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Something To Die For...living in Yerevan

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Posted 26 October 2013 - 08:52 AM

Armenianization. Let the process begin
Oct. 26, 2013
More details: http://news.am/eng/news/177782.html

Armenian News-NEWS.am launches a new project – Arianne & Armenia. Arianne is the chess player of Philippine descent known to Armenians as the girlfriend of Armenian Grandmaster Levon Aronian.

Martin Luther King once said, that “if a man has not found something he will die for, he is not fit to live”. There is a unique pulse to be detected in Armenia: and it’s a very strong one. It is a passion for a higher cause, a bigger purpose that infiltrates society from the very top to the very bottom. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I certainly want to catch whatever it is Armenians have. When in Yerevan I feel that people hold a hope for something that Armenia could be; it is this hope that gives their living a sense of purpose.

I recently saw Djivan Gasparyan live in concert, and it is hard for me to recall anything that powerful (although, being present at the raising of the Armenian flag in Istanbul at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Chess Olympics where the Armenian team reigned victorious was quite extraordinary, and I am tempted to say, would reduce most Armenians to tears).  One only needs to hear a few notes from a duduk to feel a tremendous sense of mandate to bring into fruition the hope stamped on the heart of most Armenians.

Living in a city like Yerevan that is constantly alive is exhilarating, especially at night. But it’s not only for the parties or the usual ‘city-living’ attractions, where one works to the end of themselves to enjoy but a few sprinklings of enjoyment, usually crammed into a single Saturday and accompanied by over-priced cocktails, artificial conversations and a hovering cloud of stress (Sydney and New York do that very well). Nor is it for the relaxed, beach lifestyle common to Queensland, where I spent some of my childhood years. Queensland boasts lazy days of sunshine and sea, with tanned, tattoo-clad beach bodies parading around, smiling a tad too much because life is so great. No, people in Armenia have a certain element of rage pulsating through them – hoping for the future and driven by its past. It is energetic and motivating, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

To my conscious knowledge, my very first encounter with anything Armenian was way back in 2000 – when I was grass-hopper height and representing the Philippines for the first board and playing against Armenia’s Lilit Mkrtchyan in the Chess Olympics in Turkey. The game ended in a draw: not so bad for the pint-sized ankle-biter that I was, but probably not the most desired result for the great and powerful Armenian chess team! And of course, I encountered Armenia academically (with immense pleasure) in the works of historians such as Ronald GrigorSuny, David Marshall Lang and George Bournoutian.

I first visited Yerevan in the spring of 2007, when Levon won his match against Vladimir Kramnik at the Opera House. Above all, I remember the toasts: passionate, lengthy toasts that ranged from the simplest of well-wishes to friends and parents, to rejoicing in the future of Armenia itself. My early Armenian toasting experiences have made all non-Armenian celebrations after them seem lacking for spirit and charm.

First impressions of Armenia conjure up images of a dismembered human body. Its very heart is dispersed around the globe – pumping blood (and money) into the homeland with terrific force, and Yerevan is its brain – steering the country economically and politically. Armenia’s veins have been spawned by its great artistic and intellectual giants, carrying its historical narratives, which are the beautiful and tragic instruments used to transmit the essence of its energy and hope.  But Armenia’s soul – that can be found around the country side, in long forgotten villages well outside of Yerevan, in the cuisine and nature of regions too often ignored by tourists.

My first experience of Armenia’s country side was traveling in a broken down 1981 Volga, with a hint of Khachaturian’s glorious Masquerade Waltz wafting through the air, interrupted by sporadic jolts as my driver friend stopped to avoid groups of slothful cows becoming the village’s next feast.

I have been in and out of the country for 7 years: celebrating the Armenian National Chess Team’s multiple gold medals, writing a thesis on post-Soviet Armenia’s economic relationship with Russia, and eating my fair share of khorovatz and rak (undoubtedly several kilos worth!). I’ve even gone a little deeper: I took tae-kwondo lessons at some gym in Charbakh with a class of Armenian teenagers, drank tan with hovivs in remote villages, and heard enough rabiz classics to finish the lyrics of most songs after a few notes. In a recent wedding, a close friend of Levon’s asked, “how can she not be Armenian when she can dance to rabiz like that?”

More details:  http://news.am/eng/news/177782.html

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