BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
Come along. I’d like to take you with me to a few places I visited over the weekend to give you a feel for how simple and enjoyable life is in Armenia.
On the morning of Saturday, September 23, a friend called and said there was going to be a reunion in Yerevan for the class of 1957 of the high school we attended in Tehran, but she was not sure about the details.
Although 1957 was not the year I graduated, I wanted to be there to see people that I may know. She said she would find out more details about the event and let me know.
Later that morning, as I stepped out of my apartment to head to Yerevan’s flea market called Vernisage, I ran into Jassick, right in my courtyard. She was the woman in charge of planning the class reunion. She was coming home from grocery shopping.
This serendipitous encounter with Jassick helped confirm the details of the reunion and I was added to the guest list. (Yes, this is how things happen in Yerevan. Like during olden days when there was no technology)
Now with the reunion details confirmed, I was back on my way to Vernisage. Towards the middle of September in Yerevan the heat begins to disappear and the weather becomes very pleasant and crisp. I decided instead of taking a taxi I would rather walk ten-minutes to the underground station and take the metro to Vernisage. The metro in Yerevan is very convenient, not crowded, and costs only 100 dram, which equivalent to about 25 cents.
I arrived at Vernisage before noon as people were strolling leisurely among the aisles. I wanted to buy a few last minute gifts and was able to finish my shopping in less than an hour. As I started to head back, I noticed the man from Ecuador who plays South American music, was getting ready to start his entertainment.
He’s from Ecuador, but his music may be from Peru, and he’s wearing a Native American Indian headdress and attire. Despite this hodgepodge of styles, I like his music and it’s a great addition to Vernisage, though it sounds quaint.
I took the metro back home and as I exited the station, I saw a mother and her three kids walking on the sidewalk on Isahakyan street. The kids had school uniforms on, but since it was Saturday, I wondered why they were wearing uniforms.
I asked the mother and she said since the school was off on Thursday for the Independence Day they compensated the lost day on Saturday. “That’s the way it is in Armenia,” she said. I had never heard about that, but thought it was clever.
In Yerevan, I’m always fascinated with the sight of kids neatly dressed and groomed on their way to school. My heart begins to race when I see them walking to school with their crisp ironed uniforms and the girls’ perfectly combed hair held back with fancy barrettes. I asked the mother of the three kids if I could take a picture of her children and she agreed with a warm smile.
I had to rush home now to get ready to attend the dedication of a Memorial Park in a village called Nor-Kharpert where a monument to the Armenian Genocide stands.
During the Armenian Genocide, some families fled from the village of Kharpert in Turkey and settled in an area close to Yerevan. They named that village Nor-Kharpert or New-Kharpert.
As our beloved William Saroyan wrote, “For when two of them (Armenians) meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” And that’s what they did. They began a new life in New-Kharpert.
I had asked my friend Dzovik to join me at Nor-Kharpert, which is about a half hour car ride from the center of Yerevan. We took a taxi there and when we arrived, there was already a big crowd. In a short while, the Mayor of Nor-Kharpert arrived and they had a ribbon cutting ceremony.
In 1964, the Nor-Kharpert community decided to build a memorial monument commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Since the authorities of the Soviet Union never officially acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, the memorial was financed solely by the community members of Nor-Kharpert. It was completed in 1965 and became the first ever genocide memorial in Armenia, but never received an official dedication.
My friend Mary Najarian, whose family members were survivors from Kharpert in historical Armenia, invited me to the memorial’s re-dedication ceremony. She had organized for the monument and surrounding area to be refurbished and revitalized, which took a whole year. They resurfaced the floors, improved the landscaping, and fenced the area.
In attendance, beside, Mary Najarian, her husband Doctor Vartkess Najarian, their son Ara Najarian, City Council Member and former Mayor of Glendale, California, were the officials of the village, the clergy, the schools kids and their parents— about 200 people.
After the ribbon cutting ceremony, we proceeded to the monument where they placed a flower wreath at the foot of it. I liked the modernist look of the monument, which was built with black and reddish tufa stone. It was designed to give an impression of a ruin.
The master of ceremony was Susanna Shahinyan who is one the most popular faces on Armenian TV. For forty years Susanna has conducted a program called Music Mailbox.
Shahinyan eloquently introduced the Najarian family and acknowledged their nearly $50 million in philanthropic contributions to Armenia over the course of many years.
There were several expressions of gratitude from different officials to the Najarian family as well as declarations of poetry and a few dance and song numbers by school kids. The experience was uplifting.
Many people, from diaspora, contribute in different ways to refurbish Armenian villages. Any such effort is a noble act. I was glad to witness this one.
As the ceremony was over, we took another taxi to head home and get ready to attend our high school reunion at Yerevan Pandok, the restaurant where the event was held. About 50 people had come from all over the world—mainly from United States, Europe, and Iran.
You would say bringing that many people together from all over the world for a reunion might be a feat, but it was not that big of a deal comparing to a month before when Armenian Relief Society had organized a banquet of 500 people coming from all over the world to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the formation of an ARS chapter in Armenia.
The following day, Sunday, September 24, was the commemoration of the Heroic Battle of the Musaler, where Armenians had fought and resisted against the Turkish soldiers for almost two months and finally had been rescued by French Battleships.
Every year, in memory of that heroic act, harissa (a kind of porridge) is prepared outdoors in huge pots and served to visitors. I was planning on attending this event like in years past, but decided to pass and instead take my granddaughter to a puppet show at a charming little theatre on Mashtots avenue, about 100 yards away from my home.
In Yerevan, there are two puppet show theaters. One is the Yerevan State Puppet Theatre, established in 1936 on Sayat Nova Avenue, and the other is smaller. We visited the smaller one on that day.
The name of the play was “The True Friend.” It had an excellent message: Sometimes you don’t realize that your best friend is the one next to you and you go searching for other friends. It was such a delightful show with a moral compass.
After the play, I was going to meet my two best friends, Dzovik and Maggie, whom I’ve known them since middle school in Tehran. The play was a good reminder for me to appreciate our old friendship. It made me realize the importance of cherishing what I have.
Dzovik lives in Tehran, Maggie lives in Washington DC, and I live in California. We often meet in Yerevan and enjoy each other’s company.
That day all three of us went for a late lunch to Melody café where we usually meet, and have our regular dish—Chicken Schnitzel for only 4 dollars. Life is so delightful and simple in Yerevan.