Pomexpress Review: Akhtamar

January 4, 2010 at 10:27 pm (media, nationalism) (, , , , , , , , )


After eagerly anticipating a gem of corporate nationalist propaganda, I was thoroughly disappointed on multiple fronts by the Ararat Bandy production, Akhtamar – a short film by the Shammasian brothers.  The Armenianness of the “legend retold” is reduced to hackneyed national images: Mt. Ararat, Garni, Republic Square.  The taxi driver character eats a pomegranate and drinks coffee for a full five minutes.  In the grand tradition of Armenian cinema, Akhtamar was super boring.

All of the language choices in the film were odd.   The Armenian language is practically

Tamar Credit: Addis Zaryan

absent and, while I knew from the start that the young actors were not Armenian (he is Russian and she Uzbek), I was unprepared for the award-winning old Armenian guy to speak only Russian.   Furthermore, the compulsory subtitles are only available in English.  These decisions were clearly motivated brandy marketing: the Russian market drinks up 85% of the Yerevan Brandy Company’s exports.  The Russian language makes the film accessible to much of the former Soviet Union while English subtitles cater to a broader brandy-drinking audience.  That leaves only Armenian speakers with the short end of the bottle.

Akhtamar is billed as the “first in a series of legends retold;” however, the most egregious offense is the absence of a ‘retelling’ of the fable itself.  A retelling is defined as a new version of a story.  In Akhtamar, the legend is simply told, and poorly, by the taxi driver.  There is no adaptation of the plot to suit modern Armenia and it is questionable whether the uninitiated would even understand the original tale.  The film contains a love and love interest, but several major elements of the tale are missing: there is no torch or swimming, or rough waters, or death.  In short, the short is not a retelling of the legend of Akhtamar.

Ararat brandy’s Akhtamar is an Akhtamar-lite film with unremarkable performances by CIS eye-candy and a problematic, one-note plot.  With some visual and narrative inconsistencies thrown into the mix, Akhtamar leaves viewers craving an authentic retelling served up with a snifter of brandy.


Permalink Leave a Comment

Armenian Cognac and Corporate Nationalism

December 30, 2009 at 10:52 pm (art, nationalism, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Armenia is famous for its cognac.  Winston Churchill famously preferred Armenian cognac to the other, less-Armenian varieties on the market.

The Yerevan Brandy Company is Armenia’s oldest cognac producer and, though now owned French alcohol conglomerate Pernod Ricard, the company maintains a line of cognac under the Ararat label with names that reflect Armenia’s cultural heritage.  For example, the six-year aged Ani cognac is named after the capital city of the Bagratuni Kingdom (885-1045 CE) and the twenty-year Nairi is named after the pre-Urartian bronze age settlement that is one of the contenders for the Armenian homeland.  That both are now located the Republic of Turkey, just over the closed border, adds modern political tension to the pain of centuries old territorial loss and dynastic decline.  Nevertheless, artists, writers, and companies alike have kept this nostalgia for Armenia’s glory days at a steady boil for generations.

Perhaps this is best illustrated by the island that inspired the poem, the countless paintings, and the cognac: Akhtamar.  Akhtamar is an island on Lake Van in eastern Anatolia, an area where Armenians once flourished and still cherish as their ancestral homeland.    Hovhannes Tumanyan turned into poetry the tale about clandestine lovers that – legend has it – gave the island its name.  Even the lone island (now a peninsula – thanks Soviet ecologists!) in the Republic of Armenia’s lake Sevan is commonly referred to as Akhtamar.  This mixture of romance and bittersweet nostalgia makes for some powerful branding, and the Yerevan Brandy Co’s ten-year aged Akhtamar cognac is now an important cultural signifier all on its own.  If fact, a cousin told me about a kind of pilgrimage in vogue today: Armenians travel to Akhtamar in Turkey, with a bottle of Akhtamar, get a picture taken with the bottle, the Armenian flag, and a Lake Van cat, and then return to Armenia with the cognac (and drink it). 

To keep this momentum going, the Yerevan Brandy Company is releasing a short film tomorrow entitled Akhtamar that will likely be available here.  I am expecting some well placed shots of cognac.  The trailer alludes to the Tumanyan poem and promises to be the first in a series of “legends retold.”  Retold through brandy and hot CIS actors?  I’m in.      

Permalink 3 Comments

All-Armenia Tour ’09!!!

October 6, 2009 at 12:14 am (Armenian-Turkish relations, Diaspora-homeland relations, media, nationalism) (, , , , , , , , , )

I like the idea of an pan-Armenia tour. I would like to do one someday – hit up Manchester, Buenos Aires, Cairo…

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is wrapping up his week-long all-Armenia tour in Rostov-on-Don/Rostov-na-Donu after stops in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Beirut. His purpose: to rep the protocols to the protocol-bashers, namely, diasporans around the world.

You might have heard about his reception. In Paris, protesters scuffled with the police. In NYC, young activists fought to have their voices heard. In Los Angeles, thousands picketed Sargsyan, shouting votch! (no!) outside of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

dont betray UHaul parked across from the Armenian consulate in Los Angeles.  Credit: StopTheProtocols.com

"don't betray" UHaul parked across from the Armenian consulate in Los Angeles. Credit: StopTheProtocols.com

The protests were not limited to Sargsyan’s tour, either – protests have sprung up in Montreal, Toronto, and Argentina. Glendale and Los Angeles – if we can separate the two – have been particularly active both before and after Sargsyan’s visit.

Like good activists, diasporan organizers have done an excellent job gathering protesters and publicizing their events. Conflicts between picketers and riot police – caught on camera and video – nicely convey the passion these diasporans feel about the protocols. To the media, it sure looks like the diaspora is unified in their opposition Indeed – as discussed previously – the diasporan political parties are mostly united – and more groups join in every day – the Zoryan Institute, AGBU, various schools and churches. The combination of self-promotion paired with the sudden burst of diasporan activism ensures that the protests will make the news.

This worries me. While I do no oppose the protocols, I do not fully support them either. You are not going to find me on a street corner with a witty poster because I am not a blind nationalist – of the Republic or of the nation. I see benefits and dangers in the protocols, but I am willing to let them play out. They will not fix everything – and they will not ruin everything. However, I am not inspired by Armenian youths in California forming a human chain to prevent Sargsyan from visiting their local genocide memorial. In fact, I see some really detrimental behavior shaping up in the form of these protests:

1. Like with section 907 of the Freedom of Support Act – the diaspora is once again actively interfering with Armenia’s foreign policy. The opposition claims that Armenia is not on equal negotiating grounds with Turkey – but have they considered their role in tipping the power scales against Armenia?

2. Diasporan media outlets are owned by diasporan political parties and those parties are part of the anti-protocol coalition. They promote and report on the opposition – and that becomes the de facto truth. Like I said, I am not out there repping my ambivalence towards the protocols – and that wouldn’t be nearly as sexy as straight-up opposition anyways. When there is only one voice speaking for the diaspora – that will become the only voice.

NYC protest  Credit: Asbarez

NYC protest Credit: Asbarez

3. Diasporan youth are being indoctrinated into an Armenian identity that is primarily based on the Armenian cause. This is not new. However, the urgency of the situation is new. Youths tend to take these revolutionary things pretty seriously, and hatred will form. Hatred without proper means of reconciliation gets desperate, and that leads to extremism.

My inner pessimist is already anticipating the day when the protocols will fail and a roar of victory will rise up from the diaspora: “we did it! now we can get back to advocating for Turkey’s admission of the genocide.” I love the activism, I love the passion – I just think it is misguided. If the diaspora’s goal is to achieve recognition for the genocide from Turkey (I will leave NK out of this for now) the diaspora needs to start becoming the change they want to see. It isn’t going to happen by force, guilt, or political pressure – it will happen through knowledge and understanding.

Permalink 4 Comments

Who’s Bad? Azeri nationalism meets Eurovision

August 29, 2009 at 4:28 pm (media, nationalism) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Two weeks ago, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on poor Rovshan Nasirli’s run in with the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry.  Nasirli’s crime: voting for Armenia in the 2009 Eurovision song contest.  He simply liked Armenia’s Inga and Anoush better than the Azeri entry, which featured local unknown AySel and euro-pop star Arash.  As RFE/RL reports, Nasirli was grilled by the Security Ministry about the motivation for his choice.  Before we continue, please decide YOUR vote:

The RFE/RL article does a good job putting Nasirli’s uncomfortable visit to the Ministry into context, summing up Aliyev Jr.’s gradual crack down on civil liberties and explaining the antagonism between Armenia and Azerbaijan over NK.

Maybe I am late to the game, but the thing that popped out at me was Azerbaijan’s pick of Arash to begin with.  I used to love remix of back in 2006, and know the man was born in Iran and famous in Sweden.  But the plot thickens: Arash’s grandfather is from the Iranian Azerbaijan.  While Arash was clearly brought in (at what cost, I would like to know) to lend star power to the Azeri entry, I cannot help but question what role his Persian Azeri heritage played in Azerbaijan’s selection.

Azerbaijan, the country, and Azerbaijan, the region of Iran, have been separated for nearly two centuries as Russia and Persia divvied up the region.  Nevertheless, some Azeri’s make irredentist claims on Persian Azerbaijan.  According to Merriam Webster, irredentism is “a political principle or policy directed toward the incorporation of [territories] within the boundaries of their historically or ethnically related political units.”  Basically – you lay claim to land in someone else’s country because you have a good reason to do so.  It always struck me how Azerbaijan and Armenia have this whole irredentist thing in common – Azerbaijan fiends for Iran’s Azerbaijan and Armenia for Karabagh.  Regardless of how realistic their respective irredentist dreams may be, at least some politicians and countrymen from both states are after territory in another country, and that makes them similar.



I do not know if Arash identities himself as Azeri, or Persian Azeri, but his presence in the song contest feels like a little shot of irredentism.  I know it is a bit of a stretch – but one too tempting to ignore.  Azerbaijan’s Eurovision selection committee must have made this connection.  (If so, I am also intrigued by their reigning in of diasporan talent.  Does this mean that Armenia will be entering Cher for Eurovision 2010?)  However, if Azerbaijan was attempting to use Arash to foment irridentism, then their plan appears to have backfired.  When the National Security Ministry asked Nasirli about his choice, the Baku resident replied, “I voted for Armenia to protest the fact that Arash was representing Azerbaijan.  Also, the Armenian song was closer to Azerbaijani style than Arash’s song.” For Nasirli, Arash is just not Azeri and, if we can trust Nasirli’s knowledge of music, Armenians and Azeris have more in common than their territorial ambitions.


RFE/RL reported last week that Eurovision is investigating reports of Azerbaijani citizens being questioned over their vote in the 2009 song contest.  This past Wednesday the plot thinkened even more when an Azeri government minister accused RFE/RL of political bias in favor of Armenia.  RFE/RL’s Azerbaijan bureau cheif was also accused of voting for Armenia.

Permalink 2 Comments