Bishkek: back in USSR! Waiting for news from Armenia

I avoided flying Aeroflot since 2001 – having had an unforgettably horrible experience of this giant Russan air-company. This year, however, Aeroflot seems to follow me – had to fly to London via Aeroflot this March – with most horrendous experiences of being stuck in Sheremetevo 2 airpot for 18 hours on the way back, with no reasonable explanations. This flight to Blogger Meatup – Barcamp Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan via Airflot again was so bad, that at some point I gave up making a frustrated face and started having a hell of a lot of fun, especially as my collegues, Reporter_Arm and F5Admin were equally frustrated and full of sarcasm.

Airflot deserves a separate entry, so I’ll stop right here, and tell about Bishkek – well, it fells like back in Soviets. One understands just how progressive Armenia is today. Russian is the second state language, Russian mobile operator Megaphone greets you with an SMS welcoming you to the Russian network, not bother to let you know that you’re actually in Kyrgizstan.

The situation is tense – horror stories start from the airport – with a startled competition between private and ‘service’ taxies. The private ones are dangerous for tourists, local friends who came to see us inform us. Don’t walk in the streets after 10 PM, they warn just in case – might be dangerous.

Well, it’s dangerous in daytime too – police are fierce, corrupt and lack sense of humor. Reporter_Arm and myself were stopped when crossing the central square – a fluffy lady in the police uniform smiled a cunning smile when Reporter_Arm said he left his passport in the hotel. The other lady in uniform had a harpy smile too – too bad they didn’t notice our excitement with this sudden happiness of meeting corrupt police and having the opportunity to do the blog-post of all times about them :) Our bold behavior was clearly unexpected – the uniform ladies dangled around in disbelief, seeing that none of us thinks about attempting to bribe them despite obvious signals. The boss – a young officer-surgent of perhaps 12-13 years of age approached with a stern face and put his hand forward for a wet handshake. Spitting across the shoulder, the surgent-boy invited us into a toilet sized box – the police checkpoint on the square under trees, walking with wide open steps, as if something was stuck in his ass.

He looked at my passport with a bunch of visas for what seemed like a century, asking why are we here, what is a barcamp, what type of a conference it is and what are we up to here in Kyrgyzstan, walking without passports with our our Armenian faces. We are from brotherly-soviet-republic we insisted, we have not been bold or mocking with the lady-police, and Reporter_Arm will take his passport along as soon as we get to our hotel, yes Sir! we said. And just in case it didn’t go down with him well enough, that we’re not going to give him any bribes no matter what, I showed him my press-pass and said I’m ready to take a photo or interview him. Reporter_Arm let him know, that he’s from Internews, a journalist. The narrow eyes of the police-boy and the uniform-ladies narrowed down to dangerous sizes – the victims were slipping away! “You guys should give tourists some notes in the airport, stating that they must carry passports at all times”, I advised them with a knowing face – then you’ll have no problem taking them to jail for the violation. We turned our backs to the ‘tourist friendly’ Kyrgiz law-enforcement and half-walked, half-ran away. That’s a way to encourage tourism in a country – we thought. Horrible we thought. Oh how we love Armenia we thought…

…meanwhile in Armenia a major opposition event is scheduled today -still no news on A1plus, and we’re really worried.

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16 thoughts on “Bishkek: back in USSR! Waiting for news from Armenia

  1. What a story. I have always said it takes a trip abroad to realize there are some things here in Armenia that are better than elsewhere.

  2. V – it really was some experience! I’ll have a little more on Bishkek, the Barcamp that I took part in and Airflot, the Russian air-carries soon.

  3. Objectivity and sober-minded comparison are, of course, useful. However, comparison for the sake of objectivity should also be made with the countries of the former socialist bloc that are better off than Armenia. Ethnocentrism is an unproductive notion even if it’s based on patriotism.

    My friend’s girlfriend is an American and they recently travelled to Yerevan. It all has started in the consulate in LA, where they lost her passport, then found it at the time when her departure date had passed, then cynically responded that normally it takes several days to process the visa, but for her they’d do it faster. On their way to Yerevan, they stopped in Amsterdam, and she was amazed at how people were bumping and banging each other in the queue at the terminal. While in Yerevan, she never stopped asking as to why people were staring sheep-like at her, dressed in uniformly black clothes, unshaved, unwashed, spitting all over the place. Stopping at virtually every gloomily-looking policeman on the streets of Yerevan and outside the capital for bribe-giving also never stopped amusing her.

    I think we’d better first look at ourselves, our attitude towards fellow Armenians, and our behavior inside and outside the country, before judging others.

  4. Sevag – I appreciate your comment. My blog is well known for never-ending criticism of various problems in the Armenian society. This was one of the rare posts where I was feeling good about being Armenian – and here you are – pulling me down :)

  5. I cannot help but to say few things on sevag’s post. To me it sounds more like she went through a cultural shock rather than she identified problems in our society. Look, American girls like to walk around in flip flops with mile long hair on their legs. American guys like to go parks and play football while topless. Both of this things was just stupefying for me when I first moved to this country. I was told by an American that the best drink in the world is coke. Hows that for being cheap? Anyway. Does this mean that these people are uncivilized people or that they just like to do these things as part of their culture? By the way, I don’t mean all American girls or guys are like that but many are, especially in the less urban parts of the country (which is essentially 99% of the country). At any rate, some of the things you mentioned in your post have to do with the way of life not corruption or being uncivilized or what have you. I find it extremely rude when people don’t say hello to each other but in America it is a commonly practiced activity. But I nor anybody else should conclude that Americans are uncivilized because of these things. That is their culture.

    Observer’s situation is clearly different. His experience has nothing to do with the culture but with corruption. Bribing police was the only thing you mentioned that had to do with corruption. But it is interesting, because I never knew that in Armenia you might be stopped by a police while *walking* on the streets. Is this really happening? The so called gai yeah, but not the regular police. According to various sites, I was also under the impression that they have been fighting against traffic police corruption.

    In general, the theory that one should always look into his or her problems before noticing others’ problems is the core of our religion, but it is highly impractical theory of problem solving. Things get solved simultaneously or not at all. If you don’t know the problems your neighbors face you will never be able to even understand your own problems. Seeing that you are ahead of others in some departments gives the motivation and what is much more important, the hope that you are on the right truck. Anyway.

  6. Sevag,

    In no way was i suggesting that everything is perfect here in Armenia. However, there are certain things that are definitely better here than in Kyrgyzstan or Russia – namely, our police doesn’t stop pedestrians eft and right and ask for their passports (in fact, the vast majority of people dont’ carry their passports with them here, whereas in Russia no one would ever think about leaving the house without passport).

    I am sorry your friend had a bad experience here. But for every American with a bad experience here I can show you dozens who had great experience here.

    A tip for the future – try getting your visa at the airport on arrival. It costs half the amount they charge you at the embassy and it takes about 15 minutes.

  7. Grigor, you are right. The police NEVER stops (and never had in the past) people walking around the streets (unlike in Russia and Kyrgizstan). Even the notorious GAI is much more restrained now and doesnt’ stop cars, unless they break traffic rules, which is what 99 percent of the drivers do 99 percent of the time, but that’s a totally different subject.

  8. August 6, 2008

    Maybe your police officer ladies were looking for something else! :)

    Kyrgyzstan: U.S. Rental Is Raided
    By REUTERS
    Police officers in Kyrgyzstan raided an apartment rented by United States officials and seized 6 machine guns, 25 assault rifles and dozens of smaller firearms but then found out that the Americans were training Kyrgyz secret service agents, the government said Tuesday. The American military officers and embassy officials in the apartment at the time of the raid did not have proper approval to possess the weapons, the government of Kyrgyzstan said initially. But on Tuesday the government said the American officials had come to train officers in the national security forces, and it blamed organizational shortcomings for the raid.

  9. First of all, my name, just like other people’s, starts with a capital letter, in my case it’s S. This is a norm in the civilized world. Second, I meant my friend and his girlfriend were stopped while driving—not walking—in Yerevan and outside the city.

    I just shared an experience that an American girl had in Armenia, which is not untypical to hear from many Diaspora Armenians or odars who travel there. Of course, there are many others who, to my delight, liked the country, enjoyed their stay, and returned with lots of positive impressions. My point was about the lack of civilized manners and attitudes, signs of cultural and behavioral degradation, as well as widespread lack of sense of community and mutual respect towards fellow citizens that, unfortunately, scar the modern-day Armenian society.

    I’m not sure how relevant is the example of American girls walking around in flip flops with mile long hair on their legs and guys playing football while topless with that of Armenian girls uncovering their body parts as they think this is what means to be “modern” and “liberated”, or Armenian guys who walk like black question marks, unshaven and unwashed, while husking sunflower seeds, spitting on the streets, and speaking in primitive communal-level language. To wear flip-flops and play football while topless, to me, cannot be compared with universal requirements that apply to any nation that considers itself civilized: people must bathe, men must be shaved or have neatly-groomed beards, and spitting on the streets makes us no better than those nations whom Armenians consider culturally inferior. Likewise, not saying ‘hello’ in America is much less distasteful to me, than jumping over other peoples’ heads standing in line, banging them disrespectfully, or driving like crazy on the streets where children walk or play. With the same token, I could compare the Afghans moving their bowels right on the streets or rural Iranians drinking running water from wherever it may flow, even from the sewer. Well, of course, Armenians are much more civilized than them.

    I’m also uncertain as to why the notion that one should always look into his or her problems before noticing others’ problems is “highly impractical”? True, it is the core of Christian faith (I tend to avoid the word ‘religion’ and, especially, ‘our’—is there ‘their’ Christianity at all?): “Do not judge, and you will not be judged.” I think one should first of all mind his own problems and try to solve them irrespectively of others’ problems. Why should we solve our problems at home simultaneously with our neighbor or by casting glances on how the neighbor is doing? Are we trying to progress for the sake of solving the problem or for the sake of doing just better than our neighbor? If it comes to seeing if you’re ahead of others, challenge the better of them and not the worse, that’s how you progress.

    Having said this, I understand that the society has gone though unimaginable difficulties in the past years; ordinary people are hungry and distressed, they are essentially subjects not citizens; and rulers—past or present—are unpopular and uncaring. It’ll take long time for things to get better. Asdvatz bahaban.

  10. For what it is worth, the “unshaven look” is much more prevalent in the US than in Armenia, where being well groomed (haircuts, shaving etc) is taken more seriously than in the states, for good or bad.

    I also think that many of the same points can be made without pontifications regarding the colonialists and the barbarians.

  11. Sevag, I am not going to respond to your substantial points as I think they all were blown away by your insistence that somehow American culture is better than ours. In general it is ridiculous to use the Americans to analyze other cultures. Americans gave Wall Mart to the world, it is a country where everyone’s best suit is made in china, it is a country where macaroni and cheese is an elegant dish, it is a country where students come to class in pajamas, its a country where people spend two hours of their day in their cars, its a country where masturbation is illegal in certain parts of it, its a country where spiderman is a best hit movie, I can go on and on, but you have to understand that you just don’t compare the most uncultured people in the world with one of the oldest cultures in the world. You just don’t do that. That is it. Compare the French or Germans or Chinese with us, but where the hell did you get the coke drinking Americans. Please, give me a break.

    Also, your third paragraph clearly illustrates how little you know about our everyday culture and about American everyday culture. Using low level language? You clearly have never seen MTV or you have never been to NYC. Actually, just how much this new emerging garbage American “culture” will damage the world cultures is yet to be seen. I have already heard some Armenian rap on you tube. Please, the last thing Armenia needs is a cultural criticisms from the American point of view.

    In general, it will be good if we stop our self-loathing. No culture is better than another nor is worse than another. Cultures are never reasonable nor make sense. That is the way they are. People do these things because they do these things. If you see problems with guys eating sunflower seeds please don’t make it sound as if I or any other Armenian got problems. You got problems. When one is having a culture shock it is not the culture’s problem it is the one’s problem. Driving fast? Where did you get this? French, Italians, Spanish, New Yorkers, LA people all drive like crazy. There is not a thing that you can find in our culture which is bad and an equivalent of it doesn’t exist in any other culture. We are just as good as anyone and we are just as bad as anyone.

    I really don’t like when every once in a while I see someone telling me that my culture got issues and it is uncivilized. Give me a break. I have no shame whatsoever that some Armenian guys like to eat sunflower seeds. I don’t eat sunflower seeds, but I got no problems with others doing it. I actually like that others do it. In general, there is not even a single component of my culture that I feel like I have to justify or be ashamed about. There are certain things that I don’t feel like I want to be part of, but this doesn’t mean that I am ashamed that these things exist.

    The bottom line is that some people like to think that our economy is bad and people are poor because of our culture. We share many things with Greeks, Italians and Spanish. But their economies seem to be doing just fine. So get over the culture issue. The cause of our problems are other things not the fact that we like dolma. And stop listening to Americans. I have seen an American criticizing Germans for drinking mineral water instead of regular water. She was telling this to me as if Germans were aborigines while to me it seemed like a wonderful idea with all the health benefits and etc.

  12. Comparing nations or cultures is below me, it contradicts patterns of my family life, my own upbringing, education, and world view. The comparison with the U.S. was first made a previous poster, to which I just responded by counterarguments as examples only. Whether these counterarguments demonstrate my little knowledge my having some kind of problems, or my listening to the Americans, as someone unknowingly put it, I really don’t care, because that wasn’t the point of my post. My whole point was exactly about looking at ourselves first, and not making comparisons with other cultures, whether of Kyrgyzstan, U.S. or elsewhere. It had nothing to do with the Armenian culture from a historical, religious, or artistic perspective, to which I’m proud to belong and to have contributed into scholastically, and frankly, it wouldn’t require such unnecessarily lengthy inroads into defending what’s obvious for all of us. However, it is also obvious, and it’s been thoroughly researched, that culture—political, religious, artistic, and everyday social—to a large extent affects people’s behavior while conducting economy, politics, and social relationships. Note, I’m not underestimating the role of the economy and social well-being in a society and how they affect the everyday life of people, I’m just acknowledging the fact that everyday social culture DOES affect economic and social infrastructures and the way they’re being handled by the members of a particular ethnos. Italians, whom were referred to, do not, and even in 1000 years of flourishing economy, will not administer state infrastructures the way Germans do. Greeks and Spaniards, whom were also referred to, do not, and will hardly ever be as pragmatic in developing their economy, as Americans are. And, let’s face it, Armenians, whether they eat dolma or not, do not, and will hardly ever conduct their economy, even if, I truly hope, it one day starts flourishing, without taking bribes, getting round the laws, or exhibiting nepotism and cronyism towards relatives and friends. I only hope that, indeed, with flourishing economy, these cultural traits will diminish to some extent.

  13. Sevag, do you know that once upon a time there was great depression in America? Do you know that American economy is crippled? There are way too many well documented instances of police stopping cars for bribes in America during the 30s. Modern day America does more corrupted things like selling the war in Iraq to private companies and etc. I don’t see Armenians ever doing these things.

    The thing is that your posts contain negative perception of our reality while we have done absolutely nothing wrong. You seem to suggest as if it is the fault of our culture that we are doing the way we are doing. The world is such that we couldn’t defend ourselves and ended up weak and poor.

    I’ll grant you the fact that Germans may always manage economy better than Italians. But who cares. Italians do just fine, Spanish do just fine as well, and quite frankly who cares if there are better economies or not. The important fact is that there are cultures just like ours that have good economies.

    By the way, Germans drink beer at lunch time. So if your theory is correct then maybe we should do that too. In Germany, almost everyone at the end of the day is at least half drunk. The moral then is beer people are better in managing economies than sunflower people. Ok, I’ll stop.

  14. Is it to so hard to comprehend that my post meant no attempt at comparing nations, their everyday social culture, habits, or economic indicators, but invited attention to concentrating instead on our own? A quote from my own post: “I think we’d better first look at ourselves, our attitude towards fellow Armenians, and our behavior inside and outside the country, before judging others.” This, I believe, answers the assertion by the previous poster that “we have done absolutely nothing wrong.“ Chronic disrespect towards fellow citizens, inability to acknowledge and support—not deny and trample—the best of our people while they’re alive, lack of the sense of community and responsible nation-state mentality both on state and backyard levels, unnecessarily prolonged and unjustified internal strife among various power entities, inability to be governed in a collective sense of the word (by whom is another subject), inability to stand up for own rights in the everyday life with characteristic inclination to be either subdued, or give a bribe or find a patron in order to advance interests, are a few of the factors demonstrating what we have done wrong. It’s been proven to be a defeatist psychology to keep nagging about the fact that “we couldn’t defend ourselves and ended up weak and poor.” A glance into the history of the Armenian people, however, suggests that, along with several periods of might and glory, the rest has been about digging up on kings, conspiracies, power struggle, including striking deals with potential enemies, even at the times when an enemy was about to invade. It’s a convenient psychological stance, or self-indulgence complex, rather, to blame others for being weak and poor. I don’t completely disagree that external factors were determinant in our grieves, but I’m convinced that internal societal consolidation, mutual support, mutual respect, and observance of traditional—not imported—moral values make a nation stronger and more resistant to external threats. And I’ll stop here, too, because it looks like I’m sending signals to Mars. . .

  15. Sevag, please don’t justify yourself by quoting your very last words. In case you forgot, here is what you really said.

    >>My friend’s girlfriend is an American and they recently travelled to Yerevan. It all has started in the consulate in LA, where they lost her passport, then found it at the time when her departure date had passed, then cynically responded that normally it takes several days to process the visa, but for her they’d do it faster. On their way to Yerevan, they stopped in Amsterdam, and she was amazed at how people were bumping and banging each other in the queue at the terminal. While in Yerevan, she never stopped asking as to why people were staring sheep-like at her, dressed in uniformly black clothes, unshaved, unwashed, spitting all over the place. Stopping at virtually every gloomily-looking policeman on the streets of Yerevan and outside the capital for bribe-giving also never stopped amusing her.

    What the hell did you mean by this? Or this,

    >>>>> My point was about the lack of civilized manners and attitudes, signs of cultural and behavioral degradation, as well as widespread lack of sense of community and mutual respect towards fellow citizens that, unfortunately, scar the modern-day Armenian society

    As I said, you may have good points that are worth considering. But as far as I am concerned, I will not be having any kind of discussion with anyone who thinks that my culture has sings of behavioral degradation while American culture or any other doesn’t. That is what you said. That is how you see your own culture. I didn’t change your words nor put anything into your mouth. You visited this blog and made those comments. The only thing I ever said is that you don’t have even a slightest clue about what you are saying. It is just in fashion to say things you are saying especially among American Armenians that I meet in the US. If you don’t like your culture it don’t make it sound as if others got problems. You got problems: You don’t like your culture.

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