The Armenian Inshallah

On my reading list is award winning travel writer Philip Marsden:

the crossing place

 I have cultivated in myself a sixth sense, an ‘Ararat’ sense: the sense of attraction to a mountain.

Osip Mandelstam

There’s only one people in the world who feel like they belong to a mountain: the Armenians.

Arto Tunçboyajyan

On our way to a school ski-trip at Tsakhkadzor, 40 minutes away from Yerevan (picture New Zealand, only more rocks, or as I imagined, an inside out “mines of Moria” from Lord of the Rings), Arpi, a Syrian Armenian co-worker from Aleppo, noted the difference between Arab and Armenian pessimism:

Inshallah, or God Willing, is what Arabs say for yes or maybe, it is their way of half-committing to everything. If you ask someone to do something or be somewhere, you usually get inshallah, which drives you crazy, because if they don’t show up, they just say it wasn’t God’s will, or they didn’t really mean it.”

However, in Armenia, there is a different sort of pessimism, almost as if the farther East you go the more determinist you get. Che means no, and you can hear this word in almost every single sentence spoken. They use che instead of yeah, or OK, or see? leading to an insufferable joltiness, almost as if you’re driving a 4×4 Lada over the inverted Mines of Moria on the way to Tsakhkadzor. Our taxi driver Ashot has carried the habit into his English: “You see over here? No. This is a good store to buy bread. No. It’s wery much the cheaper than Kaiser.”The NOs are always very emphatic.

Their famous saying which incorporates che (and I forget the direct words now…) can be transliterated as “there is no way”, or “probably not”. “This is how the Armenians respond to any potential future plan – probably not, and we always laugh at them for saying this,” says Arpi, who moved away from Aleppo two years ago.

Another favourite past-time for Armenians is watching others from a distance – when we arrived at Zvartnots Airport, there were at least 6 or 7 men sitting in the baggage claim area as I tried to rent a cart. We had 8 large bags, and were the only ones left in the terminal after the 5am arrival. As I walked around trying to fit all the bags and keep them from falling, the group of young men sat and watched in amusement.

“One time I spent about five minutes trying to park in a tight spot while a man watched me, smoking on the sidewalk,” says Arpi. “After finally getting into the parking spot, the man came up to me and said you can’t park there, it’s illegal.”

In a country with 40 per cent unemployment, it seems natural for the locals to have a bit of schadenfreude, or pleasure at another person’s misfortune – a type of emotional detachment that has grown out of Soviet era distrust.

I can see how natural pessimism could be one cause of the eventual claustrophobia some people feel in a city like Yerevan. Perhaps this habit of saying Che is part of the sense of melancholy that defines country. Ararat, a mountain out of reach of Armenian citizens, is the national symbol, to the extent that people usually have a picture of the twin peaks somewhere on a wall in their house. Like the Israelis with their own diaspora, Armenians share a conviction of a lost and idealized history.

I’ve been watching various documentaries on Armenia on Youtube. A quick survey reveals the contested nature of its boundaries – amateur historians point at maps proving Armenia’s existence before Azerbaijan, and re-mixes of genocide documentaries are posted in various forms. This one is accompanied by a suitably negative track from “System of a Down,” an Armenian grunge band from LA:

This one tries to dispel the “myth” of an Azeri homeland:

Here’s a not so subtle exploration of Armenian sites in Turkey:

Archaeology is one way to recover a sense of pride and nationalism. Tigranakert, the city of Tigran I, the greatest Armenian king who was defeated by Pompey, is in Azeri controlled territory:

Russia is one of the first countries to recognize the Armenian genocide:

Here is Putin quoting Peter the Great – “You have to pet the Armenians” and make them feel comfortable so that they migrate in greater numbers. Outside of Los Angeles, Moscow is probably the largest diaspora community:

How the Russians divide and conquer the Azeris and Armenians:

A history of Yerevan, the city (which betrays its American influence by quoting Abraham Lincoln):

If you’re looking for straight up tourist survey of major sites in Armenia here’s an hour long doc:

CNN has a look at a modern life in Armenia, including the arts, the importance of chess education, and the birthright program:

Here’s a bit of our taxi ride over the Kievyan bridge toward downtown, which gives you a flavour Armenian techno music:

A Neolithic Stonehenge in southern Armenia that is 4,000 years older than the one in southern UK:

A tribute to home brew mulberry vodka in Armenia:

And finally, where we went skiing this week (I realized when I got to the top of the mountain that the last time I skied was in Manitoba 15 years ago):

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