Archives for the month of: March, 2014

I am now, officially, a resident of the Republic of Armenia in the year 2014.  I have no familial connection to the current boundaries.  I don’t speak the eastern dialect very well and I find myself constantly asking people to repeat what they said, or sometimes just feign understanding and say “ayo” (yes), regardless of what was asked, if anything was asked at all.  I’ve been told I’ll never really know Armenia since neither I nor my parents were born there.  And I also didn’t grow up in Glendale or any locus of an Armenian community where the language or culture was ever-present and I probably only heard my first eastern Armenian in high school.  But like so many people before me, I was raised with a reverence for my history and felt a pull to this country whose growth I now get to take part in every single day.  That’s quite an amazing thought to accept for this happy-go-lucky spyurkahye.

I think about all of the steps, events and people in our history that led me here and it is no short of amazing that I even identify myself as Armenian and that I am living in a nation called Armenia.  Every day I wait for that moment where I wake up and don’t find the fact that I am here simply amazing.  But it hasn’t happened yet and I don’t expect it to.  I often find myself exclaiming, “I love this place!” to friends and to date, they have always returned the sentiment.

As a reaction to my unbridled enthusiasm I have had some people retort, “wait, you just haven’t been here long enough.”  But I know that is not the case.  I know why I’m here.  And I’m reminded every day.  I’m reminded when I see young friends live their lives gleefully with a quality that they never experienced “back home.”  I’m reminded when I see those same friends move forward exponentially faster in their careers in a way that’s just not possible elsewhere.  I’m reminded whenever complete strangers invite me for coffee because hospitality and kindness are so ingrained in this culture.  I am reminded when I see a gaggle of chubby-faced, bright-eyed kindergarteners on a field trip to the zoo, waving at the elephants, hoping for some sign of recognition in its eyes.  I’m reminded when I still get pleasantly caught off guard hearing Armenian everywhere.  I am reminded by the generation who moved, lived here, and paved the way for me and how their hope and love for this country is still so strong.  And I am reminded every time I pick up a book of Armenian history and see that for all intents and purposes, I as an Armenian should not exist, let alone have a country to call home.

My family tree on my father’s side can be traced back to Kessab.  And as we all wait with hopeful, bated breath to receive positive news from this tragedy, it just further shows how tenuous a diasporic existence really is.  I can’t express how thankful and amazed I am to be here and I can’t wait to celebrate the event for any of my fellow dreamers who don’t want this to be a dream any longer.

Now its your turn.  I’d like to hear your constant reminders, and I think some other people would as well.  If you had an interaction with a stranger, or an interesting cab ride, or a fascinating trip to the outskirts of Armenia or a revelation as to why you’re in Armenia or any other positive personal experience here (whether you’re here long term or just visiting, doesn’t matter), please private message me at https://www.facebook.com/NotYourGrandmasArmenia or email me at notyourgrandmasarmenia@gmail.com.  I will begin posting these anonymously to the facebook and twitter pages to share all the funny, exciting and happy moments that can only happen in Armenia.

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I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, when you hear the opening drumsticks clink together and you realize the glory of what is to come, and you can hear the sweet voice of Harout Pamboukjian sing that beautiful song about a squash, your body instinctively shimmies in jubilation.  (If you don’t know what I am talking about, https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=7fgSxslYoaA)

Now, usually, one is only lucky enough to hear this song blaring over a speaker at a wedding or barahantes, in essence, at an organized gathering of Armenians at a predetermined location and time.  A bunch of Armenians spend a lot of time and money to give a whole bunch of other Armenians a space to be loud and happy Armenians together.  However, aside from planned functions, you’re not likely to spontaneously feel the joy of hearing this music with a large group of Armenians.

Now, my following statement may cause some incredulity among a few of you.  Prepare yourself.  Here, you do not have to plan or spend time and effort being Armenian and celebrating the fact that you’re part of this beautiful culture.  In Armenia, you’re just Armenian.  All the time.

For example, I spent time at a local youth club this weekend and the playlist fluidly moved from Sirusho to Beyonce to Harout to Pitbull – God knows I love me some reggaeton.  And it was awesome and people were shurch bar-ing in the club like it was no big deal.  If Sirusho came on in Long Beach I would have freaked out so much hearing Armenian music that I wouldn’t have even gotten a chance to properly get my groove on.

Yesterday was March 15, the anniversary of the day Soghomon Tehlirian shot and killed Talaat Pasha, the man credited with developing and executing genocide against Armenians.  Here, you know it happened and you understand why.  There is no need to qualify it with a, “yes, he killed him but, like, you know, he coordinated a genocide,” “yes, but he was responsible for killing Tehlirian’s family,” “yes, but he got away with mass murder,” “yes but,” “yes but,” “yes but.”  All to make others understand why you would be ok with this episode in history.

This is not to say I never enjoyed dropping some knowledge on my wonderful non-Armenian friends about my history.  But I can’t begin to explain how great it feels to not have to explain anymore.  You don’t have to constantly rent out spaces to collectively be Armenian, you don’t have to annually explain why you’re taking April 24th off, you don’t have to incessantly tell someone “no, we don’t all look like Kim K.” and you don’t have to pander to some official about the importance of their Armenian constituency.  Here, you don’t have to talk about being Armenian.  You just are.

I don’t like sports.  They are not interesting to me.  I didn’t watch a single Olympic activity and I’d much rather watch the latest shenanigans between my favorite housewives, be they from Miami, New Jersey, or the occasional Atlanta.  Conversely, I love being Armenian.  I mean, I really, unabashedly love it.  I think we are awesome and have unconsciously created secret awesome parts in our history that are due for rediscovery because we have either collectively neglected to properly celebrate them or forgotten them entirely because we don’t like to talk about anything that’s not 301/1915-related.  So when I accidentally came across the story of Albert Azaryan, I became borderline enamored by him and his entire life.  What I am about to describe is my quest to become BFFs with this living legend.

For those who do not know who Azaryan is, I will provide a quick wiki-summary.  Born in 1929, Azaryan spent much of his youth supporting his family as a blacksmith after his father passed away.  When he turned 17 he was recruited by a group of gymnasts and went to Yerevan to learn the art of the still rings.  From there, he became the very first back-to-back Olympic Champion on the rings in 1956 and 1960.  He is also the creator of what is today called the “Azaryan Cross.”  From what I gather, this maneuver is still considered one of the most difficult moves to properly accomplish in the sport.

azarianolymcross1

 

 During Soviet times Azaryan was also considered, what was known in technical terms, as a “stone-cold fox.”


During Soviet times Azaryan was also considered, what was known in technical terms, as a “stone-cold fox.”

So, after finding out he heads a gymnastics school for students as young as 5, I set out to find him and glean as much information about his life as I could.

That did not happen.

When I first met him, he barely looked at me and clearly felt no need to reciprocate my overly-enthusiastic smile.  No big deal.  I reminded myself to continue breathing and started asking my questions.  Obviously, I wanted to know everything about his signature move.  It is legendary!  However, as soon as I mentioned “Azaryan Cross,” he shut me down and let me know that it is really not interesting for him to talk about that anymore.

Ok, I thought.  Cool…cool.  As Jay-Z would say, on to the next one.

So I asked him about his life in general and how he started with this sport.  With that, he seemed incredibly unimpressed with me and all of my prepared questions and made no attempt to hide this fact.  So at that point I threw in the proverbial towel and decided to deviate and ask him questions whose answers I couldn’t find online.

It was only when I asked him about Armenia that he actually became interested.  When I mentioned Armenia he smiled.  (I smiled.  We had a moment.  It was heart-warming.)  He went on to say that after every Olympics he participated in, the hosting country always asked him to stay where he could lead, what I only assume, would’ve been a rock star’s life.

“But I couldn’t stay away from Armenia, from the people above all else, and although I want every Armenian to live in Armenia, I won’t tell them all to move here.  But if someone considers themselves Armenian, then they need to always defend the language and everything Armenian that we have.”

Then he showed me some of his photographs and medals and offered me cake.  (That’s right.  Albert Azaryan offered me “տորթ.”)  And although we’re not “technically” BFFs, I can say that I was so charmed by this old man who was completely bored when I asked him to talk about himself but lit up and actually smiled when I asked him to give his thoughts about this country.

This man revolutionized his sport, has now dedicated his life to teaching little ones how to be awesome and very few Armenians know who he is.  There are so many similar examples of extraordinary artists, writers, athletes, inventors –people – who have gone forgotten or undiscovered.  With so much out there it is time we really start doing more to celebrate these figures because they’re wonderful and empowering and it would be a shame for their stories to continue collecting dust within our national memory.

 

Its possible I was slightly more excited to take this picture than he was.

Its possible I was slightly more excited to take this picture than he was.