Thursday, October 31, 2002

I hope you haven�t had enough police stories, as today I once again log about a police stop here in Artsakh.

I was driving through the center of town here in Martuni and got stopped by one of our Martuni traffic cops.

Though he didn�t use a whistle, he did use a cane to signal me to stop. I stopped and he walked up to my car, introduced himself, like the procedure requires and asked to see my documents.

I presented my documents and as he was �looking them over� he apologized and said I only stopped you because today we have some visiting traffic police from Stepanagert to conduct a �raid� and have to check everyone�s documents to make sure they are in order and I have to make it look like I�m looking at your documents as they are watching me work. He finished and sent me on my way.

A little later I passed the center and our visitors from Stepanagert were still there and since I was driving slow so I could watch to see how they work, I had the privilege to observe a couple of cars that he signaled to stop, but they just kept on driving, ignoring him and not one of the cops did anything about it or seemed to really care.

I guess I�m not the only one that ignores the cops here and gets away with it.
I want to report that Miramx has finally put the trailer to Ararat on its web page. You can watch it at once you are done please click on the "film info" tab and vote for the film (a 5 of course). It is extremely important that we help this film get the highest possible rating.

As an update, on the IMDB site which many of you may have visited and voted on ( the rating for the film has moved up considerably.

Lets keep the pressure on, since the Turks are working as well to bring it down.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

I think winter is closing in on us. Yes my dear readers, it�s that time of year and we are back to talking about the weather.

Today was kind of a nice day to start out with, but at 4 PM, the wind started to kick in and then rain.

Right now it's 10.4c outside, which is not that cold, but I get the feeling by morning, it will be much colder.

I have my electric heater going and have to start to plan the return of my woodstove, as there is ni sign that natural gas is going to make it into our neighborhood this year.

Monday, October 28, 2002

I was in Stepanagert today and for the first time in years it seems, I got stopped by a traffic cop who knew me.

This could not have been a worst time to pick to stop me, as I was in a supper rush and really was not in the mood to see what the cop had to tell me. With that feeling, I just ignored him and kept driving until I got to where I needed to get (which was not that far from where he wanted to stop me).

He walked up to my car and again, me not being in a talkative mood, I rolled down my window and presented my documents.

He didn�t take the documents and asked me why I was being so rude, not to stop and so on. I told him of my rush and my not being in a talkative mood.

He informed me that as of 3 days ago, a decision had been made that all rear-window sun visors and any window tint film, must be removed.

I asked him who came up with that rule and he said he got his orders from his chief who got it from the Minister of Internal Affairs.

I told him that I refused to lower the rear-window sun visor and remove the film from my windows as they protect me and my passengers from UV, which is known to contribute to skin cancer. He said that he knows this too, but he is just carrying out orders.

I sited the law of acceptable level of tint is 30% and my windows are only 20%. He said that is a Russian law that we use to follow, but now even 10% tint is illegal. He said that he had it on his car and was made to remove it.

I told him that you tell your boss that I refuse to comply with such an absurd decision and to have them call me to their office and I will further discuss the reason why and demand that they abolish such a stupid decision.

I guess I really must have been in a bad mood, as I continued to tell him that I will do one better than that and will go and visit the Minister of Internal Affairs myself, as if he is the one calling out this order, then he needs to have his head examined and I�ll be the one to tell him so.

As we spoke, my passenger pointed out a car that drove by with what I would guess had 50%+ black windows and asked the cop what about that car? The cop said that was a KGB car and they are allowed to have dark windows.

The poor cop who by this time was agreeing with everything I was saying just kept telling me that he is just doing his job and if I refuse, I refuse, but don�t talk so rude and take it out on him. He said he would be the messenger and tell his bosses if I want.

I said that he would be doing me a favor to write me a ticket so I would have a paper and a good reason to go visit the Minister, but he refused and said that he had a great deal of respect for me to write me a ticket.

I shook is hand and with rear-window visor raised and blackened widow film securely adhered, I dove off.

I went to pick up a friend who is visiting from America who 10 days ago had come to see me, but I had accidentally transposed a couple of numbers of my cell phone so he could not call me. He had stopped in to the government building and spoken to someone on the President�s staff, asking how he could find me. He was told that yea, there is a guy from California, but he comes and goes to Yerevan all the time and is not here now. Well I guess the President�s office keeps tabs on me, and yes, I was in Armenia at the time. Anyway, President�s office, rest assured, he finally found me and thank you for keeping my cellular phone number (which the President himself has) confidential. I do give you permission in the future to make a phone call to me to tell me that such a prominent Diaspora figure is in town looking for me so that when I tell them that you had the means to contact me, they wont draw such negative conclusions about you. You can also call me when the President needs sound advice and oh yea, when my turn come up to visit with the President since I am on the list, right?

So as I was talking to my guest, I could see from the building we were in that another cop car rolled up, walked up to my car and talked to my passenger. Then they drove off.

When I went to the car, I asked my passenger what had happened? He said the cops came up to the car and made mention of the new decision of lowering the visor and removing the film. He told them that we just got finished talking with another cop about this visor and film deal. They asked who it was and my passenger said that he didn�t know, but pointed to the cop car up the street. They said they would be right back, went to their car and I guess talked to the other cop on their radio and then drove off.

Well I need to add to my very long to-do list a meeting with the Minister of Internal Affairs so we can see who came up with this decision and what their logic is behind it. I wonder if they consulted with the Minister of Health before putting people at a greater risk of contracting skin cancer.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Today was day 2 of wall construction.

My wall that was blown down by the �tornado� has now been cleared by my bulldozer and the new foundation was dug out by my excavator.

This is a big construction job, as the wall is 45 feet long and 12 feet high. The new foundation is deeper, wider and is going to be using up lots of cement and stones.

As the workers were working, my contractor told me that we needed to bring a truck of river rocks for the foundation and the sooner the better as the weather is changing and if it gets too cold we can�t do cement work.

I volunteered to take a crew with our dump truck and my contractor suggested that I gather up the neighborhood kids and go to a nearby abandoned Azeri settlement, where there are tons of river rocks.

My contactor called over his son to gather up the kids and next thing I know, we were on our way.

We found a bombed out house that had a wall made of river rocks and dirt. At first we worked individually to load the rocks into the truck. My contactor�s son suggested that I move the truck closer so we could stand above the wall and not have to lift the rocks up so high to get them into the truck. Another kid suggested that we form a chain so were not getting in each others way and next thing I know the truck was half full and the wall was gone.

It was great to see that these kids (ages 12 to 14) working together and no one was acting like he was the boss. They understood that there was a job to be done and when I got tired, I knew they too had to be tired, but no one complained and just kept on working.

We returned to my house with a truck load of river rocks and you should have seen the smile on the face of my contractor. I could tell that he was as proud of our kids as I was.

All I can say is there really is hope and if these kids represent the next generation (which they do), we will have this country back on its feet one day and it will be strong and prosperous.

Well I have to take a shower and fall asleep (which wont be hard to do). I�m sure I�ll be sore in the morning.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

It seems that in my old age I have become more and more critical and less and less tolerable towards foreign elements that stuff their ideas down my countries throat. The following is a press release that seems to stomp on all my toes at once:

Harvard University
John F. Kennedy School of Government
79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Contact: Doug Gavel, KSG Communications,
617) 495-8290
October 4, 2002

For Immediate Release

Kennedy School of Government Announces Manoukian Public Service Program for Armenia

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- Joseph S. Nye, dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, announced today the creation of a program to educate new leaders for the free and prosperous development of Armenia and the good of her citizens and countrymen around the world. The Manoukian Public Service Program for Armenia is supported by a gift from the Manoukian Foundation in London and will provide funds for three areas of collaboration:

* A degree program titled "Manoukian Public Service Fellowship;"
* An executive program titled "Manoukian Executive Education for Armenia;"
* A partnership between the Manoukian Foundation and the Kennedy School.

Ara�s comment: I just have a real problem with Harvard�s Kennedy School of Government educating our leaders to think the way they feel would create free and prosperous development for Armenia. What if the educators were wrong in their teachings and things got worse as a result? Would their families who live in the US be directly effected? Probably not.

"As Armenia emerges from the Soviet era and works to build a democratic and free market infrastructure, the training and support networks of those who will lead the new society will be tremendously important," said Nye. "We are grateful to the generosity and vision of Mr. Vatche Manoukian and Dr. Armen Sarkissian whose passionate commitment to education and to their homeland has led to this important new program. It will bring to the Kennedy School talented young people who will lead Armenia in the future, and current leaders who can reap immediate benefits for Armenia through their participation in our Executive Education Programs."

Ara�s comment: Is Nye hoping his program will train the new leaders of Armenia? Will Kocharian be one of his students?

The Manoukian Public Service Fellowship has been designed to help build leadership capacity for promising civil servants, government leaders, and/or nonprofit and NGO practitioners to help build a free and democratic society through advanced training and study at the Kennedy School. The fellowship will provide full tuition and cover fees, living expenses, and travel for a student to participate in either the one-year mid-career Master in Public Administration (MPA) program or the two-year Master in Public Policy (MPP) or Master of Public Administration/International Development (MPA/ID) programs. It will be available to current civil servants, government officials, nonprofit practitioners, or non-governmental organization leaders in Armenia, individuals of Armenian descent, or Armenian citizens of the world who early in their careers show promise for such leadership.

The Manoukian Executive Education for Armenia program will provide executive training to current Armenian officials charged with the daunting task of leading Armenia in the new era. In addition to funding participation by Armenians in regularly scheduled executive programs such as Leaders in Development; Managing Political and Economic Reform; The Practice of Trade: Economics, Negotiations and Rules; Global Financial Systems; and Infrastructure in a Market Economy, the Manoukian Foundation will also sponsor a special program in Cambridge, designed in consultation with the Manoukian Foundation and the EURASIA Centre at the University of Cambridge. Curriculum for this session will include both substantive and skill building topics. "Armenia's place in the world, as well as domestic concerns, will be of highest relevance to the design of the curriculum," stated Peter Zimmerman, senior associate dean for Executive Education.

Ara�s comment: So far I have not read one Armenian name (other than the people paying for the program) as far as the people leading this program that is planning on training our present and future leaders. It would be really interesting to know who the educators are and what they know about Armenian human nature and culture?

"The Kennedy School of Government's mission is to train world leaders and to contribute to the solution of global public policy challenges. We are honored to have begun this partnership and look forward to working together to employ educational resources and international bridge building to help the Armenian people into a new era of independence, freedom and prosperity," observed Nye.

Ara�s comment: This last sentence should read something like: �The Kennedy School of Government�s mission is to influence world leaders and create an atmosphere so the US government can control global public policy changes to best serve its interests. We are honored to have created this �partnership� and look forward to an opportunity in making the Armenian people around the world think that by working with us, they are working towards a new era of independence, freedom and prosperity,� said the spider to the fly.


"If a nation is seeking the power it needs outside of itself, then it is consciously preparing for its own defeat and collapse." - Garegin Nzhdeh

"Armenia is on a collision course to self-destruction." - Mama Manoogian
Well I got on line with the bad phone line. So it�s not only the phone line, but also the modems that my provider has. It almost sounds like the first modem in their bank is a fax machine and then the internet modem. I say this as the only way I have been able to get on is to call the internet connection on my cell phone which ties up what sounds like a fax to me and then let my computer call in and bingo, I�m on. I guess I�ll give my provider a call tomorrow and get to the bottom of things.
This log is being posted late as my great internet connection has been disrupted by the weather.

On the 21st of October, from I don�t know where, we suddenly had the worst weather I have ever seen in Martuni.

Was it a tornado? I�m not sure. I�ve never seen winds so strong.

Not just that, but rain and hail came down in such large amounts that the combination of wind and water had the strength to topple over one of the large walls that enclose my front yard.

On my porch, which is on the second floor, water had filled up. I figured the drain hole must be clogged so I took off my pants and went out in my underwear and bare feet to unclog it. The strangest thing, it was raining all around me, but not on me. I reached down to find the drain hole, but could not locate it. The water was really cold, so I went back inside and no sooner than I did that, the rain started to pour down on the water I was standing in. I thought the whole thing to be kind of strange, but didn�t figure out until after talking to some friends that we had been visited by a tornado and then only figured that I must have been at that moment standing in the center of it.

The power was cut for almost 24 hours and there were power lines down in our neighborhood.

After the storm had passed, I went out to check the damage to my house. The only thing besides the wall was a piece of tin from my roof, which my contactor quickly repaired.

The government sent out a surveying team on the 22nd to check damage to our neighborhood and my wall was added to the list. I�m told it should be repaired using money from an emergency fund. I�m glad to hear that such funding is available and if it comes or not, the wall is going to be replaced tomorrow if the weather is good.

So my internet connection is down, due to extra noise in the phone line (this started after the tornado). I called this morning to the phone center and they told me they would take care of it.

By 6 PM the problem was not resolved and when I called, they told me they fixed it. I told them it had not changed and they told me if it is not working, then how am I talking to them on that line? I told them the line works, but the extra noise prevents my internet connection from working. I�ve made a few more calls and there is still noise in the line. What a pain.

At 9 PM I talked to Nona the engineer at ArabTel (that�s what we all call the phone company now), who told me that they checked the line and it was not normal. She said that tomorrow morning they will work on the line and resolve the problem. I sure hope so.

Tonight on the news, the President talked about how all the different government offices are not working well and people are now writing to him as their only hope.

I�m glad he recognizes that there is a problem and I guess he is overwhelmed with so much work that he does not have time to see me. That list I must have been put on must be really long.

None the less, if the problem is that all the different government offices are not working well (which was part of my problem) and he was the president for the last 5 years, this means that he too is not working well since things got to this point.

Sounds to me like Mr. President needs to change his methods of running our country, but the big question is if he is capable of making such changes? I highly doubt it, but I�ll give him the benefit of the doubt and see what changes he is going to make in the next couple of weeks.

I have a prediction to make. There is a change being made in the tax office here in Martuni. The head of that office has been removed and was told he will be transferred to Stepanagert to work in a special department. I predict that the husband of the head of the finance department here in Martuni will be appointed to that post. If my prediction is correct, then I can accurately report on which day and time a bribe was paid to someone working in the President�s office and by who. If my prediction becomes reality, then I can help the President better understand why he had to get on T.V. and announce that his government is not working well.

Monday, October 21, 2002

Tonight I was a guest at a homecoming for a neighbor, who served his time for our country.

The homecoming was held for my neighbor Edo, who went off to serve in the army 2 years ago. His tour of duty and somewhat smooth, all but the last 8 months.

To begin with, I�ll tell you a little about Edo.

Edo was one of the first kids I met in Martuni, as he is neighbors with the family I use to stay with before I built my house.

I always admired Edo for his honesty and his understanding of the meaning of life.

Edo to this day has been the only person that has barrowed money and gave me a date as to when he would repay me and has done so weeks before the date he set for repayment.

Edo�s tour of duty took a bad turn after serving in the army for 1 year and 9 months.

It seems that Edo had a confrontation with a subordinate and out of frustration slapped him.

The subordinate, out of anger, put on an act as if he was badly injured and one thing led to another and Edo had to stand trial for his inappropriate conduct.

In the trial, Edo refused to have anyone defend him and was ready to answer to and serve the time the law found appropriate.

It was speculated that Edo would serve no less that one year, but his honesty and ability to defend himself and discredit the plaintiff, who the judge detected was exaggerating what had happened, gave Edo one year and then reduced the sentence to 6 month.

Edo was satisfied with the sentence, as he understood that when you make a mistake, you face the music and pay the price for what you have done.

Well, 6 months passed and Edo�s scheduled release date passed.

Since Edo�s parents are neighbors, I see them quite often and noticed on many occasions how depressed and concerned they were over Edo. Their biggest concern was that the judge that was suppose to release him had not yet heard his case so he could issue the papers to free Edo from the Shushi jail.

A couple of months passed and during those couple of months, I had asked them what the status was on Edo and is release. It was always the same answer of they seem to be waiting for us to pay them something so they will hear the case, or we just don�t know and don�t know what to do.

I decided that I would talk to the head military judge who I�ve know for many years. He had always told me that if there was anything I need to just ask.

So 10 days ago, I drove to Stepanagert to sign an agreement for my internet connection with our new Arab providers and as I was driving up the main street, I noticed the head military judge on the side of the road, who I waved to and he waved back to me to stop my car.

I stopped and he climbed in and asked if I could drive him up the street.

As we were driving and engaging in the usual small talk and during that conversation, he asked me if there was anything he could do for me. At that moment, I remember Edo and asked him who I need to talk to about seeing what the status was on that case. He asked me which Edo and I said I didn�t know, but let me call and find out. I called on my cell phone to Martuni, found out and he said �yes, that is one of my cases�. He claimed that he was waiting for papers to come to him and thought that he would have them in hand in the next 2 days. He asked me who Edo was to me and I told him. He asked if he should help Edo out and I said only if he found it appropriate to do so. He said not to worry about it, he would take care of it.

A week passed and as I was in Stepanagert, I got a call from a neighbor who had just finished talking to Edo�s mom and in the conversation, she was told that Edo was released and was being held at the military police station. My neighbor told me that it may help to stop by on my way home to see if they would release Edo to me and to bring him if they do.

I stopped in at the military police station and asked about Edo. They called up to the chief of the station, who told them to send me up to see him.

I went up to the chief�s office. I have to admit that I was dressed a little sloppy, as I had come to Stepanagert for some heavy work and was a little grungy looking.

The chief looked at me and asked me in a somewhat rude tone what I wanted?

I told him that I was there to pick-up Edo and to take him to Matruni with me.

In an intimidating manor, he asked me what business I had with Edo.

I explained to him that first and foremost, I was his neighbor. Besides that, I have an organization that deals with social and economic issues. This case deals with both.

He told me that there is no guarantee that Edo will be release to go home, as he still has almost 3 months left to serve in the army.

I told him that Edo was suppose to be released from jail almost 3 months ago and as far as I could see, that time should be applied to his service in the army.

I asked him how long we were to wait until he is released from the military police and was told that his papers had been sent to the Minister of Defense for a signature and decision as to if he was to serve 3 more months in the army.

I pulled out my cell phone to call the Minister of Defense to see if there was going to be a delay and he told me that it was the assistant to the Minister of Defense that was dealing with this case. He gave me a name and phone number to call, but assured me that it really was not necessary to call, as he felt that they would have an answer in the next day or two.

With a firm handshake and the standard comment of me not wanting to waste anymore of this mans time and I will wait a couple of days to see what happens, I found my way back to my car and drove home.

So today while I was in Stepanagert, I got a call from a neighbor to tell me that they had released Edo and to come at 1 PM to the homecoming celebration. I told them that I would be late, as I was not expecting to be done with my work until late.

I got to Martuni around 6:30 PM and went to Edo�s house.

There is nothing more unappetizing than to be late to a party and find the guest drunk and acting stupid.

A special table was set for me inside away from the drunks, where I shared a meal with Edo and his friends.

What a change I saw on Edo�s moms face. She was a completely different person. Happy, cheerful and very, very, very happy to have her son home.

As we were having tea, following the departure of the very drunk guests, Edo�s mom told me that the chief of the military police station called Edo to his office before releasing him.

He asked him who is this Diaspora Armenian who is meddling in is case? Edo told him that I was his neighbor. She went on to say that he told Edo to tell me that everything is fine and there is no need for me to further investigate this case as it is no longer an issue. She then began to cry and thanked me for my help.

In the end, the Minister of Defense signed a document that Edo has served his time in the army, meaning he has fulfilled his duty to Artsakh and will not be made to serve 3 more months in the army.

As I was getting ready to leave, the table was set for the latecomers and I was made to sit and eat a second time. This time Edo�s father joined us.

One of the toasts was to me, which was a thank you for renewing their faith in the system and bringing their son home. He went on to say that if I had not done what I did, they don�t believe that Edo would have come home for many more months. He added that our promising future will come only from people like me and if there were only 10 more people who think and act like I do in Artsakh, most of our problems would be solved and life would be much better.

Friday, October 18, 2002

Yesterday I went to Stepanagert and on the way as I was driving through Aghdam, I noticed 3 men stopped and standing outside their car with one man taking pictures.

I pulled up beside them, rolled down my window and asked them what they were doing? Two of them approached my car as the one with the camera stayed near their car.

I informed them of the law of no picture taking in reclaimed territories and the guy got right up in my face to tell me that he could do anything he wanted to do.

He then asked me who came up with that rule, as he has never heard of it. I said it was a government decision and I�m sure there is a good reason for it, something connected with risks, spying and national security.

He again said that he never heard that rule and I said that you have now and advised him to stop in at the Minister of Foreign Affairs office to ask about it.

I asked him where he was from and he told me he was from Stepanagert and he reclaimed Aghdam (as if that gives him a right to do whatever he wants to).

I asked him where his guest with the camera was from. He refused to answer.

He wanted to continue to argue with me and my contractor who was with me advised him not to challenge me and to get in his car and drive off.

He didn�t seem to like that comment and I could see that this guy who I believe told me his name was Artush was starting to get mad and I figured we had pissed him off enough, so I ended the conversation, drove off slowly and noted his license number (64 US 261).

I got to Stepanagert and went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office to report this incident to the Deputy Foreign Minister, Masis. He was not in and was not due back that day so the guard gave me his cell phone number.

I called Masis and told him what had happened. He noted the license number and said he would take care of it.

I�m not sure what Masis did, but I will give him a call next week to see who the guy with the camera was and if they confiscated his film and checked to see if he had a visa to visit Artsakh (which I bet he didn�t, as he would have stopped in to the MFA and would have known about that rule).

I was thinking that since the government is strapped as far as man power and there really is a need to keep an eye on rule breaking visitors, who potentially could also take sensitive pictures or collect information in areas which could cause a threat to our security, I should sponsor the salaries of a couple of people who can be stationed in Aghdam and Fizuli to monitor visitors who pass through areas that they are not suppose to pass through and report their findings back to me and I�ll pass on that information to the MFA and follow up on what they did about such offenses.

Anyway, it�s time to get some sleep. I have to be up early tomorrow as were working on the tail-end of updating our equipment at the factory and by the end of the month, we should be starting production of tiles.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

The other morning I dropped off Mama Manoogian at the Airport.

The airport experience was different this time and I attribute it to the change in ownership.

First thing I noticed was that one can no longer park on the departure level (except a couple of fancy imported cars from the ministry of Defense). They have the old parking spaces blocked off and even when unloading your luggage, the passangers have to come out on the drivers side as the things blocking the old parking spaces prevent you from opening your door. I guess there are some unloading spaces, but like I said, the ministry of Defense cars were using them for parking.

I unloaded the bags from the car and found a baggage cart, which I wanted to use, but some older guy seemed to be attached to it, so I figured what the heck, I�ll let him load the bags on the cart, which were each exactly 32 kilos. Well I guess the guy had a bad back and he let me do all the heavy work. I left my mom with 1,500 dram for a tip to the guy with the bad back and parked the car.

Parking is now 500 dram (use to be 200 dram) and they now give you a receipt which has a contract written on it that says that the owner of the car is responsible if anything is lost from the car. When it was 200 dram, you were paying that for someone to watch your car and make sure such things didn�t happen. The contact is written in Armenian and English. I guess Russian readers could sue if something happened, but maybe only Americans do such things, thus the English.

I went inside the airport to find my mother and on the way up, I was thinking that I would find the guy with the bad back who pushed in the luggage cart, disputing the tip with her as not being enough. When I found my mom, she reported to me that as she was coming into the terminal with the guy with the bad back and a policeman walked up to the guy with the bad back and told him to get lost and that luggage carts are free of charge.

I left my mom to go take a look around for Raffi�s dad, who I found sitting with his doctor friends having juice and muffins. I told Raffi�s dad that I would call over my mom, who was within eye sight and waving me over for some reason. I went over to find the guy with the bad back talking to her about giving him money, I guess to get his back fixed or something. I asked him in not so nice a way if he had a license to work in the airport and then told him that it would be a good idea to leave us alone or I would call over a policeman to deal with him. He asked if that�s the way it�s going to be? I said yes and he walked off.

We joined Raffi�s dad and his friends until his flight was ready to depart.

We then went through check-in and being that my mom had a 3rd piece of luggage, we had to pay an additional $110 (which we knew about in advance and were prepared to pay for). I had the money ready and when I wanted to offer it to the check-in people, I was told that I have to pay for it in their office and that they don�t take dollars and only drams. I said I don�t have drams and was told in their office in Yerevan that it was $110 and for that reason I brought dollars. If I had known, I would have exchanged the $110 into drams. The woman said that it�s okay, I can exchange it in the airport. I asked if their exchange rate corresponds with the exchange rate in the airport? She said no, the rate in the airport is lower. I asked if that�s the case and since British Air wants $110, then they should exchange the dollars into drams so it will be fair. My mom didn�t want to spoil her great trip with some stupid exchange rate argument story and told me to just pay it. So I asked how much drams $110 will be. She did the calculations and multiplied $110 by 581.92 drams which came out to 64,010 drams. I looked to see how much I had in drams and was short by 12,000 drams. So I went to the exchange, gave him $100 and told him I needed 12,000 in drams and the rest in dollars. His exchange rate was 551 drams to the dollar. So since I didn�t have a calculator, I trusted the exchange guy near check-in 5 and he gave me 12,000 drams and was to give me according to his calculation $78, but asked me if I would take 75 Euros instead and told me that the dollar and the Euro is now the same rate. I believed him and took $3 and 75 Euros. I took the 12,000 drams to the British Air people.

Mom and I finished the check-in process really well I thought and sat and talked as we waited for her flight to be called for boarding.

They called her flight and she started to boarding process and was sent back because her 21 days visa had expired and she was over by 4 days. No big deal, we paid $8 for the 4 days at the Ovir and sent mom on her way.

She told me to tell everyone that this was the first trip to Armenia that she left really well rested and all around happy about her experiences.

I went back to Yerevan and took the time to exchange money and the Euros and calculate my losses.

To begin with, the Euro is worth 10 dram less than the dollar. For that, I lost 750 drams. On top of this the guy shorted me 122 drams as $22 times 551 is 12,122. Then we move over to the British Air exchange rate of 581.92. On Gomidas, which is the place you find the highest rate, the rate that morning was 577. So British Air charged me 4.92 drams more than the highest rate I could find in Yerevan, meaning 541.2 drams. On top of this, I had to exchange $22 of the $110 at a much lower rate, meaning I lost an additional 30.92 drams to the dollar. That�s 680.24 drams. All in all, my total losses due to British Air and the dishonest airport exchange guy came out to 1,985.2 drams.

So I don�t feel so wronged, I�ll subtract the 1,500 I was planning on giving to the guy with the bad back, and had a total loss of 485.2 drams which is 84 cents when calculated with the real exchange rate. Such a loss is still big here in Armenia, but I guess I'll get over it as soon as I fly the next time and exercise my right as a passenger and use all the little soaps and toilet supplies from all their bathrooms on the plane within the first hour of flight so they have to refill them a few times. In fact I'll do it in both directions to be sure they understand that they should not trick people, especially me. As for the dishonest exchange guy, I wish that all his teeth fall out, all but one and for that one, may he have a tooth ache that keeps him up at night.

So what lesson can the inexperienced traveler learn from this?

1. Luggage carts in the airport are free.
2. Don�t exchange money with the guy near check-in number 5 and if you have to, count how much he gives you.
3. Euros are not yet worth the same as dollars, but I bet they will be worth more one day.
4. When British Air tells you dollars, have drams ready in that amount that you exchange in the city and increase it by 5 drams, as their exchange rate is higher. In fact, to get the best rate, go to their office in Yerevan and exchange your money there.
5. Don�t go to the airport on days that the minister of defense people are sending off someone as there will be no luggage drop-off area and room for your poor passengers to get out of the car on their side. This also means that you could end up with a ding on your car door if they try to open their door.
6. Make sure you lock your car and leave no valuables in it, as your 500 drams are paid for rent on the space your car is using and not for security.
7. Don�t worry about getting your visa extended, as the Ovir people at the airport are really nice and move you right through (I think this is because the guy that stamps your document is a Manoogian and us Manoogians don�t like to waste time).

My return to Martuni was really smooth, though the weather was very foggy from Goris to Stepanagert. None the less, I made Stepanagert in less than 5 hours, which is considered good time in good weather. I guess my car is good for taking those hills at a normal speed.

I got a call from Mama Manoogian the next morning, telling me that she got back to the states safe.

I see that comments are back. This should be interesting.

Sunday, October 13, 2002


Friday, 11 September 2002

Before we go to Vitalic�s (Ara�s contractor), where preparations for Vova�s (Vitalic�s son) wedding are taking place, a lot of time is spent washing Ara�s car, which will be the limo for the bride and groom. We drive down there and park the car inside. This vehicle has gotten quite a reputation. One of the little kids, barely 3, asks if it is his Mercedes and can it get out of the mud.

Laura (Vitalic�s wife) and her neighbors are working on food preparation. Kids are running around excitedly with no particular purpose. They are taking it all in, and who knows, planning for their own special day in the future.

Laura�s mother has come from the village of Jardar. She is a woman of ageless beauty, with a lined face, who has clearly seen much in her life.

We share a meal. I sit at the men�s table and join them in their toasts. The conversation is always about how hard life is, how people wouldn�t leave if the economy were better, how corrupt the government is. Always there is a toast to Ara, his brothers, father, and mother, etc.

When we leave for home, we are reminded that we should show up in the morning at 9 am, as we will go to fetch the bride.

Saturday, 12 October 2002

Who could imagine a day like today? I have read about wedding traditions in Armenian Village Life before 1915. But that I could expect to experience it in 2002 makes me appreciate this separate reality even more. With one foot in the future and the other in the past, I conclude that I prefer the latter. Here is what I mean.

In the morning, we walk down to Vitalic�s house, where the last of the wedding preparations are in full swing. Everyone is busy�preparing the backdrop for the head table (a carpet on which strips of cotton batting are shaped into the phrase Asdtso Shnorhavorutyune Dzez.). In the adjacent yard, huge kettles of boiling water, with chickens and fish cooking. Tables are being set with the best dishes, and bottles of vodka, wine, water, and soda.

Meanwhile, the Mercedes is being decorated with ribbons, balloons, flowers, and topped with the bride and groom figurines. Vova, the groom, the kavor and kavorakin, will ride in that car. Around 11, we set out for the village of Bertashen to fetch the bride. A caravan of cars sets out, preceded by the SUV that carries the videographer. With much honking of horns, it moves slowly to avoid the potholes and keep the balloons from flying off.

Bertashen is about 20 km from Martuni. The road is winding and tortuous, like the ones in our folktales, when the young man sets out in search of the perfect life. When we reach the village, everyone is out, young and old, watching the caravan pass by. They have smiles on their faces. The kids squeal with delight.

Approaching the bride�s house, we are greeted with dhol, accordion, and clarinet. We follow the ensemble into the house, where she is waiting to be dressed. Her name is Lilith�she is lovely, with little white flowers in her hair, and a look of anticipation and nostalgia on her face.

When she is dressed, the bridegroom brings her out, and with all the guests as witnesses, she says her last farewell to her father, as he places her hand into the hand of her husband-to-be. Toasts are offered and then we go to the nearby hall, where a wedding feast takes place, with lots of food, drink, music, dancing, and general merriment. This lasts until the late afternoon.

Then we all get in our cars and head to the top of the mountain in Bertashen where a monument, museum and chapel are found. The bride and groom enter the small chapel and light candles, and then go toward the monument for picture taking.

We now leave Bertashen for Martuni. We stop at the city hall, where the newlyweds sign the register and receive their certificate of marriage, and take pictures in front of Avo�s statue. Then on to Vitalic�s house to continue the festivities. Celebrate we do, with more food, drink, music, and dancing until the wee hours. Among the many toasts, one is drunk to Ara and me, his blessed mother who has come from so far away to bring help to the people of Martuni.

I am called upon to say a few words from the heart. I congratulate the newlyweds, giving them the good wishes of friends and family in Diaspora, and wishing that they may grow old on the same pillow.

How fortunate could one person be? To witness the past, the present, and look to the future in one beautiful Artsakh day.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Mama Manoogian is still at the wedding. What wedding you ask? My neighbor/contractor�s son got married today and my headache got to be too much for to me stay any longer, so I came home to take an Advil and a break. Mama Manoogian said that she would write about the wedding today, so I�ll write about something else.

For the last couple of days, all I could think about is my citizenship issue. Yes, I�m back to making my phone calls to resolve this issue once and for all, but feel like taking the politically correct and polite route is getting me no place.

I called the President�s office a couple of weeks ago to set up a meeting with him, to find out that he was out of town. Then when he got back in town, my mother came for a visit and I was too busy to call them again.

On Monday I called to set an appointment and was told that my name is on the list, the President knows I want to meet with him and they will call me to let me know when. I asked could they give me an idea as to when and was told �no, we will call you when it will be, but you are on the list�. I was told that if I wanted a better idea, to call the President�s assistant Ararat Danelyan (who is also the President�s childhood friend). I called and was put on hold. Armene, his secretary came back on and told me that Danelyan was just going to see the President and that he can�t talk right now. I asked her if she could call me back today with some news of when I will be meeting with the President. She agreed, but from that day forward, I have received no phone call.

Since then, I�ve been thinking of ways to at very least get a meeting with the President. I know and have witnessed that the President will give a visiting journalist an interview the same day. Also he is more than willing to see Diaspora Armenians who are visiting and potentially may give money. As for the local population goes, I�ve been told by many people that he does not meet with that category of people.

I guess one of the things that is bothering me so much since my last call to the President�s office is that they told me �he knows you want to meet with him�� I guess I would think that if he knows I want to meet with him and in the years that I�ve lived here and never asked to meet with him, he should know that what I have to meet with him about must be important.

One other thing I will add here is that the Presidents of Armenian and NKR and their respective governments know more about me than you the readers do and for Goukasyan to know what he knows about me and not to make it a point to set time aside to see me, well looks kind of rude and disrespectful to my families. Am I insulted by his actions? Well not yet and I guess I�m a little understanding with all things considered.

So were now moving on to plan D, which is to give him just one more chance to meet with me and he blows that chance, then watch out. At that point I will be insulted and when I get insulted, I make sure that he who insulted me knows it and not in such a nice way.

Friday, October 11, 2002

Wow!!!! I saw Ararat again last night, this time in its original English. Again, it was just amazing. Although I never re-watch movies so soon after I have seen them, this was well worth it since the first time the dubbing caused me to miss a couple of minor things and it was still a many layered movie. Aside from the difficult to watch scenes of the genocide, the pre-genocide shots of the markets and streets of Van, with Western Armenian being spoken everywhere, and even just seeing Armenian on "the big screen" in general was fantastic. Now that I have seen Egoyan tackle a subject so close to my heart, I can truly appreciate his incredible talent. In a million years I could never have written a script half as good as this one. Alright, I will stop raving for now, but you MUST see it as soon as it is released near you, and you MUST take your friends, Armenian or not as well. Last nights showing was the only one I think they played in English, and the turnout was massive. The place was sold out, and the entire expat community showed up. Americans, French, German, Italian, you name it. Anyway, I am still waiting to see a proper "Forty Days of Musa Dagh" made...

Aside from this I would just like to say that my internet situation is still horrible and I just don't know when it will get better. There is a clear need for government intervention, which does not seem like it will ever come. The Greeks have 10 more years of monopoly to abuse us with.
Wow!!!! If your wondering what I'm wowing about, read this (this means click here).

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Just to give our readers another perspective of life here, I asked Mama Manoogian to write some of her impressions of her visit to share with you. She agreed and wrote the following:

Mama Manoogian reporting from Yerevan and Martuni, where I have been for nearly a month. It has been a very interesting and productive sojourn from California to Armenia and Artsakh.

There have been memorable moments difficult to capture in words. First, the many friends who traveled on the same flight(s) from Los Armenios to London and via Tbilisi to Yerevan�sharing a long, arduous trip, but well worth the anticipation of reconnecting with family and friends. Welcome sights and sounds of the homeland everywhere. I finally feel familiar enough with Yerevan so that I can now give others directions on how to get from one place to another.

Being an avid reader of the on-line journal keeps me in touch with what is going on, and spending time with the loggers was a joyful occasion, not to mention meeting Raffi�s dad, Dr. Kojian for the first time, even though we are from the same neck of the woods. How wonderful it was to see the enthusiasm and energy our young people have brought with them from the four corners of the earth to Mother Armenia. Vardzkernit katar!

And then there was the trip to Artsakh with Ara and a long-time friend from New York. No matter the weather or the time of day, the beauty of the mountains, the valleys and the countryside always takes my breath away. Life here in this isolated place transports me to the edge of time, into a separate reality, and yet into a welcoming home away from home. When I see the people here, they could well be my neighbors and friends anywhere. Their interests, dreams, and aspirations are like my own. We are members of one family, the Armenian family. And I wouldn�t exchange that for anything.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

I really don�t have time to log right this second as I have to get some sleep so I can tour around some guest I have that just showed up at my door a couple of hours ago.

I just wanted to answer the question that Raffi from the Diaspora Log asked of what picture I made mention of that said that I think we are all in big trouble.

I had taken a picture of my latest construction project on my house, which is the new building I am adding behind my swimming pool which is a 3 story (2 under ground and one above) supper huge game room. The lowest floor is squash court, which in itself is 2 stories high. The trouble I was referring to was the fact that when everyone in the Diaspora sees the way I am living here, they are all going to want to move here, repopulate Artsakh and really mess up the economy in the west. Raffi thought that it would be better if we kept our lavish lifestyle here a well guarded secret. Oops� I guess I let the gadoo out of the bag.

Sunday, October 06, 2002

After a couple of days of rain, the sun finally reappeared.

Due to work, I�ve been going to Stepanagert almost every day and though the ride is long, my Mercedes has made the ride much more enjoyable.

As Raffi mentioned in his log about him not being able to picture me driving a Mercedes in Artsakh, even I�m having problems getting use to it. I say this as my car does not really match my personality. This is a car that people here connect to power, mafia and corruption.

I�ve been told that my Mercedes brings back memories of some very nasty people of our past and a time when people were living in fear. I wont get into the history of my car and its former owner, but will say it was once owned and driven by one of those people that many feared and showed a great deal of �respect� for at the same time.

One thing that is apparent, people stop and look to see who is sitting behind the blackened windows of my car. I even had one guy in a car coming in the opposite direction of me, bring his car to a total stop in the middle of an intersection to look long and hard to see who was behind the wheel. I�m not sure if the look on his face was one of seeing who is driving his friends car or if he was looking to see if it was the former owner himself, who maybe he had a need to interact with.

I�m sure when people see my car, they remember the former Prime Minister Leonard Pedrosyan�s �$170,000� Mercedes 600SEL and assume this is one of those $100,000+ cars. Little do they know (though word is spreading) that this car cost me half the price of what a new Russian made Fiat costs.

One other observation. My Mercedes is the only one of its kind on the streets of Artsakh these days. It seems that even the President no longer drives around in his Mercedes. Maybe it uses too much gas or send out the wrong message.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

I sent off Lena and Carlos this morning after a 2 days visit to my house. Though I was very busy and didn�t tour them around during the day, at night we had a blast eating, DRINKING and talking. I wont get into details of their trip and will let Lena fill you in on what they did.

My mom is scheduled to come to Artsakh for a visit in the next couple of days and since I resolved my transportation problems, I will go and pick her up from Yerevan.

After my last long of the sad story of my car and it�s retirement, I learned the next morning that my neighbor who is a commander at one of the military bases here in Martuni had sent in his Mercedes Benz automobile in for service to Stepanagert as I had made mention to him a couple of months ago that I was interested in purchasing it. He sent the car in for service the same day that I got the bad news about my car without knowing that I was in desperate need of a car ASAP.

So the car came back from Stepanagert on Saturday night at the same time when Lena called me to tell me that she and Carlos had arrived in Stepanagert. It was dinnertime so I told them to wait an hour and I would join them and took the Benz out for a nice long drive.

I have to tell you that for the last 4 years I have been driving around older Soviet made cars and really had forgotten how nice it is to drive a car that has comfort. I was in heaven and for the first time in a long time and really enjoyed the drive to Stepanagert (the old Benz does a great job of hiding potholes).

So back to my car and my winning the car lottery (as one of my neighbors put it).

My car is a 1988 Mercedes 500SEL, has leather everything, automatic transmission, moon-roof, new tires, nice ride and I don�t know what else your suppose to say to describe a car but I think you get the idea.

The one problem my car had was that 6 months ago it was sent to Yerevan to have some major work done on it and while it was there, the passport for the car was stolen. My neighbor who sold me the car did not report the loss until last week and the process is that you have to wait for 3 months so the report can be investigated and then they issue a new passport for the car. So being in that condition, my driving was restricted to Artsakh, as I know all the traffic cops and even if I was driving a stolen car, they would not stop me, but in Yerevan, I�m sure I would get dry mouth from talking my way out of getting my car impounded and though it is fun to do that, it can at times be not so fun.

So I was ready to wait for 3 month, but on Monday I decided to call the chief of all the traffic police in Artsakh who is originally from Martuni and years back made it a point to meet me and then told me that if there was anything I needed, to call. So on Monday I called and he told me to come in after 3 PM and talk to the people who take care of licensing to see if they could at least give me a temporary document so I could pay the yearly registration and drive to Yerevan to pick up my mom.

I called the commander and told him what I was up to and he told me to go see some guy named Gourgen as he is the one investigating the lost passport.

At 4 PM I dropped in to see Gourgen. I told him that I spoke with the chief and he asked me in a somewhat defensive tone �what does he have to do with this!!?� I told him that he really didn�t have anything to do with this and I just called him to ask what the process was since I know him and he referred me to see Gourgen.

Gourgen changed his tone and after giving him my family history and what I was doing here (I�m in the stone business), he told me to go see our chief of traffic police in Martuni to pay the registration, get a letter of some kind and then come see him and he will give me the temporary document I need to go to Yerevan.

This morning after sending off Lena and Carlos and sleeping for a couple hours, I went to see our chief of police and found out that he had gone to Stepanagert for some meeting. I called Gourgen and he told me not to worry, that our chief would be back soon and he has talked to him about what he needs to do. He said that he would wait for me and not to worry, that we would finish this process today so I could go to Yerevan in the morning.

I went to my factory to work with our engineer, welder and workers who are automating our equipment so we can increase our output by 500%. At the same time as they worked, I installed an alarm on my new car, one that I had purchased a couple of years back for my Fiat, but never go around to installing it.

I finished the installation and then drove to the police station to find that the chief of traffic police had not yet come back. I asked when he is due in and they said they had talked to him a couple of hours before and he should have been back already. I asked them to radio to him to see where he was. They did and he was out of radio range so they radioed Stepanagert who found him and learned that he was still in Stepanagert. The policeman that was relaying the information told me that it would have to wait until tomorrow.

I called Gourgen again, who I told that our chief was still in Stepanagert and asked him if we could do all the papers there? He agreed and told me to come right away.

In the meantime, the commander was suppose to get me his passport so we could write a request for Gourgen to do all the papers, but he had gone off to a meeting in Hadrut this morning and left his cell phone with his wife as their son was sick. So by the time I was able to contact the commander on his cell phone, I found he had taken his son to the hospital in Stepanagert and told me he would personally go see Gourgen to write the request before 5:30 PM.

I got to Stepanagert and on the way in, stopped at one of the police checkpoints to have them radio our chief of traffic police to come join Gourgen and I to do the papers. He instructed me to go see Gourgen and if he was needed to call him.

I went up to see Gourgen who is not part of the traffic police, but works with the ministry of internal affairs and deals with drivers licenses and license plates. He also has the same rank as the head of all traffic police in Artsakh and I guess that explains why he was defensive about me seeing the other chief since he does not answer to him.

Gourgen and I talked a bit about my work (the stone business) as he had his workers write a request from me of some kind and do some other paperwork. He said that we have to change the license plates and write some other request and so on. I really was not understanding what all the papers were since most of them were in Russian.

Then he had his assistant leave the room and close the door. He told me that it was late and to save me time so I didn�t have to go to the bank tomorrow, I could pay for all the registration fees to him and he would send someone to the bank tomorrow to deposit the money. I told him that I�m happy to hear he could do that for me as I really wont have time tomorrow. He asked me what size my engine is and I didn�t know what to answer. He determined that the engine was 125 horse power and for that I would have to pay 50,000 dram, but since it is an old car and 50,000 dram is just too much money, he will cut it in half. The license plates are 12,000 dram, the registration was something like 6,000 dram and the new passport is 12,000 dram, but he is going to give me 50% off on that too, just because he likes me. Then he called in some other guy who I think was suppose to check the car over to see if it was in safe driving condition or something and his fee was 28,000 dram. So in all, I paid $100 (which was 56,000) plus whatever the balance was in drams and the additional 28,000 dram to that other guy.

So I paid out everything and Gourgen asked me what license numbers I would like, as he had boxes full of them. I said I�m not a child and good looking numbers don�t mean anything to me so whatever he thinks would suit my car will be fine with me. He went to the back room and I could hear the sound of him shuffling tin and then Gourgen came out with my new license plates, which I wont tell you the number, but are so typical of what these mafia people always put on their cars. Lots of zeros and so on. I bet these are those special plates that all the traffic cops are instructed not to stop because the drive is some friend of someone important.

Gourgen sent me out to take off the old license plates of my car and put on his new chosen plates. I went out and barrowed some tools from the guy that was suppose to check my car that I paid 28,000 dram to (maybe the 28k was for rental of tools?). I put on the license plates and went back to Gourgen�s office. Gourgen then called down to the Stepanagert traffic police to have them write me up a 2002 sticker for my car. They said something and he said something like �I don�t care of you need a report from Martuni, write it anyway!!!�.

One of Gourgen�s assistance walks in to the office, had me sign some paper which was written in Russian and then hands Gourgen a passport. Gourgen signs and stamps it in 3 places and hands it to me and congratulates me on being the new registered owner of a new car. I asked him about the waiting for 3 months and so on and he said �why should we wait for 3 months, the people at the top told me to help you out and get this done quick.�

I told Gourgen that after I get my citizenship I�m going to need to apply for a drivers license and asked him if the test was in Russian or Armenian? He said for me it can be in any language I wanted. He said to get my citizenship first and he will take care of my Armenian drivers license. I think he made some mention of how I could turn in my California drivers license and he would issue me an Armenian one in its place.

Gourgen then had me follow him down to the Stepanagert police station, where they had ready my 2002 sticker. Gourgen added my new license plate number which he had memorized, handed me the sticker and sent me on my way.

With me was someone from Martuni who said you know they have a saying here that for very few people, �problem chee ga� (meaning �there are no problems�) and for the majority of the people �variant chee ga� (meaning �there is no chance�). So I guess I�m part of the few people today.

Not to drag out this log, but some of you are asking what did that 500SEL set Ara back. Well to answer that question, I went to visit Vartkes and Alice Anivian, who are from San Fransisco and own the milk factory in Stepanagert. I showed Alice my car and asked her how much she thinks I paid. She looked it over a bit and I asked her again. She said hang on, I�m not done. Looking it over and over and over and then saying that she would guess I paid $10,000 for it. I told her that maybe $10,000 was a fair price but I only paid 20% of that and of that 20% I paid half of it now and the other half is due next month.

Life here no longer seems to be like a roller coaster ride and is more like balloon ride with unlimited helium. If you haven�t figured it out, I�m really having fun now.

Well I have to get going, I have bed sheets to wash and the house to clean up a bit before leaving for Yerevan to get mom.