- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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 August 22, 2003 

Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

I don't miss living near Hollywood. Not during weeks like this.

Three stories on this week's site will give you the details of why being a journalist in Armenia is as often a dream as a nightmare.

You can't make this stuff up. Well, actually, speaking of Hollywood, some people do and get paid considerably more than journalists for doing so.

Here, though, it's real. No actors, no props. People do try this at home . . .

Episode I: Read Zhanna Alexanyan's story about a court session here and tell me if "The Sopranos" will ever seem as real again.

In court this week, a father of four rather calmly spoke of having been approached to perform a contract killing. And like trying to buy a carpet at the vernisage, defendant John Harutyunyan, aka "Tony Sopranian" turned solicitation to commit murder into "Let's Make a Deal".

According to his own testimony, Harutyunyan apparently had no qualms about whacking somebody he'd never met, but, good Armenian that he is, was compelled to argue over price.

The conversation hardly needs to be Hollywood-ed up, but it went something like this:

Alleged conspirator: "We want you to kill this journalist, see. The job's good for 30 large."

Tony Sopranian: "I got no problem wid' dat, but I need a 100 . . ."

And so it went back and forth till the killer allegedly accepted the contract for $75,000. In the end he got $19,000 and a potential life sentence.

Episode II: In Gayane Mkrtchyan's story you'll learn that people from outside Armenia are coming here for nose jobs that cost 10 times less than in many countries.

Maybe it's not emphasized in the story, but there's an underlying irony that brightened my day while reading that story. Does it seem just a little odd that somebody would come to a country of people whose identifying features include, shall we say "statuesque" noses, to pay to have theirs made smaller?

Episode III: This is my favorite. Julia Hakobyan reports that it's now against the law in Yerevan to let the public know that you're in the coffin or burial wreath business.

On what used to be known as "Coffin" Street, merchants have been forced to remove casket lids from outside their shops; to take down any sign advertising what they sell; and to shut their doors and put up blinds so that passersby can't see anything funereal inside.
Let me give this some context:

In this country when somebody dies, the body is placed in an uncovered coffin, put on a group of men's shoulders and hauled through the streets for everyone to see, whether he or she wants to see the deceased or not.

But let the public see a coffin lid outside a place of business? Oh no, says the City Council, citing concerns that such a sight is depressing.

Here's another Hollywood-eat-your-heart-element to that story:

Some in the coffin business are hinting that behind the crackdown is a scheme by certain undesirables to gain control of the funeral industry, the way they've taken over others, such as alcohol and petrol.

Tell me this: How far down the mafia ladder would a toughguy have to be to get the call from Godfather saying "Yo, Armen jan, we need a good man to protect our interest in the funeral industry . . ."

You know what I like most about giving readers these stories? They reveal a place that is real - a place that often doesn't make sense, and just as often makes more "evolved" places seem primitive. As I've said before, this is not your grandfather's Armenia.

To idealize Armenia is to diminish it. To dismiss it because it isn't perfect is to diminish yourself.

It is neither Paradise nor Hell. Just like any other real place. Except Hollywood.

According to Agnes
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The Week in seven days


  Photo of the week
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Watch the birdie

Plenty of eyes have been focused this week on the Pan Armenian Games. Amateur athletes from 75 cities have been in Armenia for a series of team and individual sports.



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