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South Caucasus

10 justs and 1 crazy man

Yulia Adelkhanova

Yulia Adelkhanova
the South Caucasus film festival guest in Yerevan and Yeghegnadzor

A session of the Ukrainian parliament:
- Should we turn on the first microphone?
- No, don’t, this one will probably start talking that we should hang Moskals.
- What about the second microphone?
- No, he will start talking about drowning the Jews.
- Perhaps the fifth microphone?
Yes! The fifth we can. This one likes to talk about the ecology.

Microphone number five:
- Before in Ukraine the trees were taller, and the rivers were deeper. What is going now? No trees hang a Moskal, or rivers drown a Jew!

(an old anecdote)


On the South Caucasus film festival “Nationality – Human”, we were presented by documental films from a world wide scale, which were filmed by producers from Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, USA, Germany, Finland, Israel, and France. These films are about conflict areas, such as the Middle East, Chechnya and Afghanistan. They’re about simple people who are trying to put an end to a meaningless slaughter that has continued for years, through overcoming their pain and hardened stereotypes. They’re about the fates of people who have gotten involved in wars against their will, and have become hostages of someone else’s ambitions. About refugees, who find them selves in foreign to them countries and in front of the question “ To assimilate or to preserve their own cultural independence?” because the local population at times oppresses it, only because their out look is the same as the replicated image of the enemy. About how important it is to raise your children to be patient, good hearted, humane, and how children themselves can present a lesson in tolerance to adults obstinated about their habitual judgments.

After viewing the films the audience didn’t discuss the films as much as they discussed the problems within the films. The host would ask the viewers mostly actual and provocative questions. And everyone who wished took a turn to express his or her opinion. The main point of the discussion was to find out how much are the residents of South Caucasus ready to live in peace with each other, what do they consider necessary to be done toward it and what are they themselves prepared to do without the participation of official authorities and NGO, while Louisa Poghosyan tried to translate everything that was going on in the auditorium for us, and we wrote everything down more or less.

We are three journalists who came to Armenia from Georgia as guests of the festival. Irakli Chikhladze is an independent journalist whose brother was killed on august 8th in South Ossetia. Temuri Kiguradze is a correspondent of the newspaper «Messenger»; in front of whose eyes were killed Giga Chikhladze and Alexander Klimchuk during which he was wounded in the arm. Including myself – a beginner journalist who was present at the war in South Ossetia simply through television.

As I was preparing for Yerevan, I was dreaming to get some rest from the patriotically- tense setup, which were ruling in Tbilisi for no less then 2 months. Whereas our love for our homeland doesn’t just end with our preparedness to lay down in front of the Russian tanks, but also in a unexpected concentration of the people around the party and the government.

What’s true is true I did not find any Georgian hooray – patriots in Armenia but the Armenians were also pretty jolly. During the opening of the festival the podium took the president of the permanent parliamentary commission of Armenia, Armen Ashotyan. He addressed the youth and partly said: “The title of today’s festival “I am Human” is undeniably important, but in my opinion for the youth living in Armenia, is no less important the understanding “I am Armenian” where the word Armenian informs a special authority, sound, a hue of life, to the image of thought of every young person.

Let’s compare: «Be an Armenian, First and foremost an Armenian – teaches Garegin Nzhdeh – Because in history an Armenian was more of a human than an Armenian, and it’s because of that reason specifically why his tragedy has been unremarkable…” (The teachings of Garegin Nzhdeh. Editor: The Republican party of Armenia, Yerevan – 2004.) Is everything clear for everyone?

Back then I did not have any idea about Tseghakronutyun (“healthy” nationalism which differs from the Italian Fascism, German Nazism, and Jewish Zionism, only by being Armenian) and how wide spread it is in Armenia, or about the “Eagles of Syunik”, as for Ashotyan’s quote, I took it as another one of the many anecdotes about “The proud Caucasians.”
Human nature thirsts
for enlightenment,

We’ll go to an art show;
we’ll go to ballet.

There is such a thing
– its called culture.

So why are you still
reaching for your gun?

Timur Shaov


Under the wise leadership of a Vanadzor theatre’s actor Hamlet Gyulzadian, the viewers discussed such topics as the problems of xenophobia, ethnic or religious discrimination, the adaptation into the population of national minority, as well as the possibility for simple citizens to provide means for a peaceful regulation of conflicts in South Caucasus.

I will describe one of the discussions, however I will allow myself to disturb the chronological order of expressions. The host announced the subject “We and others”.

Host’s question:

- How do they treat foreigners and national minorities in Armenia?

A professor from the state university said the following about the national minorities:

- Our people never had any problems with national minorities. Thank the almighty we are the majority on this territory today.

A female geology student also spoke:

- We became so narrow minded about our selves, on how ancient we are that our ideology has also become ancient. National minorities are here to remind us that there are other people besides Armenians in the world.

A serious discussion: Do Armenians need national minorities after all?

A female journalism student:

- Saying that we don’t need national minorities kind of smells of fascism. If we were a blossoming nation with a healthy economy… But our country isn’t as such. So that means we do need national minorities within logical boundaries. Armenians must preserve their self-adequacy. Female student on film direction:

- I have friends that are national minorities. We are very tolerant toward them.

The host remembered an old saying: Let the snake that doesn’t bite me live for a hundred years.

Oh! I feel much calmer now. Other wise I started thinking…

A conversation about foreigners started.

A female student of the polytechnic faculty:

- The more foreigners come to Armenia the more it will help us with freedom of thought.

Another girl supported that romantic expression with a cold calculation:

- National minorities give us an input for the development of our country. And foreigners will input their money into our economy.

A law student got up:

- When it comes to others, there is a saying, make yourself at home but don’t forget that you are a guest…– Further more: - If Armenia opened the border with Azerbaijan and Turkey and I am a supporter of that, they would call off the standard requirement to serve in the military.

One guy complained:

- My acquaintances from Nigeria were denied from entering Armenia simply because they are black.

Anahit, a polytechnic student:

- Foreign students get treated very badly, a student from India was beaten on the street and his girlfriend suffered a broken back injury. We are behaving like swine.

Linguistics professor, a specialist on Japanese (a bright character):

- The nationality of the foreigner is very important; Russians for example feel themselves to be above Armenians.

As I figured out someone really hurt his feelings in the past and those people were Russians by nationality. The presence of the Georgian journalists inspired him to express everything that had collected in him all this time. During that he expressed his complaints on behalf of the Japanese people. Quoted an old Japanese saying in Japanese, most likely from the times of the Russian - Japanese war… Briefly, I will conclude what I imagine: The Japanese like the Armenians are an ancient, well-adapted and wise civilization, and Armenians need to take example from the Japanese, meaning they need to separate them selves from Russia with a sea.

Further the discussion went on about how it’s only a few individual cases where we have foreign students here in Armenia and we don’t treat them badly. How one Indian student was cynically and loudly telling his Armenian girlfriend about his intimate ties with Armenian girls and that’s why he was beaten and beaten for a right cause. And generally Armenians beat each other, so why not beat an Indian?

A state university lector:

- The youth is discussing trivial cases, which are common.

- Armenians aren’t tolerant people even to them selves. And national minorities feel themselves to be second-classpeople in a foreign country.

- I don’t understand how can those people be (!), Who say that Armenians aren’t tolerant! Look what the Persians are doing in Armenia! Don’t forget the patriotism! Keep your dignity when you are leaving, so that you don’t look like the yezids who are dreaming about the day that Armenians will leave from Armenia.

Correct! There can’t be such people – Whoever says that Armenians aren’t tolerant will receive 10 days in detention room!

About the Armenian Diaspora:

- A relation with national minorities is wishful but not necessary. We have xenophobia toward Armenians from other countries. First of all we need to integrate them into society.

An Armenian girl from USA:

- When I first came to Armenia people confused me for an Armenian from Iran and I was treated very rudely, but when they found out I’m from America, well then…

A boy from Javakheti, student at the Yerevan University:

- I only had problems with the language. I was able to adapt thanks to normal people.

Тemuri asked him if he spoke Georgian. Only to be informed, without any offence intended. He answered that he did not. At that point people became revolted, that they don’t treat Armenians from Javakheti very well, they don’t try to integrate Armenians into society, and give them the opportunity to learn the Georgian language. What’s true is true he majority of Armenians do not speak the official language, and that’s precisely what creates the difficulties for them to participate in the country’s public – political life. Recently they’ve opened free schools for those who wish to learn the language, but no one can say how effective they are. And disregarding that fact, a lot of Armenians from there and Tbilisi, seem to have this idea that they are not liked in Armenia very much. Basically Temuri just asked.

A professor from the State University:

- Javakhetians don’t have any problems with adapting. They don’t need to prove their intellect. Armenians don’t help each other, in the Diaspora they are opponents. Psycologists need to be at work, there must be special programs.

A female Armenian from USA:

- They often confuse Armenians with Muslims in America. After the events on 9/11 a lot of Armenians got arrested along with Muslims.

Georgi Vanyan:

- After the events on March 1st the Armenian intellectuals was saying the following: It’s not important who started it or why, what’s important is that an Armenian killed an Armenian.

(Something similar happened with us as well, during the civil war, The Patriarch- Catholicos Ilia II threatened that a Georgian who kills a Georgian will be damned, he didn’t mean a Georgian who killed a Kurd would be praised but it sounded bi-thoughtful. And he was reminded of that a long time after it was said.)

A female directing student:

- Foreign influence: soap operas, music, fashion – are very hazardous for us! Generally for Turkish trends, a life sentence is a must.

By the way, she was dressed in Turkish made threads, and her belt had a buckle on which you could see erased letters “SS”.

Female film director:

- We must preserve our spirituality; it must be fed step by step.

The host asked:

- How do you feel about the Blue Mosque that stands downtown Yerevan?

Film Director:

- There are Armenian churches in Iran, so there is no problem.

The same female film director:

- We calm ourselves by saying that this influence (The Blue Mosque on Armenian culture) is an insignificant one, but... Armenian churches in Turkey don’t have crosses on their steeples; therefore we shouldn’t have any mosques.

Hmm. Dear residents of Yerevan my advice to you is this: allow the muezzin from the Blue Mosque to call the Muslims to the prayer, and perhaps the Turks will begin to respect the feelings of God fearing Armenians that reside in Turkey.

A female professor from the state University:

- I view the Mosque as architecture. But there also is a learning facility within the Mosque, and an Armenian woman who married with a Persian is teaching Farsy. That is frightening.

And I think that it’s frightening that a teacher is propagandizing xenophobia and religious impatience.

What is the difference between a normal person and a hooray - patriot? He has no throat of cast iron. One young man opened a conversation about mixed marriages as a way to rise above national prejudice, for example they are more common in Georgia then in Armenia. He wanted to find out the journalist’s opinion, but the host interrupted him by saying: «We will address our guests with questions tomorrow». And there were enough of those kinds of people in the audience. Enough to know, that not everything is as nasty as I wrote here. Meaning not to hyperventilate. And not enough for actually listening to what they have to say.
Good Sirs, and Bad Sirs,
Spill the vodka,
and unload the pistols.

I offer to forget
the hard times,

Come out lined up
and lets dance the minuet.

Timur Shaov


My presence in Yerevan was simultaneous with the arrival of Armen Jigarkhanyan’s theatre on tour from Moscow. Needless to say the question “to go – not to go” was out of place.

The play «Three Sisters» was playing. Alexey Shevchenkov played the role of the Baron, which before this I had only seen in a film. There was a young lady sitting next to me, of an intelligent look, with opera glasses and a program. During the intermission we began talking. She was showing me Yerevan celebrities and was telling me about the actors of that theatre. She spoke Russian very crisp and clear, so I guessed that she might have Russian roots. What do you mean, she said, I am a full-blooded Armenian. I felt like a cosmopolitan of no origin, really what a stupid question. Then she told me that when she was little she used to dream about leaving from Armenia but when she grew up she realized that she couldn’t live without the Armenian culture, music, art, and theatre. We started a conversation about America.

- I like American writers – I said – for example Kurt Vonnegut.

- Kurt Vonnegut is German, - she responded.

- Very well – said I thinking to myself: “What’s the difference?”

The second act started.

No one ordered an interview with Armen Jigarkhanyan for me. I simply watched the “Three Sisters” and fell in love with the Baron… “To Moscow, to Moscow!” Yess, nowadays Moscow is like a different planet for us – unknown, unattainable, and is it really as hostile toward us as they show it on T.V.? I read Russian forums and think to myself: are all of them like this? I don’t believe it! – As Stanislavski used to say. The rhetoric on Georgian forums are even worse, and live people seem ok until you step on their toes.

As I was waiting for Armen Borisovich back stage I was observing his crew.” The “Stone Guest” was playing. Actors from Moscow, in full make up and stage costumes were walking in the corridor, gesticulating, repeating lines from the script… Basically in their minds they were on stage. And the Yerevanian employees of the theatre were looking at them as if everything was happening in a far away village and not in a theatre, and couldn’t help them selves not to point at the “strangely dressed passers by”. They recognized me as “one of their own” and were talkatively winking and expressing unpleasant comments in Russian about them. Without any desire to take part in this doubtful pleasure, I furthered myself toward the ashtray.

Aleksey Shevchenkov recognized me, as the young lady who recently leaped at him screaming with joy, and greeted me. An elderly employee of the theatre brought him coffee. I caught a lost look in his eyes and he exclaimed with confusion: “ I asked for them to make me coffee, and forgot all about it. It’s awkward, I was supposed to get it myself – instead they brought it to me…”

I was unable to take an interview from Armen Jigarkhanyan that evening. He was exhausted and he rescheduled the interview for the next morning.

I was in the hotel hallway at 9:30 am the next morning. It seemed to me that the solid aged woman in the reception was very worried about Armen Borisovich. If it was up to her she probably would have “quartered” me for persistence, but she put a slight upon me any way she could. The actors from his theatre were gathering in the same hallway. Some of them recognized my face and were very friendly in greeting me. I asked one of the actresses how she liked being on tour in Armenia. She answered that she liked it and that they have received a very warm welcome, and the theatre employees are so friendly and willing. I began to be ashamed for them (the theatre employees of course). Then Jigarkhanyan himself made an appearance. He was in a hurry to a T.V. station with his crew and asked to come up to the theatre around noon.

Eventually I got an interview from him on the third try. What is called getting someone by hook or crook.

In reality, because of all these unpleasant experiences that are going on between Russia and Georgia, I am still completely lost, and before that I was stupefied. In Georgia I felt in complete isolation from the rest of the world, this is why I kept asking him questions that I really didn’t intend to ask him. Basically I needed an advice from an older, wiser, descent person, which Armen Jigarkhanyan is, with no contest. But to be exact I wanted to exclaim; “Look! I am ashamed of my country! But you are ashamed of yours as well is it not right? Everyone has gone nuts, in our and your country! How are we supposed to live amidst all that monotony?!”

To keep it short, call a psychiatric institution...

P.S.: Last but not least I’d like to say that I liked it in Yerevan. A special thank you to those, who surrounded me, their sense of humor, and light-mindedness in a good sense of that expression. Had I been with another company who knows how it all would have ended? This way everything ended again on a civil level.

Yulia Adelkhanova
September 2008