- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 September 5 , 2003 

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

The most remarkable feature of the man entering this newsroom is that he is bi-pedal, ambulating in the direction of my office in a manner Nature reserved for the more deserving evolved. His species are better known for crawling, slithering maybe, and sometimes leaving slime as a record of their regrettable existence.

He is dressed as an officer, willingly exploiting any assumption that he earned those stars on his bony shoulders. But he is the worst of a breed too plentiful here: the weasely, bloodsucking pirates in patriots' uniforms, who use the cloak of authority as a money bag for personal gain.

Usually you can spot their bellies long before other features make an entry - pregnant men who rape their own - made fat by taking from others' plates.

But this one is of the other variety: Skinny, like a dog ill at ease, whose necessity to guard his bone from predators of his own kind leaves no opportunity to enjoy the meat.

He comes in with a hand stretched out and wearing a bully's disingenuous smile. I am a whore for shaking his hand, but I want this routine to pass as quickly as possible.

Two other repugnants are with him, consistent with the species' self-preserving pack behavior. There is safety in groups, but also confirmation. The other two don't do anything, but are there, I suppose, to convey the impression that they would.

That uniform allows him to say that he is here in his duties as a public officer. His real intention, however, is of a private nature.

Our veteran translator has endured this sort his whole life, and knows their greasy game.

"How much will it cost to get him to leave?" I ask my colleague.

He tells me the bribe is $150.

I can't stand to see it go that easily, so I decide to at least make the pompous imposter explain himself.

"What exactly are we paying for?" I ask.

He doesn't have an answer. So, like a teacher trying to short-cut the learning curve I say:

"I guess maybe the fee is for your public utility service . . ."

"Aiyo, aiyo," the intruder answers, nodding his yes as if he's glad the gringo finally gets it.

"Well of course we want to comply with our obligations," I say. "But, you know, we're going to need a receipt showing that we've paid, and what the payment was for."

He hears the translation, and from his spindly neck up, he becomes nothing but frown . . .

"Che! Che!" he snorts the negative, in a manner that, even without translation gives me the message: "Are you out of your #@%&* mind?"

I respond with one of my few Armenian phrases: "Haskanum em." I understand.

What I understand is that if we don't pay this extortionist $150, the title he hides behind gives him the power to shut us down for fabricated reasons. I understand that, like a Brooklyn barkeep paying off the Gotti boys, I am buying protection.

I understand we work in an environment where paying bribes assures a hassle-free existence, even if you've done nothing to be hassled for. From the traffic cop to the judge, to the university entrance examiner, hush money talks in Armenia. It is a system so widely accepted that there is no mechanism for fighting it.

What am I supposed to do, report this thug to his superior? As if the guy at the top of the stinking heap isn't taking his share?

What I can't understand is how these people with whom I gladly share this neighborhood have endured lifetimes as victims of such vultures. They deserve better.

According to Agnes
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  Photo of the week
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Wooly work

Near her home in the center of Yerevan,Flora Sarkissyan, like many Armenian housewives after the season of sheep shearing, prepares wool that will provide warmth when a sunny September day is but a memory.



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