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Foreign policy, sushi and dolma: Armenia’s ‘and and’ society
In places catering to the lower middle to middle upper market, menus are painstakingly comprehensive. It is as if the waiter was handing over a thick book of laws in which you had to choose one (something I have only experienced in other ex-Soviet nations. Perhaps it is an obsession with the possibility of choice, a relatively recent reborn phenomenon). However, restaurant menus are actually
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian recently gave a lecture at
This sentiment is not new; it has just evolved into a more actively pursued instrument to promote national interests tailored by pragmatism and economic rationality. Having it both ways was explicitly described as the ‘policy of complementarity’ (coined by former Foreign Minister, Vartan Oskanian), which explains
The gluttony for choice reaches into
The fixation with options (or at least, the appearance of the possibility of ‘having it all’) can also be seen in the location choices of many hotels or the residential constructions of society’s ‘and and’ upper-crust: they have to be both next to nature and right on the highway. In most countries I’m familiar with (not only the rich ones), it is the norm for a property’s value to plummet as it gets closer to any major traffic-ridden road, not to mention a highway. Not so here: extravagance means having proximity to the privacy-invading noise and eyes of onlookers passing by, while also being provided with the peaceful serenity of nature that any collection of shrubs close to a highway can muster.
I remember walking down Abovian for the first time and a group of youngsters in bright coloured t-shirts approached our walking group, handing out condoms. It was an attempt to promote safe sex and celebrate ‘modernity’ in all its brazen shades. And yet, the tradition of handing over a bowl of bright red apples on the morning after the wedding is still a commonly held custom – if not physically brought, it is at least an unsaid expectation held by all. A very sobering example of the ‘and and’ society if there was one.
But Armenians don’t compromise on everything. They have quite a few survival tactics in a long catalogue that they have had to forge – and sincere stubbornness is certainly one of these. I very much enjoyed President Serzh Sargsyan’s joint press conference with Polish President Komorowski in June this year, where he stated quite bluntly that “for some,
Everyone tends to be a hypocrite in one way or another (I, for example, profess to have healthy eating habits but gorge on the fat-soaked lavash under the khorovatz when nobody is looking). But Armenians are well known for fearsomely sticking to their guns when it comes to fighting for a principle or friend close to the heart (or, in the chess player’s case, fighting not to lose – the ability to defend was the hallmark of ex-World Champion Tigran Petrosian’s style).
To counter the political, religious, economic and explicitly sinister designs from various powers throughout the ages, Armenians have learned several survival tactics to combat them: avoiding marriage into foreign communities, using the church as an instrument of leadership to form unity, excelling in trade, flourishing in the arts, achieving powerful political positions in various parts of Eastern Europe, and the downright dirty skill of fighting to survive.
In his humorous but realistic article Армянин, Derenik Demirchian wrote that in diplomacy,