Young Man Leaves Australia, Joins Armenian Armed Forces

There are stories that show the exceptional devotion to the Armenian homeland among a new generation of young Armenians who realize that the future of Armenia is their responsibility and is a matter of their individual contribution to the future of the nation. This is one of those stories.

Tigran Petrosyan is a young man who lived in Australia for five years and recently repatriated to Armenia. He is currently serving in the defense units of the Armenian Armed Forces. He is stationed in Artsakh.

The following is theGampr’s translation of the Razm.info interview.

Razm.info spoke with Tigran Petrosyan, an Armenian repatriate from Australia who is currently serving in the Armenian Armed Forces in Artsakh.

TigranPetrosyan

After living in Australia for five years and receiving a college education, the 20 year-old Petrosyan chose to return to his homeland and establish permanent residency there. Thereafter, he was drafted into the army as is required by law.

Razm.info: You’ve decided to return to Armenia and live here. What is the reason behind your decision?

Petrosyan: After living outside Armenia for five years, I felt like something was missing; I didn’t feel happy, although I had whatever I needed: I studied at a good university, I had a good job. But after thinking about it long and hard, I decided to return to Armenia, live here, and start a family.

I didn’t have any legal issues [in Australia or Armenia]. Rather, I decided on my own to return to my homeland. My conscience is at rest, I feel better – better even than in Australia. And, in all honesty, my life here is better.

Razm.info: And had you thought about serving in the Armed Forces?

Petrosyan: Yes, of course. I had thought about it and was ready to serve. I had never given any thought to skipping military service. If I had, I wouldn’t have even returned.

Razm.info: How long before you started your military service did you return to Armenia? Did you see any changes [in the country]?

Petrosyan: I returned in the summer of 2013. About 4-5 months later, I was drafted into the military. As far as changes, yes, of course there were actual changes. I think that after my military service, I’ll see even more of them.

Razm.info: After living in a foreign country for so many years, how was the process of getting used to being called to military service? How were you able to adjust to the lifestyle change?

Petrosyan: Although I was gone for about 5 years, even abroad I tried to live as an Armenian. That is, I didn’t cut myself off from my roots. So, my return wasn’t a shock but the years away had surely left their mark.

The pre-military service preparations and tests took a bit long. In a few instances there were some mix-ups and confusion which were a result of my expired passport. In the end, after the bureaucratic hurdles, I was able to leave for my service.

Razm.info: You are now a military service member, you’ve given the soldier’s oath. How do you feel?

Petrosyan: I’m very proud and happy. A soldier’s oath has a special place in any man’s life and I’ll remember [mine] for a long time.

Razm.info: What are the main difficulties of military service?

Petrosyan: Honestly, I’ve been here for a few weeks already but I don’t have anything bad to say – I haven’t yet encountered any serious issues.

I like the food. I’m especially pleased with our uniform. I’d like to start shooting exercises as soon as possible. Until now, there have only been positive emotions on my end – again, I’m really happy. The only yearning I have that I’m reminded of often is that for my family since I’ve been away from them for so long; that feeling is always with me.

Razm.info: You said you liked the food in the Army. What’s your favorite?

Petrosyan: I think I’d say my favorite is the bread and cheese we’re served for breakfast.

Razm.info: And how have you adjusted to waking up early?

Petrosyan: In Australia I’d wake up around 5:00AM so here it’s a bit more humane (smiles).

Razm.info: Which weapons [or, military equipment] do you like the most?

Petrosyan: I love cars and my expertise is in that area so naturally, I’d like to be a driver [of military vehicles]: Ural, Kamaz, or Satko trucks. I also really like tanks.

Razm.info: What would say to conclude?

Petrosyan: [To fellow soldiers] Happy military service and happy return to all!

Original interview.

Razm.info facebook page.

Another Index. Armenia is #95. Meaningful?

The Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank, released its annual “Prosperity Index” and, as reported by PanArmenian, Armenia came it at #95.

Credit: rifreedom.org
Credit: rifreedom.org

After looking through the data, I can say that it is varied enough that it presents what I’ll call a picture of general understanding. That is, the use of reports like these is less what rank a country achieves and more about giving the reader an idea of where the country falls on a wide spectrum. In the case of Armenia, the prognosis looks to be that it has a lot of room for improvement.

Otherwise, the “index industry” (c) William Bairamian, is in full swing. Every think tank and their mother (do think tanks have mothers? the jury’s out but I’m going with yes) is publishing an index of something: happiness, corruption, poverty, water, sex, environment. Some are useful, some are an exercise in finding data no one else has yet manipulated and putting it in digestible form to keep up with the think tank Joneses. The Legatum report falls somewhere in the middle.

They aggregate dozens of pieces of data, including polling data from Gallup, so the ranking gives a more holistic picture than something like “X is the happiest country in the world and Y is the unhappiest based on our evaluation of data about the average distance a citizen must travel to the nearest lollipop stand.”

However, strongly lacking is any non-quantitative, country-specific analysis. The whole report is neatly based on an evaluation of numbers but an overreliance on numbers doesn’t tell the whole story. They do recognize this, though insufficiently, in my opinion. Their section on Prosperity Index Anomalies grants the inconsistencies that the data may belie; it deserves more attention.

Here are a few of the issues, in order of importance:

1) Lack of qualitative analysis

This is a major problem with these indices: everything is reduced to data. Culture, for example, has no bearing on the evaluation of the results, probably because it cannot be dependably quantified.

To make the point, here is a scenario:

You’re Armenian, you go to someone’s house and they ask you if you want something to eat. Almost invariably, you will refuse the first, maybe, thousand times they ask.

This cultural peculiarity in answering questions is not represented in polling data although it may well significantly skew responses in one direction. And when a significant part of your conclusion is based upon polling data, this can have a huge impact when that information is whittled down to a number. 95, perhaps?

2) Autocratic countries

As noted in their Anomalies section, it’s hard to conceive that people in an autocratic country might answer questions fully truthfully. A conversation might go like this:

Pollster: “Do you feel you’re able to freely express yourself?”

Citizen who believes he might be asked a similar question by undercover police to determine who isn’t saying the right things so they can get them to say the right things…in an empty room…with no cameras: “Obviously! We’re freer than hell! I mean, not just hell, everywhere! Long live our nation! Can I go home now?”

Pollster: “Of course you can. I’m just a pollster. I can’t prevent you from going home.”

Citizen: “Sure. Last time a guy told me that, I woke up without any clothes and pain in my, er, uh, my face! Because I was smiling so much! Have a nice day!”

Credit: times.co.uk
Credit: times.co.uk

Conversely, and curiously, when a country has greater freedom of expression, citizens may use that freedom to comment on the country’s lack of freedom more freely.

3) Unrecognized countries

This is an issue when, for example, the people of Artsakh aren’t polled. Comprising a sizable part of the population of Armenia, about 7-9%, it may have had an impact on the results, which Legatum seems to acknowledge.

Similarly, if they did the survey 25 years ago and asked Armenians living in Artsakh, then under Azerbaijan SSR, “How do you feel people of other ethnicities are treated in this country?”, I’m going to guess that would’ve affected their score a wee bit.

4) “Data Lag”

Not all the data is current. Some data points are from 2012 or, even 2011. Kind of a big deal for an annual prosperity index.

It’s not perfect. Nowhere close to it. But it has some uses. I think it’s better to explore the data that’s conveniently summed up in one place and beautifully presented rather than getting hung up on the ranking which, in a defiance of the laws of mathematics*, is less than the sum of its parts.

Full Prosperity Index Report.

* My knowledge of the laws of mathematics is only surpassed by, well, my knowledge in pretty much everything else.

By: William Bairamian

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8 Things You Do If You’re From Yerevan

Yerevan is Armenia’s biggest city. Like most big cities, its citizens have peculiarities that distinguish them from those of other cities in the country. If you’re from Yerevan, especially if you’re over the age of 30, you probably do all these things. 

1) You hate Karabakhtsis. 

Because they supposedly control everything and even have a conspiracy to keep Yerevantsis unemployed. Although your only evidence for this is that native Artsakhtsis (Karabakhtsis) are in high-level government positions (i.e. president, defense minister, etc.). Which is like me claiming that the troubles I might have, being a Californian, are because Barack Obama is from Illinois/Hawaii/Indonesia and Chuck Hagel (U.S. Sec. of Defense) is from Nebraska. OK…I guess.

No Tatiks and Papiks
No Karabakhtsi tatiks and papiks…or pretty much anyone from Karabakh.

2) You hate anybody from the regions of Armenia. 

Because those villagers (գյուացիք) live better than you do. Though that might have something to do with them doing back-breaking work. Or maybe it’s not true that they live better. But whatever about that fact stuff.

We are city folk and don't like village folk.
Ew!

3) You hate(d) akhpars.

Because they were different and drank coffee and ate lahmajoon and basturma, except you love that shit. Or maybe it was something else, like they got one-way tickets to Siberia because they were suspected of being spies on the regular. Actually, I’m not really clear on what the beef was with the akhpars.

We'll take the coffee, lahmajoon, and basturma but no akhpars!
We’ll take the coffee, lahmajoon, and basturma but no akhpars!

4) You hate Yerevan.

After all, if the country is not a country (ԵԵՉ), the capital and biggest city of that country must suck, too! I mean, the suckiness has to come from somewhere. Or maybe it’s because all the inhabitants are աֆերիստ (shysters). Though what was that about taking one to know one?

Can you blame us?
Can you blame us?

5) You claim you and your whole family are originally from Yerevan, since hundreds of years ago.

Which means there is a good chance you’re either a Persian or Turkic Tatar. Congratulations – you are now much cooler. 

Fine looking ancestors they were.
Fine looking ancestors they were.

6) You say you’re from Yerevan but you’re really just embarrassed to say you’re not from Yerevan because everyone in Yerevan hates people who aren’t from Yerevan…although no one is from Yerevan. 

Yerevantsi to the core! Kind of to the core...like, right around it. (Photo credi: Ann Larie Valentine)
Yerevantsi to the core! Kind of to the core…like, right around it. (Photo credit: Ann Larie Valentine)

7) You dream of moving to Glendale, where you will start hating all non-Yerevantsi Armenians in Los Angeles.

Except you don’t live in Yerevan anymore and nobody cares that you’re from there.

Heaven.
Heaven.

8) You inspire me to be a better Armenian by trying hard to not be you.

Thanks!

Ya, buddy. Jack said it right.
You are now in the same class as Helen Hunt!

By: William Bairamian

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Artsakh : Sparta (II)

(Second of a several part series)

If you watched “300” and wished you could have visited Sparta, good news: there is Artsakh.

The parallel between the Battle of Thermopylae and the Artsakh War is actually striking: the Artsakhtsis and Spartans were both severely outnumbered, fantastically outgunned, and, on paper, fighting them should have been a cakewalk for their enemies. The only difference in their stories (besides a few thousand years, the weaponry, and most everything else) was that Artsakh won and Sparta didn’t.

"I'm the soldier of a victorious army."
“I am the soldier of a victorious army.”

This is a martial culture. The calm of Stepanakert would have you think you’re not in a war zone if it weren’t for the soldiers everywhere. There are barracks all over the place that house thousands of soldiers and they are all carefully guarded.

The young men wear their neatly prepared uniforms proudly. They don’t have any reservations about what they will need to do if there is a war but you will not hear a single person go into a bravado-inspired tirade about crushing the enemy or threaten to kill civilians.

Both the men and women of the older generations have seen war and you can see it in their eyes and hands. Though they are serious, they are never disrespectful and their shells of titanium belie a kindness so rare, I was subconsciously reticent to interact with them because I might violate its purity.

Soldier playing dodgeball, no holds barred, with kids at Gandzasar.
Soldier playing dodgeball, no holds barred, with kids at Gandzasar.

The women are the fierce parallels of the men. One we met runs a youth center. She tells the kids who come through there that as an Artsakhtsi, you cannot afford to say that something is impossible, you have to make it possible. Oh, and she brings her baby to work where she attends to the child and works concurrently. And oh, we went on a hike that involved crossing narrow bridges with some of the local kids and she brought her baby, probably so he can grow up to be a badass like everyone else. And oh, she’s having her fourth child.

Soldier visiting the Shushi art museum.
Soldier visiting the Shushi Art Museum.

If there is another war, which is incredibly unlikely, the people here alone would crush the Azeris. I think that’s why there hasn’t been a war yet – there are still Azeris who remember what it was like fighting against the Artsakhtsis and are, plainly, scared.

There are many reasons to come to Artsakh but if there was only one, being among the men, women, and children who are the essence of what we want to be as Armenians and thinking that you share something with them would be it.

By: William Bairamian

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Artsakh : Armenia v2.0 (I)

(First in a several part series about Artsakh)

There are a lot of complaints about the Republic of Armenia. It’s corrupt, there is no respect for the law, oligopolies control the economy, the environment is mindlessly ravaged, the people are unemployed, depressed, and looking for a one-way ticket out. There is a lot of the same in Artsakh, but it’s better.

"The Artsakh Republic is the Armenian people's pride." Yes it is.
“The Artsakh Republic is the Armenian people’s pride.” Yes it is.

Years ago one of my brothers came here then told me, “when you see it, you realize why we fought for it.” And when I saw it for the first time, driving through Berdzor, surrounded by a forest so thick it looks like a blanket of trees covering the mountains, I knew what he meant. All the geopolitical and historical arguments I’d made for Armenians’ right to govern themselves on this land went out the window; one needs to but see the majesty of these mountains to grasp why Armenians will not let this land go.

I was speaking with the driver of a dilapidated GAZelle we rented to travel to Shushi. He said he was from Stepanakert, he looked about 50. I asked him if he was originally from here because I know there were a lot of people who were displaced during the war; he affirmed that he was. He told me that he and his whole family were here when Stepanakert’s civilian population was being shelled with GRAD missiles by Azerbaijani forces from Shushi. He may have fought in the war; I didn’t ask. But I did ask whether he planned on staying or going. He responded like most people here do: “Where am I going to go? This is my home. If I go, who will stay?” This is the attitude of a guy driving a van that can climb a hill at no more than 20 MPH and who lived through the criminal bombardment of the city in which he and his family were living – and this is the attitude in Yerevan.

In Stepanakert, the streets are clean and the people mellow. A police officer stopped us because we weren’t using the crosswalk because, really, who uses crosswalks anywhere outside of California? Artsakhtsis do. He asked us to use the crosswalk and was on his way. Whereas the drivers in Yerevan seem almost like they are trying to run pedestrians over, the drivers here stop for people crossing the street. And the people crossing the street acknowledge the gesture. What is this humanity?!

The taxi drivers don’t try to gyp you as soon as they realize you’re not from there. Actually, several of them tried to refuse the 100AMD tip I tried to give them and only took it after I insisted. Another time, we asked our taxi driver to stop on the way up to Shushi so we could see the tank used in its liberation. From where the tank is situated, I could see the driver milling around in the bushes and I wondered what he was doing. When we descended, it turned out he was picking blackberries for us. Hands stained, he handed them over. Ya, really.

The men don’t all have what seems to be a male fashion accessory in Armenia: the half-dome stomach. They look stronger, like what you read about in Armenian fables – except with unfortunate Caesar-style haircuts.

There are new buildings that have been and are being built in Stepanakert and part of the apartments in each are allocated to war veterans and their families. Speaking of buildings, they have managed to rebuild the fortress at Tigranakert while unfathomably not putting a cafe next door – or inside.

And there is jingalov hats, for which there is even a song (if you don’t understand anything, don’t worry, it’s in the awesome Karabakh Armenian dialect). If this doesn’t signify an improvement on Armenia, I don’t know what does.

It’s not all perfect. There is still a war going on. I found this out when I tried taking a picture of a poster memorializing the sacrifice and strength that wrought victory that was on what turned out to be a military dormitory; three young soldiers promptly popped out of their station to tell me to tell me pictures weren’t allowed. More seriously, soldiers die regularly on the front line.

Shushi, the crown jewel of Artsakh and the Caucasus, is still mostly in ruins. Some buildings have been rebuilt but many of them are derelict and awaiting what government officials say is a final plan for what to do with the city and how to do it.

Persian mosque in Shushi.
Persian mosque in Shushi.

Some of the people I spoke with have told me that there is corruption here, too, although I’ve come to learn that corruption means different things to different people. For some, a police officer taking bribes is corruption. For others, a government official using their influence to secure financial benefits for him or herself is corruption. Nevertheless, there isn’t a general feeling that the government is embezzling all the funds in the country like there is in Armenia.

And despite the heartwarming story above, there is also emigration. The Republic of Artsakh is woefully underdeveloped and the people suffer because of it. The little that the government is able to do has been compounded with the investments of some wealthy Armenians, mostly from the Diaspora, but it hasn’t been enough to catalyze an active and vibrant economy. Agriculture is the traditional mainstay but a mixture of land mines, irrigation issues, and lack of any developed formal agriculture economy, villagers have a difficult time making ends meet.

On the issue of emigration, though, what was most impressive was that any young person I met that was college-age or a college graduate expressed little desire to go abroad and stay abroad. There is certainly an interest in seeing new places but the feeling is always that they should return to Artsakh – and they do, as many of the Artsakhtsis I met who had spent time in the United States or elsewhere had.

Frankly, the Republic of Artsakh realizes that it cannot be the Republic of Armenia. It cannot discourage investment by creating the impression that an oligarch might step in for a piece of the pie if he sees fit; it cannot completely ignore the social needs of the elderly and veterans; it cannot act like it doesn’t have youth and uninterestedly kill their desire to stay and help their homeland.  What has happened is that the Republic of Artsakh’s supposed curse – lack of international recognition of its statehood – has been a blessing because it has required it to be better – exemplary, even. When Artsakh starts setting the trend for its bigger, internationally-recognized brother to the west, don’t be surprised.

By: William Bairamian

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