Thursday, September 14, 2006

Human Rights Watch criticizes the imprisonment of three Armenian soldiers

Emil Danielyan at Armenia Liberty writes that HRW is criticizing and asking for the Armenian government to reconsider the life imprisonment sentence given to the three Armenian soldiers, Razmik Sargsyan, Arayik Zalyan, Musa Serobyan - the article is here "U.S. Watchdog Defends Armenian Soldiers Jailed For Life"

This story was one of the first articles I had written about back in January 2006.

Yet I just wanted to call attention to the most alarming fact that was presented at the end of the article,

"Armenia’s Office of the Military Prosecutor reported 19 such deaths during the first half of this year. The official crime statistics show that Armenian soldiers are at much greater risk of dying at the hands of their commanders and comrades than from enemy fire."

And these are only the OFFICIAL crime statistics! What is happening in the army? How ironic that these young men who are serving the country being murdered by their own Commanders.

It is due to these types of stories and situations that one begins to wonder…

I know of a few young Armenians who have served in the army or are currently serving. After they are done with their service, these young men explain that they feel like they have just wasted the past two years of their life. And frankly, when they come out of the army and are looking for a job or maybe applying to university to continue their education, what are they supposed to explain on their resumes or their personal statements? … “I have just completed my service to the RA National Army and I learned absolutely nothing. My Commanders are a pack of thieves and are rewarded for acting the way they do. I have obtained no skills and the only experience I have gained is the fact that Army is not a place that anybody should be…”

So why should these young men want to conscript? Why should Armenian young men continue to be proud of their country, their citizenship and want to actually stay after seeing and hearing about things like this? And the ironic part of all is that the Army is probably the MOST nationalistic institution and they are very often showing television documentaries about the Karabakh war and how we must respect those who have lost their lives in battle. How about we also consider respecting those Armenian youth who are actually staying alive and serving in the army? An interesting thought.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Futbol, the Armenian flag and Breaking Social Norms

Armenians have quite interesting reactions when they see something that is “out of the ordinary”. A few of my friends and I were getting ready to go to the futbol game, Armenia vs. Belgium and we decided to show Armenian patriotism – on our faces. So we painted our faces with the tricolor of the Armenian flag. (In case you are interested, we used lipstick and eyeliner.)

here are my freinds at the stadium

As we were in public and waiting for our ride, everybody was quite amused by the painting on our faces. There were a few younger kids (probably around 5-6 years old) who just kept laughing, and it was such a joy to see these kids just laugh really hard. Then there were a couple of older males who were also quite amused and I would say their ages were about mid 40’s- 50’s. Funny thing is they were acting as mature as the 5-6 year olds…

Then there were others who were simply scared and were gasping as they saw my friends’ faces, saying “what is that?” in Armenian. It was even funnier to see their reaction when one of my friends would respond in Armenian language and say, “it’s the Armenian tricolor.”

Thing is, it is not very typical for an Armenian to do such things. Obviously, this explains the shock factor. But also, it is not within the social norm in Armenia to really “stand out” by doing such things as painting your face with the tricolors of the flag. This reminds me of an article I wrote a while back about how people react when they see people who wear different clothes, with holes in their jeans, or have long hair or when guys have earrings. Armenians tend to not be so “accepting” of these different choices in style. And of course, we knew that we would get a similar reaction when painting our faces.

So we get to the game, and of course the staring and the reactions continue. Although at this point, it did not seem so out of place because other fans who had come to the futbol game were also showing their pride by carrying the flag or wearing one on their heads.

And of course the stadium was PACKED with men. I had attended a few futbol games in Yerevan a few years back and knew that this would be the case. On our way to the stadium, I had mentioned that many women do not tend to attend futbol games and the guys with me were disagreeing. They were explaining no, lately there have been MANY girls attending the futbol games… You should’ve seen how many there were last time, they expressed. Well, we got to the stadium and I was able to count on my hands how many girls were actually present at the game. Not many girls attend futbol games.

We screamed “Hayasdan” and cheered on the team as they tried to score at least 1 goal against the Belgian team whose players were probably 2 meters in height. However, our chanting and screaming was to no avail as Armenia lost the game to Belgium 0-1. No worries, though, it was a good time!

And as we were pushing and shoving trying to get out of the stadium, one of the boys walking next to us looks at our faces and says to his friends, “Ara, et Belkiakan troshn e?” which means “Is that the Belgian flag?”. I turn to him and responded in Armenian, “No, it’s the Armenian tricolor of course. Can’t you see?” Boy was he surprised that these STRANGE looking faces were actually responding to him in Armenian!

I guess they thought that Armenians would not do such things as paint their faces for a futbol. They figure that Belgians would be the only people who would do such things. Could this be the reason why they did not see the obvious red, blue and orange colors clearly on our faces? Surely when these talking painted faces responded to them in Armenian, it surprised them. And one more thing is for sure, we need many more people not only in Yerevan but in the whole world breaking social norms in public. Go ahead people, break a social norm or two today if you can! I dare you to do it!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Batumi and the Armenians- what a small world!

Batumi is THE vacation place for Armenians. And if Batumi was not enough, those Armenians have now started moving onto taking a vacation in the surrounding villages like Kobuleti …

I spent a week in August in Batumi, Georgia for a seminar entitled “Swapping Cultures Initiative as a Tool for Promoting Peace Training Course” and we engaged in discussions regarding minority issues and intercultural exchanges. With the Armenians being one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Georgia, the organizers of the seminar had previously arranged for a meeting with the Batumi community there.

What a small world. One leaves Armenia and bumps into every other Armenian already in Batumi. Then, the organizers of the Training Course arrange for a meeting with the Batumi Armenian community. I did not even know of this event and was quite surprised and delighted.

So off we went to this meeting with the Batumi Armenian community. And there I was to realize what an even smaller world this place really is…

One of the leaders of the Armenian Batumi community, Grigory Vardanyan gave us a brief overview about the community there. Some of the major issues facing the Armenian-Georgian community are assimilation, poor quality of the education system and the lack of jobs.

Barely able to speak Armenian himself, he spoke in Russian to me and explained how the Armenian community was not really able to speak the Armenian language. He pointed out that the poor quality of the Armenians schools in the city were the reason for this. The so-called Armenian schools are not really teaching Armenian language, rather providing an education in the Russian language. And on top of that, the quality of education is so poor that most of the students who attend these schools are not able to be admitted into a Georgian university upon graduation. For this reason, the enrollment in Armenian schools is beginning to decline and quality is decreasing with it as well.

Yet another issue he raised was the fact that the Armenians were not able to obtain employment so many of them were leaving for Russia. As he explained this I kept thinking how this was also a very common problem in Armenia as well.

Among our group of participants there were young people from many different countries, such as Latvia, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Bulgaria and the UK.

During our discussion with Mr. Vardanyan, one of the Turkish representatives mentioned that he is from Bayburt, a city which is now in Eastern Turkey and is known to have a thriving Armenian population during the Ottoman Empire. Mr. Vardanyan’s eyes lit up and as he explained my grandmother is from Bayburt as well.

He started telling the story about how his grandmother left Bayburt and his family was split up after the Genocide. It turns out that Mr. Vardanyan’s grandmother's sister ended up going to Providence, RI, the city I was born and raised! My eyes lit up! An even smaller world…

Apparently, Mr. Vardanyan explained has been looking for his family in Providence for the past 4-5 years and has had no luck. After exchanging contact information with him, I let him know I would be very willing to help him find his family in Providence. Considering this city has quite a small Armenian community (with around 10-15,000 people), I am hoping and seeking to make this connection for him.

Prior to going to Batumi, I knew and had heard of this place as being THE place for Armenians to go on vacation. And certainly, I bumped into many people from Yerevan that I know. However, it became a much SMALLER world after making this connection.