Notes From Hairenik
I’ve finally had the chance to write a new entry after a week of recovering from a flu-like illness inherited from my mother via my wife, shaking off jetlag, and getting caught up with work, not to mention visiting with friends and family. Generally I’ve found that not much has changed to the naked eye, at least around Yerevan. There is still a gaping wide pit in the back of my building, which has been there for at least one year now without any indications that a foundation will be laid soon for a new high-rise cement-framed apartment building to match the other few dozen or so structures that are still going up. There are still only two completed buildings on the Northern Boulevard, as none of the ones near the Abovyan Street side have come even close to finishing, and it doesn’t look like much progress was made the eight or so weeks I was away. Funny thing is that the project was supposed to have been completed this year. So nothing new to report regarding the slow pace of construction and subsequent mini-sand storms that form slapping the faces of pedestrians.

One thing that is noticeable is the number of political party local offices sprouting about, namely registration chapters of the Republican as well as Prosperous Armenia organizations. The Republican party is headed by Prime Minister Antranik Markarian (unofficially by Defense Minister Serge Sargsian who only joined the party last year), while Prosperous Armenia is led by everyone’s favorite, friendly oligarch Gagik Tsarukian, otherwise affectionately known as Dodi Gago. This party already claims to have over 380,000 members, just in time for the parliament elections coming up in May, despite the fact that it has barely been in existence for one year. The way they attract members is not so ingenious—roam about the regions and hand out a sack of flour or potatoes to each person they see in exchange for a signature on a form that claims his or her party membership. As a result Dodi Gago now has a cult-like following by ordinary citizens who are not exactly wealthy but are charmed by the generosity. What they fail to understand is that they are selling themselves and most definitely their votes to Prosperous Armenia, which is already predicted to take at least half the available parliament seats. But the people don’t seem to care that they are basically discarding their own clear, conscious decision to choose the candidate of their liking—they will naturally feel obliged to vote for Prosperous Armenia even if they do feel inclined to elect another candidate. What dirty tricks these Armenian political parties play.

I parked my car in the same place I’ve been leaving it for about one year now the entire time I haven’t driven it—perhaps 10 weeks altogether—located a stone’s throw away from where I live. After filling up a few liters of gasoline in the tank—just in case someone siphoned off the fuel while I was away—I was able to start the old Niva up without much difficulty. It took me a while however to realize my car was actually broken into. When I inserted the key into the door lock I noticed it was open already, and I immediately figured it was an oversight on my part, although unlikely because I usually check the doors twice before I go away for an extended period of time. Then finally I noticed after sitting in the car for 15 minutes or so while it was figuring out how to run again that the driver’s side vent window clamp lock was gone. The thing is about an inch wide and just under two inches long made from some kind of aluminum alloy which to me seemed non-malleable. In fact the person who sold me the set of two about 20 months ago assured me that it would be extremely difficult to tamper with them, but apparently not impossible judging from my case. The strange thing is that nothing was taken from my car from what I could see—not the $50 pair of sunglasses or the radio worth about the same, not the few tools I have, not the camera tripod in the trunk, nor even any parts from the car—nothing. Which means the person who broke into the car just did so for the challenge, or he is very stupid for not taking anything. Who knows? I am done trying to figure out peoples’ mentalities here for sure.

Another interesting thing—there no longer appears to be policemen on the sides of the road flagging people to pull over in order to extort bribes. Although this was told to me by my mother-in-law and indeed was verified as I drove to Vanadzor last weekend, I cannot yet find evidence of the passage of the law in place that effectively abolishes the placement of police on regional borders or in arbitrary places. Now law violators will be stopped by police patrol cars, which I have already witnessed in Yerevan, and they have supposedly no chance of paying the cops off since there are tiny devices placed somewhere in their uniforms recording motorists trying to offer a bribe, whereby they are then penalized. The ironic thing is that a new similar business aimed at duping the naive will replace the other whenever necessary. As you enter Vanadzor from Spitak, on the adjacent spot where the recently demolished police border station was now lies a tiny casino.

One more law recently passed—the right to dual-citizenship. Although I have yet to find out the juicy details, apparently once you become a dual-citizen you can effectively vote during the elections no matter where you live in the world—just in time for next year’s presidential elections. But from what I understand the catch is that you have to actually be present in Armenia to cast your vote rather than by an absentee ballot. If that is what it takes to activate the Armenian Diaspora to work in giant strides towards nation-building, then so be it, but frankly I don’t know if this law will make much difference regarding that. One commentary I read yesterday in the Armenian Weekly effectively legitimizing the concept that the Diaspora should continue to flourish in full force, especially after the passage of this law, is not encouraging. Here’s hoping I am wrong.

A sad note to report is the self-immolation that took place less than a week ago on Republic Square in front of the Government Building. Apparently a man from a village who was so desperate because of his poor financial situation chose the ultimate form of protest to demonstrate against the government’s apathy towards the impoverished, especially for those who lost their life savings overnight with the hyper-inflation that occurred in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union was breaking apart. Basically he demanded an interest-free loan from the government which was of course refused. But the fact that people are going to such great lengths to get their point across is scary and should be a wake-up call to the carelessly corrupt authorities. Hopefully something will change, but I fear that people will regard the man as simply having been crazy and move on without thinking about the man’s personal sacrifice for his convictions as a human being who deserves better for himself and his family.

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Anonymous artashes said...
Do I understand correctly that you live right there on the Northern Avenue? Or somewhere in the vicinity? The Center? How much did you pay for the place? What percentage of Armenian citizens can afford to pay the same?

Ok, you personally don't matter here. The question is bigger. The prices of housing were AFFORDABLE to many, maybe even majority, of Armenians up to 5-6 years ago. Then the terrifying price explosion happened. Now the absolute majority cannot even THINK of buying a house or an apartment for themselves or their children. The government is the same corrupt one, it didn't change in those several years, and it does not screw its citizens in markedly more heinous ways than it was doing in 2001. What is then the cause of, I repeat, the terrifying rise in prices of the real estate?

To my knowledge, the main reason is the Diasporans like you discovering the cheap, by Western standards, housing market here, buying up the places and pushing the prices totally out of reach of ordinary people (like the guy who burned himself).

Next time you say "Hayreniq", think of hundreds of thousands of people who lost all hope of having a new house...

Blogger Hagop said...
Glad you are back and writing.

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Well I agree with you, Artashes, in that housing prices are over inflated, and this is primarily due to diasporan Armenians as well as Iranian citizens coming to Yerevan and offering exuberant amounts for housing that in reality is worth a fraction of what they are willing to pay for. Unfortunately I cannot afford to purchase a home of my own for this same reason--curently I pay a monthy rent of about $400, but the equivalent in dram, which is considered cheap. It would be to my advantage to pay that amount towards a home mortgage, but considering that the going annual rates are on average about 15 percent for a 10-year term with an initial down payment of 35 percent of the purchase price, I have opted out of that solution. So I don't know what to tell you, except that I hope you will somehow be able to afford to buy a home here in the future. But I should add that I am not personally responsible for your disappointments.

Anonymous artashes said...
Well, at least you have the basic decency to acknowledge the problem as it is. My impression is that most (not all though) American Armenians are self-righteous, arrogant, and get very defensive when any criticism is mounted at them, however justified it may be.

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Artashes, where are you from by the way? And why the animosity towards Armenian Americans?

Anonymous artashes said...
I wouldn't call it animosity: that implies some active agenda which I absolutely don't have. I am just sharing my impressions (mainly from the Internet interactions but also live ones).

It pains me when the Diasporans do not show any respect for my country, for my parents and grandparents who built it, summarily repeating the primitive American propaganda of the Cold War, equating everything (positive, negative, and neutral) with STALINISM (hey, it was in 1930s, damn it! And my immediate famliy suffered too; no normal person can say anything good about the terror of Stalinism! BUT how can otherwise intelligent people be so blind as to willingly overlook and dismiss the unprecedented development of Armenia during the Soviet times, and only play the "Stalin" card?).

Again, when I see a primitive Diasporan (American or otherwise) it pains me; when I meet a thinking one who tries to look at things from various points of view, I am encouraged. That's all.