Musings on the daily events in politics and sports as well as some local bar stops along the way in LA.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My journey to Armenia and Moscow day by day(entry 7 panagoom, guest blogger)

Apparently I was taking too long to update my blog so somebody took matters into their own hands and wrote an update themselves. Lucky for you guys that somebody is my brother who was with me at the most random part of the trip, discussing nuclear politics and being dictated recent pentagon announcements by an Iranian citizen. I'm gonna post one more Armenia post with random stories and then were off to Moscow where it really gets crazy. Enjoy...

The one event I had looked forward to the most before leaving on this trip (BBQ @ Lake Sevan) was scheduled for the following day, so I wanted to take it easy for one night. Instead, we had our customary gas shots and headed over to a club called Monte Cristo which was rumored to be a huge 4 story mega-club, but turned out to be a dark, cramped, cave-like room full of drunk Armenians bumping and grinding the night away (in other words, better than expected). Good times had by all. We had a late start the next day so most people spent the morning walking around Yerevan or recovering from Monte Cristo. We loaded up 3 vans full of Armos in bathing suits and headed off to a place that I had heard offered freezing waters which lead to an icy death in a whirlpool if you swam out too far. I was picturing a beautiful lake with plenty of nice sand, picnic tables, and people dancing on the beach. When we first pulled up, we were in a large parking lot, ala zuma beach, with a paved road heading up to a restaurant and further up to a Vank in one direction, and down to the lake in the other. Everyone decided we had already seen a billion Vanks and it was too hot to hike all the way up the road. Upon realizing the “BBQ at lake sevan” was actually a bbq at sevan kyoogh afterwards, we headed to the restaurant and asked to be seated. Several theories exist as to why they refused to seat or serve us, including our goshd and confused behavior, our informal swimwear, or our foreign status; so we went back to the parking lot where the drivers told us about a much better spot on the other side of the lake. A short drive later we pulled up to “Churashkhar” which had a large man-made waterfall on one side of the parking lot, and Raging Waters right out of San Dimas on the other. Water slides, wave pools, an amusment park style entrance, cabanas, lounge chairs, waiters, towel service, and mai tais. Not exactly the old country charm I was expecting. There was even a water front restaurant from which you can watch the para-sailers on the lake, where a bunch of us ate a meal involving crab kebab and the imitation ishkhanatsoog (apparently the real stuff is either illegal to eat or extremely expensive). I guess it’s a good thing for the country that the lake has developed such nice resorts and modern buildings that it makes you think your in Cancun instead of Armenia. After the meal, half of us headed to churashkhar, and the other half to wade in the lake, which wasn’t quite as dangerous or cold as I had been led to believe. After laying on the rocky shores tanning with all the speedo wearing locals, we loaded back onto the vans and drove deep into the forests of Sevan Kyoogh.
We unloaded out of the vans onto a narrow road, and upon turning the corner, we were all surprised to see an amazing spread laid out right on the floor of the forest. A long sheet was being held down by bowls of fruits, vegetables, breads, bottles of wine and vodka. The smell of kebab was already in the air, coming from the far corner, so several of us immediately made their way over to inspect the kebab, surprised to find that the “grill” consisted of 2 large metal pipes on the floor with skewers laid across them and hot coals burning underneath right on the floor. Distracted by the forest, the picnic spread, the bbq, and the perfect weather, most of us didn’t notice the 3 man band which had arrived, seeming to just apparate right out of the trees. Consisting of a Clarinet player, an accordion player, and a singer with a doombehg slung over his shoulder (and missing most of his teeth, who says you need teeth to sing??), they started playing all types of Armenian music. The music, dancing, eating, and genatses continued well into the night. Some of us even took time away from the 50-person party in the woods (after much drinking) to hike throughout the forests, fields, battlegrounds, ruins, and old Russian mining caves which surrounded the picnic area. Nearing midnight we all loaded back onto the buses and headed back to Ani hotel.

Upon arrival at the Ani hotel around midnight, my story deviates from that of the group since me and my brother took a side trip. Our Garapagh tour guide Nara had invited us to visit the AYF panagoom taking place all week at a camp in Aghavnadzor (near the nuclear power plant), to attend the last night and closing ceremonies the following day. 10 minutes after arriving at Ani Hotel, me, Kris, Nara and 2 of her friends from Iran hop into a cab and head out to the camp. Having heard rumors that the camp was restricted to visitors, we kept asking Nara if and how we would be allowed in, and her only response was “because I promised you guys you would,” which somehow wasn’t very reassuring. After over an hour on the road (heading back the direction we had just come from the lake), we arrived in the city where the panagoom was taking place, but neither Nara nor the cab driver seemed to be able to remember exactly where the camp was. After driving around aimlessly for a bit, we came upon a lone man riding a horse (at 2am) on the side of the road. Apprently he looked like a man who knows about panagoom, cause the cab driver pulled up to his horse and yelled out the window “Tashnagneruh oor en?” The man immediately pointed to the left and said something inaudible in Armenian. The cab driver made a U-Turn and took the first right, and apparently the guy on horse was correct, cause after a couple of miles we pulled up to the camp. The entrance to the camp was a gigantic white gate, chained and locked, which had a smaller door in it, also locked, not making us feel better about our chances of being let in. Upon seeing a cab pull up with 5 strangers getting out, a bahag greeted us from inside the gates. He had in his possession a 9-foot tall slim white pole (seemingly for self-defense or intimidation, or at least the appearance of it), but he did not have the key with which to open the locked gates. Word was sent down from the bahag to the main building that visitors had arrived. After waiting outside the iron gates for 10 minutes, the key-holder appeared and opened the door for us. We were escorted by several young men to a lobby area in the main building. We were told to wait for approval to stay at the camp from the director in charge. We ran into one of our friends from Los Angeles, who had just come back from a trip to eastern Turkey (badmagan hayasdan). He had many great things to say about his trip there, but absolutely nothing to say about a reassurance that we would be given permission to stay at the camp. After 15 minutes of nervously standing around and making small talk with the sparse residents of the camp strewn around the lobby, the director finally came in, introduced himself, and shook all of our hands, the international symbol of acceptance (although, he was from Canada, where most things are done backwards, so I still wasn’t sure). Much like my misconceptions of lake sevan, my assumption that on this last night at camp everyone would be up all night dancing, singing, and drinking were also proven wrong; and by a longshot after hearing the director bark up “room 236! Lights out!” upon seeing their light being the only one lit out of the dozens of balconies we walked past outside. Not knowing where we were being led to (I was hoping to a party in the back, but I had my doubts), it looked like we were being taken away form the main building where most of the camp inhabitants seemed to be staying and toward a 2nd identical looking building (it seemed mostly deserted), and we were led up to the 3rd floor of what seemed to be a huge deserted hotel. After being led down a long hall where another key-holder opened up 2 doors for us. This was not a co-ed dorm, so Nara and her friend Loosined were placed into one room, and me, Kris, and the guy from Iran (Njdeh) were placed next door. When asked what time we should wake up, the director answered “mi vakhnar unger, menk gartntsnenk” (don’t worry, well wake you). Great, a personal wakeup call, how nice. A couple minutes after the director and key-keeper left, Nara and Lusineh “snuck out” of their room. They had brought crackers, nuts, fruits, and drinks in their backpack and we spent the next hour eating, talking and taking pictures. After the girls went back to their room, we arranged our room for bedtime while asking Njdeh about himself. He turned out to be an Iranian citizen working in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in power plants who would soon be starting service for the Iranian army. Aside from thoughts that the CIA, with their newly built fortress only miles away, was surely monitoring the 2 American citizens bunking in the middle of nowhere, in a deserted hotel, with a member of the Iranian army who seemed to have all the requisite knowledge and background expected of a nuclear arms specialist, I came to the realization of how great the Armenian Diaspora is. Armenia was a great place to meet people from all over the world who would probably never be able to meet in any other country, using our native tounge to communicate with citizens of many countries all around the globe. No matter what corner of the world we are in, our diaspora shares a similar history, similar desires to visit our homeland, and one language, bringing us all together in a way few other cultures are able to. Hearing Njdeh’s story, and knowing he will probably never be in America, nor me in Iran, it made me really proud to be an Armenian in my homeland.
7:30am – Wake up to find myself in a hotel room which looks like it was trapped in time in 1968 Russia. Why am I awake so early? Oh, it must be that strange, but familiar sounding music which is BLASTING from somewhere outside. I had never heard “Tebi Gandzasar” before, but having just gotten back from Gandzasar several days ago, I really enjoyed hearing it, and it very quickly rose to the top of my list of favorite songs (email me to get the mp3). So this is what they meant by “Menk Gartuntsnenk.” I make my way onto the balcony to see campers slowly trickling out of the other building and congregating in front of the flagpole. We feel compelled to join them as to not disturb the schedule of the camp. Little did we know we would experience many of these flagpole congregations, about a dozen of them before noon. The day consisted of meeting AYF members from all over the world, touring the camp grounds, enjoying their breakfast and lunch (Korovadz of course), and sitting under an apple tree, picking and eating fresh Armenian apples in the shade while the campers stood at flagpole. There was also a “fair” where every chapter had setup a table and distributed periodicals and goods their AYF chapter had made throughout the year. I think the Beirut chapter had the most impressive display due to their full color, high quality, recently published (it contained an article covering the start of the camp week), multi-lingual newsletter, the “Zavarian Review.” Copies can be found at their website at Most of the campers from the U.S. were eager to get out of there for some R&R in Yerevan, so they left early in rented vans heading to the Ani hotel, so we hitched a ride back with them. Upon arrival back at Ani hotel, we found our entire group congregated in the lobby, about to head out to the Howard Dean event…


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