What about me?

I live in Armenia. I was born here. I grew up here. I grew up in the 90s. I was here when there was no work and there was a war and my father was the sole breadwinner for three families. I was here when there were long queues for bread and there was no electricity or water. My brother and I had to walk to the yard of the neighboring factory where there was a spring, and we could carry water home, in 10 liter buckets. I was in Armenia when there were food shortages and my grandma would “organize” us, her grandchildren, and we would go to the neighboring fields to gather sibekh. I don’t even know what that is in English. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a bitter green herb that grows for a couple of months in the spring. Boiled or sautéed, it’s almost a meal. I was here when my grandma had to add water to the soup she’d made to make sure that there was enough for everybody. I was here when you had to prepare your homework under candle light. I still can’t stand candlelight.

This is the part of my life that keeps me real. Back in the day, we all lived through this. For my friends and me and the people in Armenia back then there was no other choice, there was nothing surprising or quaint about all that we experienced or that was happening around us; that was our life.

Today, life is different. No shower for four days in a row is unusual. Freezing, in your own home, is unusual. Things have changed. Life in Armenia today is more than just about survival, at least not as it used to be, at least not in a universal, all-across-the-country sort of way.

In the old days, the stark choices, difficulties, daily challenges were obvious. That’s what visitors and expats living in Armenia noticed and so that’s what they talked and wrote about. Today, together with lots of poverty and hardship, and lingering backwardness and provincialism, there are also  young, educated, vibrant, cosmopolitan, middle class Armenians who live in Armenia and work in Armenia and care and do everything possible and impossible to make a difference. They almost never become an object of conversation or blogs or articles by today’s visitors and expats and repats; it’s as if that world that is the normal Armenia — my world –  does not exist.

It is ignored and instead, what is often presented is a skewed picture of a backward, provincial country – with funny looking grandparents, over-dressed or under-dressed women, loud voices, odd interpersonal relations and irrational behavior – a country with no capacity for normalcy. That’s a picture where “I” am missing altogether. And that worries me.

11 Responses to “What about me?”

  • Sona says:

    Grear post, Hayk. One thing to add, wherever you are, i’ll be there too to bring the difference you are striving for.

  • Sose says:

    So true, I’m also mad at the way Armenia is presented!

  • Sahakanush says:

    It is the TRUTH !!!
    It is our REALITY !!!
    It is all about US !!!
    It is our country Armenia !!!

  • Shushan says:

    No wonder the “normals” are not presented, because they are ignored even by Armenians, why should other nationalities care? I think that is the tragedy.

  • Sevak says:

    I’d like to ask what does the author mean by saying: “odd interpersonal relations and irrational behavior”.

    And I’d like to say the author’s right, but that old, provincial Armenia is real, too: if we, the CITY[i]zens, do not face it in our lovely Yerevan, it doesn’t mean it is either irrelevant or too insignificant to be represented.

    It is the state of Armenia.

  • Henry Dumanian says:

    Bravo, Mr. Petrosyan — great way to start the blog.

    I always like to remind Diaspora Armenians who buy into the pessimism of many of the locals, about this new, young generation of Armenians.

  • Observer says:

    Hello Hayk,

    Thanx for the blog-post and your sincerity. I’ve copy-pasted the whole article in my blog, because someone asked me questions about Armenia today, and all I could think of answering, was to send him a link to this post.

    I hope you don’t mind the cross-post, I’ve duly credited you and supplied a link to this original post.

    http://ditord.com/2010/06/18/what-about-me/

  • me says:

    I hope you don’t mind me disagreeing, but the issue isn’t that there aren’t ANY “young, educated, vibrant, cosmopolitan, middle class Armenians who live in Armenia and work in Armenia and care and do everything possible and impossible to make a difference”, the issue is that there simply isn’t enough of you.

    What I’ve noticed in my visits to Armenia is that despite the fact that the population is tiny, it’s extremely segregated and polarized. You acknowledge this when you say people don’t know of “your world” and the problem is that “your world” is simply too small compared to the rest of the country. Just because you’ve seen marked differences in your life doesn’t mean everyone else has as well.

    Those young, educated, vibrant, cosmopolitan young people you speak of have created this bubble–they only see and interact with people just like themselves: they work and study and party together, compete for the same grants from the same international organizations, go to the same cafes and clubs and seminars and concerts and have managed to convince themselves that they are the face of this new and emerging or as you call it, “normal” Armenia. I can see the appeal of that, I get caught up in all that when I’m there, but I’m not quite convinced yet. Not when you are not represented in government, in the admittedly dormant civil society, in mass media, in political discourse (save one or two token ones @ACNIS), in popular culture, etc. etc. etc Chalk me up as a non-believer.

    and P.S. I was there too and obviously realize it’s not 1994 anymore. But Armenia isn’t just those one or two central streets in Yerevan; you might be living in a better and “normal” Armenia, but I bet people say in Gyumri or in those god-forsaken border towns would beg to differ. Those stark choices, difficulties, daily challenges are still there for them. And THEIR tribulations are all the more shameful now because you have young and vibrant and educated middle class Armenians sitting in their spiffy new office building overlooking a new and “normal” Yerevan…. while THEY are raising a second generation in “domiks” or have to hassle just to put food on the table.

  • Ashot K. says:

    How many of those young, educated, vibrant, cosmopolitan, middle-class Armenians are ready to fight for democracy, rule of law and human rights? How many of them would risk their personal well-being to act or simply speak out against their government’s abuses? How many of them bother to cast a ballot and try to make sure it’s counted? How many of them would not send their kids to foreign-language schools? How many of them do not dream about emigrating?

  • Notme says:

    I have noticed positive change in Armenia. Friends who do business with locals in the software business confirm that there is now a young generation who are professional, who can communicate in English, respect time deadlines, etc.

    Hayk is not saying Armenia is perfect. He`s just saying that the picture painted by many is not complete and let’s acknowledge it.

    Armenia is a work in progress. Far from perfect but evolving.

  • artur says:

    perhaps if local armenians were more receptive to diasporans and didn’t categorize them as “akhpar” the perception wouldn’t be us/them, it would be us: all of us. Including the anomalies, the exceptions to the rules, and the stereotype supporting bunch we all see on our visits.

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