Sunday, October 5, 2008

Reflections on Armenia

Today I spent the day relaxing. I slept in, as I have done several times. I struck up a conversation with a Canadian guy who just got an apartment just around the corner, who has dual Canadian and Russian citizenship.

He is trying to start up a nightclub here and has already run into some frustrations in getting papers stamped, dealing with Armenian officials, etc. It does seem that it can be very difficult to do business here. He is of course fluent in Russian but does not speak Armenian. He claims that the same types of papers take an hour or so to do in Canadian official offices. We chatted while sitting in an outdoor cafe just off Hanrapetutyan Hraparak (Republic Square).

I have also spoken to several other people, mostly overseas Armenians, who have traveled or done business in this country. Their insights are amazing. It appears that the fact that I am an outsider has ensured that I am treated fairly well. My complaints about restaurants aside, apparently the restaurants do this to everyone, including overseas Armenians who are fluent in the language. One local Armenian told me also that this is normal, and that you just have to be careful and check your tab. It seems that this is just a normal part of life here.

Some ethnic Armenians who come from other Soviet republics have told me they try to not show their passports if they can help it, because they are afraid of being treated less well. There is also no shortage of jokes that Diaspora Armenians and local Armenians make about each other, although this in itself is the more benign side of it. Between that and the political situation, it would appear that Armenians spend a lot of time conflicting among themselves. The entire country is geographically the same size as my home state of Maryland (and Armenia has about 3 million people), and yet their society seems to be divided socially along several lines.

It appears that I have started to notice something, and it also seems that Armenians seem eager to shelter me from it. So far, they have almost only acted with great kindness and courtesy to me. I do not mean to sound in any way critical, it is just something that I have begun to observe. It seems that there are some parallels in this sense with Japanese society.

I do not believe that I will be here long enough to witness the full extent of these things.

The more I see of it, the more fascinating Armenia becomes.


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