Showing posts from 2002

Letter 10: A(nother) Wedding and Two Concerts

Monday, October 28, 2002

What a week end!

On Saturday I was invited to a wedding. Remember the lady (Seta) from the building across who let me go up on their roof to photograph Ararat on a clear day and then sent up her daughters (see Well it turns out the two girls were her grand-daughters. She wanted me absolutely to meet her young son, Viktor Hambartsoumyan`s (of the Pyurakan observatory) right-hand man (an astrophysicist who has to his credit the discovery of 2 stars). He is now working in the Canaries, but would be coming to Yerevan for his nephew’s wedding on the 26th. I expressed interest in the wedding, so I was invited. At 1:45, a third Grand-daughter, 18 year old Diana met me at Prospect & Toumanian and we walked to this beautiful hidden old church “Sourp Zoravor Asdvadzadzin” (Holy Strong Mother of God)… Seemed to be a favorite for weddings. Literally a wedding every 10 minutes, the next couple waiting in line 10 meters from church door wit…

Letter 09: Weekend in the Capital

September 2002
Thursday night I went to Esfira's home in Bangladesh. Her door was coming off the hinges so I tried to fix it with longer screws, like I did 24 years ago to our front door. On the way, walking at night to look for screws, she asked: Aren't you going to ask me why I moved here. I responded to the effect, if she wanted to tell me I'd listen: She said two weeks ago, her husband's sister showed-up and said to her: this is our house, please move-out. Her husband kept silent, so she called a taxi, packed-up her stuff and moved-out with her sister and daughter to their Bangladesh apartment (10th floor, relatively clean).

So they wanted to talk about a loan to her sister's shop-owner, a dentist not finding a job, running a pharmacy, on the back of which he gave her a room for a beauty salon. I took Rhoda there (haircut 1500, pedicure 3500). But it was impossible to tell from the street there is a beauty salon. So that's when I suggested they should have …

Letter 08: Ara ler and Raffi’s 'Khente'

Saturday, August 31, 2002

We went with the Habitat project to a small village on Ara ler, above Ashtarak , to help a family insulate the roof over their house. We spent the whole day working with the family and they prepared a great happy meal for us which we ate outdoors. It was tiring but pleasant.
On the way back, we visited the Church in Oshakan. It is the church where St. Mesrop Mashtots (the inventor of the Armenian Alphabet) is buried. It has a special Byzantian style architecture, unlike other Armenian churches I have seen so far. Oshakan is a stone’s throw from Etchmiadzin, the seat of the Armenian Katoghikos, and was an ancient pagan city. People living there often find old pagan statues whenever they undertake an excavation.

Sunday, September 01, 2002

I went with Badal to Saralandj, a small village on Ara Ler (King Ara Keghetsig’s mountain). On the way, we stopped in Ara Kyough, where Badal pointed to me a bust statue of “Khente”, see photo.
The inscription on the pedestal…

Letter 07: Are you sick of our dug-out sidewalks?

Dear Repats:

Are you sick of our dug-out sidewalks?
You can now do something about it
1) log-in to Antoine’s column at and send a message to Kirk Krikorian to fire his project manager in Yerevan, or give the forum a piece of your mind;
2) Get a shoe shine:
· On Abovian near Artbridge (between Toumanian & Sayat-Nova);
· Mornings between 9:00 and sunset;
· Regular leather shoes (black & brown) for now ;
· 150 drams (exact change please) – tipping is welcome; If shoe has to be taken-off foot 200 drs
· you can take photos, he is a “Babig” his name is Zhoura. Please put up with him and help him with his training period..

If you know of an unemployed person interested to continue this job, contact me. The shoeshine box maker is already churning the second unit!
This project idea is designed to get the shoe-shine business back on the streets of Yerevan: a) to fill a tourist need; b) to create jobs for needy people as an alternative to begging; c) …

Letter 06: A Sound and Light Show in Gumri

Saturday, August 17, 2002

I have been very busy and did not have time to write, but I had a delightful week. Great project ideas and meetings with such exciting people, Armenians, young and young at heart. I will share with you my impressions of a visit to Kyumri (sometimes written Gyumri or Gumri).

Kyumri used to be Armenia’s second largest city before it was destroyed by the earthquake of December 1988, for which we have collected money in Ottawa and across Canada. If you remember, the Soviets had called it Leninakan then, changing the name from Alexandropol, which was given to the city by the imperial Russians. It is now called Kyumri again, but was historically called Ko-Mayri, in memory of some famous words pronounced in battle by Prince Vahram Pakhlavouni (Պախլավունի), in 1047, before the fall of Ani (80 kms away) to Alp Arslan’s Seljouk Turks. Prince Pakhlavouni, although very brave (he died sword-in-hand in that battle together with his son Krikor), did not use very polite wo…

Letter 05: The story of Pokrig Anahid

Saturday, July 27, 2002

It’s been a long time since I last wrote. We’ve moved to our new apartment, adjusted to living on our own and starting new jobs…. But I feel compelled to write now, because some of the events and relationships I had not understood have come together…. So this text will have a few flashbacks and it is a bit emotional…

We are at home. Sheila is nursing the beginning of a cold…. She does not want to miss work on Monday. Yesterday, we had left work early with a few of the volunteers. Albert Pailaki Abramyan had invited us for a picnic in the mountains. He is a businessman I had helped when he was visiting Canada in 1997. His friend, art dealer, Badal Badalian (Arshile Gorky Gallery / Café on Abovian) and two other friends, Levon and Benig Shahumian got together to invite us, AVC volunteers. We’ve had a few of these tourist outings to beautiful spots which I should tell you about, but perhaps you should come and discover them yourselves. As you should discover the r…

Letter 04 : Amberd and Mount Aragats

Saturday, June 22, 2002

Today we drove to Amberd and Mount Aragats. We rented a minibus for the whole day (11 passengers from 9 till 18 hrs) and it cost us 15000 drams. The driver, Alig, is an actor-musician from the Spendiarian Institute. He plays percussion equipment and the Xylophone. Most of the Spendiarian artists have defected to the West. He decided to stay and earns his living driving the minibus. It was a beautiful day, and we were treated again to the beautiful sight of Ararat, all along. Amberd is a 12th century fortress that was destroyed by Timor Lang’s Mongol –Tatars before they sacked Baghdad in 1233. The fortress walls are still standing but the town below is destroyed. The Church outside the walls, however, has been repaired. (You can see the photos/description of this and other sites on ). The guide to the Church, Aram Manookian is a WWII veteran whose battalion was wiped-out during the siege of Stalingrad. He was wounded there but survived with 3 othe…

Letter 03: To and From Sister Arusiag’s Summer Camp

Saturday, June 15, 2002

We’re waiting for the minibus promised to us for 9:00 a.m. to drive us to Dzaghgadzor, to meet the orphans of ‘Kouyr Arusyag’ (Sister Arusyag), the Armenian Catholic nun who spend 30 years teaching children in Philadelphia and decided to devote herself to the orphans of Armenia. To save time, we take a taxi to the ice-cream factory to buy ice-cream sticks as a treat for the children. The factory is near the Dzidzernagaberd Genocide Memorial. It seems like a state-of-the-art factory. Well organised, clean… we bought the 150 sticks at wholesale prices, in record time, no sweat… Armenians love ice cream! Like all Armenian dairy products, it is especially delicious! There is plenty of freezer-chests plugged-in all-over town selling ice cream to go… They are so tasty, and your best Haagen-dash chocolate with nuts stick imitation costs less than 200 drams on the street (50 cents Cad.).

We finally take-off at 11:00 and climb the Caucasus range to leave Yerevan. The sc…

Letter 02: The Orran urchins

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

This afternoon we visited the ‘Orran’ (the haven) Centre in downtown Yerevan. It is an old building that smells like boiled hamburger fat, where the social ministry or other institutions send street-children. Children are fed and taught there and sent back home (usually single parent families). Orran’s director is Gail Howard, who came to Armenia with the Red Cross and is now managing this centre created by Raffi Hovannissyan’s wife. Gail is a wonderful woman with a huge heart and bosoms to match.

There were some 50 children there when we came, and Sheila pointed-out a young boy who reminded her of Raffi. He turned-out to be one of the smartest ones and was the first to win a candy in the little intellectual/vocabulary games our volunteers had prepared for the children. I don’t know if they had had enough candy that day (I’d be surprised), but several of these children came to me and offered me the candy they had just won, as if I needed any candy at my age. Amo…

Letter 01b: First impressions (continued) Lousavorich Cathedral

Sunday June 2, 2002 We slept in… our hostess did not want to disturb us and waited patiently! We have 20 minutes to be in church. Fortunately it's just across the street. We make it in time for the ‘tapor’ procession. The church is impressive: the largest Armenian Church ever built. At the entrance, a small marble kiosk containing the relics of Sourp Krikor Lousavorich, recently returned to Armenia by the Vatican..

The ‘tapor’ is impressive… I am moved to see the faithful gather to the side of the church to try and touch/kiss the banner, kiss the cross in the bishop’s hand… The deacons exhaling incense from their little ‘encensoirs’ the others shaking the small bells… the faithful donate incense from their hands straight into the recipient held by the head-deacon. This is their offering!… they go all around the huge church… It is beautifully built… The painting of the mother and child on the altar is unique.. They look Armenian (it is a painting made by Soureniants in the 19th cen…

Letter 01.: First impressions

May 31, 2002, 4: 30 a.m. Austrian Airlines has just flown over the Black Sea, and entered Anatolia over Trabizond… We fly over Erzeroum, and I wish I could see the two peaks towering over Terjan… but I’ll try to take a flight that lands in Yerevan at a more Christian hour, in daylight… Perhaps on the way back I will finally be able to take that air shot of Terjan’s peaks… Isn’t it good that Turkey has opened its airspace for flights to and from Armenia?

It is dark out, and I can see the lights of all the villages… Are these in Armenia? We land in Zvartnots airport… I remember it from a Soviet picture book, with its futuristic architecture à la CDG… It is now an old cement structure whose metal re-enforcements are showing like the bones of a cadaver being mauled by wild dogs…

Early this morning, people on the ground are extremely welcoming, and the air is still and clean, and very pleasant. I remember Kegham’s words about how beautiful Ararat is when you land at Zvartnots. I know it will…