As many of you know, I spent two summers in Armenia as a teenager. It was a really great experience in many ways. I learned a lot of things that have shaped who I am as a person now. One of the things that I learned is why Communism is so bad and what it does to a country and a people. I also learned what the price of Freedom is. I learned that it is a high price, but one worth paying. I’ve decided to write a posts, maybe more, talking about this. I hope that they will help you understand a bit more about the me, my political views, and maybe take a look at your own.
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When I lived in Armenia they had been free from the USSR for only four years. I was there when the country had their fifth independence day. Armenia’s independence day happens to be July 5th. When you are a teenager and someone shakes your hand a solemnly congratulates you on your country’s independence, it make you take notice and wonder why, especially since in America we tend to take Independence day as a chance to party (not that their is anything wrong with a party, I love a good party)
On the Fifth of July Yerevan was very, very quiet. Not that their were not people about, there were lots. There was a parade, a very very quiet parade. No fireworks, no party’s, just a solemn procession. It was after that I started asking questions.
First I asked my friends, the kids my age, “why don’t you have a party? Why aren’t there fireworks? Why is everyone so serious about Independence day?” Sadly, none of them really knew. In retrospect I supposed their parents did their very best to shelter their kids from what happened, that would be a very Armenian thing to do in my experience.
Then I started asking the adults. I got pieces, a lot from listening to my parents talk to other adults (sorry Mom and Dad! I wanted to know and it’s not like I was really eaves dropping, you knew I was standing right there.) Here is some of what I learned.
When we went to a concert, at the beginning the Armenian national anthem played, it had no words, only music, I asked why.
The music had been written by an Armenian, but the words had been given to them later by the USSR. They were not going to use those words (It had a lot of talk about Mother Russia and such) but they were going to keep the song, they were going to take it back from Russia. Make it free like they were now free.
I asked once why there were no buses in Yerevan, just little personal vans that drove around like buses.
Armenia was the first of the former Soviet Block countries to get their independence. Russia was quite unhappy about it (This is the understatement of the year). Their reaction when it was inevitable was to essentially say “Fine, you want it, you got it.” They took all the power plants apart, shut off natural gas pipelines, and ripped out anything they could infrastructure wise, put it on all the buses in the country and drove them to Russia. They didn’t want Armenia to be free, but if they were going to be free Russia was going to make them pay for it. I think they were hoping Armenia would beg them to come back and “save them”.
I asked why there were no old trees only young trees in Yerevan. It seemed strange when everyone seemed to love gardening and plants.
Armenia had beautiful forests, most of them are gone now. When that first winter came many people were freezing and starving to death. The gas lines were still broken (plus they came from Russia, who would not turn them back on) the power plants were still in pieces. The only solution that could save people was to cut down the trees, so that is what they did. They said it was worth it to save their people and to have their own free country. When I later read “We the Living” by Ayn Rand it reminded me of this story about Armenia.
When the election came I was told to stay away from a street that I normally walked down, I asked why.
It was the street with the presidential palace. It was FULL of people, protesting, lobbying, shouting, waiting to hear the outcome of the presidential election. Apparently the man that was president at the time had been discovered doing certain things the old soviet way, the way of kickbacks, bribes, and ignoring rule of law. The people were ANGRY. They had starved, frozen and died to get rid of people like that.
I’ll stop here for now, I’m starting to cry thinking of the sufferings of the Armenians. The next lesson I learned that I think I’ll write about is my experience with those clinging to the USSR and Communism and what happened economically to Armenia once they were free.