My friend Norayr said that when the price of sugar goes down worldwide due to a surplus, it will go up in Armenia. He said monopolies were a result of the lack of democracy, and that if there were more people who knew their rights and demanded them, there would actually be a working democracy. But too many people here were fearful, and that the fear had been ingrained for centuries because they had never had their own government before. He spoke about Yerevan in the 1950s and 60s when the repatriates came, before Stalin put an end to it and closed off the Republic. “This was a very nice time in Yerevan,” he said, with Armenians from France and Iran and the U.S. and elsewhere; they all brought their ideas and strengths and diversity with them and it was reflected in the architecture and the films produced here. He said he wanted to see this happen again, that change would come from repatriates. It was an idea I had heard before, in 2006, but slightly different. A friend who had worked in the early years of the government but then left it once he saw the burgeoning corruption, and then how it became institutionalized, thought that change would only come from those who left, learned something of the world from the outside, and came back to try to change things. In effect, he was describing Norayr, an educated citizen.
But at that time, in 2006, Norayr was miserable. When I had known him, he was very unhappy, and he complained often about the problems in Armenia. Like my artist friend, he often lamented the intense conformity here and he had told me how he would get stopped and harassed on the street, by the police, and because of his dog. He has since lived in Switzerland, where he says the police can stop anyone at random and ask them to show what’s in their pockets. He said the best things about living in Switzerland were his bike and his work at a computer research group (though the salary was very bad). I was surprised at his complete transformation to a happy, smiling, upbeat guy in contrast to the depressed person I used to worry about. “What happened to you?” I asked him. “I went out into the world and got some perspective,” he said.
Norayr now keeps a live journal which he writes in Armenian. He is well aware of the problems here, but I think the main change that I have seen in him is his appreciation for Armenia. At first he wrote his live journal in Russian, which is his first language, but he decided to write only in Armenian in order to learn it more and to promote it, though he lost Russian readers. He said that the Armenian alphabet wasn’t perfect, but he thought Mesrob Mashdots designed it pretty well. He gave the example of the French using four letters – eaux – for one sound, when Armenians can use one character: n. Likewise, Germans need four consonants for one sound – tsch – which again, Armenians have one character for. I had never thought of the effectiveness of the alphabet before, since I still struggle to learn the intricacies of pronunciation, but Norayr was right. He was against schools that teach in English or Russian. He believes Armenian should be the language used to teach in schools, and besides learning English and Russian, Armenians should learn the languages of their neighbors: Persian, Turkish and Georgian. It’s clear to me that Armenians learn English and Russian mostly for the economic benefits that come with leaving. But Norayr was telling me that people seem to think those languages are “cooler”, which is indicative of the provincial thinking that if it comes from outside Armenia, it must be better. One day when I was watching tv in Tzaghkahovit (I don’t have a working tv in my Yerevan apartment) I realized that the shows were either in Armenian and Russian. You wouldn’t know that there were three countries of people speaking three other languages so close by. Norayr was consistently arguing for diversity as a channel to change. I thought that if Armenians knew the languages of their neighbors, there would be more opportunities for exchange and peace. Even economic gain could come from learning regional languages as well.
Norayr explained problems that other people had mentioned to me, but which he blamed on centralization. For example, completely destroying old homes and buildings to create Northern Avenue instead of using that time, money and energy to improve parts of Yerevan outside the center. Drawing international companies to Yerevan when it would make sense to start giving them incentives to go to Vandzor and Gyumri, but it was easier for those in the government to benefit from development in Yerevan, where they live. He blamed these phenomena for the economic exodus: the Armenians in the regions who are forced to go to Russia to support their families because nothing is being developed for them.
Նորացում․ Ուղղումները արված են։
ու տենցվայր՝ երեւան