Armenia has come up with a formidable new defensive tactic. Plans are underway to teach Armenian military cadets traditional folk dancing as a way to raise morale and also preserve the country’s rich cultural heritage.
The idea belongs to a recently established song-and-dance organization, led by seasoned choreographer and ethnographer Gagik Ginosian. “Military men must know Armenian military dances, in practice as in theory,” commented Ginosian, a co-founder of the National Academy for Song and Dance, to Sputnik Armenia. “This is going to be a kind of test for the soldier. Dancing brings a sense of unity, a team spirit,” he said.
To start, traditional military dances will be taught in the Vazgen Sargsyan State Military Academy, based in the capital, Yerevan, but later will be included in military schools nationwide. Ginosian says Armenia has as many as 15 types of military dances.
As elsewhere in the Caucasus, folk dancing remains popular in Armenia, and, when performed by Armenian military men, looks like this.
But Armenia’s longtime enemy, Azerbaijan, was not impressed by its neighbor’s dance-plans, with some sarcastically scoffing that Azerbaijanis are now going to be shivering in their bones. “Perhaps it is going to be like Aram Khachaturian’s ‘Sabre Dance’ or a mix of dance and kung fu?” bristled one Azerbaijani news outlet.
Armenians were busy dousing each other with buckets of water on July 7 both to cool down in the scorching summer heat and to celebrate the miracle of Jesus Christ. Or the pagan goddess Astghik. Or Noah and his ark. Or just to get wet.
Mention Vardavar in Armenia and the locals "will look at you with big and scared eyes," according to one travel site. This is the time when anyone who ventures outside, be it locals or unsuspecting visitors, risks getting showered with water thrown from the balconies or by people in the street.
The Armenian Apostolic Church says it has it on good authority that the sight pleases the Lord. The festival marks the Transfiguration, the episode in the Bible when a radiant Christ appears alongside the prophets Moses and Elijah. Jesus may have left no specific instructions to go around throwing water in honor of the event, but that’s what Armenia, the first state to go Christian, religiously does every year, 98 days after Easter.
Some trace the roots of the water-throwing fest further into Armenia’s ancient history, to pagan festivities dedicated to Astghik, a goddess of water, love and fertility. Pagan Armenians are believed to have thrown doves and presented roses ("vard" in Armenian) to Astghik, who, as one publication put it, sowed "the seeds of love" in Armenian soil.
Others look to Noah, who, according to legend, anchored his ark on the Armenian national symbol of Mount Ararat, now located in neighboring Turkey.
Finally, the BBC has devoted a story to the pressing international issue of what the Armenians think about Kim Kardashian, and what Kardashian thinks about the Armenians.
Thanks to her Armenian last name and roots, the American celebrity is big in Armenia.
As the BBC wrote: “Photos of Kim Kardashian are splashed across the front pages of magazine and adorn billboards, the walls of car washes and car parks in Yerevan, the country’s capital.”
But Kardashian’s relationship with Armenia, just like any of her relationships, is a complicated one.
Armenians, like other peoples in the Caucasus, tend to celebrate and embrace anyone or anything that emphasizes their importance for world culture or history.
(Some Georgians, for instance, are still proud that Joseph Stalin was their man; no matter if the dictator was known for misbehavior far worse than that imputed to Kardashian.)
Armenia is not short of famous people of Armenian descent (singer Cher, French bard Charles Aznavour, billionaire Kirk Kerkorian), but the nation is divided over Kardashian.
Some ordinary Armenians, though, find it hard to identify with Kardashian. Her flamboyant ways could not be more different from the customs of this traditional Caucasus country, where, as elsewhere in the region, restraint and demureness are expected of women, and females having sex before marriage (much less recording home sex videos) is frowned upon.
YouTube's administrators may not be aware of this, but Armenia’s education ministry regards the video-sharing website as a partner in its official battle to keep the country’s schools violence-free.
“I am glad there is YouTube, where you can see everything,” said Armenian Minister of Education and Science Armen Ashotian, referring to recently posted videos depicting abuse in Armenian schools. The videos sparked an online outpouring of public anger and a reaction from education officials.
One amateur clip showed a female instructor on a beating rampage, at one point frantically slapping a student with both hands. Another video shows a male teacher brutalizing an adolescent student. Both teachers have been fired, local media reported.
Education and Science Minister Armen Ashotian said later that he views Youtube as a partner since the site has become an important tool in helping keep a public eye on what is going on in classrooms.
YouTube has also contributed to a crackdown on military brutality. An army officer was jailed after videos depicting army hazing were posted on the site. Both military and education officials say that a system overhaul is underway to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.