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Gregory Diehl: «Armenia - The Land of Pretend, where the fear of failure leads to stagnation»

21:30, August 8

American Gregory Diehl says “Conservatism, subconscious fear of failure and judgment makes Armenia the Land of Pretend. They lack the will to make an independent choice. The fear of social rejection is their highest priority.” He has been living in Kalavan for several years. In an effort to learn more about his roots and his Armenian grandmother, he moved to the village of Kalavan in 2019 and has settled there ever since. During his stay in Armenia, he has written many books, maintained his own blog and conducted an innovative English course. Gregory told STYLE several stories that happened in the Kalavan, when he experienced cultural shock and rage.

Entrepreneurship in Armenian

“Kalavan promotes itself as being into economic development and very business-minded, but these people are all using words they don’t understand. They like the image, the idea of entrepreneurship, just because some people opened guesthouses and therefore suddenly the whole village is super entrepreneurial.”

Gregory wrote a whole book about “Armenian entrepreneurship”, called “Everyone is an entrepreneur”, which has been translated into Armenian. The book involves all the things keeping Armenians from successful business.

“They’re still poor and they don’t even understand why opening a store here would be a good idea to simplify economic exchange. They just tell me “Well what if it doesn’t work? What will everyone think of me? What if nobody buys anything?” They’d much prefer driving hours to Dilijan or Ijevan to buy things for themselves. They cannot understand why having a local convenience store with most of the products that you normally drive an hour to get, would simplify economic exchange, make it more affordable and create opportunities and make everyone here wealthier.”

The 500$ con?

“Many of my neighbors just saw me as a piggy bank. They constantly wanted to borrow money from me and lie to me about the price of things. For example, the guy who helped me buy the house here, Robert Ghukasyan, the politician who’s promoting Kalavan, was very helpful up until the point I bought the house. I told him I need to start installing the plumbing and wiring so I can move in, because the house didn’t have any of that. He told me to send 500$ to his bank account and he’ll get some of his construction guys to start working on the house. I agreed, thinking it sounded reasonable, because it looked like he’d done that before and he knows what he’s doing.”

Turns out he did know what he was doing, but it wasn’t what Gregory thought.

“He didn’t do anything. I text him to understand how things are going, he ignores my texts. Eventually I move into the house and get things going myself. A year goes by, and I have to remind him and threaten him to give me my money back. The 500$ I sent him for work that was never done. This man is a politician! He’s well known around the country. This man, I’m sure, is financially comfortable himself, and he doesn’t need my 500$. But these people just don’t care. It’s like they don’t possess long term memory or responsibility for their actions. It’s astounding! It’s like I’m surrounded by livestock and they don’t give a damn about me. The only thing they’re thinking about is “oh, I’m gonna go over there and eat some grass now.” And you try to have a real conversation with them, but they don’t have time to think about that. “Too much grass-eating to do. Leave me alone.” That’s literally what it’s like living here.”

Missed opportunities for kids of Kalavan

Kalavan residents were incredibly excited to have a progressive person in the village, up until the point he actually moved here. That’s when it all changed.

“When I bought the house here, the people promoting the village acted like they were super interested to have someone like me coming to live in the village because of my business development experience and my worldwide English-teaching experience. Seems like a really good opportunity, right? And an added bonus is that I’m a Native English speaker, which is incredibly important to teaching English well. It’s not like there are many opportunities like this in a rural village.”

Gregory tried to get involved with the local school and teach English. The principal and staff mastered the Armenian fine art of “crel”-ing, which basically means saying “it’s a great idea! We should do it sometime,” and doing nothing about it for four years.

“Instead, the Kalavan management took thousands of dollars in tax revenue to build a giant library filled with English books that nobody can read.”

“I’m the only one in the village who knows how to read those books. I’m the only fluent English speaker.”

“They do it because it looks good on news cameras. How many of them can read those books? None? Great, look at all the money you wasted decorating shelves with useless pieces of paper!”

But not everyone is concerned with their image. Some people are “unbothered by anything that happens”. They’re living in their own bubble, not caring about anything that surrounds them. Even if it may harm them or their neighbors.

Matit, the vicious dog and neighbor

“I had a blind cat for three years. Her name was Matit. Someone brought her to me shortly after I moved here, as a kitten with a horrible eye infection which permanently blinded her. So, really, she was with me from the beginning of moving into this house. She really defined my experience being here. And last year, when she was three years old, the neighbor’s dog killed her in broad daylight, right in front of me, early in the morning. It was the most traumatic day of my life that I can remember. The worst part is, that the neighbor didn’t give two damns. He didn’t care at all.”

When Gregory confronted the neighbor, “Your dog is dangerous, it killed the creature I love most in this world. You need to get rid of that dog before it kills again.” The neighbor said “oh sorry about that, but, you know, what can I do?” raising his shoulders in a “that’s just life” manner. “That’s just what dogs do,” he said.

Gregory threatened to call the police or kill his dog if it ever tresspasses his territory ever again. But the neighbor doesn’t even keep the dog tied up. Months going by and nothing happening. “The livestock mentality peaks when, even under the risk of dealing with the police or someone killing his pet, the neighbor keeps on living his life, as if nothing happened. The only thing that worked was involving a Kalavan resident friend, who knocked some sense into the neighbor. You know how he did it? He asked him for financial compensation for all the animals the dog killed.”

But even then, the neighbor didn’t take action, he just agreed to let Gregory take the dog away from Kalavan.

Gregory was forced to spend an hour in a car with the dog that killed the cat he loved so much, in order to take it to Sevan. “Because he wouldn’t do it.”

“The only way this place will change is if a bunch of young people moved in and brought actual modern ways of thinking and outlived the older, more conservative generation. Which I’ve started to work towards. I started opening my house to forward-thinking guests to come stay here for free. And I’m even now offering it like a Safehouse option. If you’re a young person, who gets kicked out of their house, because you don’t fit the conventional, traditional view of Armenian society, then you can come stay in my house for free. I will help you get back on your feet and take control of your life, so you’re not economically dependent on your family anymore.”

Meanwhile, Robert Ghukasyan categorically refuted Gregory Deihl's claims, stressing that it is not the first time the American has had problems with fellow villagers because of his difficult personality. “He has serious problems with integration. He is constantly in something with the neighbors: he claims that the neighbors send their dogs to steal his chickens and rabbits, then claims that the neighbors come into his house at night, deceive and overcharge him. He constantly offends people, claiming that they are stupid, don't know anything, should listen to him and learn how to work for even 1000 drams.” The conflict reached the point that Ghukasyan urged the villagers to simply not communicate with him: “I haven't been to the village for a long time, I hoped that everything was settled, but, as I see, it’s not.”

Referring to the $500 taken and the work not done, Ghukasyan noted: “It's not the first time he has distorted and twisted my words. Personally, I helped him so much! Since I was the only one who spoke English, when the villagers worked, I translated everything to them. The whole village helped him with everything, they installed both water and electricity.”



Alexandra Hunanyan

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