Dec 04 2006

The South Caucasus: Museums / Lake Sevan / Taxicab Confessions: Armenia

by in Armenia, Eastern Europe & the Caucasus

Damn, dudes I’m on a roll. This entry includes two – count ‘em, two! – days worth of stuff. This has nothing to do, of course, with the fact that we didn’t do much those past two days in Yerevan!
With only two days left in Yerevan, we were trying to hit as many as the “must see” sites as possible.

Luckily, Yerevan is a rather small city, so the list wasn’t very long. We grabbed a taxi and asked the driver to take us to the Armenian Genocide Museum and Monument. Naturally, he was curious as to where we were from. When I answered California, he replied that had family members in (where else?) Los Angeles…Hollywood, of course. From my short time in Yerevan, I am now convinced that 90 percent of LA’s population is Armenian. He then asked me where my family is from.

“America.”

“Your mother, father, and grandparents?!”

“Uh, America.”

“NO!,” he replied angrily “America is NOT a nation!”

Uh, sorry dude, but some of my ancestors were in the United States before the Revolutionary War. I consider myself to be pretty goddamned American, thankyouverymuch. I didn’t want to use any brain power trying to explain this in Russian, so I just started listing countries that I knew some of my ancestors were from: Ireland, Germany, England, Sweden…typical Euro mutt heritage.

Our driver agreed to wait for us while we looked around the Genocide Museum and Monument. What to say about this museum? Depressing, to say the least, but very educational. I must admit that before visiting Armenia I did not know much about the country’s history, of which the genocide played a large role. You couldn’t help but be moved by reading the multitude of documents on display, or viewing the photos of grinning Turkish troops, proudly displaying their pistols, with the decapitated heads of Armenian men on a platter before them. And the Turks? Well, according to them it wasn’t a genocide. War is a messy business, they say. The Armenians were separatists, backed by the Russians. Sure, some 300,000 Armenians (the number the Turks use – more accurate estimates place the death toll at one million plus) died during the relocation process, but that’s hardly a genocide, right? Denial is official government policy. Those who stray from this policy are ostracized by the media and harassed by Turkish nationalist groups. When a foreign government recognizes the Armenian genocide, the Turkish government behaves like a petulant child and warns of “negative consequences.”

The U.S. government, by the way, does not dare mention the word “genocide.” When the former American ambassador to Armenia mentioned the “g-word” in a speech, he was subsequently recalled to Washington and removed from his position. We wouldn’t want to alienate Turkey, our dear ally, now would we?

Yerevan genocide museum
The pillar and “Temple of Commemoration”

Mount Ararat
A view of Mount Ararat, the national symbol of Armenia, sadly located in present day Turkey.

Yerevan genocide museum
Eternal flame

After the genocide museum, we went to the Matenadaran, a manuscript museum. I know what you’re thinking, “Lindsay, a manuscript museum? How totally boring!” It was actually really cool. If you’re ever in Yerevan, make sure you stop by…and pay the few extra dram for the English-speaking guide. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Mashtots statue
Statue of Mashtots (inventor of the Armenian alphabet) in front of the Matenadaran manuscripts library

The rest of the day was spent attempting to log into my GMail account from an internet café with a ridiculously shitty internet connection, and lounging around an outdoor café eating the Armenian version of a hamburger (not bad, but it ain’t In-N-Out). We had decent Chinese food for dinner, and afterwards piled into everyone’s SUVs to make a run for some morozhenoye

ice cream sundae in Yerevan
Andrew ordered the craziest ice cream concoction the world has ever seen. Seriously, WTF is this?

Our last day in the South Caucasus was rather relaxing, as we opted to spend the day at Lake Sevan. As usual, our driver was stopped by police on the way there and forced to pay a bribe. It wouldn’t be a proper post-communist vacation if you weren’t witness to a bit of corruption every day.

Lake Sevan
Lake Sevan

Lake Sevan
No surf here, either

We were offered fish, lavash, and beer by some hospitable Sevan locals:

Lake Sevan locals

When leaving, a group of Armenians playing volleyball in ridiculous looking speedos asked us where we were from. When I replied that I was from California, they mentioned that they were from “the OC.” Goddammit, people, don’t call Orange County “the OC”!!!!!!

We arrived back in Yerevan and caught a taxi to the U.S. Embassy, where we had earlier planned to meet up with Liz for happy hour at the Marine house. I told him we wanted to go to the American embassy. He responded by pulling out a map and pointing at the offices of the Peace Corps.

“Uh, no, we want to go to the embassy…at 1 American Avenue. This is the Peace Corps office.”

“I know.”

Then WTF are you showing me this map for?

The usual small talk ensued, Where are you from? I have relatives in LA, blah blah blah. And then….AND THEN…he says “Many Armenians love America, but I do not. I hate America.” At first, I thought that perhaps I just wasn’t translating the Russian correctly. Did this guy really just tell me, an American, that he absolutely hated my country? Yes, he did, as he then proceeded to lecture me on his hatred of our foreign policy.

“You bomb Yugoslavia! You bomb Iraq! Why? WHY?!?!”

I just sat there silently, held hostage to this crazy taxi driver’s rants against my own country. Christ, who do you think I am, Donald Rumsfeld? I vote, my dudes never win, I pay my taxes, and the government does with the money as it pleases. Oh, and by the way, great job your former Soviet masters did invading Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan! But I’m not gonna blame ya, dear taxi driver, for the munitions dropped back then or the protesters crushed by T-72 tanks, because I know how to distinguish the policy of a government from the citizens of that country. My eyes glazed over while he continued his rant, and my silence must have bothered him, because he kept shouting at me, “You do not understand! You do not understand!” I just grinned and shrugged, “Whatever, dude” and we stopped conversing. For those of you familiar with Russian, he kept addressing me as “ty” (informal), which irked me for some reason. Dude, I don’t know you, you better be addressing me as “vy” (formal).

At last, the embassy was in sight. I have never been so happy to see the stars and stripes. He asked me if I worked at the embassy.

“Uhhh…no…my friend does. I, uh, work in America.” I do not live in Washington, D.C., the capital of the country you so hate, and where all the bombing decisions are made.

We stumbled into the embassy, where the security guards proceeded to strip us of everything: passports, cameras, memory cards, batteries, flashlights, Advil. Compared to these guys, the TSA is full of a bunch of amateurs.

The embassy itself is an impressive, albeit architecturally bland structure. Think of a typical D.C. federal building with impeccable landscaping. The complex exudes raw, American power. The entire complex was immaculately clean, with its perfectly aligned concrete sidewalks and freshly cut grass. Even the damn parking lot was perfectly laid out with proper “suburban” asphalt and white lines to separate the gleaming SUVs parked side by side. It was almost hard to believe you were in Armenia at that moment.

We headed over to the Marine House, which, as you might suspect, is a home away from home for the U.S. Marines attached to the embassy. You can drink Corona, eat pizza, listen to American music, and play pool and air hockey with the Marines and diplomats. As much as I enjoy immersing myself in the local culture, it’s nice to take the occasional break and enjoy the familiarity of home. We hung out there for awhile before meeting up with some people at a restaurant called “Beirut.” (“Hey, isn’t Beirut getting bombed right now…ha ha!” Yeah, that not-so-politically correct joke got old quick). Anyways, the food there made me sick, which was convenient, considering we were leaving the next day. After nine days in the South Caucuses, we were finally headed home.

(Next up: We leave Yerevan and venture into London for Strongbow during our layover. And then I am forced to leave London and go back to the United States…well, not really forced, per se, but that whole concept of responsibility rears its ugly head.)

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Tags: , , , , , ,

10 Responses to The South Caucasus: Museums / Lake Sevan / Taxicab Confessions: Armenia

  1. From Joyce:

    I have to say, Lindsay, that I’ve loved reading about your trip to the Caucuses! I’m totally ready to fight with the Peace Corps to send me somewhere in the region!

    Posted on December 5, 2006 at 6:04 pm #
  2. From Lindsay:

    Thanks, Joyce. I hope you land a PC assignment in the region…the people are friendly and the food…well, it’s the best part :)
    BTW, heard a rumor that LSE is now sponsoring one year UK visas after you finish your degree?!

    Posted on December 5, 2006 at 10:51 pm #
  3. From Cincysundevil:

    LOL … Great post!! I love the pic of you with the guy whose hand looks like he is groping you. BTW, I looked at those genocide photos … deeply disturbing!

    Posted on December 6, 2006 at 5:40 pm #
  4. From Joyce:

    I’ve heard those rumors, too, but I think they’re for this year’s class of masters students. BOOOOOO!

    Posted on December 6, 2006 at 6:20 pm #
  5. From Lindsay:

    Cincy, he probably was groping me…oh wait, nevermind…that was Egypt. Notice the socks and sandals, though? Totally hot.
    Joyce, well…at least you get to graduate with Monica Lewinsky, eh? LOL

    Posted on December 6, 2006 at 10:55 pm #
  6. From Koen:

    Sorry Lindsay for not agreeing with you.
    Martin Luther King Junior said something like “a good citizen shouldnt respect bad rules”.
    IMHO the only way to NOT be guilty is to NOT pay taxes; then you dont “support the troops”.
    I am from Holland, Amsterdam and we were slavetraders back in the days. It wasnt me.

    Posted on June 21, 2007 at 2:57 am #
  7. From Lindsay:

    As much as I would love to not pay taxes, I prefer not to spend several years in federal prison. Guess I’m guilty then!

    Posted on June 21, 2007 at 8:55 pm #
  8. From Anonymous:

    hiii.. also you ll be welcomed in turkiye… waiting..
    take care
    dedeinan@hotmail.com

    Posted on August 10, 2007 at 8:57 am #
  9. From dede:

    hiii.. also you ll be welcomed in turkiye… waiting..
    take care
    dedeinan@hotmail.com

    Posted on August 10, 2007 at 9:00 am #
  10. From Johnious:

    Aren’t you afraid to lift up your ass from your starred territory? Bow for US citizen, the highest caste.

    Posted on September 2, 2011 at 10:21 am #

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: