Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The newest "Stansi"

I am officially a "hayastansi".

Just got my Armenian Passport :-)

I have official "special residency status" for 10 years...to quote the Ministry of Foreign Affiars: "The Special Residency Status is granted by the President of Armenia to the foreign citizens of Armenian ancestry and other distinguished individuals, who have provided significant services to the Armenian nation and/or are engaged in economic and cultural activities in Armenia."

Clearly, I'm ecstatic

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Caught in the hype

Armenia's debut in the Eurovision contest was VERY fun to witness...and even more fun to celebrate tonight as our own Ricky-Martin-esque Andre took Armenia to the top 10 finalists, guarunteeing us a spot in the contest next year! Find the music video online somewhere, it's very amusing.
lalallal without your love...
This contest has all the fun of any where nations compete against one another like the Olympics or World Cup, plus the pressure and feeling of involvement as American idol, because each country gives its top votes to the other countries to determine the winners. I also thoroughly enjoyed hearing english song lyrics sung with a multitude of accents. adorable. what a united colors of benetton evening.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

"Best of" Day 2

How to show 2 non- Armenians a fabulous time in Armenia, Day 2

1. Grab a professional repat who really knows his way around because he has been living in Armenia for 7 years already and has even written his share of travel books on the country (Raffi), AND your favorite tour guide/collegue (Arshak) and plan a road trip for the day!

2. Start by renting a car from Lemon Rent-a-Car (rest assured that all the Americans here have already acknowledged the humor in the name of this company). Our trusty volkswagen is pictured below.

3. First stop: the always stunning Lake Sevan from the vantage point of the peninsula, where the monastery of Sevanavank stands. Lake Sevan covers 5% of Armenia's surface area and is nestled inside the Geghama mountain range at 2,000 meters above sea level. The waters seem to change from crystal blue, to deep purple to turqouise depending on the time of day. We point out to our guests that it's customary for the locals to sell fish that they have caught from the lake on the side of the road. How do you know who's fish are best? Apparently size does matter and each vendor tries to boast by showing you through his armspan just how big the fish he caught are!

5. Stop for another meal of Khorovats, on the banks of a river that runs through Dilijan. We happened to catch the photo-op of the year as a group of WWII veterans were assembled in honor of May 9th, victory day.

6. Cruise further north still into the depths of the lush Tavush region and check out Haghartsin Monastary nesstled in the rolling hills...a stop made even more amusing if you manage to stumble upon a group of locals throwing themselves a party in the middle of the mountain, complete with accordion playing, singing and drinking. You must, of course, join in for a toast or two!

7. Meet the old man and woman who bake sweet bread and sell it by the church, and offer to help them...chop wood?!

8. Stop through the actual town of Dilijan and walk around. The Tufenkian foundations is renovating this old street to make it a site for artisans to set up workshops and sell their crafts.

9. Head back to Yerevan in time to catch the ARMENIAN NAVY BAND's last performance in town for the season! They play at their own venue, called Avante-Gard which is always cozy and packed with the Navy Band's adoring fans. There really isn't a way to describe how incredible and unique this band is, so you'll just have to come see one of their shows for yourself.


Check out this editorial about the Armenian genocide that was published in the New York Times today (I can't figure out who wrote it however...). In case you can't open the link, here is the full text:

May 16, 2006


Turkey, Armenia and Denial

Turkey's self-destructive obsession with denying the Armenian genocide seems to have no limits. The Turks pulled out of a NATO exercise this week because the Canadian prime minister used the term "genocide" in reference to the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during and after World War I. Before that, the Turkish ambassador to France was temporarily recalled to protest a French bill that would make it illegal to deny that the Armenian genocide occurred. And before that, a leading Turkish novelist, Orhan Pamuk, was charged with "insulting Turkish identity" for referring to the genocide (the charges were dropped after an international outcry).

Turkey's stance is hard to fathom. Each time the Turks lash out, new questions arise about Turkey's claim to a place in the European Union, and the Armenian diaspora becomes even more adamant in demanding a public reckoning over what happened.

Granted, genocide is a difficult crime for any nation to acknowledge. But it is absurd to treat any reference to the issue within Turkey as a crime and to scream "lie!" every time someone mentions genocide. By the same token, we do not see the point of the French law to ban genocide denial. Historical truths must be established through dispassionate research and debate, not legislation, even if some of those who question the evidence do so for insidious motives.

But the Turkish government considers even discussion of the issue to be a grave national insult, and reacts to it with hysteria. Five journalists who criticized a court's decision to shut down an Istanbul conference on the massacre of Armenians were arrested for insulting the courts. Charges against four were subsequently dropped, but a fifth remains on trial.

The preponderance of serious scholarship outside Turkey accepts that more than a million Armenians perished between 1914 and 1923 in a regime-sponsored campaign. Turkey's continued refusal to countenance even a discussion of the issue stands as a major obstacle to restoring relations with neighboring Armenia and to claiming Turkey's rightful place in Europe and the West. It is time for the Turks to realize that the greater danger to them is denying history.

Friday, May 12, 2006

"Best of" Day 1

How to show 2 non-Armenians a fabulous time in Armenia in just 3 days:

1. First and foremost, those people should be wonderful people themselves who have the open mind and itch to find out more about the world! Let me introduce mine: Steph, my best friend from high school and Dace (pronounced Dat-sey) from Riga, Latvia.
2. When they come in tired and broken from being squeezed into a mini-bus sharing seats with babushkas and being married off by said babushkas on a 7 hour ride from Tblisi, Georgia take them out for their first taste of KHOROVATZ (armenian bbq) and Armenian red wine at the Caucasus Tavern.
3. Let the weary traveler's sleep in and head out for a day of touring after tea and breakfast. Hire a driver to take you to three of the heavy hitters: The pagan temple of Garni, 13th century Geghart Monastery, and the Holy See- Etchmiadzin (the Vatican of the Armenian church). In retrospect, interestingly enough, this little triumvirate makes for a nice breezy tour of the relgious progression of Armenia as a nation...

Of course the travelling day couldn't be complete without a stop at a local store to purchase fresh bread, cucumbers, tomatos and cheese for an open air picnic on the road!

4. Come back to Yerevan, and have authentic DOLMA (stuffed grapeleaves) for dinner at the adorable The CLUB restaurant.

Furthermore, if your guest shows even an inkling of interest in finding out what Tutti Oghi might be (mulberry vodka), it would be unfathomable not to have a shot or two so she can taste the potent liquor (80% alcohol!) for herself. Be prepared to stumble around for the rest of the night...it's not suprising to find yourselves acting like fools at a local bar later on...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Long-winded entry on Urban Planning

Clearly I have spent a lot of time in the villages and rural areas of the country, and I tend to take more photographs out there as I find those areas so picturesque. But, I realize that it’s only fair that I take some pictures of my city as well. Yerevan is the largest city in Armenia (population of about 1 mil.), and is growing to be quite metropolitan. Girls, it’s true: there’s even the Spanish-retailer MANGO here.

These are pictures of Republic Square (which is very close to my apartment) at dusk: my favorite time of day. It’s not quite dark yet, but the lights are turned on, and the sky is always lovely at this hour and leaves a blue haze. These pictures are very unique for one reason: there are no people in them! In about a month or so, seeing the Square so empty will be a virtual impossibility. Bring on tourist season!

There is a LOT of construction underway as the new “Northern Boulevard” slowly breaks ground. Apparently, the original plans for Yerevan, as conceived by the architect Alexander Tamanyan, foresaw a street that went directly from Republic Square to the Opera House (the two main features of the city). So now, this plan is being actualized. The street will be pedestrian-access only (this is a GREAT idea), and will feature many modern (and very expensive- think $100,000-$150,000 2 bedroom apartments) apartment buildings, and shops/cafes.

Though it will certainly be good for business, attracting tourists, upping the overall aesthetic of the city, and encouraging investors, this whole project has been rather controversial. One reason is because many people were ejected from the homes they’d been living in for generations, to make way for the developers to put up new buildings. These displaced people were compensated minimally for their troubles. They weren’t paid anything near market value, and thus in most circumstances, the money they were given won’t be enough to purchase another home in Yerevan as real estate continues to skyrocket. Furthermore, if you simply ask around, you’ll come to find out that it is common knowledge that most of the buildings going up on the Northern Boulevard are being financed by the Russian mafia. People in government and so-called “oligarchs” are going to profit handsomely however. To be sure, there is a lot of money to be made in construction here. It is a grand scheme of money laundering and personal profit for the very few, and there’s really nothing anyone can do about it (case in point: the one lawyer who tried to defend the displaced people who were being kicked out of there homes on human rights/anti-corruption grounds, was thrown in jail for months on trumped up charges. The government’s message to “shut up” is clear).

And finally, the design is rather controversial as there is no unified plan for the architectural style of the Boulevard. It seems each developer is building in whatever style they want without heed to what the others are doing, or to preserving the historical aesthetic of the city (one of the finished buildings closest to the Opera looks more like a Tyson’s Corner-style corporate office building than anything else): thus, the result may be a rather motley sight of buildings completely dissimilar to one another…but only time will tell.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Still hugging trees

Photos from another AVC tree-planting trip, this time in Kotayk Village, this time with the Armenian Forests NGO (http://www.armenianforests.am/). The trees are Apricot trees, and so in the future, hopefully, under the care and watering of the villagers hired by Armenian Forests, they will grow to be handsome trees which will fulfill not only environmental and aesthetic purposes, but will be utilitarian as well.

And...finally, here are some pictures to make your mouth-water :-) My cousins decided to have a Khorovatz party on Monday, as it was a national holiday and no one had to go to school or work (May 1st- "May Day" or Worker's Day)

I'm a tree-hugger

There is a big effort from environmental NGOs here to work on the reforestation of Armenia. During the early 90s after the collapse of the Soviet system, there was no power or heat for almost 2 years, and in that time practically all the trees and forests were cut down and used to burn for heat. The threat of complete deforestation is dire if nothing is done to curtail it.
Above and to the left are photos from a tree-planting trip we did in Gegharkunik Region (near Lake Sevan) about two weeks ago . The impetus for getting AVC involved with reforestation projects is largely thanks to Sayat and Maral (in blue and yellow jackets, respectively), our volunteers from Istanbul who came to Armenia with the concern and zeal to plant trees for the benefit of Armenia's future.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Trip to Lori Region

These posts are all a little outdated, so I'll go ahead and continue the trend. Working backwards- here are some photos from a trip (4/8/06) the AVC and Birthright Armenia organized out to the Northern region of Lori, which is, in my opinion, the most beautiful region in Armenia. The land is verdant and the atmosphere peaceful and idyllic. I even made some friends...a few of the village girls gave me yellow daffodils in honor of "Beauty and Motherhood Day" which is an Armenian holiday on April 7th.

The pictures above are from Dsegh Village which is the birthplace of the famous Armenian writer Hovhannes Tumanian. It is not suprising that one who lived amongst such beautiful nature came to be such an inspired artist. He wrote the famous "Anoush" opera, and legend has it that the tragic conclusion of the opera, where Anoush throws herself over a cliff and ends her life because she can not be with her love, was inspired by the villagers who lived around cliffs and mountains near Tumanian's house. Luckily I didn't share the same impulse as that Anoush when I saw those cliffs!

Below are pictures from Sanahin Monastary. This monastic complex was founded in 966 AD! It, and another nearby monastery complex, Haghpat (which is a world heritage UNESCO site) are two of my favorite churches in Armenia. I think the photos came out well...