- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 October 31, 2003 

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

We're nothing if not ambitious here at ArmeniaNow so let me try to go one better than Dickens and offer you a tale of three cities. Adapted for the cinema.

Scene one: Armenia 2020. A place of the imagination, constructed in 2003 by people who want to encourage consideration of the future and what it will take to make a better one.

A conference by this title in Yerevan draws together Armenians (and non-Armenians, myself included) from Armenia, Russia, Europe, and the United States to discuss alternatives. One road leads to membership of the European Union, another to junior partnership with Russia, a third to Singapore-style self-reliance, and a fourth downhill to a stagnated version of Armenia's present.

The gathering considers each of the possibilities without choosing between them. This is not a meeting to decide Armenia's fate but to persuade others to ponder it and to reach their own conclusions about the best way forward. Perhaps one of the four options, perhaps a fifth or a sixth, the point is to initiate public dialogue about the kind of Armenia people want to live in and bequeath to their children.

Scene two: Armenia 2003. A bar in central Yerevan the next evening. Waiters scuttle in and out of a back room hidden from general view for private dining. The owner paces the bar nervously, occasionally scolding members of his staff into making a better impression. Small knots of drivers and security guards sit tight around tables near the entrance, killing time.

A deal is going down and the air is pregnant with tense expectancy. Members of the President's circle are among the diner-dealers in the out-of-sight room so the stakes are high. This is how the future gets carved up in Armenia now, anonymously, unaccountably, in smoke-filled rooms by small cliques of men exploiting their privileged access to power for personal enrichment over the cognac.

A friend watching the proceedings begins to tell me about the building he lives in with his wife and young children. It has 36 homes on nine floors. Among the families living there, he says, only he and one other neighbor has a steady job. The rest get by with temporary short-term work or on money sent by relatives who have gone abroad.

"I love my country, really very much, and I know that I can never leave here. But many of the other people think only of leaving and I understand them, they haven't any hope," he says.

Nodding in the direction of the secret deal-makers, he continues: "We have a lot of problems in this country, a lot, and many of them are caused by the Government."

Bar talk comes cheap in any country, of course. But its special character here is in the resigned shrug that accompanies such remarks, the certain knowledge that in the next morning's sober light there is nothing he and his fellow citizens feel able to do to change the way they live now in Armenia.

Scene three: Prague, next morning. It is a short flight from Yerevan to the capital of the Czech Republic, a city so beautiful that it renders the word meaningless. Prague prospers with an easy confidence, displaying its charms proudly to multitudes of foreign tourists. I am visiting for the first time since 1989 and the transformation in that time is astonishing.

Then, the city was grey and lifeless, its people waiting sullenly for the exhausted Communist regime to collapse a month later under the weight of its own failings. Now, Prague waits hopefully for its new future to begin next May as a member of the European Union.

I take in the views with an inescapable sense of time slipping. Fourteen years from now, with 2020 looming on the horizon, whose view of Armenia will have prevailed? The thinkers or the drinkers?

According to Agnes
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This week Armenia was commemorating the fourth anniversary of October 27 terroristic act in Armenian parliament and paying tribute to its victims. Among others Stepan Demirchyan visited the cemetery and laid flowers on the grave of his father, late speaker of National Assembly Karen Demirchyan.



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