Showing posts from 2003

Letter 17: A village named ‘Horse’ (Draft)

You must have heard of the silk road. You must also remember that it goes through Armenia, and that Kirk Krikorian’s Lincy foundation has just completed the segment from Yeghegnadzor (where I call from these days) to Martuni (on Lake Sevan). The official opening of this segment was accomplished with the presence of the benefactor and Armenia’s President. It is abeautiful road that goes through some of the best scenery anywhere in the world. Marco Polo had gone through here on his way to meeting the Great Koublay Khan and he described the poor and primitive conditions of the Armenians living there. The Mongols had appropriated the best lands and local Armenians were indeed living in very poor and primitive conditions. They still are. Most people barter their products and quite a few have never seen a 5000 dram ($ 10) banknote. But the spirit and hospitality are there, and the natural beauty is untouched.

If you have seen Martiros Saryan’s 1923 painting entitled “Armenia” (now at the N…

Letter 16: Call Mama if you want your father

October 2003

The Georgians call their father "Mama". To call their mother, they go: 'Déda'. Armenia's neighbors to the Northwest are a people hardly known in the part of the world I come from. I knew Stalin and Beria were Georgians, and I always loved their songs and dances, but this was unfortunately all I knew about them. I knew many Armenians lived there, and that Tbilissi (in the past Armenians called it Tiflis - Charles Aznavour's dad was born near Tiflis - but since Georgians prefer Tbilissi our Yerevan airport signs now say Tbilissi in Armenian characters) had been a center of Armenian culture, producing some of our best artists and writers. In fact, Georgia is a country where Armenians still constitute over 8.5% of the total population, which is the highest percentage for Armenians anywhere in the world outside Armenia. Georgia is a country also shared by many ethnic groups. Other minorities living side-by-side, peacefully* with the ethnic Georgian maj…

Letter 15: Use it with joy: The Popok and Napoleon

Octobre 2003
Yesterday morning, I agreed with two neighbors to go to Getap (on the Silk Road) to look at a huge Popok for sale. Popok is Armenian dialect for a walnut tree.. Arsen, my neighbor who has 2 children (a daughter and a son) in University in Yerevan, has bought an old truck which he drives for a living. He rebuilt the motor himself and converted it to diesel in order to transport the Popok. And Vartkes (our neighbour, who reminds us of our great neighbour and friend near our farm in Québec--also an expert craftsman in all) came along as my expert and to help load. At noon, we got in the mechanically-fit blue truck and coasted down the mountain (to save on fuel) until we found a gas station. Arsen had asked me to pay only for the cost of fuel, so he asked the attendant for seven liters of diesel (called by its Russian name "Salyarka"). I intervened. It made no sense to keep stopping to buy only 10 liters at a time , so I insisted they put in 40 litres instead . (The…

Letter 14: They simply did without: Water and Energy Shortages in Armenia

September 2003
The Blackout in North America this August is now almost forgotten. Yet I cannot help remember the number of times we thought we should teach these former Soviet Republics how to conserve energy. How they could make more airtight windows to keep the heat, how they can save water... This last item, water, is a sore point with me. I am now back in Yeghegnadzor, trying to renovate the house we bought, and I am frustrated that drinking-water only comes sometimes through my pipes-- for no more than one hour per day--while my neighbor downhill leaves his outside tap open to water his garden.

Yes, Soviet culture was based on energy and water supplies provided to every household. This surely led to unwise consumption and waste. I remember when Sheila used to keep shutting-off the kitchen tap in our host family’s home, which was left running when washing dishes. She tried to make a point of it. One day, she did that in front of some guests. Our housemother quickly exclaimed: Oh …

Letter 13: The Lone Cyclist in the Snow

I am now back in Ottawa. It is a hot day; We have not been spared the heat wave, and I cannot help reminiscing about the coldest winter on record we spent in Armenia in 2002-2003.

In December, one of our volunteers, Narineh Azizian, a young woman with a huge and golden heart, conceived the idea that we, volunteers, would do something to cheer-up the thousands of less-fortunate children in Armenia. After a few meetings the idea took shape and we immediately started working on preparing group trips to visit orphanages in even more unfortunate cities than Yerevan.

We took "Dzemerr Babig" (Santaclaus) along, together with his beautiful helper "Dzuyn Anoush" (Snow-beauty, word-for-word translations from the Russian "Dyet Maroz" and "Snegourichka"). Being from Canada, I knew some of the risks involved in winter driving and warned our group of the dangers, we therefore made sure that we would check weather conditions before going.

That Saturday morning, w…

Letter 12: The Dance of Sassoun

I came to Armenia to “move mountains” (read:“create jobs”). So what am I doing selling boxes with Grigor Khandjian’s “Sassountsineri Par” painted on them? I have never produced, designed or sold a piece of art in my life!

I love Russian art, and I particularly enjoy the papier maché boxes painted by Russian miniature artists (from Palekh). They are beautiful! But it bothers me that they are being sold as souvenirs in Yerevan’s Vernissage street market and in souvenir shops around town. Don’t we have our own miniature artists and our own Armenian themes to paint?

Thinking about this, an idea came to mind -- why not reproduce Grigor Khandjian’s “Sassountsineri Par” (The Sassouni's Dance) on native-Armenian obsidian and ceramic boxes. Our famous poet, Gevorg Emin, had immortalized the proud struggle of the inhabitants of Sassoun in a poem by the same name. The poem is based on a true story. After three weeks of resisting a full-fledged attack by the Ottoman army, the inhabitants of …

Letter 11: Two Elections and a Wedding

February 19, 2003

Today is election day in Armenia. Most businesses / government offices and schools are closed to encourage people to go and vote. I have some time to write, as I do not qualify to vote here. It has been snowing since last evening in Yerevan and we have a good 7 cms on the ground. The city is calm, and by what I observed, this is a fair election. However some may differ, and I am happy that those who differ (specially our good friend Peter Eicher) would like to see much higher standards applied for democracy and human rights in Armenia. see There are many false rumors spread by opposition members. For example, a good and serious university student I know asked me on Monday to let Peter Eicher know that Kocharyan's supporters were offering people 20,000 drams for their passport, which they would hold so they can be sure they don't vote. She assured me the information was very reliable. I spoke …