When I arrived, I thought I was blessed with good fortune: my host-brother is a picky eater and won’t eat most meat. As a result, I have yet to see my host-mom cook any meat in the house and it’s never been an awkward point at the table. Unfortunately, he’s also a picky eater about most other things.
But, because of the combination of my host-brother’s preferences, his mom’s Russian background, the beginning of the growing season, and the high cost of imports, I have not had any fruit since I got here and few vegetables. Meals here have tons of carbs (bread, rice, lavash, cake, and potatoes) and always cheese but not much else. I bought orange juice but that adds even more carbs to the equation. Armenia is supposed to have amazing fruits, but I’ll have to wait until those local fruits get into the markets (at least the markets I know where to shop).
I also have yet to go running, but I think I’ll correct that issue this morning.
On my first excursion (a.k.a. field trip) with Birthright Armenia, we started talking about Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.* One of the more vocal participants pointed out how Azerbaijan wasn’t a state, “wasn’t anything,” before 1921 (I may be wrong on the year). The similarity of the argument (de-legitimizing a people) with what some Israelis say about Palestinians is scary.
This idea requires a much longer post (shoot, it needs books) but that will have to wait until I know more.
*The very brief history: Armenia and Azerbaijan fought over the area that is now Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian troops (with Russian help) achieved military victory over the region which has now declared itself an independent state. Azerbaijan doesn’t recognize the new state (ditto with every other state in the world) and calls it an illegal occupation of its territory. There is currently a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan but ceasefire violations happen regularly. Places that Don’t Exist did a good episode on Nagorno-Karabakh with perspectives from both sides of the buffer zone.
It’s a bit obligatory for me to post about the Armenian Genocide. Genocide Remembrance Day was April 24th. As that was was my last day in the United States, forgive me for being a bit late.
I’m not really sure what to say besides the fact that people here will never ever forget about the genocide. The Genocide, and the resulting Diaspora, permeates so much of the economic, cultural and political realities of the country.
Also, from what I can tell,* Armenians don’t hate the Turks or the Turkish government for the Genocide. Armenians realize that not all Turks were involved and that not all involved were Turks. Likewise, the current generation of Turks clearly has clean hands except for the lack of recognition. The lack of recognition or any form of compensation is what makes Armenians angry at the current Turkish government, not the act of the Genocide. But that anger is not trivial as demonstrated by the burning of the Turkish flag during the Genocide Remembrance Day parade (Look at the 17th picture).
For anyone that wants to learn more about the Genocide, there are plenty of sources online with the Wikipedia article being a good start. From a international politics perspective, A Problem From Hell by Samantha Power is a great resource. Some of the volunteers here in Birthright Armenia are planning to watch the movie Sunrise Over Lake Van. I can’t speak to its quality yet, but it sounds like it captures well the modern complexities of the unresolved issue. Note that I wouldn’t trust any anonymous ratings for the movie because of its political subject matter.
I’ll upload more pictures of my visit to the Armenian Genocide Museum as soon as I have a decent internet connection.
*I may be being hopeful and seeing what I want to see.
So here I’ve been for the last 36 hours struggling to communicate (acting like a mute when I’m out in public) and still just trying to get my bearings (e.g. I still have the unsolved problem of I don’t know where I can buy a towel). Then I go to this community service task for birthright: picking off the petals of flowers from the genocide memorial to dry them and put them on paper. While the work was fun, it was a culture shock to be surrounded by over a dozen fluent English-speaking 20-somethings.
The Birthright Armenia crew
I suddenly could speak at a normal speed with my full vocabulary using irony and sarcasm to my heart’s desire without worrying that my listener wouldn’t understand. I could make cultural references people would understand. I could tease, mock, flatter, cajole, amuse and impress without fear of misunderstanding. I might as well have been hanging out in America as it was so easy and seamless.
However, I came to Armenia to learn Armenian culture including some of the language and not just hang around westerners. But, I’m also not a machine and need to be able to relax and express myself sometimes. And, meeting people and learning what they do and their backgrounds is learning more about Armenia. As you can tell, there is a struggle.
A part of me wants to excel, which requires that I’m in a familiar setting, the other part wants to develop new knowledge and understanding, which requires that I’m in an unfamiliar setting. This is a balance that everyone has to regularly work on. Do I watch my favorite brainless tv show or read a new book? The only difference here is that my unfamiliar setting is as close to as unfamiliar as you can get.
My number is 77364260. In country, this is (077) 36 42 60. For all you non-Armenians you can call my cell through 011 374 77 364 260 or use my google voice number of 646 580-[crawler blocker]4510. The latter number will go to my computer and since I rarely have internet access, you’ll need to leave a message.