Archives for the month of: February, 2014

The first time I came to Armenia was in 2004.  I arrived in a country of women who personified every commercialized standard of femininity available – perfectly coiffed hair, impeccably dressed, impossibly high heels worn at all times – and I stood out in all of my delightfully chubby, baggy-clothed, unkempt, androgynous glory.

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That’s me. On the left.

What follows is not a critique on anyone who dressed/dresses in that way.  I actually am in a constant state of admiration of these immaculately dressed people.  (Also, I am currently saving up for my own “ushanka” as they are all types of Soviet-chic and I just get happy when I see them.)

 

Courtesy of: Therussianstore.com I need this.

Courtesy of: Therussianstore.com
I need this.

 

But in 2004 everyone looked the same, there was no variation and there certainly weren’t many people willing to increase the variation, as they would be met with harsh consternation, surely.

Ten years later and you see style on the streets of Yerevan.  I am not referring to labels.  (I firmly believe you don’t need labels to have style.)  Nor am I talking about beauty.  (I also firmly believe that all women are genuinely beautiful regardless of what they are wearing.)  I am talking strictly in terms of style, using your appearance as a means of communication, to demonstrate to the world a part of your individuality, your uniqueness.

In Yerevan, women are now covering their bodies in ways that reflect their individual selfdom.  Individuality is not only beginning to be championed, it is slowly being celebrated.  Yes, sometimes people stare, even say rude and hurtful things. This will happen.  Certain ideas are new here.  For example, I am an introvert in a very social country.  (I am writing this blog because I prefer you reading my thoughts than me actually having to tell you in person.)  So, people stare when I sit alone, reading a book in a restaurant – does that make me feel like a loser? Usually.  But I digress.

Some things just aren’t customary here.  This does not mean people are innately intolerant.  Really, it all comes down to the fact that some things and ideas are very new.  As clichéd as it is to say, this country was under Soviet rule for about 70 years.  The Soviet Union not only did not encourage diversity, it punished it gravely.  People can not just relinquish that collective memory easily.  In addition to that, Armenia itself is a very, very homogenous place.  It takes time to get accustomed to something that you have only recently been introduced to.  (We aren’t talking just about style anymore.)

This is not to say anyone should stifle their individuality to make others feel comfortable.  On the contrary, I encourage everyone to introduce his or her own diversity to this society.  What I am saying is to not get easily discouraged when met with stares or comments.  Talk.  Explain.  But please, do not get so frustrated as to lose hope and begin making blanket generalizations about the entire population.  No, these changes in perception may not happen as fast as some would like.   However, Armenia needs to stop being portrayed as an innately intolerant place, because it isn’t.  What it is is a country that has lacked diversity and is in, what will probably be, the very long process of getting accustomed to it.

On that note, I want to celebrate some individuality on the streets of Yerevan.  No two styles are similar, none are hyper-romanticized representations of femininity, but all are feminine and beautiful and darn stylish.

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Meet Anahit and Ani. Glorious combination of tattoos and style.

This is Teni.  Wonderful personality.  Wonderful outfit.

This is Teni. Wonderful personality. Wonderful individuality.

 

This is Karina.   Homegirl was just struttin’ down Northern Avenue and was kind enough to let me photograph her.

This is Karina. Homegirl was just struttin’ down Northern Avenue and was kind enough to let me photograph her.

 

Lastly, here is Vilmante.   Style in spades.

Lastly, here is Vilmante. Style in spades.

There are many, many more instances of individuality and street-style available but I had neither the man power nor the energy to assure the random people I asked to photograph that I wasn’t taking their pictures for creepy purposes.  If you have a photograph highlighting your individuality in Armenia and would like it possibly posted on an upcoming blog, please send it to notyourgrandmasarmenia@gmail.com!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After spending some time on my favorite pastime, counting and recounting my cash monies1, I noticed something I found interesting.  The figures on the most widely circulated of Armenian currency, the 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 dram bills, are Yeghishe Charents, Hovhannes Tumanyan and Avetik Isahakyan.  All authors!  (Some of you may feel the use of an exclamation point to be unwarranted or even superfluous, but stick with me.)  There is no dearth of exceptional political or military leaders in Armenian history to pick from, (not that I think those figures do not play their own vital role).  But they weren’t picked.

Charents, Tumanyan and Isahakyan.  These men wrote, shaped ideas and most importantly, laid the proper groundwork and prepared their communities for future social and political movements through the conscious and intentional spread of ideas, consequently ensuring those movements’ success.  I am, unfortunately, not well-read enough as I’d like to be, yet, but I can say that with even a cursory knowledge of the collective writings and works of these great men it is clear that all exhibit not only a fierce nationalism, but a hope, a belief in the Armenian people and an ownership in the future of the nation.  Tumanyan organized meetings dedicated to fostering intellectual discourse and also took it upon himself to save the lives of countless children and refugees during the genocide.  Isahakyan’s “Songs of Hayduk” is considered a literary basis for the modern Armenian struggle for freedom and wrote countless political tracts discussing the Armenian question.  Charents’s works maintained an underlying optimism in the potential of Armenia and Armenians and authored one of the most badass secret messages that I am currently aware of2.  These men were not remarkable because of their loud and catchy slogans or for their innate ability to come up with a band-aid solution for Armenia’s woes and then call it a day. These men were remarkable because of their work, their ideas and the meticulous way they approached the question of actively being Armenian and what that ultimately entailed.

I’d like to end this post with a letter one of these men wrote to another.  And although this letter leaves me feeling painfully inadequate as a human being since I will never be able to piece together words in such a delicately beautiful manner, I take solace in the message of this letter.  That this country is not perfect, nor do I believe it ever will be, and there will never be a perfect time to take part in its development, but it is here.  And it is mine.  And it is yours.  And if someone considers “being Armenian” as part of their identity, then that fact should be embraced and we should all individually figure out how we are going to actively be Armenian and lay the groundwork now.

Letter from Hovhannes Tumanyan to Avetik Isahakyan

I have received your letter.  You are saying, if the time is right –tell me and I will come.

I do not know what you mean by the ‘right time,’ but let me tell you:

-Come!

-Do come, Avo jan!

There was no right time for us, there cannot be and there won’t be, but still…come.

Once you come back, you will see that our land is destroyed, our people are beaten, those who have survived are broken; the ranks of friends and relatives have lessened.  You will see just how great our share is of this human ocean of sorrow, but still, do come.

I know that over there you have nothing that is right for you-neither a place, nor time, nor environment, nor any means.

After all, you must be missing our land and water, your relatives and friends.

…So do come, my dear Avo.3

 

 

 

 

  1. I do not actually sit and count and recount my money.  That is not my favorite pastime.  That was a joke.
  2. For those who aren’t familiar with what I am referring to – As outspoken nationalistic sentiments were met with constant looming threats of exile or death during the Soviet Union, Charents wrote a poem titled, “Patkam” (Message).  In this poem, the second letter of each line spelled out “Oh Armenian people, your only salvation is in your collective power.”  Pretty badass, right?
  3. This letter has been translated.  It was found on armenianhouse.org.  This site contains other translated works by other wonderful Armenian authors.  Also, check out writers.am.  You will not be disappointed.  You’re welcome.