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Young Talents in Armenia Think That They Have “Brighter” Futures, “Greater” Chances, and “More” Success “Outside”

Apraham Tameian

 

One of the many things that Armenia is famous for, besides “Lavash”, the ultimate version of bread, is actually music. The question is, to what extent it is famous? Many people, myself included, believe that the word famous resides in Armenia itself, in a simpler way, Armenia’s majority of music is famous in Armenia. Therefore, young musicians who have dreams of becoming internationally known and famous, get their dreams crushed because of Armenia’s status, regarding fame in music. What I’m saying is that young musicians do not believe in the country they produce their music in, they don’t believe that Armenia can be a station towards international fame.

Why? Because it is stereotypically spread that “famous” Armenian singers and musicians in Armenia, usually have strong connection with people of influence in the country, hence, they get their music produced, recorded, and promoted. Therefore, young musicians lose their faiths in becoming good artists, so they stand still without taking any action, without doing anything. They write and compose their own songs with a mere instrument, perform some of them in pubs and cafes, and delete the remaining ones.

Moving forward, maybe the previous points were right, the points indicating that “famous” singers who maybe lack some talent, get famous thanks to their connections in the country. However, what confuses me in this era, is that although we are in an era that everything depends on the internet, the social media, and other forms of media, people still complain about the corruption in Armenia, and blame it for their lateness in becoming known and getting their music promoted. Many young musicians compare themselves with musicians from outside the country, specifically, with musicians from the United States. They state that musicians of other countries, or American musicians, have more chances to get their talents and names heard and known. But what I believe in? it’s totally wrong, there’s corruption in every corner of the world, even in the United States and in its music industry. Even there, one has to have strong connections. But what’s wrong about that? Why having strong connections as a pillar to one’s career is considered to be wrong and unethical? Even those who have “weaker” connections in the United States, they still get their music spread worldwide, and become well known even internationally. The answer is – the internet, specifically, the social media.

Musicians in the United States write and compose their songs, sometimes they collaborate with other musicians, and start to promote their songs, their stories, their cultures, and their emotions. Nowadays, the internet is offering us a lot of options that we can use. You can record your music with a camera, upload it on the internet, boost it with social media’s platforms’ advertising options, and boom, your music is watched by over 20,000 people minimum. I’m not bringing numbers from my head, you can go check it out on Google.

It’s so simple right? Anyone who reads this blog might say that I am making simple and naive points. I know it’s so simple. But what’s confusing, is the fact that young musicians in Armenia, knowing about all these, do not move their butts to start doing the necessary steps to become the version of the musician they want to be. They just love complaining the country, the monopoly and corruption in the music industry. They just want to hide their talents that suck or are just so good, they just want to hide their laziness behind the county’s flaws, and put on the “victim” masks. I know, maybe as a writer I should not depend on stereotypical things, but I believe that this aspect of laziness is in people’s genes and flaws alongside the blood in their veins. Just like it’s in my genes and mixed with my blood. Plot twist! I was one of those guys. What I did to evolve was just reading some blogs written by musicians who started from the bottom who live outside, improved my talent, Googl(ed) my questions about how to find the starting points. And I am now uploading my music to the Internet, with high hopes and confidence to become an international artist. People should just stop loving the role of the victim and not doing anything. Upload your music, if no one talks about it, upload your other songs and stories, people will hear it, people like to be entertained, people love to hear stories that might link to their motions.

What are you waiting for?

The Devil’s Angle

Artyom Matevosyan

Guest Contributor:

I always thought that serious troubles will never happen to me. For some unknown reason my subconsciousness could not picture something bad happening to me or the ones I love. Every day I watched terrifying car accidents, fires, robberies on the internet and obscurely thought that I am insured from them. But life sometimes used to set me on the verge of trouble, leaving just a step from falling apart, especially when I was in the Army. Three years ago, on November, I finally got to understand that trouble may actually happen to me.

The army used to set my life in danger quite frequently, though I wasn’t noticing it. There were quite a lot of incidents where I had bullets flying towards my side, poisonous snakes, spiders and scorpions hovering around me while I was asleep, mortars and tanks shelling half a mile away from me and me standing there without means of protection. The incidents joined my library of horror stories that I will be telling for the rest of my life. Yet, the worst part is, before that day, I never realized how serious that situations could get.

It was only in the last couple of months of my service that I started thinking about this, because I was on the very edge of an incident that would not only take my freedom, but also lives of tens of other soldiers. I was a member of the fire director center in a mortar battery. We were in an abandoned area, somewhere near the Azerbaijani border, with a casual military exercise routine. Typically, every such exercise has several supervisors, who examine the process and give grades according to set measures. This one had too, but we didn’t care that much, since we were trained and confident.

It was a mellow November day, for some reason we weren’t dying from cold on the slopes of the mountains. Moreover, the sun was literally blinding our eyes, so the only thing we could do was to recall a funny event and start giggling. It was our only way of getting out of any unpleasant situation back then. But as a rule, commanders would interrupt those conversations, apparently for something more important. That day, we recalled a story from the previous exercises. One of our tank gunners fell asleep 30 minutes before the exercises would start and when the commander shouted, “Forward” he woke up and subconsciously pressed the fire button. As the tank gun was on its initial position, it wasn’t targeted towards the battlefield so the shell took an arbitrary direction and fell in front of an entrenchment, where the rest of our soldiers were. Fortunately, it caused only some small scratches and didn’t injure anybody seriously. The guy instantly became an antihero and everybody started mocking him for his inattentiveness. So did we. While we are busy laughing, the officers commanded us to get in our positions and be ready for fire.

Here we are, on our positions, ready to kill the imaginary enemy. On my mind I see the images of our successful exercises, where we, yet again literally blew the target up, got our rewards and are ready to go home. We get the numbers, calculate the angle, and the result is azimuth 6.66 (approximately 40 degree). In Armenia, superstition says 6 is the number of devil, so something bad is going to happen. I don’t believe in this, but the officer next to me does, so he is terrified. But for a moment I got scared too. With my approximate calculations, the number shouldn’t have been higher than 6.0 and to get a sense of the seriousness of the issue, a miscalculation of azimuth 0.6 in a kilometer distance is equal to a total deviation of the shell for 1.5 kilometers. So the shell would have simply fallen 1.5 kilometers away from the calculated target and we would get a zero.

The head of the fire director center begs the supervising colonel not to fire the mortar and pick another target. The supervisor commands to stop being superstitious and continue the mission. My fears grow stronger, since I know we are going to have problems, but only for the poor grades. The command goes, “FIRE,” and the firer pulls the thread to launch the shell. All of us sit down on the entrenchment, close our ears and anticipate an explosion. But nothing happens.

We rise up and see that the firer tore the worn-out thread and the missile couldn’t get launched. While the supervisor and the soldiers try to attach the wire, something in me tells that I need to recalculate the angle: maybe this is the case when life put me on the verge of a trouble (though the officer next to me would be punished much worse, since the big part of the calculations are for him to do). I do the calculations again, this time for the officer too, and the number turns out to be 5.66. We try to hide the new result from the supervisor in order not to fail the mission and continue with the new number. We pass the exercise with a good grade, cheer up and finally have some rest. Then I see the officer responsible for the calculations frozen next to the desk of calculations, with a map vibrating in his hands.

I approach him and merely from what I managed to read on his map drawings, the shell with the azimuth 6.66 would have fallen directly to the area where our battalion of tanks was. It could potentially kill or severely injure dozens of my friends. Perhaps it would send the officer to jail, me to a disciplinary battalion, which would prolong my service for another 3 or 4 months. But what made me freeze for a second and secretly cry was that it could kill my friends. Technically, not because of my error, but still, just the plain picture of having someone killed because of an error that you were arrogantly laughing at half an hour ago, was terrifying.

From that point on, I started to recreate the scenarios of the library of my horror stories and actually realized that they could take a totally other direction. It would affect my destiny and the destiny of the ones I love. This is by no means about appreciating life or the luck or the superstition that made me reconsider the calculations, but rather about how life could take a turnover in an instant and I would be nowhere near where I am now. There were hundreds of cases like this, but in this specific one, my friends who were in the azimuth 6.66 geolocation would have other destinies too.

Enough…

Irina Karapetyan,

Guest Contributor.

Growing up, I always felt the pressure to meet my family’s expectations; to get their approval for everything I did, everything I said or even everything I liked. Though no matter how hard I tried I was never good enough, smart enough, hardworking enough and simply ENOUGH. I had to be perfect to be loved or at least that was how I felt then. I knew that my family values formal education above everything else.  For them, a person’s worth pretty much depends on whether or not he or she has a university degree. Often while talking about someone, they would use the absence of a diploma as an insult and the presence of it as a reason for respect and acceptance. Long before even understanding what higher education is and why people need it, I knew that I am expected to get one in the future. And I am not talking about becoming a competent professional in the field I was passionate about, being an educated or generally developed person. The point was to “earn” a diploma-an official certificate which would “prove” my intelligence and worth.

It was the last year of school when all my classmates and other peers started preparing for the entrance exams. Everybody around started attending private classes of specific subjects, talking about education and professions, asking each other about who is going to do what, and building for themselves the images of smart and ambitious cool guys. At that period I was singing at the State Song Theatre, and all I was living for was my childish and unrealistic dream of becoming the “Armenian version” of Hannah Montana. I knew that something so “fancy” and “stupid” as becoming a singer would not be accepted by my family. I had to get a “serious” profession. “Serious” was considered everything related to math or quantitative sciences, both of which I hated. But it didn’t even matter because my future was already decided for me. My mother wanted me to study business at American University of Armenia (AUA.) She wanted me to be accepted to the “most prestigious” department of the “most desirable” university of the country.

Ironically, despite her high expectations from me she never believed that I can actually be accepted and afterward study in such “challenging” educational institution. Because of my poor math skills, I was always considered not smart enough in both family and school. “Thank god you are beautiful, it compensates your lack of intelligence!” would say my school math teacher when I failed a test or refused to go to the blackboard to solve a math problem. My self-esteem and self-worth started to depend on whether or not I will pass the university entrance exams. I felt the need to prove everybody wrong; I felt the need to accomplish what nobody believed I am able to, but most importantly I felt the need to meet my family’s expectations. Soon, I started studying math and English simultaneously and dedicated all my time and energy in preparing for those two exams (SAT and TOEFL).

Every single day I spent the daytime at my SAT and TOEFL classes and the nights on preparing homework for the next day. The struggle with math was the worst. My entire life I believed that I would never have any relationship with numbers, formulas, and calculations; and now I was faced with an unachievable task-to catch up in several months everything which I was supposed to learn during the last ten years. I struggled to understand even those math problems which my peers would consider too easy and primitive. I would spend entire nights for completing several homework exercises and would end up crying for hours because of feeling stupid and inferior which on its turn would be followed by feeling weak and pathetic. I would never ask anyone for help for not giving them a chance to remind me that I am not smart enough or hardworking enough. I gave up all the things I liked and enjoyed for the sake of studying even more for the exams. Eventually, I gave up even singing, and my life completely turned into a repugnant struggle.

Slowly I managed to improve my math skills and catch up with everybody else in the group. But this struggle had already turned into a nightmare. No matter how better my performance became, I was feeling less and less confident and more and more critical about myself. “It will never be enough,” I thought. “I will never satisfy their expectations…” The time was passing, and I didn’t even notice how I reached to the point when I was supposed to be ready for the math exam. After five months of stressful preparations, sleepless nights full of numbers, calculations and tears I was exhausted. I didn’t feel ready for the exam. I was terrified to fail, to let people down and become a disappointment.

Ironically, I succeeded in math test though I failed the English exam which was the next one. Nobody including me thought that I would have a bigger struggle with English than with math. Actually, after I was done with math, things got worse. That painful effort which I put on math led me to depression. I became irritable. I would cry all day long instead of preparing for the upcoming exam. I felt completely lost, frustrated confused and scared. All I could think about was that I was a failure, a disappointment. I felt trapped on my own mind. I felt helpless. I lost all my motivation and interest in everything I previously liked. I stopped attending my exam preparation classes and even school. I completely isolated myself from people and stopped socializing. I was feeling guilt and shame towards my family because I let them down. But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t make myself to get rid of my depression and anxiety and overcome a “simple problem” which everybody faces.

Meanwhile, my family was blaming me for being not hardworking enough, smart enough and resilient enough. They were shaming me for being unable to do what everybody else at my age was expected to do. They were comparing me with whoever was possible and criticized for being “worse,” being “less hardworking,” and “less smart.” Eventually, I ended up feeling useless and unworthy…

No matter how much I wanted to snap my fingers, get out of depression, take another exam, pass it successfully and get accepted to the university, I couldn’t. I hated everything, I hated school, I hated my friends, I hated my family…I hated myself. I lost interest even in living and wanted to hide or disappear. Everybody kept asking what I’m going to do next; whether I am going to take another exam or apply to another university. “You are not going to ‘lose a year,’ are you?” they would say. I was telling them “I am losing my mind” they were telling me “you will lose a year.” What did it even mean “to lose a year?” Wouldn’t I be a living human being if I wasn’t a university student? My mom kept shaming me by asking “what am I supposed to tell the relatives if they ask about you?” I felt that everything was more important than me. Other people’s opinions, being the student of that “prestigious” university, having a reason to be proud of me, to brag in front of friends and relatives was way more important for my family than I and my mental health (the existence of which everybody preferred to ignore.) Unsurprisingly, my depression got even worse, and of course, I wasn’t accepted to AUA that year. After that every day was full of shaming, blaming and reproaching. They wouldn’t miss a chance to remind me that I am worse than my peers, less intelligent, less hardworking and that my only value is my physical beauty. For an entire year, they couldn’t “forgive” me my “fault.”  Next year I applied to AUA once again, and I was accepted this time. Though, even then instead of finally being “satisfied” my family kept reminding me that because of my laziness and stupidity I lost a year of my life. “If you could do it why did you “lose” one year?” they would say…

I got accepted to the “most prestigious” department of AUA- Business and studied an entire year with even worse sufferings than while preparing for the SAT. I hated Business; (which wasn’t unexpected) I hated everything about it. “Why am I even here?” I would ask myself while trying to concentrate my attention on the lecture I found useless. I cried before, during and after every exam and kept asking myself “was this supposed to be so insufferable?” But the worst, I kept feeling less intelligent and less worthy than others. I wanted to change my major to English and Communications (E&C) so I could enjoy my classes and find my place in something dear to me. But even this choice wasn’t obstacle-free. After a year of huge fights and struggles against my family, I changed my major to E&C and finally stopped proving everybody my intelligence and worth. I accepted my family’s opinion about being stupid if you can’t/don’t want to study math and stopped beating myself up because of it. This experience changed my perception of education, life goals, values, and priorities. I understood that the only person who should like and approve what I am doing is me. The only person who should be proud of me is again me. Those who mastered the tips and tricks for easily passing the standardized exams were not better than me; those who are better at math and sciences are not smarter than me. And being accepted to a university from the first or second attempt does not define my worth. I didn’t “lose” a year of my life, as everybody liked to tell me. That was the year when I learned to put myself and my mental health before other’s opinions, expectations, and priorities. That was the year when I learned to live in the endlessly criticizing society without letting them define my worth. That was the year when I finally felt I’m enough…

I, the Ultimate Authority to Myself, Thus Conclude

Alice Vartevanian

Guest Contributor

For these past couple of weeks I can’t help but ask myself, who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going? I ask and ask and end up concluding, from where I belong to who I am, I am clueless. Yet I’m racking my brain around it, how can someone not know where they belong or who they are? Surely I must have a nationality, a country to call home. My passport tells me I’m British and I was born in London, yet majority of my life I’ve lived in Armenia, so which one do I belong to? When I’m in England I’m Armenian, when I’m in Armenia I’m British. So how can someone belong somewhere they are not acknowledged to belong?  I believe these are problems every diasporan tackles with to some extent and each come to their own solution. After all, who gets to decide where your home is? Or which country you belong to? You are the ultimate authority to yourself, you alone get to decide where you belong.

Which is why I, the ultimate authority to myself, decide to be neither, I love both of these countries, as drastically different as they may be. They have both shaped me with their different cultures, qualities and values, and shown me that nothing in this world is black and white. In truth these lessons they’ve taught me are exactly why I have come to this decision, they’ve made me realize that for me, home is not a country, it is not our blood or ancestry that ties us to a patch of soil. It is not a flag or coat of arms that welcomes you back after a vacation. It is not an anthem that gives you chills. Home is anywhere one feels comfortable, surrounded by like minded and kind friends. Friends are what tie us to a patch of soil, for we don’t want to leave their company. Friends welcome us with open arms after a long vacation, eager to catch up over so much time apart. Friends again are what gives us chills, as we sit in a park way past bedtime, listening to our favourite songs and drinking our favourite beverages.

These friends who make me feel home come from all corners of the world, from America to Armenia and all places in between. They are patient, and forgive me when I feel that everything opposes me, when I ramble on generalizing about every person who ever existed. when I yell “I hate this! I’m neither Armenian nor British! I don’t belong anywhere!” they calmly tolerate my outbursts. They accept me no matter my country, no matter who I am, or who I want to be, even if I have no clue on that regard as of yet. This is what a home is, a place cozy and warm that accepts you unconditionally.

And so I, the ultimate authority to myself, thus conclude, that I forthwith will no longer give a fig about what country I belong to and call home, which country I’m from, which country I like best. A country is not my home, my home is my friends and their company.

They’re Here

By Susanna Galstyan,

Guest Contributor.

I knocked on the door that rather reminded of a huge gate of an 18th century chateau. It was polished but somehow looked archaic at the same time. And while someone would finally open it, I managed to I imagine hundreds of versions of what was on the other side of the door. No one did, so I dared to open it myself and get inside, closing the heavy door behind me.

The hallway was large with paintings in golden frames hanging on the white walls and black and white tiles all over the floor. Next to each door was a small word written, which I didn’t manage to read, as a middle-aged woman came out of one of the doors and greeted me, leading me to the main room. And none of the interior versions I had in my mind corresponded with what I came into: a plain white room, with renaissance-style furniture placed all around. The big wooden table with some fleur-de-lis patterns carved on it turned that plain room from modern into something archaic. So did the red velvet couches and the piano in the corner. This room was so aesthetically satisfying, so clean and fresh yet old-fashioned that it radiated a feeling of peace and harmony. And I almost forgot why I was there. This is where I was going to meet with the people that are so close to us yet so estranged and faraway. And I remembered the way our parents would scare us in childhood when we misbehaved: “See, the Turks will come and take you,” “Don’t go near the river, it will take you to the Turks.” Or when a loud sound would come out, we would instantly think, “The Turks?” That is how you grow up near the border. But now I wasn’t near the border, yet I was about to come face to face with them in this nicely-furnished house. And, I had no idea what to expect.

As the minutes passed, the room gradually filled with people, and I finally woke up from the daydream, finding myself in a company of others. Apparently, they, too, were participating in this creative writing program, ‘meant to bring together two estranged people.’

“They’re here,” said someone, and finally, all of us went closer to the doors to greet our guests. They came in and shook our hands with wide smiles on, and it was impossible not to smile them back. There was a positive energy I never expected to feel. And this was how we started to get to know each other. From a single handshake to talking about writing and exposing our biggest vulnerabilities. We got to see through one another’s souls, facing our fears and shames, exposing it to others and finding comfort in that environment. If you’re a writer or you have been in any creative writing workshop, you know you got to be ready to fully and completely uncover your soul to everyone in the room. This was not an exception.

Growing up near the border, I was taught to perceive Turkish people as brutal and cruel, to the point that being in a room with one of them was already a danger. In school, learning about the Armenian Genocide, I started to see nothing but an enemy in them. And here I was spending my days with them, eating with them, talking about our cultures, getting surprised by the amount of similarities we actually shared. Finally, here I was in that aesthetic room, writing with them and talking about writing. The central subjects of the workshops was identity and finding your voice both as a writer and simply a human being. But what is identity? And why did the workshop focus on that? Learning so much about these people and getting to know their own perceptions and values in life  made me even forget about the form of identity that defines us most often – nationality. And finally, I felt that I was in a room full of human beings, so similar in their vulnerabilities, yet so much different in their personalities. There, among those people, I met my best friend, who I’m close with up to this day. And it wasn’t an Armenian citizen forming a friendship with a Turkish citizen. There was more to it. It was a simple human being finding a little bit of herself in another human being.

This is how I came across to one of the most significant lessons in my life that is “never define someone based on their nationality or religion.” As cliche as this may sound, this is sadly an issue in today’s reality. We keep talking and writing about racism, sexism, and the rest of the ‘-isms’ that exist in the world. We write lengthy articles, analyze discourses, deliver fancy speeches, organize campaigns, but is that enough? Or is that what’s necessary? I guess each of us must have their own personal experience of shifting our mindsets to finally feel the heaviness of having those ‘-isms’ within you and the freedom of getting rid of them. Now, this is not about Turkish-Armenian relations. It’s about looking beyond people’s identity and trying to find the human being within them. That’s true; you can never choose your family and nationality, but there shouldn’t be a need to do so either.