Notes From Hairenik
August 9, 2006

I’m currently away from Armenia on a business trip outside the Los Angeles area but should be back soon. My wife may be joining me soon, which will be very pleasant for sure. Orange seems to be the color of the month in marketing, so she’ll be ecstatic the whole time she spends here. It should be interesting to watch her reactions wherever we go, then listening to her excitedly exclaim repeatedly, “Look, orange!”

I’ve heard from Onnik and other friends that the dram has strengthened even more, as the street trading rate is now between 390-400 dram to the dollar. This is an all-time high for the national currency, something that again should be applauded but instead will be scorned to some degree. In Armenia as I pointed out before, the laws of economics pertaining to most “westernized” or wanna-be westernized countries are reversed. When the dram gets stronger and thus the dollar weaker, prices on goods and services inflate. This is primarily due to the fact that big businessmen do not conduct commerce with or invest in the dram. And despite a supposed $1 billion in remittances coming into the country as reported for last year, there is a dollar shortage in the country that is still unexplained. People that suspect fraud on the part of the Central Bank of Armenia have been ridiculed as being the same types who believe in UFOs. So the have-nots seem to be increasing, or are doing worse than before despite a booming economy for which the World Bank and the IMF can’t stop applauding. As is the case everywhere I suppose, so long as you have money, life is good. But once you hit hard times, you cannot count on government social services to back you up in Armenia. Most pensioners make about 5,000-6,000 dram, now about $12, a month, more or less.

I am looking forward to returning to Yerevan, obviously. I still yearn for it when I’m away. The materialist climate present in the US has become very humid. There are commercial advertisements everywhere you look--I don’t remember it being so obvious. You can barely find clothing items that do not promote themselves or even other, unrelated products. In films, you see very subtle advertisements in most scenes, whether people are talking on the phone or especially, eating. Television shows are outdone by the commercials--far less focus is notably given to quality programming. Even public television is showing fast food restaurant commercials now, the one network I could always rely on for broadcast excellence. Although decadence has increased significantly in Yerevan, it has not reached the levels that can be noticed in the US. And more than ever, mediocrity has become the standard by which to achieve. It begins with the country’s leadership.

The political climate in Yerevan seems to be turning for the worse. The Defense Minister, Serge Sargsyan, has given up being an independent and suddenly joined the Republican Party, with the hopes of using its support base to gain control of power for the parliamentary elections in 2007, then the presidential elections in 2008--most people think he will take President Robert Kocharian’s place, although that still has yet to be determined by the Armenian voting public, if they ever realize that. The opposition seems to be splitting, with certain prominent individuals deciding to join or support right-wing organizations. I am still waiting for a huge push by the opposition to politically activate the few youth still remaining in the country. It remains to be seen what viable role, if any, they will play in the next 24 months.

In an update to my Air France fiasco, I received a written response to my complaint regarding my mangled suitcase they found and finally returned about 10 hours before I was scheduled to fly out of Boston. They wrote that I should take the suitcase to a cobbler for him to determine whether it can be repaired, then he would be required to call Air France and let them know what the situation is. Why a cobbler would be bothered to do something like that is beyond me. In any case, I called them and told them off, specifically informing them that I already wrote a blog entry casting them in a negative light, and that there reputation has gone down. The representative replied by simply stating, “OK.” So that chapter is closed.

In any case, if all goes as planned I will be back in Yerevan by the end of August at the latest to resume my never-dull adventures. In the meantime, I will keep jotting down my thoughts whenever I can here.

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