Notes from the other Hairenik

During the coming weeks I will be writing blog entries from the capital of the Armenian Diaspora, Los Angeles. Actually, I am currently residing in Irvine, as I am here on a business trip for up to two months. So I will try to write about my observations here regarding Armenian life as well as about current events in Armenia.

For the most part so far I have been surprised about how one segment of Armenians lives. Armenians constitute one-third of Glendale’s population of about 200,000 people. Glendale is supposedly one of the safest cities in the country, although there is an average of five murders a year as well as about 180 robberies. The median household income in 2000 was $41,805, and the median house value the same year was $325,700, but I have heard that it has since nearly doubled. The city is clean and lined with trees, parks, and so forth, as are many areas in the Southern California that I have so far visited. For some reason I expected to find a dirty, dilapidated dust bowl. Instead I found a rather pleasant environment, although I cannot imagine living there personally. And I don’t know why recent Armenian emigrants would necessarily choose the valleys of semi-tropical Southern California over the mountainous terrain of their native Armenia to live since they are at two totally opposing extremes. Armenians are mountain people. They belong in their native environment. What I saw didn’t seem natural to me; it seemed like an artificial farce, as there are huge cultural differences, not to mention social ones. Then again, my native Armenian community of Boston now seems the same. I have yet to explore parts of West Hollywood, otherwise known as “Little Armenia” or the other areas where many of the total 1 million Armenians supposedly reside.

The other day I overheard a conversation at a social gathering. A young woman who has become totally “Americanized” leaving Armenia at least 10 years ago complained that she feels no attachment to her homeland because “people and things” have changed, including landmarks and so forth. I felt like telling her quite bluntly that it wasn’t Armenia that changed—it was clearly her. Her remarks irritated me because they demonstrate a total apathy for Armenia and its potential. She represents thousands of young Armenians that fail to do anything to bring about positive change in Armenia, even from a distance. Many potential leaders continue to leave, although they may be professionally successful, citing that they cannot withstand corruption. The interesting thing is that corruption is not necessarily felt in lower levels of society, unless of course people sell out their votes at election time or pay off cops when their vehicles are pulled over, for example.  

Although I should point out that I do not blame young Armenians living in Glendale or elsewhere since economic or even political factors were at play when they left Armenia, probably unwillingly. Many are no longer Armenian citizens. But I expect activism from them nevertheless.

In the next few days I hope to comment on the coming events in Armenia, namely the vote on the constitutional referendum, the public’s view of it, and the opposition’s negative reaction. It is important to closely look at Sunday’s elections (Nov. 27) to understand what Armenians perceive as being democracy as well as what they are prepared to do to ensure that the democratic process works. However, I am not convinced that Armenians understand what that process means for them, nor what they expect of their own future.


Anonymous said…
The interesting thing is that corruption is not necessarily felt in lower levels of society

Garo, I don't quite get this as it is not true. For example, corruption in the medical sector hits the poorest Armenians especially hard. Even thought the law says they are entitled to free health care, the fact is that doctors demand $150 for an operation on a child even from a vulnerable family -- money that is especially hard to come by for the poorest of the poor.

In fact, we also know that most of Armenia's street kids are found begging or selling generally when there is a medical emergency in the home. This is why, for example, international organizations are particularly concerned with addressing corruption in the medical sector -- on average, only 1 in 3 Armenians seeks medical assistance even when by law, services are meant to be free.

The same goes for education. Corruption is rampant and also hits the lowest sections of society hard. It's easier for those with money to buy teachers gold on graduation day and we haven't even got to the amount of corruption in higher education.

Anyway, whatever, corruption hits every segment of society in Armenia, but it is the lowest strata that are destined to remain poor not because of the psychological malaise that comes with living in poverty for an extended amount of time, but the fact that tax collection is low among those with the money.

Corruption with the traffic cops might be the most visible form in Armenia, but examine the situation in other areas hidden away from most Diasporan Armenians, and the effects are devastating.
Hakop said…
How long are you staying in Southern California?
The most devastating corruption in Armenia, namely government-level or government-related corruption, is not visible. Low-level corruption is something that needs to be addressed but it is small potatoes compared with the millions of dollars changing hands mysteriously with no way of tracking the funds as well as abuse of power.

I should have worded that sentence more carefully, however I do believe that corruption at the core is not truly felt by society at large because it does not directly impact them. Doctors charging patients for operations when they should be free and teachers extorting bribes from students for passing exams or whatever are economic issues or by-products of the corruption that comes from the top. The government refusing to raise the minimum wage comparable with the actual standard of living and so forth is what is creating that form of corruption. It is a socioeconomic issue that needs to be tackled at the highest levels of society before it can be resolved.
Anonymous said…
It's a vicious cycle. Salaries cannot be increased sufficiently because of high-level corruption and tax evasion. Corruption is allowed to flourish at the bottom so the people don't get too agitated, and thus the cycle continues.

However, I say again, corruption affects everyone in Armenia. Those at the top experience it in so much they get richer, people in the middle become apathetic, and those poorest remain poor.

Diasporans are largely the only groupd unaffected because they generally don't "live" here. However, corruption affects everyonebecause it leads to stagnation and apathy, lack of proper municipal services, lack of proper medical and social services, quality education etc, lack of democratic progress.

If you're looking for a good job, you also generally need a friend or relative in the international organization or company you're looking to get employed in.

Otherwise, sure, the money at the top is more significant, and it is allowed to flourih by the top, but it has to be said again that when you need to access health, social or education services, the situation is troubling. So far, you haven't needed to and thuse, the only form of corruption you see at the moment is the polcie on the streets because you now have a car.

What interests me most, however, is the fact that only the idiot "responsible" for the anti-corruption drive in Armenia can't see what the rest us can. That is, as Transparency International reported this year, corruption is increasing in Armenia.

It has also been accompanied by the violation of human rights as well as the rule of law in downtown Yerevan in the form of the new oligarch-driven construction.
Anonymous said…
In regards to the corruption issue, a huge detriment to the moral and economic development of the country (that continues to thrive at all levels in our beloved Hairenik) is yet another problem, and that is the "That's the way things work there!" attitude by at least one, if not more, very fine charitable/humanitarian organization/s that assist our people in the homeland. By continuing to be silent and accepting of the "Geedenk vor beedee ooden. (We know that they will "eat" it.) Togh meekeech ooden vor oknootyunuh hasnee. (Let them "eat" a little (of it) so that the assistance arrives.)" mentality/attitude we condone, encourage, and give our blessings to the corruption that continues to cripple Armenia at all levels. In the end, we all suffer, especially the children, Armenia's future.

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