Ovnan Lalayan has a passion for traveling. But unlike most other tourists enjoying the comfort of their suites, he can't help but scrutinize how hotel businesses are run and, from a professional perspective, observe every little detail that could matter.
Stone by stone and quite literally by the hands of a holy man, a spiritual and cultural center is being built in Moscow, Russia. It is hoped to be a beacon for the estimated half-million Armenians in the massive city who till now have had no single meeting place to bring together a varied Diaspora looking to anchor itself to "home." Flanked by Moscow's Trifonovskaya and Olimpiysky streets and at the end of what used to be Catherine the Great Park, the site already resembles a small version of Holy Etchmiadzin.
The grave of Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow is distinguished by an extraordinary memorial tombstone in the form of a billowing Russian tricolor made of white marble, blue Byzantine and red porphyry. The expressive fluttering flag set in stone is meant to symbolize the uneasy decade led by Yeltsin (1991-99), who died in 2007. When it was installed in 2008, the memorial drew praise and outrage, equally aimed at the creator, 65-year-old Armenian Georgiy Frangulian.
Not many in Moscow know Arman Jilavian by sight, but many are well acquainted with his Yerevan magazine—the first media project in Russia for an ethnic minority.
A new Armenian TV company broadcasting primarily in Russian has recently gone on air and is already popular among Armenians who receive the signal via satellite.
The first thing a visitor sees on entering the office of Russian prosecutor Sahak Karapetian is a bear that used to stand nearly 12 feet but is now a rug. Karapetian shot the bear last autumn in the remote region of Kamchatka, Russia. Now the poor creature lies splayed here, a short walk from Red Square. While hunting is his passion, the post held by Karapetian is more about getting the "prey" home. He is chief of the Main Department for International Legal Co-Operation of the Russian Federation, an agency dealing mostly with extradition.
Moscow is the empire of Armenia's dreams. It is the imperial capital, the third Rome, a world in which Armenians use centuries of inherited experience in navigating the channels of influence to serve power and accumulate it in the Russian capital.
Corruption looms large in nearly all post-Soviet societies. Russia is no exception, and in fact probably leads its former union neighbors in this shadowy trend that no one will speak about personally, but everyone knows exists. Moscow Armenian business people interviewed for these series of AGBU articles rebuffed (understandably) questions that touched on this delicate reality.
Artur Hakobian puts exotic animals on the feet of exotic customers. His designs are not for everyone (and surely not for those who oppose using wild animal skin for shoes). Nor can just anyone afford his work. While the shoes made by Hakobian from traditional leather start at about $1,000, others—made from alligator, python, ostrich, iguana, kangaroo, rhinoceros or elephant—can cost up to $15,000 a pair.
When David Muradian studied medicine in Yerevan a decade ago, little did he think that the legendary professor referred to in nearly all orthopedic surgery-related textbooks would one day be his mentor in a Moscow clinic. The graduate of the Yerevan State Medical University, who moved to the Russian capital five years ago, joined the clinic of noted professor Oganes Oganesian after two years of internship as resident surgeon.
There's a lot of attitude in a cloud of cigar smoke. It says the smoker has found the good life and knows how to enjoy it. That, anyway, is the notion behind one Moscow-based Armenians/ devotion to the art of the smoke as expressed in the magazine he produces, Cigar Clan.
The Kremlin, Red Square, the domes of the Vasiliy Blazheniy Cathedral, wide boulevards and Stalin-era Gothic skyscrapers. The grand image of Moscow fascinated generations spread across the empire that was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Moscow stood as a dream city, and when socialism no longer united the union, Russia's capital did not lose its appeal to millions from all 15 former republics.
In the heart of Armenia's capital there is a monument to the 19th-century Russian writer and diplomat Alexander Griboyedov. The statue honors Griboyedov's efforts to annex Eastern Armenia to the Russian Empire. Armenians knew that the Russian Empire wasn't a paradise, but linking to it was a matter of survival. Since the 17th century, all Armenian diplomatic missions had repeatedly appealed to Russian monarchs to free Armenians from the Muslim yoke and to protect "Christian people of the same faith."
Cheerfully and with a Moscow accent, Karine Karapetian greets visitors to her small boutique, Lik, where shoppers browse among collections from Valentino, Sonia Rykiel, Christian Lacroix and other top-line designers. At Lik (a literary variation of the Russian word for "face"), prices of evening dresses average about $3,000 and are bought by customers that include "people's artists" Lyudmila Gurchenko and Lyudmila Maksakova, television and theater actresses and 1960s sex symbols.
An Armenian theater revived eight years ago in Moscow is in danger of becoming homeless while its director, actors and patrons worry over its future. Since 1920, the Moscow Armenian Theater (then called the Armenian Theater Studio) has been in the building that now houses the Armenian Embassy at 2 Armyansky Pereulok (Armenian Alley). The theater, in the right wing of the historic Lazarev mansion, was first headed by Suren Khachaturian, elder brother of the famed composer Aram Khachaturian. It was closed on Josef Stalin’s orders in 1953.