Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why I (temporarily) stopped posting

Oct 20, 2015
I enjoy very much observing life in Armenia and writing about it in my blog. In the beginning it seemed I was writing about "anonymous people" I was discovering. But several times already people came to me pointing-out that I was putting in the open the private lives of individuals and families. Some asked for photographs to be taken down...
It is out of respect for these people that I have not released my draft letters for a while.
Perhaps one day, or posthumously.

Antoine S. Terjanian
To read my letters from Armenia, click  http://lettersfromArmenia.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Letter # 38: Dance therapy in Armenia; to dance is to live. The dance of the young at heart

These are the links to the trailer of a new movie, about to be released by “Bars Media” in Yerevan: https://vimeo.com/53414030 and this one too: http://vimeo.com/62644284

We met Vardan Hovhannisyan, the manager of Bars Media http://barsmedia.am/ in 2002, while we were volunteering in Yerevan. He gave us the keys to their small studio on Orbeli st. from the first time we met, so that I can teach folk-dances to our volunteers and other interested repats. Vardan himself joined us for the lessons and learned to dance with us.

Vardan is a former Karabagh war journalist and war prisoner whose studio has produced many other movies, notably, “A Story of People in War and Peace”, a film about the Karabagh war; “ The Last Tightrope Dancer in Armenia” and the hilariously interesting “Donkeymentary”.

Later in 2002, our son Toros came for a visit and was immediately recruited by Bars Media to help promote and market several new movies they had produced. He did so very successfully.

Toros and I recently visited Vardan and his family and he thought I would be interested in this dance movie. I was of course delighted when I watched the trailer.

The movie is a true story about a dance teacher who was visiting a soup-kitchen in Yerevan. She started talking to these depressed old folks and decided she would try and up-lift their spirit by teaching them folklore dances… She performed a miracle, as we can see.

These trailers just brings happiness to my heart every time I watch them and think of the power of dance, music, culture and human contact.


            Hugs to all from the top of our mountain... Come and join us!

Antoine S. Terjanian

Went there to dance

Friday, April 19, 2013

letter 37: Gagik the driver Sequel

Like many others in Armenia, Gagik has left Armenia. He could not keep up with his debts. He went to Siberia, where he hopefully has a decent paying job so he can pay-back his debts and attend to his family's needs.
Our French friend, Dominique Has sent him another EUR 250, of which the banks ate EUR 30 before he got them. See the video of him cashing the sum at the bank, the day before he left.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lettre 36: Le vétérinaire, le marchand de poisson et le chauffeur

Il y avait une fois, il n’y avait pas une fois, il y avait[*] un chauffeur aux cheveux blancs qui avait un jeune garçon de deux ans quand je l’ai rencontré. Il attendait au bas de la montagne, sur la route qui mène à Erevan avec 3 passagers. J’allais prendre le minibus (marshroutka) pour 1 200 drams, un des passagers m’ayant reconnu, me proposa d’être le 4e passager de la Lada de Gagik pour 2 000 drams et d’arriver à Erevan plus vite.

Depuis je l’ai vu plusieurs fois non loin de l’arrêt des minibus, et, voyant qu’il voulait du travail rémunérant, j’ai commencé à lui proposer de petits travaux et de longs trajets. Nous l’avons aussi recommandé à ceux qui nous visitaient en Arménie et ils ont aussi apprécié sa gentillesse, son sérieux et son exactitude. Un jour il me demanda un emprunt de $ 500 pour pouvoir installer lui aussi une salle de bain avec toilette aux normes occidentales dans sa maison, ce qui lui permettrait de recevoir des visiteurs et supplémenter son maigre revenu.

C’est ainsi qu’il a fait la rencontre de Dominique, le vétérinaire et de son fils, Paul, marchand de poisson. Ces français (de France) se sont tellement bien senti à l’aise dans la famille de Gagik, qu’ils y sont restés quelques jours.  Ils ont pu communiquer avec le fils ainé de Gagik, Armen (12 ans), qui les guida à travers notre région. Ils ont même essayé ensemble d’attraper des poissons dans nos ruisseaux.



Shoushane, l’épouse de Gagik, se sentait mal et Gagik m’avait dit qu’elle avait une enflure à l’abdomen. Comme je savais que Dominique est vétérinaire, je lui ai demandé s’il voudrait bien examiner cette dame en détresse pour m’expliquer la gravité de la situation. Il le fit volontiers et confirma ce que les médecins arméniens avait recommandé : Une intervention chirurgicale le plus vite possible.

Avant de retourner en France, Dominique m’avait appelé pour se rassurer sur l’état de santé de notre dame. C’est là que je lui ai expliqué que, malgré les services publics de santé, Gagik devrait payer une somme considérable (pour lui) pour pouvoir faire opérer sa femme. Notre vétérinaire et son fils me demandèrent de me renseigner sur les montants nécessaires en me suggérant qu’ils étaient prêts à contribuer.

Une fois rendus en France nous avons correspondu par courrier électronique et ils m’ont transféré la totalité de la somme, que je viens de remettre à Gagik en présence de sa famille. La vidéo de cette scène émouvante et heureuse peut être visionnée en cliquant ci-dessous.

Shoushane se porte beaucoup mieux.

Tout est bien, qui finit bien.

[*] Et non pas ‘il était une fois’ car c’est ainsi (mot-à-mot) que commencent les contes en arménien.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lettre 35: Gago gets his watch

Lettre 35: Gago gets his watch

I am pleased to announce that yesterday, a Jewish lady from New York, came to Yeghegnadzor, and gave Gago the watch he had dreamed about.

Unfortunately or fortunately, the Frenchman who had suggested he would bring Gago a watch, was not able to come to Armenia as planned, his wife had gotten pregnant. We wish the family a healthy baby and mother.

Gilberta Fass, had read about Gago on my blog (see letter # 32) and had written me to ask if he had gotten his watch. When I said no, she offered to bring him one. You can see his happy face on the attached videos.

Thank you Gilberta.

Antoine S. Terjanian

Went there to move mountains, one pebble at a time

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lettre 34: Armenia 2 – Ireland 1, but the Irish moved-on to qualify because I brought our flag early

Letter 34: Armenia 2 – Ireland 1, but the Irish moved-on to qualify because I brought our flag early

Vachik, our young corner grocer, about 150 meters down from our house, asked to borrow our large Armenian flag to parade it in Yeghegnadzor at 1:00 am Wednesday Oct 12, if Armenia wins the game against Ireland and qualifies for the 2012 World Soccer Cup.
I agreed, but the issue was: Would we be up at 1:00 am so he can borrow it then. I told him that we usually go to bed before 10 pm.
On the evening of Oct. 11, I was going to buy milk, so I decided to take our flag down to Vachik, to save him coming to get it that evening. He felt a bit uneasy accepting it, because it is bad luck to brag before actually winning a game. Nevertheless, he took the flag and told us he had planned to watch the game at the Vayots Dzor Café, down on the main Yerevan-Artsakh highway, where it was to be projected on a large outdoor screen.
We don’t have a TV here, but when we heard of the large screen, we thought it would be fun to go and watch the game with a group of locals. The main point being that, since it was an outdoor cafe, we would not be bothered by tobacco smoke!!!. We therefore booked a taxi for 10:30 pm and we got there in time for the national anthems.

It was a beautiful clear and cool evening and the full moon was shining. There was a crowd of about 40 people there and Sheila was the only woman, but Vachik was nowhere to be found. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it have been great if I had noted my friend Berge’s cellular phone number. Berge had planned to watch the game at the “Sports Bar” on Yonge and College, with a group of TorontoHyes. I could have called them to give them impressions from the locals… They would have surely been impressed to know of the 150 TV’s at Toronto’s “Sports Bar”.

I was impressed how well the Armenian team played right from the start. Theirs was a fast-paced tactic with short passes on the ground to compensate for the height difference with the Irish team.

One of the most fascinating moments for me was when, early in the game, S. Cox managed to get almost alone in front of our goalie and midfielder Mkrtchyan stole the ball from him at the last moment, without any foul play (see photo), and saved us from a quasi certain goal.

Things started going bad for the Armenian team in the 26th minute, when the referee red-carded our excellent goalie (video replays showed that this penalty was unwarranted). Nevertheless, our outnumbered team continued to play valiantly and respectfully with one man short.

Ireland’s forward Simon Cox, the closest man to the play, remorsefully but nevertheless ‘honestly and magnanimously” declared after the game that it was not a handball by the keeper as seen and called by the referee and that the ball had accidentally touched his own hand immediately before.

In the 43rd minute, V. Aleksanyan scored a goal in Armenia’s own net, giving Ireland the lead.

The first half ended 1-0 for Ireland.

In the second half, Ireland’s Richard Dunne (who reminds me of my nephew Patrick) scored a beautiful goal at the 59th minute, and put the hosts 2 goals ahead. Look at him in the photo consoling our (second) ‘debutant’ replacement goalie!

At this point, the odds were overwhelmingly stacked against Armenia: facing the Irish on their home turf, with only 10 players, and needing three goals to qualify.

Three minutes later (62nd minute), Mkhitaryan (#18), linking up neatly with striker Yura Movsisian, scored a beautiful goal for Armenia. Our honour was safe!

The subdued crowd at the Vayots Dzor Café dispersed without much fanfare, behaving just like they did during the game. The final score was: Aleksanyan (Armenia) 43rd minute; Dunn (Ireland) 59th minute; Mkhitaryan (Armenia) 62nd minute. Like I said: 2-1.

Vachik returned our flag today. He said he didn’t use it. I told him I had been at the Vayots Dzor Café but did not see him there. He said: I was told there was no room left. He obviously did not want me to feel bad about having given him the flag ahead of time. He said: so you know we lost. I said: no, we won: the respect of the Irish team and that of all those who watched this game around the world. Our team played well and clean to the end and, in the spirit of the sport, did not make a scene contesting the referee’s decision (a request was made to UEFA after the game to annul the ban linked to the red card wrongfully awarded our goalie).

A video of the match highlights can be found in the following link:

Antoine S. Terjanian
Went there to help keep our heads up!

All rights reserved. This letter can be reproduced with full acknowledgements.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Lettre 32: Gago and the watch

Yeghegnadzor, Saturday, June-05-10 When I first met Gago a few years back, he was in the middle of the street, directing traffic in downtown Yeghegnadzor. When Gago tried to tell me where to walk, I did not quite understand until some passers-by quietly explained that Gago was just a friendly soul who wandered the downtown area and meant no harm to anyone. I have since always enjoyed seeing him clown around, smiling and laughing with everybody. It is about a year ago that Gago approached me to say he needed a waterproof watch so that he could bathe with it on. I told him I would look for one and, if I found one, I would bring it to him. Every time I ran into Gago in downtown Yeghegnadzor, he reminded me about the watch, and when I returned to Armenia last March, he had not forgotten. When he saw me, he said: Bari Kaloust, im zhamatsouytsu our e? (Welcome back. Where is my watch?) I had brought an old watch from Ottawa and gave it to him. His eyes lit up. He quickly examined it and said with such sadness in his eyes: This is not water-proof… the water-proof ones have a tightening mechanism on the back. This simple man knew what he was talking about. Indeed, as I later learned, water-proof watches have grooves on the circle of the watch’s back cover which watchmakers use to unscrew the back and work on the watch when necessary. I apologized to Gago; I was sorry I did not have such a watch, and I had not considered it a priority to get a watch that he could bathe with. I suggested that all he had to do was take his watch off when he had a shower. He looked so sad and his beautiful smile faded from his face. The next time I saw him, I told him that I would write a letter from Armenia about him, and perhaps some generous person with a waterproof watch would donate it and I could bring it next time I came. Now Gago can’t wait for me to leave and come back . Every time I see him downtown he asks, are you not gone yet? So if anyone has such a watch to donate, please think about making “Gizh Gago” happy in Yeghegnadzor!

Antoine S. Terjanian
Went there to move mountains and keep hope lit

p.s. A generous Frenchman, has read this letter in English, and is sending a waterproof watch for Gago. Thank you.

p.p.s. If you think Armenians are happy, watch this skit in the Yerevan fruit & Veg market: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xll8_FhATZs&feature=player_embedded/

p.p.p.s. Remember the four candles: Peace, Faith, Love and Hope If the first three candles are extinguished, make sure you keep the fourth lit.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Letter 31: The Legend of Yeghegis (was revised - see 2011)

Yeghegnadzor, Sunday, April-25-10

see revised "Letter 33"
Antoine S. Terjanian
Went there to move mountains
To read all my letters from Armenia, click on http://lettersfromArmenia.blogspot.com

 Yeghegnadzor changed names several times. It was also named Migoyan (after Anastase Migoyan the former President of the USSR) and his statue is still standing in the middle of the town’s central park, but historically, it was known as ‘Yeghegik’ (little reed).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lettre 30: (French) Pourquoi, si les Arméniens sont des gens intelligents, n'arrivent-ils pas à développer leur pays

Yeghegnadzor, dimanche, 13 septembre 2009

Une amie Belge qui réside en Suisse et qui comme moi aime habiter la montagne vient de me poser les deux questions suivantes, à la suite de sa visite en Arménie :

Je serais curieuse de savoir ce que vous répondriez à 2 questions qu'on m'a posé :
1) Pourquoi, si les Arméniens sont des gens intelligents, n'arrivent-ils à développer leur pays?

Réponse rapide : Parce qu’il est difficile de développer en vitesse un pays enclavé, en conflit avec deux des pays qui l’enclavent.

Mais avant de répondre en détail, j’avoue me sentir mal à l’aise pour répondre à cette première question, car avec le ‘si’ elle semble donner l’impression que les Arméniens ‘prétendent’ être ‘intelligents’.

J’aimerais tout de suite écarter cette hypothèse en vous offrant pour commencer une traduction de quelques vers du poème de Parouyr Sevak (assassiné par le KGB en 1971 sur la route que vous avez prise pour venir chez nous – vous auriez remarqué une stèle en granit noir en photo ci-dessous). Il avait récité ce poème pour la première fois le 24 avril 1965 lors de la commémoration spontanée du 50ième anniversaire du Génocide des arméniens à Yerevan :

Nous sommes peu nombreux, mais on nous nomme: Arméniens

Bien qu'en petit nombre on nous dit Arméniens,
Supérieurs à personne, certes nous le savons bien,
Simplement, nous savons, bâtisseurs exemplaires,
Creuser de nos rochers palais et monastères,
Et finement sculpter des poissons de nos pierres,
Et modeler l'argile en images humaines,
Pour instruire, élever et dans tous les domaines,
Au beau,
Au bon,
Au sublime,
Au bien.

Bien qu'en petit nombre, on nous dit arméniens,
Supérieurs à personne, certes nous le savons bien,
Simplement, nous avions un destin différent.
Simplement, tel un fleuve a coulé notre sang,
Simplement au cours de notre vie séculaire,
Quand nous étions nombreux sur notre terre,
Et à nouveau, debout et dans la liberté,
Jamais une nation par nous fût maltraitée,
Ni de nos bras frappée, ni jamais asservie,
Des siècles ont passé, des siècles ont suivi,
D'aucun peuple jamais nous ne fûmes tyrans.
Et si nous capturions, ce n'est qu'en attirant,
Subjuguant librement par notre seul regard,
Et si victorieux flottèrent nos étendards,
C'est grâce à nos soldats, à nos propres armées.
Et si nous dominions, nos yeux seuls ont charmé.
Et si jamais nous fûmes d'impérieux vainqueurs,
C'est seulement par nos dons, par l'esprit, par le cœur

Nous sommes peu, il est vrai, mais nous sommes arméniens
Et d'être en petit nombre ne nous accable en rien,
Car il vaut beaucoup mieux n'être multitude
Que par la quantité réduire en servitude,
Car il faut préférer la qualité au nombre,
Qui souvent rend les peuples odieux dominateurs.
Et nous préférons la qualité au nombre
Et ne pas devenir bourreaux persécuteurs.

Certes, nous ne sommes supérieurs à personne.
Mais savons aussi que pour le monde entier,
Nous sommes arméniens, c'est ainsi qu'on nous nomme.
Cela ne doit-il pas nous emplir de fierté ?
Nous sommes,
Nous serons
Et plus encore,
Nous nous épanouirons.
Maintenant pour répondre à votre question : Il est inexact de postuler que les Arméniens ‘n’arrivent pas à développer leur pays’. Si vous observez le taux de croissance annuel à double chiffre que l’Arménie accuse depuis 10 ans, vous devrez vous rendre à l’évidence que l’Arménie se développe rapidement. Si, comme moi, vous reveniez chaque année, vous ne pourriez pas ne pas remarquer les améliorations d’une année à l’autre. Il est vrai cependant que l’Arménie se situe aujourd’hui économiquement parmi les pays du tiers monde. Après avoir fait partie du ‘second monde’ pendant 70 ans, il est dur pour nous d’avoir reculé ainsi. Nous aspirons tous à vivre en paix et avoir un niveau de vie semblable à celui de la Suisse, pays que nous envions et de qui nous avons beaucoup de choses à apprendre : Nous sommes enclavés comme la Suisse et devrions trouver le moyen de collaborer avec nos voisins (bien que deux d’entre eux nous soient ouvertement belliqueux).
L’Arménie était la République Soviétique la plus densément peuplée et industrialisée (per capita). Lorsque le système (économiquement intégré) soviétique s’est écroulé, presque toutes ces industries ont périclité et nous avons vécu un taux de chômage des plus élevés au monde. Nous sommes donc devenus des exportateurs de main-d’œuvre. Heureusement ou malheureusement, l’Arménie vit actuellement surtout de ces rémittences envoyées par la main-d’œuvre expatriée. Ce phénomène est en même temps un avantage et un frein au développement rationnel de l’Arménie.

Et 2) Les gens disent : pourquoi la diaspora envoie-t-elle de l'argent au lieu de développer elle-même des projets rentables sur place ? S'appuyant sur le proverbe: "Il vaut mieux apprendre à quelqu'un à pêcher que de lui donner du poisson".Il faudrait distinguer deux diasporas : La main-d’œuvre émigrée (temporaire) qui envoie des rémittences, car sans elles, leur familles crèveraient de faim étant donné que la sécurité sociale est très pauvre en Arménie, et la diaspora établie dans différents pays d’Europe depuis le début du 20ième siècle. Cette dernière s’est en effet cotisée pour envoyer des fonds pour aider les familles arméniennes à se nourrir, se loger et s’habiller. Plusieurs bienfaiteurs et groupements de bienfaisance ont beaucoup aidé. Nous avons aussi bénéficié de la générosité d’organismes de bienfaisance non-Arméniens et nous en sommes très reconnaissant. Plusieurs de ses organismes de bienfaisance axent maintenant leur optique sur le développement de l’infrastructure et la création de projets rentables (par exemple : la production d’électricité par des petites centrales hydro-électrique; la recherche sur les énergies alternatives, etc..). Plusieurs entrepreneurs diasporans ont investi en Arménie dans les domaines de la production de conserves de fruits, légumes et miel pour la consommation locale et l’exportation; l’orfèvrerie, la taille de diamants, l’informatique, l’infrastructure hôtelières pour encourager le tourisme, etc… Mais il n’y en a pas assez pour remplacer une base industrielle massive qui existait en période Soviétique. Nous savons pêcher, mais il n’y a simplement pas assez de poissons dans notre coin. Nous continuons cependant à œuvrer dans ce sens. Je ne cesse personnellement d’établir des contacts et de lancer des hameçons là où je peux pour inviter des touristes, attirer des investisseurs et des acheteurs de nos produits, et je continuerais. Et avec la bienveillance de beaucoup de personnes généreuses comme toi,
Nous serons
Et plus encore,
Nous nous épanouirons. Je n’en doute pas.

Antoine S. Terjanian
J’y suis allé pour déplacer les montagnes
Pour lire mes lettres d’Arménie, cliquez sur http://lettersfromArmenia.blogspot.com

Letter 29: The Neighbour’s Family

Sunday, June-28-09
When we first bought our house in 2003, one neighbour, in his early fifties, did not seem too happy to have us as his new neighbours. He had been using the abandoned house to store his beehives in the winter and he guarded the orchard like his own.
Their house was down the hill from us. His eldest daughter, Armenouhi, had married Tigran and moved to Aghavnadzor, the village on the mountain across from us on the west side of the old Silk Road. His son Armen had just married Lusineh, from Mozrov, another village that we can also see from our house, which is very close to the Nakhijevan border. They had a new-born baby and lived with the parents, together with a younger daughter, Hamovik, who was finishing high school.
At the time, our neighbour had offered to do all the work to finish our house, but when we visited his house and saw the poor state of repair and finishing, we diplomatically declined. I learned at the time from his wife, Nshkhar, that some “diasporan benefactor” had loaned (through a local bank) a group of women money to buy a mother sow to produce piglets. The sow had died and Nshkhar and the other women were stuck with the debt. Nshkhar asked me if she really had to pay the debt, given that it was from a benefactor. Needless to say that they struggled with that debt and paid interest on it. At that time, I took everything I was told with a grain of salt, having heard so many stories and warnings about lending people money. But when Our neighbour asked for funds to pay for Hamovik’s university tuition, promising to return the money in three months, I gave it to him, no receipt, no promissory note, just a gentlemen’s agreement. He paid me back three years later by building and finishing our wood floor, and what a superb job that was!

Our neighbour is a ‘character’. At first, he could not understand why we would not tolerate anyone smoking in our house. I have noticed recently, however, that now he does not smoke in his own house. Our neighbour is also a great craftsman. There isn’t a thing that we brought from Canada that broke that he couldn’t figure out and fix, better than before. It was the same with Armen. I was told by his former teachers that he had been a very poor student at school. (His parents blamed it on a head concussion he had in an accident a few years back, when he was hit by a speeding vehicle on the Silk Road while herding the neighbourhood flock. But I slowly realized he had a knack for figuring out how mechanical things fit together. He and his father took apart anything from water pumps to automatic door hinges to fancy flush toilets and installed them for us, although they had none of these gadgets themselves. For example, when we broke our flimsy spring-loaded shower-curtain rod, we bought a new one and broke it again. Armen fixed them both five years ago and they are still up.

Lusineh, Armen’s young spouse, is to me the ideal Armenian wife. She looks after her children with devotion, is always welcoming with a lovely smile, and works side by side with her mother in law and the rest of the family.

Then there’s Hamovik. Now 25, still single, she’s bubbly and beautiful like a rising sun. She’s the one they sent to university in Yerevan and went into debt for. Some anonymous Ottawa benefactors had given us money to help Armenia and we used some of it to provide her with a partial scholarship to cover her tuition during the last two of her four years. She studied economics and bank management and graduated two years ago, but the only job she could find was night cashier in one of those supermarkets in Yerevan. She could hardly make ends meet working 48 hours over a seven-day-week. She is now back in Yeghegnadzor and was able to find a job as a Manager in the University’s new Youth Centre. It pays less than in Yerevan, but at least she lives at home and has no high rent to pay. Hamovik is the one who convinced me, when we first arrived, that the mountain we saw from our living room window was actually Ararat (Masis). She took me to a different spot a few hundred meters away from where one could clearly see Sis in addition to Masis.

Despite their skills and some loans, our neighbour and his son Armen could not make ends meet in Yeghegnadzor, and I can testify that they worked day and night. I would wake-up sometimes at three in the morning and, while taking a short walk outside, I could see their basement workshop light on and hear their wood-working machines running. In 2006, Armen was called to work for a contractor in Ukraine. I gave him a warm jacket for the winter and off he went. A few months later we realised that he had been led astray, the job he was offered had not materialised and although he worked at odd repair jobs on the side and was too proud to return broke, his parents had to ultimately go into more debt for his ticket back. Yet, he went again last year, this time with his father, to Yakutia, in Arctic Russia. Apparently they were more successful this time, and although they had to return because our neighbour’s stomach ulcer acted up, they had managed to earn a few hundred dollars more than they had invested to go to Yakutia.

If you ever think that it is Western Armenian Diaspora money that keeps Armenia afloat, think again. It is people like our neighbour and his son who go regularly to slave in Russia and send remittances home. Sometimes, some of these migrant workers give up on Armenia and marry a Russian girl and never return. But most of those I know return home to their families.

With the money they made in Yakutia, this family’s males were able to pay off some of their debts and buy a second cow for their family. (Armen keeps telling me he will pay back the Principessa&General Fund loan… I am still waiting).
With the two cows now, next time you visit us, we will never run out of fresh milk, madsoun (Armenian delicious yogurt), butter or cheese. You should taste the freshness of the “alani panir” that I buy from Nshkhar regularly. It is like fresh ‘bocconcinis’. I have it with mountain honey in the morning for breakfast, and I put it with several of my tomato-based salads that have some of the subtle aromas of the Kanachis, the mixed fresh green herbs that are always present on Armenian tables.
It was when I wanted to see for myself the hygienic conditions under which the cheese from unpasteurised milk that I ate everyday was produced, that I realised that Nshkhar could not use the extra whey and was giving it away. She told me, had she owned a sow, she could feed the whey to it.

I had just heard from a benefactor couple in Toronto that they wanted their fund to be used for helping women entrepreneurs. So I helped Nshkhar prepare a business plan and the following picture is “worth a thousand words”. Except that I had to delete it, to protect these peoples' identity.
Photo of: Nshkhar, the sow, Lusineh and Armen (deleted)
(The names in this story have been altered to protect their identity and respect their privacy)
April 23, 2010: There is however a happy epilogue to this story. The sow in the photo that I deleted has reproduced and is living happily with the piglets, looking at Ararat. Here is their photo, also worth a 1000 words:

Antoine S. Terjanian
Went there to attract rainbows
to read all my letters from Armenia, open http://lettersfromArmenia.blogspot.com


Monday, July 13, 2009

Letter 28: Healing at Chiqi Vanq

Tuesday, June-09-09
There was an article by Jeffrey Kluger in the Feb 23 issue of Time Magazine this winter about how faith can heal, entitled “The Biology of Belief”. He concludes the article by saying: “Doctors, patients and pastors battling disease already know that help comes in a whole lot of forms. It is the result, not the source, that counts the most.” The article by Kruger is followed by examples of different healing practices and pilgrimage spots around the world, the most famous of which seems to be Notre Dame de Lourdes in France.

Armenia is quickly becoming a pilgrimage tourism destination. As the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, Armenia has a huge collection of monasteries and chapels scattered all over the mountainous landscape where monks and saints have lived and prayed, and, after their death, were credited with miracles. Armenia is also the closest Christian country to the Holy Land, and consequently Armenians have had easier access to Holy Christian relics than any other nation around the world. It is therefore no wonder that most monasteries and chapels in Armenia boast to have Christian relics hidden in them. While many of these relics were taken out of Armenia to Christian Europe (or ‘saved’) by Armenian clergymen in the Middle Ages after the Muslim conquest(s), many have remained buried in the foundations of these chapels until today, are still the object of veneration and are credited with even more miracles.

Interestingly, many of these monasteries and chapels are located on previously pagan holy spots and temples. In fact, the Armenian Christian Church has adopted and “Christianized” many formerly pagan festivals and holidays. The culture and beliefs in the healing powers associated with these sites is therefore well entrenched in Armenia. For example, you will find in the little chapel of St Phokas, near Noravanq (15 kilometres from our house), the basin of a sacred spring in which some miraculous healing oils seep from the relics of the Saint, according to the 13th century writings of Bishop Stepanos Orbelyan. Orbelyan wrote “Here surprising things used to occur. All kinds of pains, whose cure by man was impossible, such as leprosy and long-infected and gangrenous wounds, were cured when people came here, bathed with the water and anointed with the oil. But in cases where the wounds were fatal, (the patient) expired immediately.”

Hayki, our former-“shepherd” neighbour, had taken us to St Phokas when the Nabatians and Pascovichs visited in 2004 but I had never witnessed a true sacrifice and miraculous healing before, such as the one I witnessed at Chiqi Vanq. Chiq means skin disease (psoriasis). I found out at the last minute from one friend, Ruzan, that she was going with her family to Chiqi Vanq, a small chapel past Vayq, near Herher village. I had heard about the specialty of this “Vanq” for curing skin diseases. I asked Ruzan why they were going, she answered: just like that, for a picnic. I had wanted to go to Chiqi Vanq to check it out, so I asked if I could come too, and on the spur of the moment, she said yes. So off I went with her on the marshutka to Malichka, a large village 10 kms away from Yeghegnadzor, to her mother’s house where the rest of the family had gathered (Her mother, daughter, sister, nephew, her sister’s mother-in-law “Rosa Dadik” and two friends of her nephew). I noticed Ruzan’s 20-year-old nephew had a bandage near his wrist. He said he had strained it working. Soon Ishkhan showed-up with his little blue fourgon (van) and we all piled-up in. They insisted I sit in the front with Ishkhan, so eight adults were stuffed in the closed back and were warned not to make any noise if we were stopped by a policeman. Soon after we took off, they realized they had forgotten the most important guest on this trip, the rooster. We returned and soon Anoushik and Souren came-back with a captured rooster in a bag.

See the full series of the pilgrimage photos by clicking:

It wasn’t long after we passed Vayq (the second largest city in Vayots Dzor) that we turned left to get on the road to Herher. We went past the Herher dam and drove along the lake. Soon Ishkhan pointed to a spot in the mountains. It was Chiqi Vanq, our destination.

The overloaded fourgon could not make it up the mountain, so we got off and walked the last mile. It was gorgeous to climb the mountain and look at the green valley below. We ran into a horseman returning from the mountain. We soon had to climb the goat path to Chiqi Vanq. The nicely polished stones were visible, but many stones from the roof and siding had been ripped-away by the violent storms that sometimes occur on the top of mountains. On the way, we noticed the little pieces of cloth tied to tree branches by pilgrims to the site. As soon as we arrived, Rosa Dadik proceeded to examine the chapel, where she obviously had been before. She pulled out a bag which turned out to be full of home-made candles that she distributed to each of us. We each lit our pair of candles in the small niches on the side of the altar. The altar was full of little mementos left by previous pilgrims, usually handkerchiefs. Rosa Dadik then went into a mild emotional trance/prayer, chanting ‘cure my grandson’ with tears in her eyes. Then she called Souren into the chapel and proceeded to feel all parts of his body in some kind of a ritual, repeating the same prayer.

When we backed out (an archaic custom which is supposed to show respect to the altar), the Մատաղ Matagh (sacrifice rooster) was waiting, seemingly aware of his destiny. Rosa Dadik took charge. She took out the knife, sharpened it quickly on the bare rocks and handed it to Souren’s young friend, who had this incredulously funny smile on his face. He proceeded to slaughter the rooster and, in a minute, Rosa Dadik had her finger in the fresh blood-soaked earth and marked Souren’s forehead with a cross, again repeating the same prayer. She did the same thing to all those present. Then they walked around the chapel a few times. The whole “ceremony” was completed in a matter of minutes but I thoroughly enjoyed the serenity of the place and the stupendous view. We could see the snowy mountain peaks around, the extinct volcano, and the Herher dam reservoir. I was sorry to leave the place, but it was late evening already, and we still had to cook and eat the sacrifice.

So we returned to the car and chose a spot under an oak tree. On the way back we each gathered whatever dead wood we could find to light a fire. In a matter of minutes, we were boiling water in a pot for the bokhi some had also gathered on the way down. Bokhi is a wild mountain green vegetable that Armenians love to eat – it tastes a bit bitter, but is supposed to cure many stomach ills. After the bokhi had boiled, it was the turn of the yet unplucked bird. The two dadiks had dipped the deceased rooster in the boiling water and unceremoniously proceeded to pluck, clean and cut it into pieces which ended up in the pot with new boiling water and salt.

You are not supposed to cover the pot when boiling a ‘Մատաղ – Matagh’, perhaps to let the smell spread so that all hungry people can join in the feast. So it took longer than usual to get this broth to a strong boil, before they could add the rice. In the meanwhile visitors from the mountain kept trickling down, and each received a small something to eat, for which they said “dzer Mataghu entounvats lini” (may your sacrifice be accepted) . We all took turns to feed the fire to get the water boiling; at one point, the pot was partly covered (would this void the cure?). Souren asked: So do I now stop all medicine I took before? To which they all answered with no hesitation: yes! Souren’s mum recounted that she had done a similar (sacrifice) at Chiqi Vanq when she was younger, and by the time she had arrived home, she had been cured.

By the time the rooster was declared boiled enough, the picnic meal had been spread: Lavash bread, panir (unripened/salted white cheese), kanachi (green herbs), tomatoes and cucumbers. Each was handed a small deep tin dish with the broth and a piece of chewy rooster. It was good. Then the oghi came out and everyone made toasts wishing Souren a speedy cure and wishing all good health.

It was almost dark when we finished eating and while some were packing, the others danced under the volcano to varied tunes from the fourgon’s sound-system.
I was back home around 11 o’clock, happy to have witnessed an age old Armenian tradition in a spontaneous way, and to have documented it with photos.

The last I heard, Souren is feeling much better and looking for a job in Yerevan. He had already stopped itching by the time he got home.

© All rights reserved. This letter can be reproduced with full acknowledgements.
© Tous droits réservés. La reproduction de ce texte est permise avec reconnaissance complete.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Letter 27: Armenian Կոնյաք (Konyak)

Եղեգնաձոր (Yeghegnadzor) Friday, May-22-2009
Dear Raffi:

What you say makes sense and I remember hearing many aspects of that story, but it will need digging-up.

 From: Raffi

Subject: cognac
To: Received: Monday, May 18, 2009, 8:41 AM

parev kerri
ouremen hima Amsterdam em, yev Ararat cognaki
marketingi vra g'ashxadimgor. ansial shapat, camille
g'essergor vor francatsinere porcecin 'cognac'
par arkilel ararati vra, yev verchavorutiunin, tsouic devin
vor...des moines armeniens ont apporte la recette du cognac
en France
d'ailleurs tu te soviens, en 2005 nous sommes alle
à la vallee d'armeniac.

alors tu peux me confirmer cette histoire? ou si tu as
un article la dessus...merci


Let us start from the Bible, Noah (3900 B.C. to 2900 B.C.) got drunk from the wine grown near where the Arch landed (probably the Ararat plain or the Areni area near our house). I don’t know any Frenchman who can boast having made wine at that time in France. Now do you think Noah would have gotten drunk on simple wine. He had probably met my neighbour Zorro who had him taste some of his ‘oghi’. But we can’t prove this at this time! However the symbolism of this Biblical story is clear in everyone’s mind: Armenia is the land where God gave man (through Noah) a second chance! Any oghi or Կոնյաք (Konyak) produced here has, aside from its’ special sun-baked aroma and fruity flavours, the distinction of being from the ‘land where God gave man a second chance’!

Now we all know that the Romans did partake in wine making and drinking. The King of Armenia was taken in chains to Rome when he refused to give them all his wines and specially his recipe for making oghi. There is a slight possibility, that this is when the Romans (and the French) learned to make distilled wine, but we have no historical proof they learned their lesson well. According to historian Boris Piotrovski, in the mid-5th century, after the Romans had appeased the Armenians, Rome was regularly supplied with barrels of ‘distilled grape wine’ bearing the seal of Dvin (which is located just beyond the Gegham mountain range, looking from our living room window towards Ararat). If it takes me an hour to get to Dvin by car today, how long do you think those barrels of distilled grape wine took to reach Rome? There you have it: The Romans were drinking “Hnatsatz oghi” without knowing it. In our town, hardly anyone has the means to drink “Hnatsatz oghi” for they drink fresh, all the oghi they produce long before it starts getting old. When they run-out of their own home-made oghi, they come to me to borrow money to go and buy some cheap Russian vodka until the new season, when they make the new delicious oghi again.

You will remember no doubt what the last known ‘Olympic Champion’ of antiquity, Vartakades (Arshakuni), Prince of Armenia, said in an Irish pub after winning the boxing contest in 369 A.D. He said: ‘Let’s drink to this’ and then they all sang: ‘խմենք ընկերներ, բաժակները լի, թող Հայոց գինին մեզ անուշ լինի’. (a popular Armenian wine drinking song). After the գինի (wine) they went on to the oghi and the ‘bachanales’ and then showed-up for 10 o’clock Mass, drunk!… So you can understand why the Olympic Games, which were held for more than 1100 years, were abolished in 393AD by Roman Emperor Theodosius, who considered them to be pagan and why we, Roman Catholics, have to fast from midnight on if we want to have Holy Communion.

When the Eastern Roman Empire was created and the Byzantine Empire took over, several of the Byzantine Emperors were Armenians (search for instance Emperor “Leo the Armenian”). The Byzantines raised armies from all parts of the empire, but never kept the ‘armed’ legions from a given ethnic group on their national soil, so there is no temptation to claim ‘armed’ independence. For instance, we all know that the Romanians are the result of the mixture of Roman (Italian) soldiers who were part of the Roman Legion that Byzantium stationed in that part of the world, away from Italy. They intermarried with the local Slavic tribes and barbarians and formed the Romanian language (close to Italian). The same was true with the Armenian Legion during the Byzantine Empire. They were not stationed in Armenia. They were stationed in Italy (precisely in the Veneto, in Ravenna and Rimini - where Rimini got its name from being called “citta degli Armeni”). It is well known that in the 6th century, under the rule of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (the builder of Hajia Sophia), it is precisely the Armenian Legion that liberated Rome after it had been plundered by the Ostrogoths. … I remember reading it in a book called “From Ararat to San Lazzaro” published by the Armenian Mekhitarist monks in the Island of San Lazzaro in Venice. The Armenian Legion was under the leadership of General Nerces (sometimes written ‘Narses’, Narcissus). It went on to appease the Spaniards afterwards going through southern France (Gaul) and taught them a few tricks in the process, but probably not how to make oghi (yet).

Now in the early medieval period, after the Muslim conquest of southern Armenia (700 AD- 800AD) there were many schisms/heresies and sects that originated in the Anatolian/Armenian part of the Byzantine Empire. Please check the “Paulicians” if you have good access to the internet. I am sure Wikipedia has something on them. Now these guys were Armenians, and were persecuted by Byzantine emperors. They were a Gnostic and quasi Manichaean Christian group which flourished between 650 and 872. Some of their sects fought against the worship of icons, and therefore were given protection against persecution in areas of Armenia conquered by Arab-Muslims. Other sects moved west and ended-up in southern France, in the Languedoc.

You can look-up the ‘Cathars’ and the ‘Croisade des Albigeois’ which was a crusade called for by Pope Innocent II to eliminate these ‘Manichean’ preachers and their followers who had been welcomed by liberal-thinking southern French Princes of Languedoc because they made such good oghi (these “non-Parisian” French could not pronounce the ‘gh’ sound – like the ‘r’ in ‘Paris’ - and ‘oghi’ became known as “eau-d’vie”). Incidentally the Cathars (cat-arse) never called themselves by that name, it is a name given to them by the Dominican monks who led the theological fight against them, for they accused them of ‘devil worship’ and of ‘kissing the arse of black cats on their altars during Holy Mass’ (which is totally untrue), but since all we had as a written record about them was what those Dominicans had recorded during their ‘inquisition’ trials of these poor Armenian preachers before they burned them alive together with all their bibles, oghi making secrets and religious books, the name and stories stuck. It wasn’t until after WW II that an ancient bible written in old Languedoc French was discovered in the destroyed Jewish ghetto of Warshava and it was found to be the only surviving book of those so-called ‘Cathars’. This is how we now know what kind of pseudo-Christian religion these sects practiced.

I suspect that it is at that time that some of these monks started making oghi in oak barrels to keep it from the inquisition and found that it tasted smoother, and that this monk Armenak gave his name to Armagnac. It is at that time also that Saint Pey d’Armens was founded (see photo).

Now I do not have direct evidence of that, for I have not had time to visit any of the Languedoc archives in Toulouse, but you may have such an opportunity.

On the other hand, a Germano-Russo Canadian friend of mine sent me a description of an episode during which an Armenian bishop, carrying relics and other precious items, was separated from his treasures by the perfidy of the Counts of Sayn, in Westphalia, at some time in the 12th century. (For details, see the “endnote”). Below is the photo of the shrine where the relics are still kept near Bonn (unfortunately there is no oghi there now, they drank it all).

Now this poor Armenian Bishop was fleeing the Seljuk black-sheep bashibouzouk conquest, and I don’t really know whether he came in the same migration wave as Armenak of Armagnac fame, or if Armenak came earlier from General Nercess time.

It is undeniable that Armenians have entered French lives and culture at several times in history. Everyone in France knows the story of the “Masque de fer” where one version of the legend has the secret prisoner as an Armenian bishop or prince who cured the ‘Dauphin’ from dysentery with ‘madsoun’ (the name Armenians have always used for their special and delicious ‘yogurt’) … How about d’Artanyan and the Three Musketeers? Do you remember their first names? (Arthos, Portos and Aramis). Are these French names or are they more likely to be Artin, Poghos and Aram? And I am sure your mother told you the story of ‘Artin partir à Paris’… How about (former) President Jacques Chirac: Did his ancestors come all the way here and founded the ‘Region of Shirak’ (Շիրակ Մարզ) in northern Armenia or is it the other way around?

The fact is that when the French Cognac producers took the Armenian Konyak producers to court for calling their ‘hnatsads oghi’ Konyak (Կոնյաք), they lost. And you can notice that in Armenia and in Russia, Armenian Konyak still has labels legally calling it Konyak. I understand several historic arguments were made in court by the Armenian side, some around the same kind of anecdotes I reported here, and some of more recent history: as you said, Armenians (Nercess Tairyants) called their oak-matured “hnatsads oghi” Կոնյաք and exported it to Russia (1877) as such, much before the name was copyrighted or the copyright laws were created! Armenian Կոնյաք was even awarded the “Grand Prix” (in a blind tasting degustation) by the jury at the 1900 International Exhibition in Paris, under the brand name “Shustov Cognac” (after Nikolai Leontevich Shustov, who had bought the Yerevan oghi factory from Tairyants a year earlier).

I hope this helps you.

Համբույրներ (Bisous)


p.s. This story is copyrighted. If you, your other uncle or Pernod-Ricard dare to infringe on this copyright and use any of this text, you won’t fare as easily in court as the Armenyan Կոնյաք (Konyak) producers did ;-)

Antoine S. Terjanian
Went there to drink oghi
to read all my letters from Armenia, open http://lettersfromArmenia.blogspot.com

© All rights reserved. This letter can be reproduced with full acknowledgements.
© Tous droits réservés. La reproduction de ce texte est permise avec reconnaissance complète.
 The following material is derived from “Sayn’sche Chronik” by Alexander Graf von Hachenburg (Published by Ludwig Röhrscheid, Bonn, 1929). This book traces the history of the Counts of Sayn in Westphalia. It describes an incident with an Armenian bishop at the time of Heinrich II, Count of Sayn. The following abridged extract and its informal translation were provided by my friend Leo Sayn-Wittgenstein:

Heinrich I is mentioned in documents dated 1139, 1140, 1149, and 1152. He died near the turn of the century and was succeeded by his son, Heinrich II, who is mentioned in documents from 1180, 1197, and 1201. He founded the Premonstratensian abbey at Sayn in 1201 and the abbey of St. Maximin in Cologne. His wife was Countess Agnes of Nassau. She died in 1202 and was buried in the crypt in Sayn, where her husband, who had built the fortress of Blankenburg in 1184, was buried in 1205.

Heirich’s brother Bruno was Probst (Prevost/ Provost) in Bonn and later Archbishop of Cologne. He died on the Sayn fortress of Blankenburg on the Sieg in 1208 and is buried in the crypt of the Dome in Cologne. Two years before his death (1205) Bruno presented the abbey with the relic of the arm of the holy apostle Simon. It is still there, preserved and worshipped in a beautiful shrine of the period.

This is how Bruno acquired the treasure: an Armenian bishop came from the Orient to worship at the shrine of the Three Wise Men in Cologne. Travel was dangerous , because it was the time of the war between the kings Philipp and Otto. (Philipp of Swabia, son of Barbarossa, and Otto of Brunswick, nephew of Richard I of England. LSW).

Just past Bonn, at Wesseling, the defenceless traveller encountered a roaming band. He realized the danger, but was more concerned about his treasure than his life. He had the treasure buried in the church yard in Wesseling and continued to Cologne, expecting to recover it on his return. Several locals, however, observed him, dug up the treasure, and brought it to Probst Bruno in Bonn. The Probst recognized its value and appropriated it.

In the meantime, the bishop continued his journey and was attacked by robbers. He carried nothing of value and was, therefore, badly mistreated. His wounds had not yet healed when he started his return from Cologne. At Wesseling he found the place where he had buried his treasure, but the pit was empty! Unconsolable and sick, he stopped in Bonn to recover. Probst Bruno visited him, took him in, and cared for him until he recovered. The Armenian then told Bruno about the unhappy fate of his treasure. Bruno said nothing!

When the bishop was ready to return to the Orient he asked Bruno how he could show his appreciation for the reception and care he had received. Bruno thanked him and asked that he be allowed to keep the relic as a souvenir, if he should happen to come into its posession. After some hesitation, and with a heavy heart, the Armenian agreed and left, richly supplied by Bruno with horses, clothing and money. Bruno sent the relic to the fortress of Blankenburg, to his brothers Heinrich II and Eberhard. Later, the arm and the shrine were brought to the abbey at Sayn.

Seal of Heinrich II

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Letter 26: We’re in March, don’t leave us alone!

Letter 26: We’re in March, don’t leave us alone!
Saturday, March-07-2009 to April-02-09
Here again, hanging on the steep slopes of our mountains,
In the middle of our gardens devastated by the elements provoked by climate change,
We do what the unemployed do, what prisoners do,
We cultivate hope!

We’re a young country with a long history, but have become less smart.
The IMF and the WB still let us borrow and mortgage our children’s future!

Here, on the steps to our house, where the smoke rises
From last fall’s leftover leaves and the street garbage
We can’t breathe. I say, better not to be able to breathe from that than from the smoke of the guns….

But spring is in the air, our apricots have blossomed before the cherries and I hear the buzz of the bees who come from far (Vardkes has left his beehives elsewhere this year). The local black-flies are out, they bother everybody else for 10 days, but they don’t seem to like Canadian-Armenian blood.

Everyone talks of the “Jknazham” (The Economic Crisis) and wants to know how it affects us in Canada). Some people have lost their home. Others who lived beyond their means, those who borrowed money for consumer goods rather than investment will sell their car, their furniture.

Ararat is still there, shining from our window. We can always count on him, whether we see him or not.

Our living room is without its beautiful wooden floor. It was infected by wood borers and I had asked Vardkes to take it away and burn it last winter, but I had left him with the new wood to prepare for installation upon my arrival. He broke his arm in an accident and he now walks around, frustrated, in pain, unemployed, not from lack of work, no insurance except his family.

Had the policeman, who used his club to beat-up peaceful opposition demonstrators a year ago, in March, contemplated his victims’ faces and reflected upon what he was doing, he may have remembered the faces of his grand-parents during the “Metsn Yeghern”, he may have set aside the might of the club, the might of the gun.
This is not the way to build a country!

Alone, we are alone up to our elbows, but for the rainbows that visit us every once and then;
We know we have brothers and sisters beyond these rainbows.
Good brothers and sisters. They love us.
They look at us and rain Manna on us from time to time; then they say:
Why can’t they solve their …. But can’t finish their sentence, for they don’t know what hit us.
Don’t leave us alone! Don’t leave us !

Antoine S. Terjanian
Went there to attract rainbows
to read all my letters from Armenia, open http://lettersfromArmenia.blogspot.com

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Letter 25 : That stubborn pain, the pain of hope!

Yeghegnadzor, Monday, November 12, 2007

Here, on the steep slopes of our mountains, there is no time for life (Kyanqi hamar zhamanaq ch’ka). We do, like those who rise towards God: We forget pain! That stubborn pain, the pain of hope!

Onnik is the man in his seventies who lives on 5 Khachatryan st., the other end of our street. He welcomed us so kindly when we first moved in that I thought I would ask him for advice on where to acquire the goods and services we needed locally. I called several times the number he had given us; no one answered. Then I saw him on the street and asked if I had taken-down his number wrong. He said no, you have the correct number, it is just that they have cut my phone line (for non-payment - 900 drams). So I asked him if perhaps his wife would be willing to wash our laundry, since city water rarely reached our house at the time (because of our altitude). He checked with her and we started taking our laundry there and his phone line started working.

Onnik is an agricultural economist who had a relatively important position in Soviet times. His family came from Karagloukh, a village on the Silk Road, up in the mountains just before you reach the Selim caravanserail which was built in the 13th century by the Orbelyan princes. “Kara Gloukh” means “Stone Head”, not because these villagers are stubborn, I am told, but because of a big rock in the form of a head marking the entrance to the village. If they were all like Onnik, they should have called the village “Voske Sirt”, for Onnik has a heart of gold.

He used to visit me regularly when he knew I was alone and he recited Parouyr Sevak poetry for me, he explained to me the nuances and the different versions of the same poems published in Soviet times, some by the underground press.

He liked to indulge in a bit of oghi and used to smoke. When he noticed our non-smoking sign, he stopped smoking all-together. He ran to our house whenever it looked like we might be needing help or some vegetables from their garden. I always slipped him a banknote or two; then when he noticed that we liked our privacy, he always called first. Onnik complained about his eyes, so I helped him establish contact with some generous Americans who had come to visit us (the Eyecare Project and VOSH). They offered him free eye care and surgery.

Whenever we had visitors, we suggested they have a family meal at Onnik’s instead of going to a restaurant, it helped the local economy and it gave our visitors an opportunity to visit an Armenian village home and experience their hospitality. It is a win/win deal.

On their living room wall they used to have a framed photo of his older brother who died in 1944, in the “Hayrenakan Paterazm” (Patriotic War), just before his battalion reached Berlin. When I came to Yeghegnadzor last March, the photo inside the frame had been replaced by Onnik’s son, the one who lived and worked in Leningrad and used to send him some $ 100 per month. He had died in January in a car accident there and Onnik borrowed the money to go and burry him, in Leningrad; yes, they still call it by the old name here.

Last week he called me late at night. He wanted to borrow some money in a hurry to get his second son, Azat, out of the morgue so he could bury him. They had not seen him for a couple of days, they found him after breaking down the door of his house, where he lived alone.

I had seen Azat a few times at Onnik’s house, on the street, and even once lying on the sidewalk, dead-drunk (a sight you rarely find in Armenia). For some reason I never felt any sympathy for him. I thought there are enough people looking for work here, why would I encourage a drunken tramp. I never offered him work, nor did I ever invite him to our house. But I felt sorry for him this spring when I saw him limping badly. I was told his foot had frozen this winter and they had to amputate his toes. What a difference I thought between Onnik and him, how could they be related?

At the funeral I learned who Azad was. He was a brilliant child and student who graduated with honours from Yerevan’s Polyteknik Institute. He got married, built a beautiful house and had three daughters. Then came independence, the Karabagh war and unemployment. He went to Moscow and worked at anything he could find to send money for his wife and kids. He was one of those Armenians who were badly beaten in the Moscow metro by neo-fascist skinheads. He was lucky he did not die, although in retrospect, perhaps Azat died then. When he returned home, his wife was having an affair. He took to the bottle.

Yes, we forgot pain, that stubborn pain of hope!

Antoine S. Terjanian

Went there to move mountains

to read all my letters from Armenia, click on http://lettersfromarmenia.blogspot.com/

Please feel free to disseminate this letter.