Sunday, July 27, 2008

Little Armenia

The flat in L.A. is close to an area known as "little Armenia" (there's a big sign to tell foreingers). There's lots of shops with Armenian signs on them. Sometimes, if I don't look carefully, I think it's Thai - just down the road is "Thai Town", so it's a bit confusing.

It's strange to go into these Armenian grocery shops. The feeling is very, very familiar, it reminds me of Jerusalem, or of the Turkish shops in Hackney. In the groceries I find vegetables, yogourts and cheese, bread, olives, tahini... and across the street, Burekas (pastry full of spinach/cheese/potatoes), Lahmajun, and yogurt drinks.

When I grew up in Jerusalem I used to think of Armenians as different, foreign to the region - mainly, I suppose, because they're Christians. I imagined them as some kind of European people that happened to find themselves in the Middle East. Considering my own east-European ancestory, it now seems like a projection. In those shops I see how ridiculous to think of Armenians as foreigners. The language sounds like Turkish to me (I'm sure they would disagree). They look and talk like Arabs from Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, or some Jews, or Turks.

But sometimes people in the shop speak Russian - I guess they come from proper ex-Soviet Armenia - and then I get even more confused. Suddenly the shop becomes like one of these Russian immigrants' shops in Jerusalem.

The game of identities is ultimately limited. If there's anything common between all these places/peoples of Eastern front, (our West Asia), it is the inevitable melange, in Los Angeles or Beirut, that even after a century of ethnic cleansing and indoctrination continues to defy homogeneity. This may be a feel-good conclusion, but I don't care.

PS: Armanian beer rocks - nice, full bodied, slighlty bitter lager, all the way from Yerevan


Sedrak Mkrtchyan said...

Thank you for the interesting article :)
Actually the Armenian Language is Indoeuropean language, member of a separate group - Armenian, presented by one language - Armenian. While Turkish is Altay language family representative, Turkish branch.
Whyle it is proven that Indoeuropean nations came from Armenian Highland, the Turks came into the region in 11th century, destroying Byzantine Empire, and today occupying the 9/10 of Armenia. Anyway, I don't really think the two languages are similar, because they are not only from different branches, but from different language families.

mink said...

Thanks for your comment and this information... I know that Ottoman Armenian - the one still spoken by some in Jerusalem and Syria - had lots of Ottoman and Arab words incroporated into it - but I have no way of telling if that's what they are speaking at the corner shop.

It might just be the body language that seems familiar.