Armenian Odyssey – Discovering The Soul Of Armenia


March 18, 2004

Armenian Odyssey
Discovering The Soul Of Armenia ~ by Dorothy Aksamit

“Oh”, said the young woman standing beside us at the baggage
queue at the airport in Yerevan, “they’ve changed already”. Blowing
kisses to the two little girls peeking from behind bouquets of roses,
she told us she lived in Kosovo with her husband who is with the UNDP
peacekeeping mission. “I come home every three months, but children
change so quickly.” I agreed it must be difficult and then she said,
“But of course you know our history. It is important that my children
stay in Armenia and speak Armenian.” The young mother assumed we were
visiting our family.

Armenia sees few “pure” tourists: those not affected by the
Diaspora of the 1915 genocide. Most tourists are visiting their
homeland, or travelers on a pilgrimage to the early churches. We were
neither. You might say we came on the wings of words. Carroll, my
husband, and I knew something of the 1915 genocide of the Armenians
orchestrated by the Turks. We had been introduced to Armenia by the
Armenian-American writer, William Saroyan in “My Name is Aram”. Our
interest was further heightened by Bitov’s lyrical “A Captive of the
Caucasus” and the bittersweet memoir of Peter Balakian’s “Black Dog of
Fate”. We were anxious to see the Low Caucasus Mountain Range, the
early churches in this land that in 310 A.D. was the first to accept
Christianity as a state religion and the imposing Matenadaran housing
illuminated books dating to the fifth century.

Our taxi salaamed around potholes as we entered Yerevan, the
capital of The Republic of Armenia. The city, scattered on either side
of a deep ravine, appeared forlorn. Store windows were empty or
sparsely stocked. Huge cranes, their wrecking ball missing, stood idle
beside staring holes of windowless buildings. Incongruously, the only
construction seemed to be the multiple pools of an aquatic park.
Impressions began to change as we passed between startlingly huge
complexes, one a hillside cognac distillery and the other a former
winery, now a museum. Near the center of town broad leafy avenues named
for poets and writers and several impressive statues lifted our spirits.

Gagik Siravyan, our driver/guide, (we had made arrangements with
Levon Travel on the Internet), perhaps seeing Yerevan through our eyes,
said, “We have a beautiful mountain, but you can’t see through the
clouds today.” and he added, “It’s in another country.” And so, even
before reaching our hotel, Armenia had bared its soul. The palpable
longing for home, land and language would become the spoken and unspoken
theme of our journey.

When we reached Republic Square, the scene changed as quickly as a
mouse click, dropping us into another time, another place. Ornate
buildings of rose or yellow tufa ringed the square of joyful people.
Filled with merry-makers, a coach and four trotted around the square.
The cafe crowd, mostly businessmen and Red Cross personnel, sipped beer
and lattes under umbrellas in front of the Hotel Armenia. A band played
beside the gushing fountain, the centerpiece of Republic Square,
formerly Lenin Square during the Soviet occupation. The square pulsated
with the exuberance of youth. Young women in short black dresses with
frilly white aprons teetered above platform heels, their partners, young
men in black jackets with white lace and rose corsages, everyone
celebrating the last day of school and graduation. Our black and white
entry into Yeravan had, by midnight, turned into Technicolor reflected
in the eyes of the young as the grand finale fireworks lit up the sky.
The major sites that we wanted to see lay in the four cardinal
directions and so each day as we cleared the bruised city we quickly
entered a gentle green land of shepherds whose sheep grazed under cobalt
skies. An ancient church at the end of each road drew us slowly and
inextricably into a pilgrimage..

We stopped the first day at the slender Arch of the poet
Yeghishe Charents. Gagik roughly translated the inscription: “You may
look the world over and never find such a mountain as Ararat.” Often
hidden in clouds, I photographed Mount Ararat framed perfectly in the
arch, but alas, only I could find the snow-capped mountain in the
clouds. How frustrating for Armenians, with Ararat heartbreakingly
close but lying in forbidden territory. Armenians must negotiate a trip
to eastern Turkey through Georgia to visit Mount Ararat where Noah is
thought to have moored his Ark. Armenians call their country Hayastan
and trace their descent from Haik, Noah’s great-great-great-grandson.
Afterwards we visited what looked like a small Roman temple, The Temple
of Garni, dedicated to the sun god Mithra, built with funds and slaves
sent by Nero. But I remember Garni as the place where grandmothers sold
roejik. These delicious sweets hang like curtains of brown candles but
are strings of dried fruit, rolled thin and wrapped around walnuts. We
quickly became addicted and stopped everytime we spotted them.
Each morning Gagik scoured roadside markets for picnic
supplies: lavash, parchment thin bread, to wrap around soft cheese,
olives, green onions, cucumbers and tomatoes.

As we approached Geghard, the 10-13 century monastery, a
scene straight out of my Sunday school coloring book sprang to life. A
family group, leading a sacrificial lamb was met by a group of pied
pipers who piped them into the church. The lamb would later be butchered
and a grand picnic held on the banks of the river. Geghard was also the
church where a group of teenagers sang beside the chapel where stones
are pressed into the wall and if the stone sticks your wish will come
true. Gagik said, “They are singing for the freedom of their friends in
Karabakh.” (An Armenian enclave surrounded by Azerbaijan).

Geghard is an architectural wonder. Carved in solid rock,
it is a collection of several churches chiseled from the mountainside as
a sanctuary for the early Christians. Memorable as Geghard is, it’s
Gagik’s song that I remember. He stood in the center of the original
church surrounded by columns and walls carved from one stone and sang
quietly – perhaps to himself, perhaps to his God, but the curved stone
vault increased the volume until, by the time it floated skyward through
the round opening, it was a heavenly chorus.

On a Sunday visit to Cathedral Echmiadzin we discovered that Gagik
was an artist and the son of an artist. In fact his father had helped
restore the frescos in this beautiful Cathedral famous as the site where
Christ descended from Heaven and pointed to the spot on which the
Cathedral should be built. The elaborate service of the Armenian
Apostolic Church was in progress when we arrived. Under vibrant blue and
gold frescos and sparkling crystal chandlers, the gold mitered, black
robed Catholicos moved slowly through the standing crowd dispensing
blessings and accepting offerings. There was incense, a chorus and at
the altar where Christ descended, a motionless prostrate man, obliging
the faithful to lean over him in order to kiss the stone.

Our favorite trip was to Hamberd, a fortress and church high upon
the slopes of Mount Argats. On the slopes, higher even than the fortress
we found the distinctive rectangular steles of the pagans. These stones
(khatchkars) were later inscribed with intricate filigreed crosses and
thousands of them are found all over Armenia.

As we approached the fortress we saw a school bus and a
rollicking party in progress. It was an end-of-school picnic and the
English teacher suggested that while we looked at the fortress and
church she would make coffee.

The teachers second question after, “Where are you from?”
was, “Have you heard of the Genocide?” One of the women offered to sing
for us and we heard for the first time the poignantly beautiful song,
“Your house is in front of my house, but I don’t see you anymore.” The
teenagers then turned up the boom box and the dancing began. We spent a
couple of hours eating grilled chicken, drinking vodka and dancing. An
added attraction was the daring feat of a local youth who scaled the
fortress wall sans ropes or shoes. It was for us a moment in an
Armenian paradise.

The last day we stayed too long at the imposing Matenadaran,
the library that holds thousands of books dating to the fifth century
documenting the history of Armenia. But to those in this shrunken
landlocked country that once spread to three seas, The Matenadaran is
more than a library; it is the depository of cultural history and is
spoken of in reverential tones. It is like scaling a mountain to get to
this lofty mausoleum-like building. On the first terrace is a statue of
Mesrop Mashtots who, as every school child in this land of 98% literacy
knows, created the Armenian alphabet in 405 A.D. On the second terrace
are granite statues of writers and finally inside a wide staircase
leading to the exhibition room. Here are the intricately illuminated
manuscripts bound in leather, ivory and filigreed silver and parchment
books of botany, math, science, geography and astrology. Gagik proudly
pointed to the framed pictures and quotes of William Saroyan who in the
early twentieth century introduced the Armenian people to the world in
his plays and novels. He also shyly told us it was his father who showed
Saroyan around when he visited Armenia.

When we finally reached the Genocide Museum, the door had just
been locked but Gagik explained that we had come from San Francisco to
see the museum. Without hesitation we were ushered into the underground
gallery where grainy photographs depicted the suffering of the Armenians
who were “relocated” from ancestral lands by the Turks. Although in
1915 the word “genocide” was not known, over 1,500,000 Armenians
perished in the world’s first genocide. The Treaty of Sevres, the last
treaty of World War I, granted lands lost in the genocide to Armenia and
demanded punishment of the perpetrators. But by 1923, western powers
caught the scent of Ottoman oil and signed the Lausanne Treaty.
Reparation, restitution, retribution and Armenian dreams slipped into
fields of black gold The remaining sliver of Armenia was incorporated
into the Soviet Union until its breakup in 1991.

After visiting the Genocide Monument, 12 leaning stones
surrounding the eternal flame and the slender sky-piercing shaft
representing the hope of the Armenian people, we sat on the ledge of the
courtyard waiting for a last glimpse of Mount Ararat. This is a true
“court” yard formed by a semicircle of 12 basalt slabs inscribed with
statements by politicians, writers and scientists. Each visitor is a
witness who can make his own judgement regarding the Genocide.

Even though the sky had turned fittingly somber, we hoped for a
last glimpse of Mt. Ararat. It didn’t seem strange to sit silently with
Gagik who actually spoke little English and who in retrospect I thought
of as a spirit guide. Gazing over the rooftops of Yerevan, I thought of
my childhood during the depression on the high plains of the Texas
Panhandle, and my mother’s frequent admonition: “Dorothy, please finish
your dinner. Just think of the poor starving Armenians.” If I had had
any inkling of the starving Armenians, I wouldn’t have been able to
choke down a bite. And I thought of what Peter Balakian had written
about his Armenian grandmother in “Black Dog of Fate”: “She was
history knocking on the door of my heart.”

I gave up on Ararat. I knew the mountain was there but this was
to be a “wasn’t” day. Peter’s grandmother had begun all her stories,
not with “Once upon a time,” but with “A long time ago there was and
there wasn’t.” A few drops of rain fell. And then, like an answer to a
prayer, Ararat “was”. The mystical mountain, ephemeral, hauntingly
near and illusively far, billowy clouds becoming mountains and snow
covered mountains tops becoming clouds. A tantalizing glimpse and it
was gone. But I knew that on whichever side of a man-made border Mount
Ararat lies, there lies the soul of Armenia.

Ruben Torosyan Displeased With Our Court System

A1 Plus | 13:39:32 | 29-03-2004 | Politics |


“In fact the Armenian Justice Minister didn’t take any steps to call any
judge-lawbreaker to account”. Ruben Torosyan, Chair of “MP Club”
organization voices concern in this appeal addressed to the Armenian

According to him, analysis by his organization showed Justice Minister abets
corruption rise in the court system and spreading law transgression by the
judges through that inactivity.

Mr Torosyan states that they have informed the Justice Minister about
numerous facts of gross violation by judges for many times but the Minister
hasn’t yet appeared with any initiative over the problem resulting in
appearance of unprecedented negative phenomena in the legal system of the
CE-country, which mock at the principles of “court, democracy and protection
of human rights”.

Downtown center proposed

Downtown center proposed

Major developer wants to build south of stadium.

By Jim Davis
The Fresno Bee
Updated Friday, March 26, 2004, 7:21 AM

A major developer wants to create a $350 million to $400 million development
with retail, entertainment and housing in downtown Fresno south of Grizzlies
Stadium, city officials announced Thursday.

The project could include a lake, river walk or series of fountains.

Forest City Enterprises will ask the Fresno City Council on Tuesday for an
exclusive agreement to develop 85 acres south of the stadium.

City Council Member Tom Boyajian called it a “defining moment” in moving
downtown Fresno forward.

“When we voted for this baseball stadium, we really hoped something like
this would happen,” Boyajian said. The project would be in an area generally
bounded by Union Pacific Railroad, Van Ness Avenue, Tulare Street and
Freeway 41.

Forest City Enterprises, a real estate company based in Ohio, is a property
owner and partner in the River Park shopping center in north Fresno. The
company has also developed urban centers throughout the country, said Dan
Fitzpatrick, executive director of the city’s Redevelopment Agency.

“What’s very important about this project is drawing a major developer —
they’re listed on the New York Stock Exchange — to make a commitment of
hundreds of millions [of dollars] in downtown,” Fitzpatrick said.

Council Member Cynthia Sterling said the proposal dovetails with other
projects in downtown and the Regional Jobs Initiative to create jobs for the

“With this push, this will open up an opportunity to put people back to
work,” said Sterling, who represents downtown.

Known as the South Stadium project, it will be sandwiched between two other
major downtown developments.

To the west, a development group has proposed building hundreds of homes and
adding retail and commercial shopping to the historic Chinatown district.

To the east, Gunner-Andros Investments is planning to build Old Armenian
Town, a series of high-rise office buildings anchored by a state appellate

Marlene Murphy, the city’s redevelopment administrator, said the City
Council will be asked Tuesday whether to allow the agency to negotiate an
exclusive agreement with Forest City.

The project would be built in four or five phases over 10 years.

“This is not a small project,” Murphy said. “It’s the size of … Universal

Forest City, its partners and the city of Fresno have been studying the area
south of the stadium for the past 18 months.

Forest City’s partners are The Legaspi Co., Streetscape Equities and Johnson
Fain Architects.

Forest City has assets of about $5 billion. Fitzpatrick praised it as one of
the top four or five companies in the country that redevelop urban areas.

“They don’t have to worry about getting financing,” Fitzpatrick said.
“They’re self-financing.”

Fitzpatrick said council members and Mayor Alan Autry have played key roles
in persuading the company to consider investing in downtown Fresno.

Boyajian said he’s been questioned constantly about voting for the $46
million baseball stadium. He said the stadium was an investment and that the
payoff is finally occurring with this proposed development.

“The investors really see an opportunity here,” Boyajian said.

Forest City is looking at a mixed-use development including restaurants, a
multiplex theater and other commercial uses combined with downtown housing.
It could include big-box and department stores.

The company expects that the project will draw people within 30 miles of
downtown as well as people driving on the freeways to Yosemite and Kings
Canyon national parks.

The company also expects to draw traffic from the baseball stadium, the
Convention Center, the IRS building and downtown government agencies.

While the project is expected to bring in national retailers and chains,
Boyajian and Fitzpatrick said, Forest City also will seek local businesses
and small entrepreneurs.

Fitzpatrick said landmarks such as Coney Island restaurant — which has been
downtown for 80 years — “will obviously stay.”

The company in its exclusive agreement will seek the city’s help in aiding
the development including, if necessary, eminent domain to consolidate land.

Pat Cody has owned Wilson’s Motorcycles at 443 Broadway for 15 years, and
the business has been in the same location for 85 years. He had not heard
about the proposal and will withhold judgment until he sees details.

But he believes the city should have talked with businesses “who are
employing people, generating tax dollars and have been here.”

“They keep talking about bringing business in downtown Fresno, but nobody
talks to us, who have been doing business in downtown,” he said.

The reporter can be reached
at [email protected]
or 441-6171.

European Union launches high-tech project in Armenia

European Union launches high-tech project in Armenia

19 Mar 04


The implementation of a European Union project to develop information
technology has begun in Armenia, this was said at the presentation
ceremony today.

The project, which will end in 2005, will cost 1.2m euros in
total. The project consists of two parts – the provision of training
and the creation of relevant legal acts.

Passage omitted: minor details

Armenian leader says devolution of power needed

Armenian leader says devolution of power needed

Mediamax news agency
19 Mar 04


The country leadership will continue the policy of devolution of
power, Armenian President Robert Kocharyan said in Yerevan today.

At a working session today with the leadership of Yerevan’s Kentron
(Centre) community, the Armenian president said: “It is obvious that
the government should not deal with day-to-day problems of the
people. But, the government should ensure the implementation of credit
programmes in the sphere of water supply, heating and so on. However,
self-government bodies should be responsible for their
implementation,” the head of state said.

Passage omitted: similar ideas are reiterated

Tennis: Henman crushes Corretja while Hewitt tumbles out

Tennis: Henman crushes Corretja while Hewitt tumbles out

The Independent – United Kingdom
Mar 16, 2004

Matthew Cronin in Indian Wells

TIM HENMAN looked full of confidence as he won his Pacific Life Open
third-round match with Alex Corretja 6-4, 6-4 here yesterday.

Corretja lost his serve in the second game, at the end of which his
trainer was called on to treat what looked like a graze on the
knee. The Spaniard played on, and broke back in the seventh game with
a backhand passing shot down the line. Henman, however, broke back in
the 10th game to claim the first set as Corretja was wayward with
three forehands.

At deuce in Corretja’s first service game in the second set, the
Spaniard struck a shot down the line which caught the highest part of
the net and carried over the baseline to put Henman 2-0 up. The
Briton’s hopes of another three-game lead evaporated as he sent an
overhead smash into the net to give his opponent an instant break
back. After another deuce game on the Corretja serve, the Spaniard won
out to level at 2-2.

The fifth game was nervy for Henman on his serve but it went in his
favour at deuce and he edged 3-2 ahead. The match went with serve to
5-4 and Henman closed out the second set.

The Australian two-time defending champion Lleyton Hewitt lost to Juan
Ignacio Chela, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 as the Argentinian put up a determined
performance to end Hewitt’s 13-match unbeaten run. “Even when I felt
like I had him on a stretch a couple of times, he came up with good
defensive shots,” Hewitt said. “I didn’t feel like I played too badly,
but I felt like he didn’t miss a lot of shots.”

Roger Federer, of Switzerland, made light work of Chile’s Fernando
Gonzalez in the third round, his 6-3, 6-2 victory taking 62
minutes. Federer, the top seed here, had breezed through the previous
round with a 6-1, 6-1 rout of Romania’s Andrei Pavel.

Also in the third round, Tommy Haas, of Germany, beat Spain’s Albert
Costa 7-6, 3-6, 6-3.

Andy Roddick beat his former doubles partner Jan-Michael Gambill 7-6,
6-2 late on Sunday to set up a meeting with the recent Australian Open
finalist Marat Safin, of Russia.

Roddick, who faced Gambill for the first time last week in Scottsdale,
hit 21 aces in the thin desert air and was never broken. The US Open
champion last met Safin in the Australian Open quarter-finals, where
the Russian won a titanic five-setter.

The fourth seed, Guillermo Coria, made a good first appearance on
American hard courts this season, beating the Armenian Sargis Sargsian
6-3, 6-4.

The seventh-seeded Carlos Moya, of Spain, hit a double-fault on match
point and fell to the Russian Irakli Labadze 2-6, 6-1, 6-3. The 11th
seed, Nicolas Massu, of Chile, retired with a sinus infection while
trailing 6-3, 1-0 to Spain’s Rafael Nadal.

l Greg Rusedski is expected to confirm today whether he intends to
pursue a compensation claim against the Association of Tennis
Professionals following his acquittal on doping charges last week. The
British No 2 and his legal team are believed to have examined the
possibility of pursuing a claim against the ATP.

Sydney: The lottery that defies logic and confuses experts

Sydney Morning Herald, Australia
March 16 2004

The lottery that defies logic and confuses experts
By Kelly Burke, Education Reporter

Geelong Grammar can count Kerry Packer, Rupert Murdoch, Alexander
Downer and Prince Charles among its famous old boys. By comparison,
its Sydney cousin, Trinity Grammar, has just a smattering of
corporate chief executives and barristers wearing the old school tie.

Yet these schools steeped in the Anglican tradition share many other
common factors, including a high level of boarders, day fees of about
$16,000 a year, and a similar ranking under the system that
determines the level of Commonwealth funding each school gets.

In contrast, the non-government Hamazkaine, Arshak & Sophie Galstaun
school, in the northern Sydney suburb of Ingleside, has been the
beneficiary of little largesse during its 18-year history. The
school’s 322 students all come from non-English speaking backgrounds,
and their parents, primarily Armenian immigrants, pay between $2000
and $3500 in school fees each year.

Yet according to the Federal Government system which measures
parents’ capacity to pay, this school is as affluent as Trinity, with
both schools sharing the same socio-economic status (SES) ranking of
112. Geelong Grammar comes in a point lower, at 111, on a scale which
in NSW ranges from 87 for the poorest schools and 133 for the

Kaylar Michaelian, the principal of Hamazkaine, Arshak & Sophie
Galstaun School, has appealed against the Federal Government’s ruling
that the parents of his pupils are on a par financially par with
those at Trinity – and marginally better off than those who send
their offspring to Geelong Grammar. The case has yet to be resolved.

“We are a community school – we don’t even see ourselves as a private
school,” Mr Michaelian said. “We’ve asked the department to review
[our SES] because it in no way reflects the make up of our parents
and their capacity to pay any more than what we’re already asking.
It’s unfair.”

The NSW Government sees things differently from the Commonwealth.
Factoring in the school’s assets and income, the state’s education
resource index (ERI) model has deemed it a relatively needy school.
Out of a possible score of 12, it gets a nine, while Trinity is
ranked as one of the wealthiest, as a category 1 school.

The Commonwealth’s SES model is based on measuring the education,
income and employment status of about 250 households in the
census-determined area where each parent of a private school student

Mark Drummond, a PhD candidate in public sector management at the
University of Canberra and a former teacher of mathematics at the
Australian Defence Force Academy, said this system has turned the
school funding system into little more than a lottery.

“The scores are a basket case,” he said, after having spent nearly 12
months analysing national non-government school funding data.

“In effect, there are many private schools where the rich kids are
getting the benefit from the poorer kids who happen to live in the
same area, and go to the local public school. There is no coherence
to the system. You only have to look at Geelong Grammar’s SES to know
it even fails the commonsense test.”

But Terry Chapman, executive director of the NSW Association of
Independent Schools, says the Commonwealth’s SES model is the best of
an admittedly imperfect lot.

“The SES is better because judgements are made using data gathered
from the census,” he says. “It’s absolutely transparent, does not
require massive details from each school, and it does not create any
serious disincentive to private effort.”

But under the NSW Government’s ERI system, Mr Chapman says, a private
school theoretically loses government money with every private
donation it receives.

A spokesman for the federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, said
the figures merely proved what every parent of every student in a
Catholic or independent school had known for a long time.

“That is that there are parents in this country who make enormous
sacrifices with four jobs between two parents, who live in modest
accommodation, never have a holiday and choose to make great
sacrifices to send their children to non-government schools”.

Armenian Orgs Condemn Anti-Azeri Rhetoric by Senior Officials

Mediamax news agency, Yerevan, in Russian
11 Mar 04

Armenian organizations condemn anti-Azeri rhetoric by senior


The leaders of four Armenian public organizations have issued a
statement effectively accusing the ruling coalition of spreading
“racist and chauvinist ideas which are alien to our society”.

The statement forwarded to Mediamax said that when commenting on the
killing of an Armenian officer by an Azerbaijani colleague in
Budapest, the chairman of the standing parliamentary commission for
foreign relations, Armen Rustamyan, and the head of the parliamentary
faction of the Armenian Republican Party, Galust Saakyan, “used
unacceptable generalisations with regard to the Azerbaijani people as
a whole”.

“The statements by such high-ranking politicians who represent the
ruling political coalition are particularly unacceptable because they
can be construed as the official position of our state, bring about
additional obstacles to resolving the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict and
to improving relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” the statement

“The whipping up of anti-Armenian tension in Azerbaijan and its
consequences certainly deserve a strong condemnation, but this cannot
serve as justification for the spread of racist and chauvinist ideas
which are alien to our society. Difficult as the Budapest tragedy
situation might be, we are calling for political restraint. We hope
that our country will continue to be guided by common sense and
democratic values,” the statement said.

The statement was signed by the president of the Civil Society
Institute, Artak Kirakosyan, the president of the Yerevan Press Club,
Boris Navasardyan, the president of the Armenian Helsinki Committee,
Avetik Ishkhanyan, and the president of the Caucasus centre of peace
initiatives, Georgiy Vanyan.