Monday, July 04, 2005

Notes from the Underground

Pomegranate Seed, a new arrival from the United States, has just started a blog on her experiences in Armenia. Sounds to me like she's enjoying the peculiarities and quirks of the country already.
I thought I would have been moved out of the hotel by now-but alas! I am not, and after having "negotiated" a price with the manager, I moved into a smaller room wondering at what point I will be able to find an apartment to rent. One more time at the lovely Bass, where apparently it is "Lionel Ritchie night." The music was piping into the lounge rather loudly-so loudly in fact that I thought my windows must have been open, which prompted me to check them. Sadly, they were shut, so I gave in, and got in bed with Ritchie belting out his infamous "Hello," for the 4th time. Apparently he is really popular in Yerevan. Who knew? I was awakened several times that night by Mr. Ritchie, who was really into partying "All Night Long."
Pomegranate Seed should try and give the live band, that plays at the illegal construction called a cafe outside my apartment building, a go. It's especially unfortunate as that god awful "Nune" song has just made it into their repoitore although I think the Lionel Ritchie covers they used to play around Komitas have mercifully since been banned.

In her latest blog, Pomegranate Seed makes reference to an encounter with some Syrian guys interested in renting her their apartment. It probably sounds a little racist, although after my last posting on the babe theory in democratic revolutionary movements, I suppose I can't really accuse her of stereotyping.
Me: Syrian boys eh? What are Syrian boys doing in Armenia?

(later in the apartment with Syrian 1 and Syrian 2-the place smells like a camel just gave birth. Vasken and myself are sitting on one vomit-green couch, whose springs have mercilessly rerouted themselves into my backside; Syrian 1 and 2 are collecting the Islamic paraphernalia that dots the living room)
However, it's not the first time I've heard this. One Diasporan in Armenia told me a few months ago that many landlords now refuse to allow Iranians especially to rent apartments. On the other hand, the area I live in is full of Iranian and Syrian students studying here and obviously grateful to be in a country that is a mecca of democracy and freedom in comparison to where they come from. I've got nothing against them and have always regretted the mono-ethnic nature of Armenia.

Met an Iranian student in my local kiosk the other day. Thought she was Diasporan because she was speaking English with an American twang but it turned out she was from Tehran, is studying at the Medical University in Yerevan and is deeply upset about the recent elections in Iran. In her opinion, the albeit small but noticeable progress that had been registered in the country will now be reversed. There was an interesting related news item on RFE/RL recently on the same subject but focusing on Iranian Armenians.
For young people like Annette repatriation also represents a welcome escape from the Islamic Republic’s strict code of behavior to a more liberal and laid-back environment. “What attracts us here is freedom,” he says.
Let's see but it's exemplifies why many young Iranians are coming here, including those from the Armenian community in Tehran. No dress restrictions here, for example, and alcohol is not forbidden but interestingly, the young Iranian student I encountered still considered Armenian society to be more conservative than that in Iran although perhaps she was talking about her own class back home. She certainly didn't strike me as poor, was obviously western-educated and had already studied in Europe.

Personally, I like multi-cultural societies even though the arrival of middle eastern students with money to burn in comparison to the rest of the population has pushed rents for apartments up. It is interesting to note, however, that when I arrived in Armenia in October 1998 the first question asked by locals was, "are you from America?" As a sign that non-Armenians from Moslem countries currently outnumber Diasporans in Armenia, the first question is now usually, "Are you Iranian or Syrian?"

Anyway, I shall be looking forward to reading more of Pomegranate Seed's blogs from Armenia, Notes from the Underground, over the next few months.


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