Notes From Hairenik
I’ve been thinking about how to word this post for some time which is why I haven’t published anything on this blog for a couple of weeks ( I also don’t believe in posting every day or even several times a week, especially if you have nothing particularly interesting or original to say). It’s time for me to be critical again of my surroundings and what I see and experience on a daily basis. My criticism does not mean that I do not enjoy my life here, I simply identify the flaws in a way to cripple my own idealistic image of Yerevan and the regions of Armenia, and in the process offer an alternative view about what’s happening. Someone has to write about what is transpiring socially in any case, as other Armenian bloggers seem to focus on political issues or else banality more than anything else, and thus poignant information is not always released. Ultimately, whatever posts I write reflect my own perceived views of reality; perhaps they could be regarded as being abstract or harsh, maybe in some cases overly idealistic by others who also live in this environment, I can’t say. In the past I have been criticized and scorned by readers for expressing my opinions, but it should be obvious by now after three-and-a-half years that I don’t care.

When you leave Yerevan you enter a different world where infrastructure and basic essential institutions promoting life, namely workplaces and stores, continue to be regressing rather than progressing, depending on the area. Last week for instance I visited Ijevan which was bursting with economic activity, fairly new shops were open, and the open market was bustling. About five kilometers out of the city traveling up the hillsides with a friend from Boston I entered the village of Ganzakar, the conditions of which were a stark contrast of the town down below. Roads which were once paved with asphalt or concrete had been worn away from erosion and in their place were muddy, uneven streets riddled with potholes. In some areas I was compelled to engage the Niva’s four-wheel drive mechanism, something I rarely do since the vehicle performs just fine without it on the roughest surface conditions. There was one grocery store which catered to the village folk there, and that was it in terms of service. Some homes there do not even have running water. In Ganzakar and its surroundings one of the main sources of livelihood was pig farming, the meat of which is sold domestically on the market as Armenians by far eat more pork than any other animal flesh. They eat so much pork in fact that it is even being imported from countries such as Brazil. A mysterious virus particular to pigs which last year came down from Georgia and is believed to have originated somewhere in Africa ended up wiping out most of the domestic hogs in that area, save for a few that were isolated from the rest and are being bred now to multiply as quickly as possible. People get by farming their plots of land or by finding temporary work in Russia. This is the reality throughout Armenia; it’s not turning around as fast as it should because there is no business investment in the rural parts of the country. The factories in Ijevan which produced products such as furniture from metal went out of business when Armenia became independent, and they have remained dormant ever since. Life in Armenia’s cities is thriving while in the regions it is stagnating. The $235 million in funds from the Millennium Challenge Account which is to be invested in the country over the next several years will help develop infrastructure in rural areas, such as irrigation lines and back roads, but to what extent will not be clear for some time until the corruption element shows its ugly head.

In the meantime the high life in Yerevan has never been so rich. New cafés in public parks still manage to opened despite the fact that plots of green space have all but disappeared in some of them. Actually it has become difficult to tell where exactly new ones have been opening since they have long ago started to blend into one another. Every week new, exclusive European clothing boutiques, most of which are curiously void of customers, are popping up displaying the latest trends in haute couture. Construction doesn’t seem to end, and one area near me adjacent from the Vernisage arts and crafts market which currently is where a trade center stands that once served a place of business for Iranian shopkeepers is slated to be demolished, along with the private homes there. The plethora of fancy European and Japanese vehicles, especially SUVs, intimidate both pedestrians and motorists alike as they drive carelessly. Grandiose road construction projects are paralyzing parts of the city and tying up traffic. The capital is booming, life has never been so good for many of Yerevan’s inhabitants. And in the wake of this boom, street beggars are ever increasing, some of whom are even approaching idling cars at traffic signals. They are sure signs that capitalism has taken a confident hold of society and the economy. Yet when given the opportunity everyone seems to want to leave.

The Soviet tradition is fading fast. Soviet architecture has been deemed second rate, and the new buildings resemble those constructed from Lego blocks by young children, square and stoic, absolutely without style. Their facades, even those on the older buildings, are adorned with strobe lights and even laser shows at one restaurant down the street from me, which don’t necessarily seem to attract people, but they are nonetheless annoying. The decor and signage of some shops and restaurants are absolute tasteless and tacky, which must be seen to be believed.

Eighty years of classic urban structural and aesthetic development is being slowly decimated. A case in point is the fountains of Republic Square, which are situated in front of the National Museum. The fountains up until two years ago were gorgeous—a plume shooting up from a pedestal flanked by flowering, fantastic bubbling bulbs of water on the left and right sides. They were majestic; on a hot summer day the mist of the water would kiss your cheeks when a breeze past by. They were known as the “singing fountains” because at night the water was illuminated and the water pressure fluctuated in syncopation with the tempo of recorded music being played through hidden speakers affixed to short posts in the pool. They captivated people strolling about lazily while munching sunflower seeds in some magical, yet very simple way, as they were very soothing. My soul would always feel a sense of solace when passing by them, even for a few minutes. Last year they were replaced by a circus show, complete with noisy, annoying music blaring across the square from gigantic amplifiers and clowns selling balloons and assorted toy souvenirs. The “new and improved” nighttime fountains mock what was so classic and elegant about its predecessor. Now there is water shooting and spewing about in all sorts of directions, even pulsating erotically. I never knew that water fountains could be designed to exhibit such a candid show of sexual innuendos. By day they cannot compare at all to the old fountains. For one thing you can barely see that the are working from the far end of the square because the water streams are very thin and the pressure is low. The Republic Square fountains are now a tragic, absurd caricature of what they once were.

Despite the ugliness that is plaguing this once absolutely gorgeous, yet quaint city, it still retains some sort of beauty. The charm is unfortunately gone but a spark of magic is still here. And despite everything I still find that it’s a great place to live.

I don’t understand what’s happening; I stopped understanding a long time ago, because I’ve become desensitized to it all.

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Blogger Observer said...
Lack of infrastructure is the greatest problem of Armenia today - all the Soviet infrustructure has finally decayed, and the new ones are not coming to replace them. I've started loosing hope, that the Millenium Challanges Corporation will help either - with too much corruption around the $235 million given to it - I wonder, will this money translate into decent infrustructure in the end, or will it end up in the pockets of some beurocrats and be used to build even more cafe's in Yerevan.

All in all - I've been waiting for irrigation water for my little garden in the village of Jrashen right outside of Yerevan for 3 weeks now - and it isn't arriving. We've paid maintenance charges, water fees and unavoidable bribes, and the darn water isn't arriving - and my apricot trees are a miserable sight with hanging leaves. Now that can make anyone disillusioned with government, life and Millennium Challenges. MY BEAUTIFUL TREES!!!

Anonymous Anonymous said...
"The Soviet tradition is fading fast. Soviet architecture has been deemed second rate, and the new buildings resemble those constructed from Lego blocks by young children, square and stoic, absolutely without style. ...
Eighty years of classic urban structural and aesthetic development is being slowly decimated."

Garbis, you are a rare type of a Diasporan Armenian!! You actually appreciate the Soviet tradition of "classic urban structural and aesthetic development" (sadly, many Armenian Americans get into an idiotic "McCarty" mode when they hear "Soviet" in any context). Your soul actually feels pain for the mindless destruction of beauty that was Yerevan of my childhood and adolescence. And the amazing thing is that you never even knew or experienced THAT Yerevan!! I salute you!
(With your perceptiveness you can run that pathetic "seer" Varsik out of market! :))

Anonymous Anonymous said...
IT is good that Armenia is in Construction mode. Let Armenia be build. Let's see how much of that will stand the test of time. It is very natural for cities to build and destroy and rebuild again because taste changes as time changes. Good observations Christian.