April has been an interesting month for me. Work has been going well, but a lot of this month has been spent waiting for money for projects to begin. Funding for my big grant was put through at the end of last week, but we will not receive the money until next Friday. Which is really convient timing, considering I leave for vacation the next day Oh well, such is life. We were teased by good weather last week, and I was able to go hiking again finally. I use the word tease because yesterday started with rain and then turned to SNOW - and it hasn’t stopped since. According to the school director, this is the first time they’ve had snow this late. My assertion that it was only happening because I was here was met with laughter, followed by a brief moment as we actually considered the possibility… Anyway, April has also been full of Armenian culture learning experience, as we celebrated Easter, mourned the Armenian Genocide, and I attended my first Armenian funeral in full.
Easter (”Zatik” in Armenian)
Like many of you in America, we also celebrated Easter on Sunday, April 8th. Armenia is a Christian country, but it has very different traditions from American (Western Christian) Easter services. We actually began celebrating on Saturday night by lighting a candle and then starting our feast. Armenians practice Lent in theory, but very few actually participate. However, on Sunday eating meat was forbidden, so dinner consisted of fish, rice with raisings, and a glass of red wine. The most interesting part for me was the eggs. They also hard-boil and color several eggs, and put them in grass they grow in the house, along with little fake chickens (I’m serious). Afterwards, we each choose an egg and hit them together, and if your egg breaks, you must give it to the other person. The last egg standing wins! Many Armenians also go to church on Easter Sunday, but not my family. Instead I went to an Easter party at the Art School (where I’ve been spending most of my holidays lately…) and we hit more eggs together, played some Armenian games and danced the night away.
The next weekend, we went to the funeral services for my host cousins’ Grandfather in Teghut (my “Garden of Eden”). The village itself is becoming very beautiful for the Spring, but the mood was somber most of the weekend. Armenians mourn for the first three days after death, when they have an open-casket viewing in the deceased’s home. The 7th day marks the actual burial services, and is usually only attended by the family and the clergy (similar to our services). They again mourn on the 40th day, which is what we did on Saturday the 14th. All of the family gathers at the deceased’s home, and a large fiest is prepared. As with most ceremonies, the women congregate together inside, and the men stand around outside. When the time is right, the women, followed by the men, march to the grave, where a candle is lit and prayers are said. Afterwards, everyone walks behind the grave, throws salt on the candles, and goes back to the house. Afterwards, a large meal is eaten and many toasts are said to honor the person who passed away. Overall the mood is rather dark, as is expected, and there is no singing, dancing, or Russian kareoke (thankfully). They will again gather on the one year anniversary of the death to remember the deceased.
Genocide Memorial Day - April 24th
Yesterday was Armenian Genocide Memorial Day (”Yeghel” in Armenian). This is perhaps one of the saddest days in Armenia, as everyone takes the day off to remember the victims of the Armenian Genocide in 1914-15. The largest rememberance takes place in the capital, Yerevan, and begins the night before with a candle-light vigil march from Republic Square to the Genocide Memorial. All day on the 24th, thousands upon thousands of Armenians line up with flowers to pay their respect to the victims of the genocide at the memorial’s Eternal Flame. By the end of the day, the stack of flowers must be 10ft high around the flame, but truly demonstrate how important history and ancestory is to the Armenian people.
Like most holidays, I am observing them first on a local level in Noyemberyan; next year, I will try to watch them from a different perspective (in Yerevan). Locally, things were much quieter, and many stores were actually open for business (unfortunately, a day off work usually means a day without food here). I went with a few friends from my English club to church in the morning, and we brought flowers to the local “hatckar” - a large cross engraved in stone. Afterwards we lit candles and discussed the Genocide over pizza, but all in all it was pretty low-key. Many people are removed from services involving church here, as the Soviet system stripped them of a sense of organized religion, so few people attend church services in general here. Also, Noyemberyan’s church was damaged in a 1997 earthquake and is still being rebuilt, which further limits attendance.
Overall, it was an interesting day, especially as many people berated me (i.e. the American government) for not recognizing the Genocide, and optimistically noted that Turkey would if America recognized it. I do not wish to get involved in the politics of whether it was a genocide or not, who is to blame, etc, and as a Peace Corps volunteer it’s my job to remain objective on such political issues. Regardless, many many Armenians were raped, killed, tortured and forced to march to their deaths in 1915. These atrocities are horrible, and no matter what race or nationality the victims are, people have an inherent right to live free with basic human rights. If governments are behind such racial exterminations, they need to acknowledge what they did, and then everyone should learn from it and move on. Every government and race (including Americans) are responsible for these horrible acts (if you don’t believe me, what about the Native Americans?), and it is our responsibility as citizens and civic leaders to stand up for our rights and the rights of others to prevent these tragedies in the future.
And for those of you wondering, the photo album should be fixed very soon
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