Who Is Shant Harutiunian?

Last week, most of my stories had to do with The Great Armenian Revolution of 2013.

Today, Gegham Vardanyan (@reporterarm), a journalist in Armenia, posted this picture taken in Yerevan of graffiti that’s appeared depicting Harutiunian.

[tweet https://twitter.com/reporterarm/status/399817408392593408 align=’center’]

Other famous individuals that have gained the distinction of appearing in Yerevan street art are Garegin NjdehSoghomon TehlirianWilliam SaroyanVahan Deryan, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, and others. That’s the company Harutiunian now enjoys.

There are clearly people who do not think this man is enough of a lunatic to disavow his actions as dangerous and unacceptable, as I have argued they should. There are people marching so that he, a “political prisoner”, be set free – never mind the blatantly illegal actions he committed. There are people making him out to be a hero and enshrining him among actual heroes of the Armenian nation.

So, I figured something’s awry: either I misjudged this man and he deserves better treatment than what I’ve offered or I was right in assessing peoples’ reticence to resoundingly reject his antics because of a starvation for something more meaningful.

As I don’t take anything for granted – not even my own opinions and ideas – I decided to do a little research to see if there is something I missed between him becoming a public figure and when I got to know him, which was mostly last week.

I spent hours watching videos of him available on You Tube, of which there are many, trying to get to know the man (kind of) behind the (Guy Fawkes) mask.

Here are my observations:

1) PASSION, CONVICTION, KNOWLEDGE

He’s obviously passionate about what he believes. He also looks like he’s read some philosophy and history. Although from the videos it’s hard to tell whether he read the Cliff’s Notes version of everything or if he spent time studying the various texts of the people he references (e.g. Njdeh, Nietzsche, Marx).

There is definitely something in the noggin, it’s just not clear where it comes from and where it’s going. And I’m not sure it actually directs his actions the way he would have us believe.

2) NO DIRECTION

He speaks generally about starting a revolution but gives no reason why. Some of the things he has said he wants were “cultural revolution”, “revolution”, and Armenian philosophy or philosophers.

Much of the time he’s lamenting the lack of philosophical thought among Armenians and, rightly, the inability to have a substantive movement without that. But, contradicting his own statements on the matter, he ends up starting a half-ass “revolution” upon no clear premise.

3) WORST. DEBATER. EVER.

When he’s talking to an interviewer by himself, he seems reasonable, even amiable. But golly gee, brace yourselves if he’s in a room with another debater, particularly one who doesn’t fully agree with him: he is plainly incapable of having a civil discussion, a loose cannon.

Even after he’s made his point, when someone tries to say something in response, he continuously interrupts them and not to add anything in particular but to expound on points he’s already made or to repeat what he’s already said.

Even if you don’t understand Armenian, you can watch his interaction with others in the following interviews.

(Warning: there is a risk to your ears’ ability to continue functioning properly after watching)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiR2Maz6bg0&w=560&h=315]

At 7:20

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_ZbzD_3FA4&w=420&h=315]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isUcjIOpFzc&w=560&h=315]

When he has to interact with others, he’s unable to control himself, choosing yelling to discussion. His comments are often laced with insults. It’s almost a sight to see if it weren’t so excruciating to watch. He seems more interested in his own voice than in anything that anyone else has to say.

4) ANTI-RUSSIA CONSPIRACY THEORIST

He makes no bones about his disdain for Russia’s overbearing hold on Armenia – which is understandable –  and its meddling in Armenia’s affairs but the man is convinced that Russia controls every aspect of the Armenian government: Serzh Sargsyan’s presidency, Seyran Ohanian’s ministerial duties as defense minister, the whole national state security apparatus. What makes it a conspiracy theory, of course, is that he offers no evidence whatsoever besides saying that he has evidence that he can show. Absolutely nothing.

He actually seems obsessed with Russia and not very concerned with the Armenian authorities.

In reality, he pays so little attention to discussing the actual Armenian authorities and why he might not like them to the point that he’d want to start a revolution that I feel he would have been better served starting his revolution against Russia and not Armenia. After all, it’s not clear what the point of starting a revolution in Armenia is if, like Harutiunian apparently believes, Armenia is under Russia’s total control.

5) IRONY

I’m not sure if he’s being ironic or he just doesn’t see it as a big deal but as he’s roundly tearing Russia and its influence in Armenia to shreds, his speech is concurrently sprinkled with Russian words: “logika”, “dochni”, “proste”, “luboy”, “dubinkek”, “vopshum”, “militsek”,

6) PHILOSOPHER-CUM-REVOLUTIONARY

Harutiunian seems to fashion himself a philosopher-cum-revolutionary. He laments the lack of philosophy and philosophers among Armenians and sees them as a precondition, not only for Armenians but everywhere, to a proper revolution. So I can only imagine that if he’s complaining about a lack of philosophers but thinks they’re necessary for a proper revolution, he either believes himself to be the philosopher necessary for the revolution or he’s not interested in a proper revolution.

In any case, when I think of those two words – “philosopher”, “revolutionary” – I think these guys:

General Andranik, revolutionary
General Andranik, revolutionary
General Garegin Njdeh: revolutionary, philosopher
General Garegin Njdeh: revolutionary, philosopher
Raffi: revolutionary, philosopher
Raffi: revolutionary, philosopher
Plato: some would say philosopher but I ask, proto-Shant Harutiunian?
Plato: some would say philosopher but I ask, proto-Shant Harutiunian?

Not this guy:

Harutiunian (Credit: Photolur)
Harutiunian (Credit: Photolur)

He makes himself out to be a martyr before being martyred.

7) THE VULGAR PHILOSOPHER

His colorful language, sometimes during interviews, is a potpourri of Turkish, Russian, and Armenian vulgarity.

“TUFTA” (Russian obscenity)

“SRIKA” (Turkish obscenity)

“BOZ/POZ” (Armenian obscenity)

See him channel Khrimian Hayrig, Krikor Zohrab, and Monte Melkonian:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AVQvb1RxTo&w=420&h=315]

Just imagine, as you’re watching that video, Khrimian Hayrig, Zohrab, Monte, or perhaps Njdeh, one of Harutiunian’s inspirations, standing behind that megaphone saying the things Harutiunian is saying. Ya, no.

8) REVOLUTION FOR WHAT?

He talks about revolution but nowhere does he explain WHY. He just says he’s going to do it, that’s it.

Because he didn’t answer my question, I offer to any readers: what does he want revolution for?

And I don’t mean what YOU want revolution for; I want to know why Shant Harutiunian wants revolution. Because, as yet, I have no idea.

BECAUSE IF YOU’RE GOING TO OPENLY TALK ABOUT SETTING FIRE TO THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE or occupying the state intelligence service or carrying two cans of benzene (presumably to use in revolutionary activities)…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7NluSttecI&w=560&h=315]

… I feel like you should have a good reason for it.

FINAL CONCLUSION

Awkwardly, I didn’t find myself disagreeing with everything that he said, little of which centered on him conducting a revolution. But that doesn’t excuse his actions or his behavior. My final conclusion is that Shant Harutiunian is batshit crazy.

There isn’t a single video I’ve watched where he’s interacting with an interlocutor where he doesn’t go berserk, arms flailing, yelling at the top of his lungs, interrupting the host or other guest/s – even grabbing them. He seems to always be on the cusp of a massive emotional meltdown.

I stand by my original assessment that he’s a lunatic. I won’t lower my standards of the expectations of our fellow men and women because the man reached his wit’s end – his wit may have been shorter than normal. I also won’t accept him soiling the sanctity of true heroes of the Armenian nation, those who didn’t resort to pettiness and vulgarity in their effort to make a point. It’s inexcusable.

Anyone trying to justify Harutiunian’s actions is just feeding the depravity that not only created him but allowed him to feel that he would not be absolutely rejected by society for his actions.

I’ll take philosophers-cum-revolutionaries. Real ones.

By: William Bairamian

[twitter-follow screen_name=’bairamian’]

British Navy, Indonesian Special Forces in Armenia

Since the Great Armenian Revolution of 2013, there have been a flurry of news reports. Who did what, who hit whom, who was at fault and, my favorite, which country’s special forces and police were present.

In the daily CivilNet English-language digest yesterday, it was reported that some were alleging that Russian special forces were present at the protest because of Russian-language clothing on officers (at 2:22 below).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hb1ujnAVes&w=560&h=315]

Aravot Daily, which makes a sport of creatively presenting news headlines and exaggerating anything that has the potential to make the government look bad, published an article, entitled (quotes theirs), “In addition to Russian special mission units, there were also the U.S. service special agents at the Mashtots Avenue”.

That was distilled from a response to:

“[…] the question of why they brought detachments of the Russian special mission units to the Mashtots Avenue […]”

So: Russian on police clothing = possibility of Russian special forces in Armenia. Gotcha.

So: cops with the light blue stripes across their backs that have “POLICE” imprinted on them (below), in English = American/British/Australian/Canadian(<-lol) police in Armenia. Right?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtIbJG_z7jw&w=560&h=315]

So: why isn’t anyone asking about the obvious American/British/Australian/Canadian(<-lol) police presence in Yerevan?!

The video that accompanied the Aravot article:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f23vRjv5Hmg&w=560&h=315]

It is admittedly proved that there was Russian written on police clothing, but there are a few more pieces of evidence that seem to skip the reporter’s mind who was asking the question:

:10, there is an Armenian flag on officer’s (#1) sleeve

:13, there is an Armenian coat of arms on officer’s (#2) hat

:24, there is an Armenian flag on officer’s (#3) sleeve

Unless, of course, this was a ploy to take Armenian-looking Russians and dress them up in police clothing with Russian on it but with Armenian symbols to utterly confuse the living hell out of anybody who looked at them.

In which case, the reporter asking the question is wholly justified.

By the way, the answer to the question above that was posed by the reporter?

“Not only Russian special mission units, but also Mossad and British Navy, the U.S. Central Bureau of Investigation servicemen were there, late at the end, our partners from Indonesia arrived.”

Courtesy of Ashot Aharonyan, head of the Police’s Public Relations and Information Department.

Indonesians: always late to the party. But they can do whatever they want because they have this guy:

Credit: Al Jazeera
Credit: Al Jazeera

Who looks a lot like a guy who actually can do pretty much whatever he wants.

Except get Republicans to like him. But I digress (like whoa).

In other news, in an interesting article by Hetq, Aravot is one source (out of two) cited about media professionalism and ethical reporting in Armenia.

Full Aravot article here.

CivilNet Gets It Woefully Wrong

I’ve recently been informed that my commentary is “ridiculous” because I am not currently in Armenia starting a revolution. But in my world, which happens to exist outside of the “why don’t you go [fill in the blank]” kindergarten playground of discussions, I believe I am free to comment on things that exist outside of the vicinity of where I live so that’s what I’m going to continue to do.

For context, I’ve been a fan of the CivilNet English-language video updates since they were announced in September. I think they are an important source of information for people whose primary language of communication is English and who want to have a connection to news in Armenia.

CivilNet fb

However, this short report on today’s cockamamie “revolution” really got it wrong.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtj1p6ADGG8&w=560&h=315]

What about it? Well, thanks for asking. Come with me.

1) Look at all these police arresting people!

The video, as can be seen, shows almost an unhindered stream of what looks like police aggression and force. To those none the wiser, the police are brutally carrying away and imposingly blocking the paths of citizens simply trying to protest.

But what the video completely fails to show is that BEFORE the roundup and presence of significant police force, several explosives were detonated by this guy and his ragtag band of “revolutionaries”:

Harutiunian and his "revolutionaries." (Credit: Photolur)
Harutiunian and his “revolutionaries” (Credit: Photolur)

In fact, as can be seen in a video taken before CivilNet’s, although there was a police presence, there were no special forces or SWAT anywhere in sight. 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ypGza2cU90&w=560&h=315]

I’m going to guess they showed up after the fact but in the CivilNet video, it looks like it was a continuous event with the massive police presence, and accompanying arrests, happening just because people were protesting, which was NOT the case. 

Selective much?

2) Sequence of events

The video’s narration notes that “when protesters decided to start marching toward the Presidential Palace, more than 200 police and special forces, including the SWAT team, pushed them back.”

How about a scenario? Say you’re walking around with some friends and you all happen to have taken your favorite masks with you on this particular stroll. You also happen to be in Washington, DC (or Budapest or Kigale or Athens) and decide you feel like a protest. So you start heading over to the president’s pad. Except, on this particular day, THERE WERE EXPLOSIVE DEVICES DETONATED less than a mile from where the president lives.

What capital in the whole world would allow masked protesters to get anywhere near any government building, much less the president’s house, during a time of such disarray? If you answered not a goddamn one, you’d be correct. 

In real life, CivilNet doesn’t bother with the fact that there was a serious violent incident that took place before these marchers tried to head to the Presidential Palace and leaves the impression that activists protesting “corrupt governments and greedy corporations” were stopped in their tracks by police. 

Another fact not important enough to include in the report that I feel might have encouraged the police to pour hundreds of their officers onto the street: 8 policemen were hospitalized after the explosives were detonated.

“Revolutionaries” beating the shit out of some guy before 200 people with masks were stupefyingly stopped by police on their jaunt to the Presidential Palace:

Harutiunian in orange shirt. (Credit: Photolur)
Harutiunian in orange shirt. (Credit: Photolur)

3) Editing

After a full minute and a half of showing police carrying people away, the narration announces that,

“it appeared that the protests centered around Shant Harutiunian […] who for days has been repeating that somehow something must change.”

CUT TO FOOTAGE OF MAN BEING HAULED OFF BY POLICE.

So can we conclude that the thing that Harutiunian is trying to change is police dragging people away while distraught women weep in the background? Although it was Harutiunian that inspired the police to be doing that in the first place?

And then there is no mention that Harutiunian was the jackass who led the initial group and was doing this, and throwing explosives on the ground like firecrackers, before the area was flooded by police:

Harutiunian (Credit: Photolur)
Harutiunian – seriously, WTF? (Credit: Photolur)

For effect, both the beginning and end of the video was flanked by audio of a screeching woman, I suppose to accentuate the egregiousness of a police officer carrying away a possible suspect in the explosions that CivilNet didn’t bother spending much time on.

Wonderful editing. Grade A. But so terribly disappointing. 

Look, I get it. Every outlet has its tilt.

CivilNet is a project of Civiltas which is a proactive think tank established by one of the longest-running government officials in modern Armenian history who happens to be a member of a political party on tepid terms with the ruling party. Fine. But this was just too blatant.

You want to make the government look bad? I’m sure you can come up with something better than craftily editing a video in a way that renders it a half-truth.

I also recognize that we’re so damned starved for something we’ll take anything. Indeed our state of affairs must be in doldrums if there are smart, serious people riding the coattails of a lunatic to make their point.

Successful revolutionaries, even violent ones, make a case for revolution.

Think about Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Adams making a sign announcing that they’re starting a revolution like they’re having a fucking bake sale.

Or Lenin walking into the street with a stick and swinging it at people like Donatello (the Ninja Turtle, not the artist). Or Mao Zedong and Robespierre muttering nonsense like a common fool and then expecting the people to fall in line.

No, these revolutionaries wrote, debated, organized, spoke, planned, and thought. They had purpose. They would not be satisfied with the painfully bland, “somehow something must change.” What person who respects their own intelligence in the least could be inspired by such ambiguity?

By not condemning Harutiunian and his ilk for what they are, we would be complicit in encouraging the vapid rhetoric that is fit not for revolutionaries but charlatans. We cheapen our goals and our expectations of others and ourselves.

We’re capable of thinking deeply. We just need to do it.

By: William Bairamian

[twitter-follow screen_name=’bairamian’]

The Great Armenian Revolution of 2013

You may have seen or read that explosives were detonated after protesters clashed with police in Yerevan today.

This is the level of maturity of “revolutionaries” in Armenia. The moronic, self-styled cigarette-hanging-from-his-mouth-Guy-Fawkes-mask-wearing-stick-wielding-resident-hooligan-“revolutionary Shant Harutiunian, decides to detonate flash (magnesium) bombs in a crowd of people, injuring several who were marching with him and at least 8 police officers.

Image
Shant Harutiunian (Credit: Photolur)

No rhyme, no reason, no target. The best I can come up with for his motivation is, “I’m mad so I’m going to blow shit up – even if I might hurt innocent people.”

“Revolutionary” rushing and taking down a female bystander (News.am)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EabMwxvQL1Y&w=420&h=315]

“Revolutionaries” beating a man with sticks (Armenpress)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=545jZX-i1S8&w=560&h=315]

By the way, for all the media outlets that are reporting that there were riot police:

Asbarez

An Armenian opposition activist and more than three dozen of his supporters were detained in downtown Yerevan on Tuesday in violent clashes with riot police that followed what he called an attempt to carry out an anti-government “revolution.”

RFE/RL

A maverick Armenian opposition activist and more than three dozen of his supporters were detained in downtown Yerevan on Tuesday in violent clashes with riot police that followed what he called an attempt to carry out an anti-government “revolution.”

WHAT RIOT POLICE?

This is what riot police look like in my crazy imagination:

Image
Credit: flickr/Nigel Parry
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

And they don’t seem to be anywhere in the videos of what happened in Yerevan, as one acquaintance astutely pointed out to me.

Ironically, now the police have probable cause to believe that seemingly peaceful protesters might be equipped with explosive devices. And the reason was some purposeless action. The only thing that will be revolutionized because of this is how law enforcement officials deal with public protests.

Way to go, dumbass. 

If this is the type of revolution people want to have – unfocused, pointless, indiscriminate – then they don’t deserve to have one at all.

By: William Bairamian

[twitter-follow screen_name=’bairamian’]

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

[twitter-follow screen_name=’bairamian’]

Street Art, Yerevan

Yerevan is not a pretty city. It’s dirty – the air, the streets. Most of its old architecture, as I’ve come to learn, has been obliterated in favor of poorly built new buildings in pursuit of some silly, and elusive, European ideal for a city and a country and a people which are not European. The city’s parks are unkempt and many include gaudy cafes that tempt your humor, making you wonder whether someone really thought it was a good idea to put bright lights and Coca-Cola umbrellas in a quaint and otherwise peaceful place.

A lot of Yerevan’s look and feel has to do with the carelessness of the authorities and their disregard for aesthetics. Thus you have KFC signage in a pleasant park (see below) or overflowing trash cans or ruined sidewalks.

KFC

But the authorities’ inattention to beautifying Yerevan is most blatantly obvious while taking a stroll down Northern Avenue toward the Opera. On the main thoroughfare, nonsensical graffiti is visible on the entrances to the underground parking lots. Mind you, this is an area that opened in 2007 as the premier, central shopping and pedestrian area in all of Armenia. Although it’s impressive that someone was able to manage tagging in this area without being caught (from what I can tell, the street is well-lit throughout the night), the unsightly textual spray-paintings are out of place on the otherwise prim and proper avenue.

image

Perhaps more surprising is what I found at the capital city’s pride and joy, the Opera. The vaunted structure is where anybody who’s made it big in Armenia performs and anybody who’s made it big, thinks they’ve made it big, wants to seem like they’ve made it big, or just enjoys good performances goes. It’s so popular that all the idiots in the country got together and built cafes in the park across from the Opera and in such a way that the Opera is not visible from most of them, thus eliminating green space for a cafe you could’ve put anywhere but you put next to a structure you mostly can’t see only so you can say you put your cafe next to it.

On the ramps leading to the equivalent of Armenia’s Lincoln Center or Disney Concert Hall you see similarly nonsensical graffiti. Maybe there is a good reason (I doubt it) that it’s not cleaned up the rest of the year but it’s tourist season! You can’t expect to have your two central structures littered with gibberish. I know it’s far-fetched to expect Yerevan authorities to care but this is one of the things that can affect their bottom line and if we know anything it’s that that is definitely motivation for them.

If you were wondering, this is “street art” which I don’t appreciate (although I love some other graffiti).

image

Part of Yerevan’s blight are the soul-lacerating Soviet-era concrete projects. From the outside, they make New York’s projects look like a Ritz Carlton. The entrances to these crumbling depression machines are seldom, if ever, at the front of the building but rather in a courtyard accessed through a similarly drab passageway.

Some creative minds – or perhaps just one – saw an opportunity in these passageways and started painting and colorizing the gray. It’s almost hard to believe before it’s done but the difference some paint and pleasant imagery can make is astounding.

More importantly, somebody saw something ugly and instead of letting it send them into a spiral of hopelessness, they innovated and beautified. Credit to those who had the idea and made this happen.

IMG_20130711_084848_352

IMG_20130711_084857_510

IMG_20130706_194758_479

IMG_20130706_202753_120

IMG_20130706_194751_481

There is also a smarter variation of textual street art and it usually takes the form of a stenciled message meant to elicit some feeling – pride, hope, inspiration, rage. I’ll take these crude markers of mental activity over the KFC awning and hooliganism from above any day.

IMG_20130709_170231_238
“Freedom, Equality, Solidarity. Liberation”
IMG_20130709_170355_366
“Voluntary Rights Are Strength” and “It’s begun…”

Finally, what could be cooler than walking down a street and seeing a painting of one of your favorite authors unexpectedly plastered on an otherwise forgettable wall? A lot of things but this is nevertheless pretty cool.

To celebrate the 500th anniversary of Armenian printing, Yerevan was deemed World Book Capital in 2012. Most of these seem sanctioned and done by a certain BB Media and thankfully they were done with some verve and pizzazz.

More refreshing is that these giants of literature, now staring at thousands of passerby, have been deemed worthy of public exaltation in a place where, if the overheard conversations of young men are any indication, the speech and behavior of the criminal-elite is preferred over the mellifluous poetry of literate forebears.

Next step: books-for-mafia-soap-operas program.

IMG_20130710_233946_234
Papa Ernest Hemingway
IMG_20130709_170218_568
I don’t know. Help me out.
image
Edgar Allen Poe
image
Hovhannes Tumanyan

As is seen in these pictures, the battle between the positive and negative takes many forms. An individual with a can of spray paint can use it to write utter nonsense and soil an attractive thing or they can use it to convey an empowering message; a person can look at a dull, dark passageway and sulk or they can use it as their canvas.

It’s only a matter of how you look at the world and what you see: hopelessness or opportunity?

By: William Bairamian

[twitter-follow screen_name=’bairamian’]

Cheq Zzvel?

Taxicabs are tabloids on wheels. Their drivers will tell you all sorts of stories, some true, some not. Yerevan’s taxi drivers aren’t as talkative as the ones in New York or pretty much anywhere else I’ve encountered them. They don’t seem to care much where you come from, only where you’re going. And if you’re not a local, you may be inclined, by fear or interest, to attentively watch the road as your vessel comes painfully close to running over several people during the length of your trip instead of striking up a conversation. But, like any taxi, if they talk, the information you glean, if true, can be a window to the society of which they are the transporters.

Taxi in Yerevan's Republic Square. Credit: Vigen Hakhverdyan
Taxi in Yerevan’s Republic Square. Credit: Vigen Hakhverdyan

Alas, we happened upon a jolly-looking-though-not-so-jolly young fella who, as soon as we sat in the car, started musing angrily about the people walking up and down Northern Avenue on a warm evening rather than spending their time in a park surrounded by trees and wildlife. I recently spent two weeks exploring wilderness throughout California; there wasn’t much question which side of that question I ended up on. We made a connection so now we had to talk – otherwise it’d be too awkward – so we did.

He must have noticed from my accent that I’m not from Yerevan, which isn’t hard to do. He asked me how long it had been since we’d come to Yerevan and I responded by saying, “one week.” He didn’t even flinch, immediately following up with, «դեր չեք զզվե՞լ» (“aren’t you disgusted, yet?”). It was a suggested eventuality in the form of a question. I wasn’t sure how to respond except by honestly saying that I wasn’t yet disgusted but sarcastically gave him the opportunity to tell us what was disgusting so we could become disgusted, too. He sounded off his laundry list of problems that I’d heard a thousand times. Nothing is ever new – except he was younger than the others, maybe in his 30s. I was hopeful that he was an exception, that he was the fake tabloid story. I didn’t have high hopes but I kept an open mind.

A few days later, I was speaking with a younger man, probably in his late 20s. We were doing some work together so he asked me what I was doing in Armenia and I told him that this trip was for a project but that it’d please me to move here in the future. He quipped back with the most common of the anti-Armenia retorts: «Երկիրը երկիր չի» (literally, “the country is not a country”, i.e. the country is a worthless shithole that doesn’t deserve to be lived in by anybody who has half a brain) accompanied by him emphatically telling me not to move.

If a tabloid story could be considered a thesis, it would need to be validated by a few different sources before taking it seriously. I had one corroboration that Armenia was better off dead. Another taxi ride later, I might have been convinced.

Seated for a long car ride in another taxi, just barely beyond urban Yerevan, the complaints started flowing with unhindered fury. Everything from how much Kirk Kerkorian never wants to have anything more to do with Armenia to the condition of the roads to how villagers weren’t picking all their apricots thus letting them go to waste.

It’s a national pastime, really, complaining. I’m not at all surprised so many people want to leave. If I had to listen to that my whole life, I can’t imagine I would think that living anywhere, possibly even a dog shelter, was better than Armenia.

Thesis confirmed. Mass disdain, dismissal, disgust.

But I won’t accept it. The results are not final.

I had given that first taxi driver a tip when paying him, which he thought was a mistake and commendably pointed out. I told him it wasn’t a mistake. What I didn’t tell him was that I was sure that he would eventually find a way out and that I was especially pleased that I had contributed to him leaving by giving him that extra 100 drams so he could abandon this place he disdained so much.

He, or any of the people I have met, could have talked about better things. There are great things going on, too: Ayb High School, Luys Foundation, AYF Youth Corps, Civilnet, Green Bean, urbanlabEVN, Tumo Center for Creative Technologies, Dilijan International School of Armenia, Gyumri Information Technologies Center, ONEArmenia. And a plethora of others. If not talk about these things, perhaps the scenery, or the food, or that hundreds of children can run around soaking random people with water throughout the country, unattended by their parents, with nary a worry about their safety. We can talk about these things but we choose to focus on self-pity instead.

Young people who are supposed to compose the vivacious, sprightly, hopeful core of any country are repeating the same tired aphorisms of their parents. After many years of reflecting on this malaise, there is not one thing that I can point to that I consider valid: not that there are no jobs, not that the government is corrupt, not that the prices have gone up, not that the trash is not being collected. These problems aren’t exclusive to Armenia, it’s just that Armenians think that they are. What’s more, there is no interest by most in solving the problems. Somehow, invariably, the onus is always upon somebody else to figure things out and make them better. If that doesn’t happen, time to head for the hills (of Glendale).

Fact is, in Glendale, and whatever other place refugees (because that’s what people who leave a place they no longer feel at home are called) from Armenia settle outside of Armenia, this mentality hardly changes. The complaints remain. The nuclear physicist lamenting that he’s driving a taxi in Yerevan will be doing the same lamenting in Santa Monica except to someone who has a harder time understanding him.

America wasn’t perfect. People did shit. When there were no jobs, they created them. When the government was corrupt (I only wrote that in the past tense for effect), they organized and demanded accountability. When the prices went up, they toughed it out (side note: inflation is a well-known concept in this thing called economics and every time that the prices go up in Armenia, it’s not a governmental conspiracy, it might just happen, you know, just like that. That’s why I can’t buy a Double-Double for 50 cents as portrayed in those goddamn posters they have at every In-N-Out surely put there to mock you). When the trash wasn’t picked up, they threw it in the Hudson River and thus created the largest landfill in human history and called it New Jersey – and they even started living on it!

I’m only using America’s example because that’s the one with which I’m most familiar. But there are others. When English people realized how much England sucked, they didn’t relocate to Spain (although they decided to lay claim to a rock named Gibraltar just to piss them off), they conquered most of the world so they could create the most important city on earth and vacation in exotic places like India, Kenya, and the Americas without having to get a visa. When the Japanese realized they were living on a rocky strip of land that was useless in every way a normal country would need to operate, they started inventing things like samurai, Toyota, and sushi and are now able to buy whatever they want. Even Canadians, who long ago had to helplessly reconcile being an American territory, somehow resist the urge to join the mainland and keep working on being the most socialist state of the Union.

There is surely someone reading this and thinking that it’s so easy for me, a Diasporan, to so freely criticize the decisions of these suffering people from my comfortable Diasporan life (lol). First, I’m commentating on this as an interested party. That is, I live in Glendale and that is where at least 50% of emigrants from Armenia end up so I definitely have a chicken in this fight. Second, I’m commenting as an observer and a student of politics, history, and societies. Armenians need to realize that their problems are not unique and they are not the worst in the world and that if they’re going to leave Armenia en masse, they should be honest about the real reason they are doing so: they do not love the country. Until they’re in Glendale, of course, which is when the bitching starts about America and reminiscing starts about the wonderfulness of Garabi Leech, Opera, and Cascade. Which is kind of like belittling and cursing your spouse until you get a divorce then, when you’re with your new partner, extolling your ex’s virtues.

Let’s put it all out on the table: when one loves something (a nation, perhaps) or someone, they commit to them, come hell or high water, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, till death does them part. If hell, sickness, and poverty dissuade you from your love, then it wasn’t love to begin with and it’s not love once you leave and profess it.

I hate to air dirty laundry but this is one of those things. Our nation has been overcome by naysayers and it needs to stop. The eternally depressed and depressing don’t get a pass because they think their life (and I guess no one else’s) blows a fat one.

The people who live here in Armenia who are working so hard to make this place better should not have to be subjected to the incessant morass of the depressed masses. Their work is already difficult. The young people who are optimistic about their country shouldn’t have their beliefs tested by the half-witted uninterested at such a young age. These people have to deal with unemployment, corruption, rising prices, sporadic trash cleanup. The last thing they need is someone telling them all the things that are going wrong in the country. After all, they must know – they are the ones trying to make it better.

Instead of asking if we are yet disgusted of this country, let’s ask another question: Բողոքելո՛ւց դեր չեք զզվե՞լ:

By: William Bairamian

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