops, we left Tashir, the farmer making us promise to spend more time on our next trip, that he wanted to butcher a sheep, eat and drink, “real friendship,” as he put it. Our next stop was in the village of Amragits, near Stepanavan, just a twenty-minute drive from Tashir. There, we looked at wheat fields overlooking a river canyon and the fortress of Ashot Yergat. When I said I thought that Ashot Yergat had ruled near Lake Sevan, he said Yergat had also lived in the fortress in Stepanavan, joking that the king had probably wanted to find out for himself if people from Lori were as simple-minded as people say. From Amragits, we drove past Spitak and on to Mets Parni, located near Shirakamoot, center of the 1988 earthquake. There, we met with a farmer growing wheat, barley, beets, and potatoes. He stated that he had up to fifty people working for him, as at that moment about ten happened to be hoeing in a new field of beets. We investigated his wheat fields, viewing areas almost completely destroyed by a recent hailstorm. He asked us to stop at his house for a cup of coffee, where we found a dinner of fish and potatoes waiting for us, the farmer somehow having passed word to his wife that we had arrived in the village. After dinner, the farmer began telling about how the price of farming was slowly putting people out of business, that even though the dollar had weakened, that diesel, fertilizer, and other items had become so expensive that “even the Mafia should be happy with their profits.” He said that in the past he wasn’t in favor of the border with Turkey being opened, but that it might be a good idea, to hopepfully lower the prices of diesel, etc. He then told about the history of the area, saying that in 1915 and 1918 the Turks reached Mets Parni, killing hundreds of Armenians, many in a place known as “Valley of Massacres,” where a khachkar stands in memory of the victims. Also, he stated, there was a church on the top of a mountain facing the village, rebuilt after Soviets had blown it up in the 1960s. He said that even though the Turks hadn’t reached Spitak in 1915-1920, that the people were suffering more now than ever, that since the work involved in rebuilding the town after the earthquake had been completed, that the population was almost completely out of work. After wishing each other well, we left for Yerevan, stopping briefly in a village high on the slopes of Mt. Aragadz, near Aparan, to check an experimental plot of wheat, several of the varieties frozen during the area’s severe winter.
Tonight I talked with a retired scientist who had worked at the Yerevan Physics Institute until poor health recently forced him to retire. “I worked for nearly forty years there, and I get 15,000 dram a month for my pension. The Institute is decaying. The scientists have mostly gone to the U.S. or Europe to work. It’s fine for Armenia to become a country of tourism, if that’s what they want, but what they’re doing to science is a crime.” Much as the scientists have left Armenia, many of the best classical musicians are living elsewhere, leaving Armenia’s classical scene one of mediocrity, exceptions being people like pianist Svetlana Navasartyan and the musicians of the Komitas Quarter, all of whom live in Yerevan. Yesterday evening we attended an excellent concert at the Khachatryan Concert Hall, featuring the music of Beethoven and Mozart, performed by cellist Levon Muradyan, violinist Ruben Aharonyan, and another violinist from Yerevan, all of whom now live in Moscow or Europe. As a friend commented after the concert, as good as the musicians were, it’s a pity they don’t live in the homeland, that the level of classical music here would be world class with people like Muradyan and Aharonyan, not to mention the great opera singer Arax Davityan, who lives and works in Moscow, living in Armenia. Odd that government officials who profess to be nationalistic, dancing around Mt. Aragadz and the like, would fail to ensure the prospering of science and culture in Armenia.
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