And to think that I saw it on a city bus…

Funeral prcession in Yerevan; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.


Story by Susanna Melo

I hopped on Yerevan city bus #72 not knowing where it was going to take me, but I knew it would bring me back to Republic Square where I started. This non-traditional way of getting to know a new place has become a habit of mine. The bus took me to the outskirts of the city, near the Biblical looking rolling hills of Yerevan. At the terminal, I waited 10 minutes with the bus driver, who kindly offered me some coffee, before going back into town.

On my way to this far end of the city, I observed a street where outdoor vendors sold a lovely array of flowers. I guessed that I was near a cemetery, but I never saw one. On the way back, our bus got stuck in traffic along that street. Perpendicular to us, cars were also stopped as a funeral procession went by. First, men carried a double-door sized photo portrait of the deceased; next, 20 to 30 men carried individual funeral wreaths nearly their size; then, some men carried the top of the wooden casket; and finally, to my amazement, men carried the open casket above their heads, and I saw the young man who had died.

I have been to many funerals in different countries, but I have never seen a funeral procession honoring the deceased in such an elaborate way with an open casket paraded through the streets of a major city.

Dr. Seuss’ “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” reminded me of what unusual and surprising events you can encounter when hopping on a city bus!

Where in the world is Davit Gasparyan?

Susanna Melo, Anush Chubaryan, and Davit Gasparyan pose outside a cafe by Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Story by Susanna Melo

As an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher in the United States, I taught many children from around the world, but throughout the years, only one from Armenia. Davit Gasparyan was a student who was easy to remember. He was bright, worked hard, loved to write, enjoyed discussions and never missed an opportunity to talk about Armenia. At the end of fourth grade, he left A.C. Moore Elementary in Columbia, SC, and I never heard of him again.

While visiting Yerevan, I was curious to learn if I had the slightest chance of meeting up with Davit, whom I had not seen in more than 3 years. Of course, he could be living anywhere in the world, but Yerevan seemed to be a place to start my search. I Googled “Gasparyan and the University of South Carolina,” and came up with the name of a 2009 Muskie Fellow that just “could have been” Davit’s father; the year coincided with the time I taught Davit. The lead was right. I found Davit, who is now a very handsome 14-year old!

Over a two-hour period, sipping mint iced tea at a café on Republic Square, Davit, his mother Anush Chubaryan, Keith and I enjoyed catching up on everyone’s news. We learned that Davit is back in Columbia attending Hand Middle School, while his mother completes her PhD in Education Policy at USC.

In addition to recent news, we learned that Davit’s family is quite amazing. His maternal grandfather, Edward Chubaryan, was one of the founders, vice-presidents and professors of Theoretical Physics at Yerevan State University. It was also very interesting to learn that Davit’s great uncle, Ghukas Chubaryan, created the magnificent sculptures in front of two important institutions in Yerevan. At the Matenadaran (one of the richest manuscript depositories in Armenia housing manuscripts from the fifth century on) sits the grand sculpture of Mesrop Mashtots, founder of the Armenian alphabet in 405 AD, and his pupil Koryun. The other monument stands in front of the Yerevan Opera Theater. It portrays the composer, conductor, public figure and founder of Armenian classical music, Alexander Spendiaryan.

Given Davit’s heritage, it is not surprising that he is such a talented and bright student, who, by the way, loves art and creative writing!

Alexander Sendiaryan statue by Ghukas Chubaryan, in front of the Yerevan Opera Theater; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Statue of Mesrop Mashtots and his pupil Koryun by Ghukas Chubaryan; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Fountains in Yerevan

Water flows from the mountains to the numerous fountains throughout Yerevan. Every second, it seems, another person is drawn to the cold, delicious water. Copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

No website; no sign; no name; great food; it’s Gayane’s in Yerevan

Gayane has lived in a ground-floor apartment just to the right of this apartment building since the 1970s. When Armenia was part of the Soviet Union, private businesses were discouraged, but a few people, such as Gayane, served meals to guests in their homes. Since 1991, of course, most enterprising cooks opened their own restaurants in the city, but Gayane did not. She continues to serve delicious Armenian food for a good price. Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Since the weather was delightful, we ate outside. I had lamb and potatoes as well as pickled green beans as an appetizer. Gayane brought us cherries from her yard for dessert. Near the end of our meal, Gayane asked us if we’d mind if she played the piano. Of course not! We went inside to hear her play. Copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

We returned the next night to Gayane’s because she was preparing meat smoked over a wood fire in a pit for a group of 20. It was delicious. Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Video sequence of Armenian folk music

We heard this beautiful music played on a kamancha at Kilikia restaurant in Yerevan; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Click here to see the video:

People in Kilikia restaurant in Yerevan began dancing to the folk music; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Click here to see the video:

Playing a role in an escalating conflict

We are in a workshop called “Training in Advocacy and Reporting Strategies.” The IWPR (Institute for War and Peace Reporting) is implementing the workshop for UN Women as part of an initiative called “Women Connected for Peace—The Voice of Change.” Six participants from Georgia as well as four from the conflict zones of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have traveled to Yerevan, Armenia.

On the morning of the first day, professor Revaz Jorbenadze asks us to participate in a practical exercise in conflict escalation. We must create a conflict scenario and play different roles. Here’s our scenario—a man and his friends are drinking beer while watching a soccer match (during the workshop period, the Euro 2012 championship has been grabbing the attention of millions of soccer fans, including me). The man allows his 14-year-old son to drink beer, and when the wife/mother returns, she is upset. As the family conflict grows louder and louder, neighbors complain. Then someone suggests breaking a neighbor’s window in retaliation. Reva used the exercise to discuss conflict resolving theory and strategies of behavior in conflict situations.

Why did I laugh when I felt sad?

Liana Ayvazyan poses in front of a living sculpture in a Yerevan park; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

We were having a very pleasant evening in Yerevan, Armenia, with our hostess Liana Ayvazyan. Susanna and I enjoyed looking at all of the large beautiful sculptures in the downtown area, including sculptures by Rodin and Botero. As we walked along, Liana told us about the children’s gallery, the children’s library, and the children’s puppet theater. She proudly showed us the Opera House, around which young people flew by on rollerblades and older people rested on newly installed park benches. Of course, we were impressed by all of the parks and cafes. So many people were walking about on this comfortably warm Thursday evening. Even as we headed home at midnight, the streets of Yerevan were full.

So why was I sad? Because I had asked Liana what she remembered about Columbia, a city of 400,000 people in South Carolina. As a Muskie Fellow, Liana was able to spend 3 months at USC (University of South Carolina) in 1998. I was the official host for all international visitors to the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, so I helped Liana get settled into an apartment and into life on campus. Liana spent most of her time collecting research materials and reading in Thomas Cooper Library, but she also made a visit to Washington, DC to interview officials and visit friends. When Liana learned that Susanna and I would be in Yerevan, she volunteered to show us around the current capitol of Armenia. So what did Liana remember about Columbia, the capitol of South Carolina? Depression because Columbia’s streets were (and remain) empty of people at night. Compared to Yerevan, there are few cafes. And the windows in her apartment didn’t open, so she lacked fresh air. I think Liana would have been happier in Greenville, where the streets are alive at night. Overall, Liana had a very positive experience, but the lack of people on the streets and the lack of fresh air inside her apartment were depressing.

So why did I laugh? I don’t know. Embarrassment, perhaps?