Story by Hayk Petrosyan, originally posted at Civilitasfoundation.org
I live in Armenia. I was born here. I grew up here. I grew up in the 90s. I was here when there was no work and there was a war and my father was the sole breadwinner for three families. I was here when there were long queues for bread and there was no electricity or water. My brother and I had to walk to the yard of the neighboring factory where there was a spring, and we could carry water home, in 10 liter buckets. I was in Armenia when there were food shortages and my grandma would “organize” us, her grandchildren, and we would go to the neighboring fields to gather sibekh. I don’t even know what that is in English. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a bitter green herb that grows for a couple of months in the spring. Boiled or sautéed, it’s almost a meal. I was here when my grandma had to add water to the soup she’d made to make sure that there was enough for everybody. I was here when you had to prepare your homework under candle light. I still can’t stand candlelight.
This is the part of my life that keeps me real. Back in the day, we all lived through this. For my friends and me and the people in Armenia back then there was no other choice, there was nothing surprising or quaint about all that we experienced or that was happening around us; that was our life.
Today, life is different. No shower for four days in a row is unusual. Freezing, in your own home, is unusual. Things have changed. Life in Armenia today is more than just about survival, at least not as it used to be, at least not in a universal, all-across-the-country sort of way.
In the old days, the stark choices, difficulties, daily challenges were obvious. That’s what visitors and expats living in Armenia noticed and so that’s what they talked and wrote about. Today, together with lots of poverty and hardship, and lingering backwardness and provincialism, there are also young, educated, vibrant, cosmopolitan, middle class Armenians who live in Armenia and work in Armenia and care and do everything possible and impossible to make a difference. They almost never become an object of conversation or blogs or articles by today’s visitors and expats and repats; it’s as if that world that is the normal Armenia — my world – does not exist.
It is ignored and instead, what is often presented is a skewed picture of a backward, provincial country – with funny looking grandparents, over-dressed or under-dressed women, loud voices, odd interpersonal relations and irrational behavior – a country with no capacity for normalcy. That’s a picture where “I” am missing altogether. And that worries me.