- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
June 18, 2004

Cloned: Armenia goes Arabic over wildly popular soap opera

Questions of whether Armenia is “ Middle East”, “Central Asian”, “EurAsian”, etc. might find an answer every day at noon and 6:30 p.m.

If the popularity of the Arabic-centered television serial “Clone” is an indication, Armenia is crazy for the East.

In Yerevan, the soap opera is having an influence on fashion, on music, and, probably, on household dinner times.

“Clone” is a Brazilian-produced serial set in 1980s Morocco, about a love affair between a Brazilian man and an Arabic girl, about a cloned boy, about the differences between Eastern and Western morals and manners, about the bright life of the East, followed by bright Arabic dances and stories of the Koran. Essentially, the ingredients for 45 minutes, five times a week (10 if you count rebroadcast), of distracting Armenian viewers from anything except what will happen to Lucas, Jade, Said, Uncle Ali, Latifa and others.

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The program, which is shown in 20 countries, first appeared in Armenia in February of this year. Now, according to the chief translator (“Clone” is taped in Portuguese) for the Armenian version, 80 percent of the republic’s soap opera fans tune in.

“When watching it one has to be stable mentally in order not to be carried away by Islam and not to become attracted by eastern customs,” translator Vahe Mkhitaryan says, joking. “However, not everyone manages to do that. We, too, have become half Islamic.”

Which is okay with sellers in Armenia’s bazaars, where Arabic “slave rings” and other jewelry have become a fad, and Arabic music is in demand.

In some yards in Yerevan, children greet each other with “ Salam Aleikum,” and the reply of “Aleikum Salam,” just like in the show. Some are “learning” belly dancing, mimicking the moves from characters in the soap opera.

Dressmakers are feeling the impact of “Clone” madness.

“During each series we always receive orders of clothes like the ones its characters wear,” says dressmaker Nektar Bagratunyan . “Thank God, I haven’t yet received an order of a yashmak, but at markets there already are dresses with yashmaks on mannequins. We receive orders of long eastern style dresses which are made from falling and sometimes sparkling fabric.”

So are Armenian girls going Arabic?

“If during the previous series girls tried to look like Brazilian characters with their curly hair, then after this series people are trying to copy everything beginning with clothes and decorations up to dances and words,” says Manushak Soghomonyan, 16, who is wearing Arabic jewelry. “I want to be like them, too.”

Among popular items is a “slave” ring, a piece of jewelry that connects the finger with the wrist by a chain and typically decorated with stone.

For from 1,500 to 3,000 drams (about $3 to $6), merchants assure customers the buyers can look just like the TV characters.

And with the image goes the music . . .

Clone jewelry

“We don’t even manage to place the cassettes with the music from ‘Clone’ on the displays and every tradesman sells at least 50 tapes per day which could seem something impossible for us before,” says

Armen, a tapes seller at Malatia-Sebastia market.

“We’re very pleased with those who show the series, since thanks to it we have had an opportunity to make some good money,” he says. “I don’t remember something like this happening before. It seems like people are hypnotized and it doesn’t have an age limit.”

Shake Galstyan, 23, says the soap opera is a cultural education.

“Everything is presented in such a nice and interesting way that you always want to listen to stories of the Koran and get to know the customs of the Islamic world,” she says.

“Proaganda,” says Father Shahe Hyrapetyan, of St. Sargis Church. “This series is directly against our religion and faith.”

Maybe. But it is religiously being observed 10 times a week on television and in the markets of Armenia.

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