Notes From Hairenik
April 28, 2005
Just a few hours ago I left the Central Yerevan police headquarters located not far from the St. Sarkis Church, which overlooks the Hrazdan Gorge. I went there to report that my car stereo had been stolen. No real damage was inflicted thankfully, as the thieves managed to break in without smashing any windows. In fact, they went through the vent window, which was screwed shut with a vice-like contraption made of hard aluminum and was simply bent to a 45 degree angle somehow in order to weaken it. Once that was opened the thief simply reached in and rolled down the window, then must have climbed in to remove the stereo, as my car alarm seems only to go off when the doors are opened or when the car is shaken violently.

Below is a transcript of my conversation with Detective Merouj, who is a typical stereotyped wise guy cop right out of evening police story soaps. I will say, however, that he was accommodating, despite his irritation with the renovations taking place at the station. When I met him he was holding a Bjni bottle filled with I believe turpentine, which he was using to clean up something.

Detective Merouj: “Okay, then, come with me. What happened to you?

Me: My car stereo was stolen.

Detective Merouj: When?

Me: About two days ago.

Detective Merouj: Two days ago? Why did you wait two days before you came down here?

Me: Well I had some things to do, and I wasn’t able to come until now.

Detective Merouj: Wait, where are you from, I mean originally?

Me: I’m from America, I’m an Armenian American.

Detective Merouj: Is that what they do over there when someone has something stolen from them—wait two days before they report it?

Me: Well, should I leave?

Detective Merouj: No, why, where would you go?

Me: Home, I guess.

Detective Merouj: No, come in here. Wait a minute. Sarkis, when are you going to finish up in here? Should we use this room or go somewhere else? Well, is there anywhere else to go? Okay, forget it, let’s go in here. [We walk into his office.]
You see, we’re doing renovations.

Me: Well that’s good that you’re doing them, isn’t it.

Detective Merouj: Nah, look at what happened with the wallpaper. The wall is showing through already, the paper’s ruined.

Me: That’s not good.

Detective Merouj: I’m disgusted with this situation. We’ve been going through this for 25 days now, with no end in sight. I’m not in the mood. Okay, let’s go over to my desk and write some things down. You have a cell phone with you?

Me: Not with me, but I have one. I can give you my home number too.

Detective Merouj: Okay, well let me take the cell phone number down. [to someone else] Hey get that thing out of here! So anyway, what was it, a car stereo?

Me: That’s right.

Detective Merouj: And it was in your car? What kind of stereo was it, a regular one or one of those that has the front thing that comes off?

Me: The kind with the thing that comes off.

Detective Merouj: Well, why didn’t you take it with you? Let me get you number down so that someone will come to your house later.

Me: My car is just outside if that’s any help to you?

Detective Merouj: What should I do about your car being outside? That doesn’t matter, we’ll have someone go over to your house to check things out. Where was it stolen?

Me: In the back of my apartment building.

Detective Merouj: It was parked around back?

Me: That’s right.

Detective Merouj: What kind of a car is it?

Me: A Niva.

Detective Merouj: Okay. Why are you standing? Sit down over there. [near the desk]

Me: Okay. [sitting down]

Detective Merouj: So do you have the registration for the car stereo?

Me: For the car stereo? I have the car registration, but for the stereo?

Detective Merouj: You don’t have it? Well, wasn’t it you that installed the stereo?

Me: No it was installed when I bought the car, about three months ago.

Another detective: What happened? Are you the one with the stolen car stereo? [standing in the office doorway]

Both of us: Yes.

Another detective: Do you have the registration for the stereo?

Me: No, I don’t. I never knew that such a thing existed. This is the first time I’m hearing about it.

Another detective: Yeah? [walks away]

Detective Merouj: Okay. Do you have official identification of any kind?

Me: Yes, let me give you this. [I gave him my 10-year special residency visa]

Detective Merouj: [looking through it] What is this, a passport? Are you an Armenian citizen?

Me: No, it’s just a 10-year visa, with which I can live and work here.

Detective Merouj: I see. So, your name is Adanalian, Christian Garbis, of Khosroff. Right?

Me: Yes, that’s right.

Detective Merouj: [Writing it down] Of Khosroff… right. So you’re from America? Where from?

Me: Boston.

Detective Merouj: You speak pretty good Armenian for someone being from there. Are your parents from America too?

Me: Well my father is from Aleppo, in Syria. But my mother was born in there. She’s an Armenian American too.

Detective Merouj: She’s an Armenian lady then. Sarkis where are you going with that? [walks into the porch with a tall ladder, saying nothing] Allright, so you live where? On Nalbandyan?

Me: 3 Nalbandyan, apartment number 18.

Detective Merouj: So in the third building on Nalbandyan, in apartment 18. Right. The car was parked in the back of the building?

Me: Yes, that’s right. Around back.

Detective Merouj: Okay, around back. So we’ll have somebody go over there later on. What’s the licence number of the car? [I tell him]
Huh, I know that car, that number is familiar to me. It’s a Yerevan car, then.

Me: Right it has a Bangladesh [Malatia-Sepastia] number, but I bought it from Vanadzor.

Detective Merouj: Huh. You bought it from Varouj?

Me: From Merouj.

Detective Merouj: [Thinking] Huh. Well, I don’t know….
Do you have a cell phone number I can reach you at?

Me: Sure I do.

Detective Merouj: Okay, let me take that down. Don’t you have a home phone as well?

Me: Sure I do. You want that?

Detective Merouj: Yeah, let me take down both. Okay, what’s your home phone, then your cell phone? [I tell him and he writes it down].
So when they entered your car… don’t you have an alarm?

Me: Yes I do. It didn’t go off.

Detective Merouj: But was it enabled? You had it on?

Me: Yes, I did. That’s the surprising thing.

Detective Merouj: Then why didn’t it go off? You’re car is parked outside you said? Can you make it go off from here?

Me: I don’t know, let me look. [I walk over to the porch windows]. No, it’s on the other side of the building, in the parking area.

Detective Merouj: Oh yeah? [hesitates] So they just pulled the stereo out? They didn’t break anything?

Me: No, nothing. They were nice thieves, tricky but nice….

Detective Merouj: [Looks at me] Yeah, well, what can I do? Okay, let’s go out there and check your car out. [we leave the building]
Where did you say it was?

Me: It’s over there, in the parking lot. [We walk over to my car, I disengage the alarm]

Detective Merouj: No, leave it on. I want to check something. [Begins shaking the car]

Me: It’s not going off now, I don’t understand.

Detective Merouj: Wait, let’s see here. [pounds on the roof, the alarm goes off] Do you see? So the alarm only goes off when the car is hit hard and when the doors are opened, probably. So how did they get in?

Me: Well, you see this vent window? They broke this thing here—I’ve sinced changed it and put a stronger one on. Then they reached in and simply opened the window.

Detective Merouj: Let me have those keys. This car is the kind where the rear cargo door opens from the inside?

Me: Right.

Detective Merouj: [examining the door lock] Change these caps on the door lock.

Me: Why?

Detective Merouj: Because they’re worn out. Don’t you see here [pointing to it] With this door key you have—anyone with a similar key can manage to open the door.

Me: So I should change the whole lock, or just the cap?

Detective Merouj: Just these caps on both doors. They’re only a few cents. You can take the car somewhere and have them change it for you.

Me: Okay, I’ll do that.

Detective Merouj: Listen, why are you driving this? Why don’t you get a car from a manufacturer?

Me: Because Soviet cars are the best for Armenia. Where ever you go in Armenia you can manage to find someone who can fix it if it breaks down. Don’t you agree?

Detective Merouj: No, get a foreign car. They’re better.

Me: But they’re harder to fix. Say I have a Volkswagon and I go to Artic. If it breaks down there, who's going to fix it?

Detective Merouj: Get a Jeep, an American one.

Me: It’s the same thing. No one will be able to fix it, there are no expert mechanics there.

Detective Merouj: Who said so? I don’t believe that.

Me: Okay, let’s go out there and see.

Detective Merouj: Okay, we’ll go. What the hell are you doing in Artic, anyway?

Me: I’m just giving an example, that’s all.

Detective Merouj: Anyway, someone will be with you later on, they’ll call you to let you know….

Me: Okay, thank you very much for your help.

Detective Merouj: You’re welcome. You see, you bought your car from Merouj, and now Merouj is sending you on your way. Right? [smiling]

Me: That’s right, thanks again.

Detective Merouj: Okay, we’ll call you….

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April 23, 2005
On the eve of April 24, when millions of Armenians, politicians, and human rights activists around the world commemorate the Armenian Genocide of 1915, I would like to address issues concerning recognition of the Genocide, mainly regarding expectations. As Armenians around the world publicly demand as they have for over 50 years for Turkey to recognize the Genocide, it is important to ask a very important question that unsurprisingly no one can seem to agree upon an answer to: after recognition, then what?

For decades left-wing political forces representing Armenians worldwide demanded that Turkey accept its committing of genocide, then return its occupied historic Armenian lands to Armenia. This demand went hand in hand with the demand for a refounding of an independent Armenian republic, which was finally established in 1991 after the Soviet Union’s collapse, and is the second such republic in the 20th century. Armenia has been able to retain and defend its independence for 14 years now, enduring socioeconomic strain and a war with its neighbor over the disputed territory of Mountainous Karabagh. Now the pressure is on Turkey to finally recognize the Armenian Genocide before the eyes of the world, especially after 9 EU countries have publicly acknowledged the Genocide’s recognition, most recently including Poland and Germany, which even admitted partial responsibility in letting the Genocide occur. However, talk about subsequent land transfer is quieting.

Armenians cannot seem to answer the question the same way across the line. Nationalist Armenians still demand the return of ancestral lands to modern-day Armenia, while their respective political wings call for the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border and the promotion of free trade across it. Most businessmen demand that the border be opened without Turkey’s recognition of the Genocide, to increase their business and subsequent profits. But, as I have argued before, the border’s opening would result in a flood of Turkish goods on the Armenian market, thereby forcing out Armenian businesses from trade competition as their own products would not be able to compete with their more affordable and plentiful counterparts. Turkish goods are already dominant in all Armenian open markets as well as in stores—produce, canned food products, construction materials, and domestic goods are everywhere, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find non-Turkish products in Armenia.

I would argue that a new Genocide is just beginning, one in which Armenians, rather than falling by the sword, will be slowly transformed into being not necessarily Turkish but also not entirely Armenian. Turkish culture is already rampant, especially in the capital, as both Turkish radio and television stations are received with little interference. “Rabiz” music and social culture is a serious threat to traditional Armenian values and inherent culture, which has all but weakened significantly. By “rabiz” we mean a Turkified popular music, whereby the lyrics to popular Turkish music are translated to Armenian, and the singers emulate the vocal improvisational methods of Turkish song. Now “rabiz” is used to describe a male stereotype—big, burly men wearing dark clothing, carelessly driving sleek but old, newly painted European automobiles, and constantly chatting on cell phones that ironically enough blare “rabiz” music when they ring. Studies and investigations have revealed that Armenian women are being trafficked to Turkey and sold into prostitution, while some women voluntarily travel there to marry. The opening of the border will bring the further influx of Turkish culture, language, and, eventually, Islam. The oldest Christian nation in the world could one day soon fall at the hands of its own folly to the Turkish Muslim tradition, the very one it has defied for centuries.

Yet when the debate about the return of Armenian lands is raised, no consensus can be reached. Residents of Armenia expect Mountainous Karabagh to be eventually integrated into Armenia but have nothing to say about the return of ancient territorial lands to the west. Armenians already claim Mt. Ararat as their own despite the fact that the mountain lies just across the Turkish border. Diasporan Armenians are ever vocal about Genocide recognition by Turkey, although the tides of time as well as geopolitics have influenced many nations to recognize it, albeit with the relentless lobbying efforts of Armenians worldwide. But the return of lands is not discussed seriously anymore. Reparations for that matter have become forgotten, especially after an extraordinary lawsuit against New York Life was won only a few years ago, resulting in the repayment of thousands of insurance claims to the families of Genocide survivors as well as victims who had taken out policies on their properties while living in then Western Armenia.

Personally I do not see that the return of historic lands to Armenia—although the Armenian government does not call for any conditions in connection to Genocide recognition—as being realistic, as I am quite positive that no Armenian from the Diaspora would move back to his or her ancestral home to live, and such expectations are ludicrous. Expatriation to Armenia by diasporans over the last decade has been weak to say the least, the explanation for which cannot be readily surmised. One could argue that Armenians are too comfortable in their current homes and occupations and could not fathom moving to a former Soviet republic struggling along with newfound democracy, despite that it is the only thing they have to claim as their homeland. Others may have the opinion that Armenia as it exists today is not their homeland, as they come from “Turkish Armenia”—perhaps this argument is just another excuse to ignore the obvious. I can say without any doubt, from the experience I have had in dealing with Armenians politically, socially, and occupationally—both in Boston and in Yerevan—that Armenians would not know what to do with the return of Western lands. Armenians do not know what to do with Armenia as it exists now. Exodus continues, apathy thrives, and backs remain turned.

So when we talk about the Armenian Cause, let us be frank and honest with ourselves. Armenians expect Turkey’s acceptance of the Genocide as the final curtain to their cause—it is quite plain judging from the amount of effort communities still exert year long to remember the terrors of its past, without contemplating the challenges that lie in wake for tomorrow. Armenians should not expect anything more if they are not willing to work for it. And, naturally, there is the homeland that is in dire need of attention. Let’s wait and see some more. Perhaps the Diaspora will mobilize itself once again for Armenia.

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I must make a point here and warn all Americans as well as Armenians living in Western or Middle Eastern countries—or all countries for that matter—to avoid traveling to or from Armenia through Moscow, unless you like to dwell in airports for up to 12 hours or so. Here’s why.

In late March I traveled to the US to visit my parents and friends as well as to pay my taxes with my girlfriend-turned-fiancée Ariga. In my airline ticket search the cheapest I found were through Moscow with Aeroflot, then on to New York with Delta Airlines and finally to Boston. We had a wonderful time there, but we were planning to spend a fun-filled day in Moscow on our way back to Yerevan. As I found out during a visit to the Russian embassy in Yerevan, a transit visa to Moscow would cost from $100-150, depending on how soon I wished to have it processed. Transit visas are good for up to 72 hours.

I failed to send my application in for my transit visa to the Russian consulate in New York until about 8 days before my departure from Boston. So in order to process the visa as quickly as possible I paid $150--$50 more than the regular price. The embassy had indicated on their Web site that the processing time would be three days. When I received my passport in the mail the day after I was scheduled to fly, I checked the date of issue to find that the embassy was right—it was processed on April 7. But they decided to hold onto it for the weekend before sending it in the mail late Monday afternoon, April 11, as was postmarked on the envelope. Ariga left on Tuesday without me.

Tuesday afternoon I spent calling the Russian Consulate to tell them off, then Aeroflot to arrange some kind of resolution to fly the next, which did not come to fruition easily. They requested that I photocopy then fax them a facsimile of my tickets. When I called back they told me the resolution was low and they could not read them. I resent them on super fine resolution then called back only to find that the office had closed at exactly 5:00 pm. The next morning, frantic to make a 12:30 pm flight to New York, then a 5:00 pm to Moscow, I called Aeroflot once again only to understand that they could not secure a seat for me on their 11:30 pm flight to Yerevan, which flies daily, as all seats were booked. Suspicious that flights to Yerevan were always booked each day, I requested that they put me on standby, which they told me they would do.

Delta Airlines was most accommodating and when hearing that my passport had been lost in the mail, albeit one day, they simply rescheduled my flight to Moscow for Wednesday as well, as the flight also departs New York daily.

In Moscow at the airport I was greeted by Ariga’s uncle Sarkis, who had arrived the previous day to pick both of us up but found only her. He took additional time off from work to show me around Moscow. When we arrived in the vicinity near Red Square, we learned that the square was closed for some reason, and access had only ceased just a few hours before. In any case, I also visited Ariga’s aunt for a few hours in her home, then left with them for Sheremetsevo airport. Upon entering I soon learned that Aeroflot’s Soviet-like procedures had changed little in 15 years since the Union’s collapse. The reservation counter was not a counter at all, but a string of small cubbies where someone sat of course with a rude demeanor and totally unaccommodating. A representative, who seemed more like a janitor judging by the way he handled my case, quickly fingered through my ticket before throwing it back to me, roughly explaining that all tickets were sold and demanding that I approach the check-in counter to verify. For some reason to approach the counter you must run your carry-on baggage through X-ray machines and have two custom officers sitting quietly at a small desk study your visa—I went through this rigmarole three times.

Sarkis and I approached the check-in assistant only to hear the same response: there were no tickets to be had. When I explained to the woman that I was on standby and I had, in fact, presented her with my ticket for the previous day’s flight, she told me after supposedly checking in the computer system that my name did not appear on the standby list. She chatted with Sarkis for a few minutes, then finally stated there were no tickets in English, followed by “i vso” or “that’s it” in English. I replied “how” but for some reason in Armenian (vonc) having been accustomed to hearing the Russian declaration of finality so many times in my travels throughout Yerevan.

After sending us to reservations where we were promptly sent back, she told us to wait by the counter should an opening come about. I had arranged in New York to have my bags sent directly to Yerevan, and when Sarkis explained this to her she became baffled. She left her place then went to a desk where she called a supervisor. Sarkis overheard the conversation, and it turned out my bags were already in the cargo department. When the supervisor asked the assistant whether there were available seats, she replied “Yes.” Immediately it became apparent that they were all playing games with me, and that she expected a bribe of some kind to get me on the plane. She approached us like an innocent lamb then made arrangements for my seat. We were sent back again to reservations to pay a $30 penalty, but when I presented dollars they demanded payment in rubles. The reservation clerk sent us to a window only 10 feet away, where she appeared to exchange the currency, then we went back to her window once again to pay her. I received a ruble and some change back, and I anticipate the day when I can spend it in Mother Russia on my return. Really.

Well after payment it was smooth sailing from there. Of course there were plenty of seats available on the plane. It was interesting to see troubadour extraordinaire Aram Asatryan on board, sitting all the way in the back near me to avoid the public eye. Shortly after take off the French cognac and Martini vermouth bottles were opened and cups passed around amongst some of the passengers. Armenians behave the same everywhere, even at 8000 feet above land.

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