- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
February 27, 2004

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

In a corner of a modest house impossibly distant from the corner of the world I now call home, I sit with my aged father in the place where I grew up.

Both of us, perhaps, are looking for something that links Alabama to Armenia , though neither of us says that is what we are doing.

“Do they raise livestock in Armenia ,” the old man wants to know.

That's what he used to do. And I hated that he did because sometimes it meant that his teenage son had to climb from a warm bed in a dark hour and do things with stinking animals that wouldn't wash off his hands before having to catch the school bus.

I told my father that cows, sheep and hogs are a big part of the Armenian landscape and dinner table.

The big news in my father's world a few years ago was that a super Wal-Mart (a megalopolis discount shopping chain that is an American icon or scourge depending on perspective) was being built here.

“Has Wal-Mart made it to Armenia yet?” he wants to know.

“That's the day I'll have to leave,” I say. I start to try to explain the vernisage open bazaar, but then I realize some things are better left a mystery.

“Now, what's the name of the city you live in?”

“ Yerevan .”


“ Yerevan .”


We talk about food. I tell about a recent morning outing to eat khasch – the cow's feet soup that smells up Armenian kitchens during wintertime. My old man makes a sour face, and I remind that in the very kitchen of this Alabama house, as a youth I ate scrambled eggs mixed with squirrel brains.

I tell about Armenia 's tasty fruits and vegetables. And my dad limps over to the doorway and brings back a shoebox with tiny cups in it holding soil into which he has planted tomato seeds.

“I like to grow things,” he says. And I try to find a meaning that may not exist, in an 85-year old man anticipating the fruit of yet unborn tomato plants.

He wants to know what kind of cars Armenia has.

I tell him there's a little bit of everything, but that Niva and Volga dominate.

“Russian made, huh?” he says.

I say yes, and he asks if everything has to be imported. And he asks if Armenia is landlocked, and if there's a kind of government that has a mayor and so forth.

And my dad's wife wants to know about religion.

“Are there Methodists and Baptists and such as that,” she asks.

“No, just Christians,” I say “and Communists, and some who seem to be waiting for a good offer on what to believe.”

The questions are almost child-like. And the simple answers carry no weight of the complexity of life that led to this moment in this familiar-now-foreign house.

On a shelf in the room where I used to sleep is a black and white photo of 5-year-old me. I look at that face, then into a mirror, and think of the world I've seen in between. And I cannot imagine the world of my father – baby of the First World War, veteran of the Second, father of a Vietnam veteran, grandfather to a First Lieutenant now in Baghdad .

And father of a son who has made a life half a world away among people who this old man would surely love too if he gave them a chance. And I think of how grateful I am for having that chance.

I see him only every few years. And the visits now come with guilt. Armenia has taught me that I am not a good son. Living in my new world, I have learned values of family that I wish I'd applied to the one that grew from this house.

But maybe Armenia is a second chance to get that right. So I use the telephone in my Alabama former home to call Armenia and ask how my pregnant godchild is doing.

Links. Looking for links.

I walk out of the room where I used to sleep when this was my home and Armenia was just something else I might have missed.

On a wall where a cheap painting used to hang, there is now a world map. And over the place in the world that I now know better than this one, there is a map pin stuck on the little purple blotch with squint-worthy letters that say “ Armenia ”.

And it occurs to me that this plastic pinhead represents the boy that grew up in this house to a father that might never have understood his world, but never stopped him from expanding it.

And I find a lot to be glad about.

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  Photo of the week
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Armenian Officer's Body in Yerevan

Thursday, the body of Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan killed by Azeri officer in Budapest last week was brought to Armenia in a closed coffin. Margaryan will be burried Saturday at Yerablur, cemetery of Karabakh war veterans.



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