I recently had the most interesting experience in Armenia. When I say interesting, I mean, mind-numbingly frustrating. I mean, borderline soul-crushing. The entire situation was the stereotypical example of the absurd, Kafkaesque, Soviet-leftover, bureaucratic system that makes absolutely no sense to those unaccustomed to it. Efficiency was non-existent as was reason or logic. I will not divulge details, but at one point, I somehow found myself in a room smelling oddly of peepee.

Now, I have a horrible temper that I have learned to control over the years, but I had not experienced frustration and anger like this in recent memory. It was weird. You may ask, was I incensed? Incensed?! Is the People’s Elbow the greatest move in World Wrestling Entertainment history?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_3Zi6t7W4s

I could feel myself spiraling out of control down an abyss of pessimism. I wanted to succumb because giving up to pessimism just feels so good! You get to blame everything around you and feel like you have the right to think that everything and everyone has failed you!

“Dahm you vegetable vendor for not having lettuce on Tuesdays! երկիրը երկիր չէ.”

“UUUugh my phone won’t connect to the free wifi thats eeeeverywhere.  երկիրը երկիր չէ.”

But I did not allow myself to do so.

Experiences like this may also be the reason why people say they will wait until these types of absurdities clear itself and then they will enjoy the country. I am aware that these types of situations are incredibly frustrating and they do happen. As such, I have been accused of painting too bright a picture of Armenia or of ignoring too much.  I beg to differ.

Let me break it down a bit.

In the late 19th century, Armenians faced massacre, and a majority maintained a servile mentality. This did not stop a few ingenious people from organizing and injecting sentiments of pride, nationalism and self-defense into the masses. After World War One, Armenians suffered from genocide and faced starvation and a serious threat of annihilation. This did not stop a few progressive thinkers from rising from the melee and establish an independent republic. In the late 80’s, early 90’s, Armenians faced the collapse of the only safety net they had, a devastating earthquake and a destructive war. This did not stop many courageous individuals from defending the country and establishing a free and independent Armenia.

Now, I am not comparing any experience I have had to any of the aforementioned at all. I am saying that despite the fact that difficulties are plentiful, establishing and maintaining a functioning and successful nation is not an easy task. However, I am over the opinion that one setback, one absurdity, one painfully uncomfortable experience allows anyone the right to righteously excuse themselves of having a hand in bettering this country.   If you give up, give up. But it is not acceptable to make it seem like one has the right to do so because of the difficulties they may have faced. Give up and admit defeat and lack of faith. These types of people are not realists, they are defeatists. All things become great through excessive work and patience. This period in Armenia’s history is not without its first difficulty, nor will it be its last. But please don’t excuse negativity for realism and optimism for naiveté. We (because there are many) are not optimistic because we have never had a negative or frustrating experience.   We are optimistic because we consciously choose to be. After all, whats a little peepee odor in the grand scheme of things?

*Disclaimer: The following may deviate slightly from the general theme of this blog. But its my blog. So I can do whatever I want.

There is a really amusing trend I’ve noticed over here among some repatriates in good ole’ Yerevan as of late. That trend is Diaspora-shaming. Now, before you scratch your head in utter bewilderment as you try to make sense of why on earth REPATRIATES (as in, Armenians who have at one point lived in the Diaspora) are making negative remarks towards that same Diaspora, let me save you some time. It doesn’t.

More and more it seems that some in the repatriate community deem it appropriate, necessary even, to belittle, bemoan and berate “The Diaspora.” (Yes. “The Diaspora.” Because, obvs, its one entity.) This has most frequently taken form in an “I have moved to Armenia, therefore I am more committed to Armenia and know exactly how one should engage with Armenia and you are clearly doing it wrong, Diaspora. Move here and engage in the way I outline to be correct engagement practices”-way. This statement is usually followed by how all Diasporans equate Armenia with Ararat and pretty pictures of noor.

First and foremost I would like to clear up a misconception. Moving to Armenia does not make one a better person. Take my word for it. I moved to Armenia in January and I’m still one of the worst people I know. Conversely, some of the best and most dedicated people I know are currently residing in the Diaspora. Also, even if some diasporans do have unrealistic or idealistic images of Armenia, it is merely a starting point. If a young and interested person comes to Armenia for the first time and is captivated by what may otherwise be seen as a banality, why is that a negative?  It is only problematic if it stays that way.  I defy anyone who has an invested interest in Armenia today to tell me that they did not start off by musing on the ethereal beauty of a bag of ripe, delicious apricots.  Instead of ridiculing another Armenian for what may very well be excessively romantic portrayals of Armenia, it may be more effective to simply talk about the everyday realities of the country and to encourage the development of that interest. As in, you know, just being a mature, non-condescending adult.

This is not to say that I have gone astray from my fundamental belief that any person who considers being Armenian a factor in their identity should, at the very least, view Armenia as a more complex place than we have come to see it in the past generation. (https://notyourgrandmasarmenia.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/repeat-after-me/) I also still wholeheartedly believe that certain leading organizations in the Diaspora must include repatriation within their agenda and that shifts need to occur within this framework. (http://www.armenianweekly.com/2013/09/14/letter-repatriation-absent-in-arf-discourse/)

However, I see absolutely no point in being condescending and self-righteous towards the people whose mentality you are trying to change and whose group you once were a member of. All this does is emphasize the imaginary divide between the Diaspora and Armenia and create more problems. We don’t need more problems. We have a mustachioed, unintentionally hilarious, social-media loving dictator who is already trying to create more problems as is. As such, everyone can have a role to play in the development of this country. But alienating those who may even become repatriates one day does nothing more than get you likes on Facebook from your like-minded friends.

Before I delve into this next post, I want to provide a little background on a topic that will help you understand my following thoughts a little more clearly. That topic is me. So for those who do not know me, I have a tendency to be a pretty negative and cynical person. I don’t like stuff. I get grumpy if I’m not asleep by 9:30 and I generally assume that most things are out to harm me. This may conflict with the image I project through most of my postings. That is because when it comes to matters of Armenia I tend to be unwaveringly optimistic.

Which brings me to the crux of my post. This has been discussed before, but it seems at times when discussing Armenia, the knee-jerk and sometimes completely groundless response is negative. Most people are familiar with the tired stereotype of the “yergiruh yergir chi” types who enjoy lamenting either about their existence in Armenia or about something they’ve heard about Armenia while they are not in Armenia. Sure, some of those complaints are entirely warranted, as they are in any country. But I feel like it has reached a point where, because this reaction so often goes unchallenged, it has become the unconscious response. The interesting part however comes when it does get challenged.

When I meet someone living in Armenia, whether they are Yerevantsi, Kessabtsi, Gyumretsi or any variation of Armenian therein, sometimes the conversation devolves into recycled iterations of what we’ve all heard before. But when they are met with a stoic response,

Stoic Nora.

Stoic Nora.

they seem momentarily taken aback that I am not agreeing. Let alone sympathizing:

Sympathizing Nora.

Sympathizing Nora.

Once they realize I’m hip to their game and don’t necessarily concur, attitudes change and I start hearing,

“Actually, it’s a pretty nice place to live.”

“Actually, it is kinda safer here.”

“Actually, I do think it’s the best place to raise my kids.”

Etcetera. Etcetera.

And this goes both ways. I’ve met many a diasporan who has a cornucopia of opinions about this country. However, as soon as they are questioned, it becomes plainly obvious that many times, there isn’t any actual information or research conducted by the parties in question but just regurgitations of what they think they are supposed to say.

“Everyones poor in Armenia”

“Theres so much corruption in Armenia, that like, you know, bad stuff happens, like, all the time.”

“Theres so much _______ a normal person can’t _____.”

Its like a game of really depressing, hysteria-inducing mad-libs. Just fill in the blank with negativity.

Listen, I too am guilty of this. As I noted in the introduction, I love me a negative, knee-jerk reaction to most anything. And I’m not saying that there aren’t many real problems that must be addressed. It just gets so very boring to hear the same things over and over again. So perhaps, next time, instead of jumping at the chance to recite what we’ve learned since kindergarten about Armenia, lets pause and actually think if what is about to escape our lips is truly warranted because even that measured reluctance to succumb to negativity can make a difference.  As the queen of daytime television, Oprah Winfrey, once said, “the greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.”

oprah-winfrey-jpg

Oprah Winfrey.

I recently had to go to the post office to pick up a package. Now, I would like to say that I have a horrible sense of direction, but that would imply that I actually had a sense of direction to ascribe an adjective to. So, I went to what I incorrectly assumed was the correct location to pick up my parcel. After a quick chat with the employee, she promptly called her taxi driver friend to take me to the correct post office location and actually joined us on the trip, obvs, because this is Armenia.

Anyway, after getting through all the requisite niceties of where I was from etc., the driver immediately started going into “something, something, Armenia will never change, something, something.” And before my eyes glazed over completely my new post office bestie decided to shut him down. Hard.  She told a little story that I’d very much enjoy recounting.

There was and there wasn’t.  One day my new friend went for a walk with her friend, her friend’s husband and their child.   The husband was eating a banana. After peeling said banana, he disposed of the peel on the sidewalk. She couldn’t hold in her anger and reprimanded the man whilst providing him numerous options of what he could have done, foremost among them simply holding onto the peel until they reached a trash can. She then said, this is the type of person who will then visit Europe and come back lamenting how dirty Armenia is and how clean and well-kempt Europe is. “Akh, Yevrobah…” She continued loudly reprimanding her taxi driver friend saying that all change begins with the individual and that the only fault Armenians have is that we never feel we can make a difference ourselves and just sit back and lackadaisically accept whatever fate we think we deserve.

I wanted to take her delightfully chubby face into my arms and kiss her forehead, but I refrained. I did however yell out “jishd es!” and just made some loud, inaudible noises out of excitement while clapping my hands together like a toy monkey. “Ayo! Ayo! Jishd essssssskkkksdfsafa;sdfasdf;as”

monkey

This loud and proud affirmation of self-empowerment came from a woman who most would probably have written off as this or that. And this has been the trend of most of my experience in Armenia actually. I’ve learned never to underestimate or count someone out. Because you never know when you’ll come around a middle-aged post office employee who has the answer to pretty much all of the nation’s problems and will defy whatever stereotype you have set in your head about how people are supposed to be over here.

 

*****If you have any funny, interesting, swashbuckling, thought-provoking, heart-warming story that you would like to share about an experience you have had in Armenia, please either email me at notyourgrandmasarmenia@gmail.com or message me at https://www.facebook.com/NotYourGrandmasArmenia?ref=hl  I will post them anonymously on the facebook page and spread the good vibes and perhaps dispel a stereotype or two in the process.

One of my consistently favorite things about living in Armenia is when I am reminded about how little I actually know about it. Although this happens every single day, there are certain instances that make me feel especially ignorant and blissfully happy at the same time. For example, let me tell you a little story.

A few weeks ago, I visited a water treatment and waste sanitation facility. (Now I know that’s how most exhilarating stories begin but this one, especially, is a doozy!) As I learned that day, many Armenian water and sanitation systems are based off of outdated technologies. Well, that is about to change. A small, locally run engineering consulting firm that goes by the name of ‘JINJ’ has decided to reconstruct Armenia’s water and waste management capabilities.

Their pilot program takes place in the Parakar town just outside of Yerevan. Through their own, independent research, they developed a new water and waste sanitation facility. This facility not only cleaned the water supply for the villagers, but it also freed up formerly unusable land for farming as a result of proper irrigation and waste management techniques. This is not even the best part. Hold on to your hats guys…

The good people at JINJ spent ten years trying to convince town leaders to let them create this facility.  The amazing part of this is that throughout the duration of the ten years, these people did not leave the country nor did they expend valuable energy complaining about the obstinacy of the people they were dealing with. They had a vision for what they wanted to accomplish in Armenia and they stuck to their guns until they saw the project was accomplished. They do not have some willy-nilly, haphazard idea for Armenia. Instead they have a long-term and sustainable outlook on the future and they plan to get it done no matter how long it takes or how many obstacles surface.

Its stories like this that make it impossible for me to ever lose faith or bemoan the status of this country. The longer I am here the more I realize much of what I thought I knew is wrong and I really have no choice but to have an inexhaustible source of hope and energy for the future because every day I find out about something new that I had no idea about the day before. Its just a matter of getting the word out. And me not feeling like a loser for not knowing about it. But mostly its just a matter of getting the word out.

As I sit alone in my apartment alternating listening to “Let It Go” and “Be Our Guest,” on youtube because they’re awesome, I’ve decided to confront an unfortunately prevalent opinion that has slowly permeated throughout conversations and various avenues of the social media.  As more and more young diasporans decide to live their lives in Armenia, many onlookers are eager to compartmentalize them as either flighty romantics who clearly haven’t really given the decision much thought (obvs, or they wouldn’t have moved otherwise, right?) or as hyper-adventurous individuals who just want cheap thrills.  I’m here to say that the reality is fortunately much more boring.  There is actually quite a practical reason as to why more diasporans have decided to move and stay in Armenia, at least partially.  It turns out that Armenia actually has quite a lot to offer young, intelligent people in the way of career-opportunities.

 

 

Did you scoff? Maybe chuckle a little?

Hear me out.

I’m not claiming established jobs abound in every sector.  I am however saying that what is usually counted as one of the country’s leading negatives, that many sectors of society are in fact still growing, should start being viewed as not only an inherent positive but a rare opportunity.  The very fact that so much of Armenia is still in its fledgling state and developing every day means that, depending on what you do, you can be the pioneer.  In my extremely humble and unbiased opinion, this is a pretty appealing concept.  Unfortunately, many people also enjoy tearing down this truly liberating reality by righteously exclaiming, “I can’t do anything in Armenia until every problem is fixed and all the proper mechanisms are in place for my arrival.”  To which I resoundingly respond…uhwhat?

No nation or system ever starts in perfect form.  It takes years and years of work by a lot of people who are very dedicated (and who also tend to have an excellent sense of humor).  So for all those people waiting for the perfect conditions until you decide to become involved with Armenia’s development, I’m sorry you wasted your time reading this.  But for those of you who are even slightly intrigued with the idea that you can potentially not only be on the vanguard of working on something you love and make a lasting impact but actually make a career from it, I encourage you to stop waiting for the perfect conditions and just come make your own.

And for anyone who still doesn’t believe my claims, please enjoy the following testimonies of young Armenian youth who came here with a passion and vision and are making things happen on their own terms.  #thingsjustgotrealupinhere

Nora believed that all women should have the ability to not only defend but empower themselves. So what did she do? She started self-defense classes in Yerevan. Check out her facebook and twitter.

https://www.facebook.com/shefighter.am?fref=ts

@SheFighterAM

Lena is an expert in nutritional sciences. So naturally, she decides to come to Yerevan and work with farmers throughout the country to encourage sustainable farming practices by creating Go Green Armenia!

https://www.facebook.com/GGArmenia?fref=ts

(She also has a pretty helpful blog that teaches people like myself, who believe that all food should only be served either fried or dipped in chocolate, that healthy food can be tasty too! http://thetravelingchamelian.blogspot.com/ and @travchamelian)

Serouj’s passion is breaking. He is a world-renowned breaker and he decided to bring that passion to Armenia and work with the local youth to cultivate a new culture of self-expression and positivity. Read about it. http://www.armenianweekly.com/2013/10/29/breaking-the-norm-street-dancing-in-yerevan/

Ani is into global public health. She took that passion and used it to teach Armenian citizens about safe sex practices and other very important things. http://www.epress.am/en/2014/03/25/1400-girls-are-not-born-in-armenia-each-year-perspectives-on-contraception-abortion-in-armenia.html

These are only a handful of stories of young diasporan youth who moved here and turned their passion into something they can dedicate their lives to. There are many more. There is no limit to the potential here. It just takes a few people to stop wallowing in grief about all that isn’t perfect in order to start making it so.

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.

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.

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.

IMG_1633

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!