By Matt Maroot
As students found their way into Social Science Room 104 on Friday, February 27, 1998, many of them already had an idea about the current status of the Republic of Armenia. And as the weekend progressed, they soon learned whether or not those ideas were myths or realities. The course, Armenian Studies 120 T: Armenia Today, taught by Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian, focused largely on Armenia in the late 20th century. Through various slide presentations and films, Professor Der Mugrdechian painted a vivid picture of Armenian life as it is today.
Though each student had a different reason for enrolling in the course, one thing remained the same, a genuine interest in the country and in its people. “I enrolled in the class so that I could learn how Armenia got to where it is today and how it is handling its current situation,” said Talin Mekhitarian. Indeed, the current situation in Armenia is a point of great interest to Armenians the world over. Many of us have heard the questions: Do they have electricity? Is it safe to walk the streets? What about the earthquake zone? Professor Der Mugrdechianís course thoroughly answered these questions and many more in a weekend that proved to be interesting as well as informative.
In terms of everyday life, nearly all of the comforts that we enjoy and often take for granted here in America can be found in Armenia. The question lies in whether or not the Armenians can afford them. With an average monthly salary of only $25.00, Armenia is struggling to stay afloat in its new free-enterprise economy, a dramatic contrast to the old Soviet System. Some would argue that Armenia was better off under the Soviet System, but to others, the struggle to stabilize the economy is a small price to pay for independence.
With the reopening of Metzamor in 1995, Armeniaís lone Nuclear Power Plant, Armenians now have electricity 24 hours a day. This represents quite a comfort compared to the 2 hours of electricity available each day throughout the energy crisis that resulted from the Karabagh Conflict. However, with 80% of the population living near the poverty level, paying for electricity, telephone, rent, and heating can often prove more than difficult. For many students enrolled in the course, Armeniaís switch to a free economy was of interest. ìI am interested in seeing how Armenia will come out of its crisis and away from poverty, to become more American,î stated Tiffney Kuckenbaker.
Politically, Armenia is in a state of uncertainty. With the recent resignation of President Levon Ter Petrosyan, Armenia is led by acting President Robert Kocharian, former President of Karabagh and one of the chief candidates in the upcoming March 16th elections. Though a ceasefire in 1994 has brought relative peace to Armenia and to those living in the region of Nagorno-Karabagh, the struggle over this region still weighs heavily on the minds and the hearts of many Armenians. “I took this course because I wanted to learn the political background of Armenia and why we donít have the land we once had,” said Rita Aramian. With approximately 81% of the population of Nagorno-Karabagh being Armenian (1985 estimate), it is easy to see why so many Armenians today are so strongly tied to this region. The struggle over Nagorno-Karabagh is likely to take center stage on the political platforms of those seeking the Armenian Presidency. And it appears that Armenia will be faced with solving this conflict from within as the United States has recently signed a $14 billion deal with Azerbaijan to drill for oil in the Caspian Sea. Moreover, the Karabagh region could serve as a strategic pipeline for the United States to transport this oil.
Another issue of concern facing many Armenians is the current status of the earthquake zone located in and around Gyumri, Armeniaís second largest city. The earthquake which shook the region on December 7, 1988 caused widespread devastation and left thousands homeless. Many new housing complexes have been built but much of the region remains in ruins. With few resources and even less capital to purchase these resources, many Armenians are doing their best to get by.
Despite these hardships, Armenians are surviving. A walk through Yerevan illustrates the changing face of Armenia. The city is modernizing rapidly as Armenians attempt to get a handle on free-enterprise. The current Republic of Armenia declared its independence on September 21, 1991. And with a population of 3,500,000 people, 98% of which are Armenian, the Republic of Armenia is one of the worldís most homogenous populations. And as all Armenians know, this could mean only one thing, that Armenia will prosper.