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Living in Shame

Hetq Online, which sponsors this blog, just posted a new opinion piece that I wrote about Armenians’ obsession with shame and being shamed and the guilt complex some Armenians cope with perhaps their entire lives.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Amot eh” is single-handedly quelling creativity and freedom of thought in modern Armenian society. With its submissive waive of the hand as if to state “no more,” it discourages entrepreneurship and spurns innovation. Living in fear of failure because it is perceived as shameful essentially leads to a repressed, uneventful life, to be content with the mundane because society deems it safe. Progress is ironically being suppressed.

“Amot eh” strangles ingenuity and favors complacency. Just like a scouring sponge, shame completely absorbs potential for exacting progressive change then scrubs out the inspiring light. It renders its victims incapable of consciously deciding of their own free will: “I want” or “I do not want.”

“Amot eh” promotes resentment and anger, as the victim yearns to break free from the confines of conformity and behavioral normalcy. People overact because they are not free in mind, spirit and conscience. They are in a constant struggle with themselves to behave as expected, to move about as predicted, and when the boiling point of frustration is reached they explode. And the process is cyclical, uncontrollable.

To read the entire article go to http://hetq.am/eng/news/31266/armenias-amot-eh-complex—living-in-shame.html

At the Areni Wine Festival

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Here are some photos I took while at the Areni Wine Festival last Saturday, October 5.

It was the first time I had ever gone and it was a blast. A highly recommended event to attend next year. Too bad it wasn’t publicized well, I only heard that it was happening last weekend through a friend, I actually thought it had already come and gone. There was plenty of wine to be sampled, both from local winemakers who’ve kept the tradition going in the family and the larger wineries. I focused on sampling some of the homemade vino, but the samplings offered by Maran Winery were very nice, especially the 2002 Areni of Malishka.

When we arrived there was lots of smoke, we thought something had caught fire before we realized that several vendors were barbecuing kebab. I think that was the only thing available to eat besides pumpkins, quince and grapes.

We arrived at the center of the festival just in time to hear the winners of the winemaking contest being announced. We managed to track down Haig Stepanian, the second place winner at his wine stand but the champion disappeared in the crowd after he walked away with his prize.

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Kebab time
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The Stepanian family produced award-winning wine
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And here's the family winemaker who accepted the award, Haig Stepanian

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The local Starbucks, no cafe lattes though

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Stop the Custom’s Agreement from being Signed with Moscow

Armenian citizens should not allow the customs agreement to be signed with Russia.

Joining a still-abstract Customs Union, with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan confirmed onboard, is a disaster in the making and would the worst thing the Armenian republic ever did in its 22 year history. It would be tantamount to entering a screeching time vortex and landing in the dark ages, complete with the classic communist slogans pasted across the city walls and statues being re-erected glorifying the days of the Soviet dream. Putin’s dream is to bring it all back, under a different guise, but all the same associated nonsense.

After 4 years of negotiations with the EU on signing the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, which would have entered its final phase with a formal signing ceremony in November, one man’s abrupt decision should not lock Armenia’s fate and compromise its long-term sustainability and prospects for expanding growth. The Armenian people themselves must decide their own future, not someone who places his own personal interests over those of the people he is supposedly serving.

Any citizen who has had the privilege of studying or even visiting Europe, the US and other free democratic nations, and has a concept of what living in a democratic society means, and cares about the long-term viability of Armenia for his children and future generations, and wants to see expanding growth on all levels — economic, social, cultural, educational and so forth–must not permit the agreement for Armenia to join the Customs Union to be signed. It will neutralize the Association Agreement with the EU–this has been confirmed by EU officials.

According to RFE/RL’s report:

Elmar Brok, the German chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, likewise said Armenia’s Association Agreement will not be signed any time soon. “I feel very sorry because it is legally — because of certain conditions — not possible to be a full member both of the Customs Union and have an association agreement and free trade area agreement with the European Union,” he told an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels.

It’s not too late to stop this customs agreement with Russia from going through by any means. Fatalists in Armenian families, especially anyone over the age of 50, need to be locked up in the closet. It’s time to ensure that Armenia does not squander its opportunity for tighter integration with the west and opportunities abound for Armenia’s sustainable development. It’s time to demand that the Armenian government intervenes and forces the President to go back on his promises in Moscow. Armenians need to stand up.

More ‘Progress’ in Yerevan: Parking Tickets by Mail

A few weeks ago I received a parking ticket in the mail (I’ve waited that long to report it so I could properly cool down and not sound vexed). On the ticket was a photograph of my Niva, license plate concealed, parallel-parked a good distance, I would say 50 feet, away from the Tumanyan/Nalbandyan intersection, but parked on the south side on Tumanyan Street.

It was late one Saturday morning in June when I needed to pop into the Star supermarket on the corner to use the ATM. My stay there lasted two minutes at the most before I was off to pick up my father-in-law and the marinated meat, then the rest of the clan. We were on our way to his dacha in Dzorakhpur for barbecue on the occasion of his birthday. I had parked in that very spot before and was never notified after the fact that I had committed a “violation.” That was before all these peeping Tom cameras were installed throughout central Yerevan.

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This taxi managed to park in a spot where he could be out of the camera’s view. I must have been parked just in front of his space.

Needless to say I was quite annoyed. Not only is there a no parking sign on the sidewalk, three cars are always rest curbside, as you can see in the photo, most of them being taxis or delivery trucks, or likely people on short errands. Only recently was a solid line painted in the middle of the right side of the street, starting from the stop line at the intersection and running 50 feet away from it, to indicate two separate lanes. The argument is that since that zone now technically constitutes a lane, drivers are forced to cross that solid line where cars are parked to continue on their way, which of course is not permitted, so there is a double violation. There was even a secure hyperlink printed on the notice, complete with a user name and password, where I could see a short video online of drivers struggling to maneuver around my car (not really).

So several factors exist here, all comprising a not-so-elaborate plan to make money. It took me a few days to work it all out, granted, but it doesn’t take a genius. First, as I stated above, there is no sign or painted lines for that matter indicating that the spot is a no-parking zone. Apparently motorists are simply expected to know about the illegality, as it should be obvious according to the explanation given over the phone.  Second, it isn’t necessary to have two lanes there since there is no left turn onto Nalbandyan Street for some strange reason since it’s been a two-way thoroughfare for over a year now to address traffic issues. I suppose the logic is to have a separate lane for cars turning right, but the traffic is never heavy on that part of Tumanyan Street anyway. Third, the fine is 5,000 dram, about $13.   A camera is perched on the pole aimed directly on that zone. The only ways to contest the violation is to either go to court, or make a stop at the traffic police station and have a chat with one of the chiefs responsible for recording such infringements of the law, which of course would only balloon into a full-blown argument peppered with fiery insults, pledges to take the pain away and swearing on the life of one’s own father or mother. And for only 5000 dram, no one is going to bother to waste the time to do either during a workday.

I wrote a letter explaining my case, which was never read because there is no postal or e-mail address given on the violation notice where complaints can be received. I am printing it here:

“I would like to first state that I did not intend to break the law. I was not aware that parking in that location was forbidden as there is no sign on the street sidewalk indicating as such.

Furthermore, the enclosed photo of my vehicle does not necessarily prove that I am violating a law since there is no sign posted on the sidewalk that informs motorists that they are about to violate the law. There is no visible way of knowing that a violation is being committed.

See the attached photo dated 6 August 2013, showing three vehicles parked in the exact same location. Note that there was still no sign posted.

In your letter you cite a violation of a section of an article of a law that is not readily available to read. The article was not cited in full, and there is no direct Internet link printed pointing to the article. As you well know, people are not in practice to dedicate the time to study all rules and regulations regarding traffic laws on a regular basis, assuming they even have access to them in print form.

It is clear that the Armenian Traffic Police is trying to modernize its method of enforcing traffic laws with cameras installed in strategic parts of Yerevan. Along with the cameras (the use of which are a clear invasion of privacy and are thereby unconstitutional according to Articles 23 and 33.2 of the Armenian Constitution) there must also be signage on the streets that clearly indicate where parking is not allowed.”

Essentially the violation zone was designed to reap easy cash. They’ve made things convenient for parking scoundrels by installing automated payment machines in stores across the city that function the same way as ATMs do. You can pay utility fees and buy minutes for your pay-and-go mobile phone plans as well. The coveted chess culture really comes in handy when developing strategies aimed at screwing Armenian citizens so nicely.

Rumor has it that Sashik Sargsyan, who is the notorious gangster brother of President Serge Sargsyan, sold these monitoring systems to the government, and I bet he fetched a more than fair price for them. He owns a second-floor apartment on the block between Tumanyan and Hanrapetutyan Streets, making that “territory” his own. If you look closely on the poles and the pink tuff stone paneled sides of buildings there you will notice an unusually high number of cameras affixed, most of which are pointing at his apartment building from various angles. So it seems the cameras serve a dual purpose–recording the dastardly deeds of motorists while making sure Sashik’s home is safe and secure. And of course, at the expense of public privacy and basic human rights.

When Being ‘Politically Correct’ About Karabakh Backfires

Sarsang Reservoir in Drmbon, Nagorno-Karabakh
Sarsang Reservoir in Drmbon, Nagorno-Karabakh

This morning I read an interesting, although lackluster, article supposedly about tourism in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) that was published by AFP on July 21, written by Mariam Hartutyunyan. There are some questionable, even disappointing points made in the article that I thought should be addressed. Below are quotes from the article and my responses.

“Seized from Azerbaijan by Armenian-backed separatists in a brutal war that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives as the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s, Nagorny Karabakh remains frozen between war and peace.”

Although Azerbaijan declared independence from the Soviet Union on October 18, 1991, only seven weeks passed before Nagorno-Karabakh itself in a referendum, with the disapproval of the Azeri minority, chose a path of complete sovereignty. This was an extremely volatile time as anyone who reads history knows. I also disagree with the phrase “Armenian-backed separatists,” since the Armenian side in the conflict did indeed comprise an organized army with separate regimens, although volunteer soldiers took part in the defense struggle. And nothing was “seized,” the control of lands shifted due to war and the demand for self-governance. I also have a problem with “Nagorny Karabakh remains frozen between war and peace,” as it is quite clear that nothing but peace prevails throughout Karabakh, although there are skirmishes along the line of contact between Azerbaijan and Armenia (Karabakh itself by and large is protected by a buffer zone). It is the peace process itself that remains frozen. So the terminology is a bit dubious despite the attempt in maintaining objectivity.

“Nagorny Karabakh is still recognised as part of Azerbaijan by the United Nations, but its population is almost completely ethnic Armenian after the Azerbaijani community fled in the wake of the war.”

What other ethic populations are there in Nagorno-Karabakh today? The statement “almost completely ethnic Armenian” is a bit strange. Unless the reporter can provide evidence that proves otherwise, which she doesn’t, it’s likely an assumption. Has she traveled to places where Greeks, Assyrians, and Kurds continue to live, for instance? It would be revealing to know if they’re still there.

“Soldiers along the heavily fortified frontline exchange gunfire almost daily, with both sides blaming each other for violating the ceasefire. So far this year some 20 soldiers from both sides have been killed.”

Again, this is occurring along the border between the Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan. There is also no clear evidence reported that gunfire is exchanged “almost daily.” That does not mean I am suggesting it happens infrequently.

“In fact, it is impossible to escape the grim reminders of the region’s brutal conflict, which often saw neighbour turn on neighbour and the entire 600,000-strong Azerbaijani population of Nagorny Karabakh and seven surrounding districts forced to flee.”

Unless I am mistaken, there have never been more than 200,000 people living in Nagorno-Karabakh with the overwhelming majority of the population having been ethnically Armenian. That would mean that more than 400,000 Azeris lived in what is largely a mountainous, inaccessible territory of “seven surrounding districts”–based on what I have seen with my own eyes–with the exception of Agdam (she claims 50,000 Azeris lived there) and some territory to its east. This number seems unlikely and probably hard to prove, but the damage is done. She does not cite a Soviet-era census source to back her claim, which is essential in professional journalism, especially in such a volatile discussion where complete objectivity is obviously difficult to maintain. The “grim reminders” she alludes to unfortunately are quite blatant in Shushi and Agdam.

“But for those willing to risk the journey, tour operators argue that there is plenty to attract tourists to Nagorny Karabakh–a spectacular highland area of rugged mountains and thickly forested hills.”

There is nothing risky or frightening about traveling through the Lachin corridor (unless someone drives too fast along the serpentine road). It is completely protected by Armenian forces. And there are no imminent dangers in traveling throughout Karabakh, either (with the exception of the minefields along the border, of course). The reporter must have realized this as she traveled to and around the region. “Take the long journey” rather than “risk the journey” would have been more appropriate. And why do tour operators “argue” that tourists have good reason to visit the area? “Believe,” “insist,” “are convinced” are better alternatives.

“Despite the region’s uncertain future, tourists like Andrey Hoynowski from Poland say they will be recommending a visit to their friends back home and that the added attention might even help Karabakh move on.

Karabakh has clearly moved on, it does not need “help” in doing so. The reporter herself alluded to this fact in other parts of her article. The problem is that the world community has not by failing to accept Nagorno-Karabakh’s legitimacy as a sovereign nation even 18 years since the ceasefire was declared. Peace is maintained in Artsakh by the will of the Armenian people living there, and so does its obvious determination to progress and grow economically.

The people of Nagorno-Karabakh are some of the most self-confident, secure individuals I have ever met anywhere. I will go so far as to say that I have not encountered another society where insecurities are virtually invisible on faces and demonstrated body language. This is quite evident when you stroll down the streets of Stepanakert and see how people interact with one another. And when you converse with people, you will find only resilience and determination in their voice. They as proud citizens of their nation, “self-proclaimed” in the eyes of the world, are cultured, mature and inspirational figures. Moving on is not a matter of aspiration, it is indeed an unwavering, luminous reality and has been for two decades.

So it’s a disheartening article, especially coming from an Armenian journalist. The terminology was arguably subjective against Armenia in some of the parts I mentioned, which is a real shame. Even the headline reeks of negativity. Karabakh deserves much better publicity than this, especially 18 years after the ceasefire. The tone of the article seems to suggest it happened only yesterday, with people struggling to find their place in the world. Nothing can be farther from the truth.