Monday, March 7, 2011

Back pains and other struggles

I wrote this post on Feb. 22, but wanted to tweak it before posting. As you can see, nearly two weeks have gone by… so keep in mind, some of this news might already be old news ;)

Here goes:

For the past two weeks or so, I’ve had this knot in my back that’s made it unbearable at times to sit still at my desk (whether at home or at work) and do work. And it won’t go away.

I find that we adapt ourselves to all sorts of irreconcilable situations, and so it is that I find myself trying out different chairs and different seating positions, while performing all manner of stretches in 10-minute increments. This, along with once or twice a week yoga, riding my bike to and from work and occasional massages from my loving partner, has made the pain at least bearable. Like I told my parents yesterday: my back is so much better than it was before.

The same, however, can’t be said for the state of affairs in Armenia.

First came the ban on street trade (though it can be argued, this was not the “first”). In one fell swoop, newly elected Yerevan mayor Karen Karapetyan enforced a law which many before him had quietly left alone: banning Yerevan traders from selling fruits, vegetables, greens, and even household items from makeshift stalls or no stalls at all on the street.

Admittedly, though there was the ever-present issue of sanitation and the fact that a large part of the sidewalk was obstructed by street vendors and their goods, you would think the mayor would have more important things to attend to as his first order of business rather than leave thousands of people out of a job literally overnight. And what’s the plan? Apparently, the city will offer spots in indoor markets to these vendors, who, naturally, will have to relocate their place of business, sign a lease and incur additional expenses.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer purchasing my produce from the street. You develop a relationship with the person selling it to you who is sometimes the person who grows it, or at the very least, is someone more directly involved in the food-from-farm-to-table process than a large chain supermarket.

And if that wasn’t reason enough, the produce I get from the women on street corners, in dalans and building courtyards is fresher and cheaper than what you’d get in the supermarket. Plus, it’s more convenient. By the time I walk to a supermarket, I’ve already passed by half a dozen street vendors who are amicable and who might even round down the price for me (as opposed to supermarkets where they round UP: e.g. a bill that runs 2,355 drams will cost you 2,360 drams not 2,350 since there’s no such thing as a 5 dram coin).

Other things we looked forward to and struggled against in the past month:

Increased prices of consumer goods, including such staples as bread, oil and soon-to-be sugar

(Do you know yesterday, March 6, at the local mom-and-pop shop around the corner 1 kg of chickpeas was going for 1,000 drams? At the most, it used to be 600 drams — that’s an increase of over 66%! And onions at 600 drams, carrots at 500 drams… I’m afraid to ask: how far can the prices go up?)

Human Rights Watch 2011 World Report on Armenia in 2010: nothing we didn’t know, but, well, now the world knows too

Armenian-American businessman and former adviser to Armenian PM Tigran Sargsyan with the unfortunate name of Serop Der-Boghossian was (is?) at the heart of a sex scandal involving him and young boys in Armenian towns where his company, Metal Prince, does business

Gyumri car owners protested the dissolution of a legal loophole that allowed them to pay significantly lower import taxes on cars registered in Georgia. It can be argued that this group (of mainly men and car owners) were the most vocal and had the greatest effect in their protests since they practically had the power to block roads and stop traffic with all their cars. One local MP even compared the events in Gyumri, Armenia’s second-largest city, to Cairo

(By the way, it really amazes me the issues that bring people together and that they rally against. I’m sure these men wouldn’t be protesting to support their sisters in Yerevan who have been deprived of their perhaps sole source of income following the ban on street trade. However, because the increase in import taxes on their cars affects them personally, they probably feel that injustice is being done to them and so they take to the streets.)

Feb. 18 was the HAK (Armenian National Congress) rally, reportedly the largest since the March 2008 post-election protests that left 10 people dead. HAK, the largest opposition force in the country and one on whom many pin their hopes, however, failed:

"Admittedly, the opposition force had nothing to tell thousands of supporters, except for a call to get ready for 'very serious events'.”

Waving Armenian flags, shouting barely audible patriotic chants, and marching on Feb. 19 were youth with Hayots Ardzivner (“Armenian Eagles”). Hauled in from the regions (marzes) on buses, the youth were marking three years of Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan’s term in office and one year since their founding, but you wouldn’t know it if you asked them.

In the two weeks that have passed since I wrote the post above, there have been other events (most notably the disappointing HAK rally on March 1 and the recent clash between Heritage Party MPs, activists and police), but I won’t get into those. Needless to say, I’ve been feeling more and more hopeless about the situation in the country, which is only enforced through conversations with friends and colleagues and what I hear and read in the news and on blogs that I trust.

As one Facebook user wrote: could someone please tell me some good news?


  1. Excellent round up! Thanks!

    One point about the drivers issue - I really think their protest is mostly pointless. They shouldn't speak about bringing back the badly written law, but rather speak about corruption in customs and stupid system of evaluating the tax due.

  2. Hi Observer! Yes, I agree: of all the protests and things to fight for in this country, in my opinion, the drivers protest was really the least of the priorities and the least significant. Corruption in customs and the system of evaluating tariffs should be at the core of this issue. Ah, it never ends does it? *sigh*

  3. Good news? least you can now get a decent internet connection in Yerevan!

  4. ah, something you've just realized on your return trip, eh, Tom? :) Yes, you can get a decent connection but it depends where and when (some will argue with you on this point!). But I can't complain. Things are good and the sun is shining today and the back pain only makes itself known periodically. And of course I cycle every day <3

  5. daylight saving time!!!

  6. Thanks, Anonymous ;) It wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that I lost an hour today (Sunday) and already without that, Sundays (i.e. days off) go by so fast :) Enjoy the sunshine!

  7. Youre welcome, Adrineh ;)
    you lose just an hour but win instead the sunshine!
    it's been almost a year i've been following your blog and i would like to meet you in person if you dont mind though!
    do u usually meet with the people from virtual "life" called Internet?
    do you speak armenian? my oral English is not good :)
    Enjoy the sunshine of the weekdays!
    p.s.sorry if i broke the rules of etiquette.

  8. Wow! You've been following my blog for a year? I'm so flattered :) I have in fact met with people who I met online in person, and yes, I speak Armenian :) You didn't break the rules of etiquette — you've been quite courteous and I have enjoyed reading your comments very much. We can meet in person, but we should think of a way to get in touch not through writing in the comments section ;))) I'm on Twitter and Facebook, and my Twitter profile is on this blog. Perhaps you can send me a direct message on Twitter?

  9. hello! i cannot send you direct messages on twitter unless youre not following me!
    my profile name is anonimousgaya

    have a great evening! hope i will manage to message you soon.

  10. Anonymous jan! Apologies for not responding right away. But it looks like you found me on Facebook, so we'll be able to connect after all :)