Why don't Europeans like Armenia

Culture shock Germany, or: Do Armenians muffle?

Tessa Hofmann

Culture shock Germany, or:

Do Armenians smell?

Book review on:

Friesen, Ute; Würmli, Marcus:

Culture shock in the Caucasus. Bielefeld: Reise Know-How, (2006).

256 p .; ISBN 3-8317-1293

EUR 14.90

About the reviewer:

Dr. phil.Tessa Hofmannstudied modern philosophy (Slavic, Armenian) and sociology and works at the Eastern European Institute of the Free University. She has been traveling to the South Caucasus since 1975, ten years of which as director of art-historical study trips, and is the author or editor of 13 books on the history, culture and contemporary situation of Armenia. Her more recent releases include:

- Rapprochement with Armenia: History and Culture Munich 1997; 2. revised and updated edition 2006
- Armenia: stone by stone; with Andreas Wolfensberger (photos; 2001; 2nd edition 2005)
- Tessa Hofmann (ed.): Persecution, expulsion and extermination of Christians in the Ottoman Empire 1912-1922. Münster: LIT-Verlag, 2004
- Armenians in Berlin - Berlin and Armenia

(Berlin: The Berlin Senate Commissioner for Integration and Migration, 2005)

On my last trip to Armenia in June of this year, I repeatedly came across indignant readers of a new German publication. That made me curious: what had made my Armenian interlocutors so upset? Did you react too sensitively? I asked the publisher for a review copy.

On the front page of this travel guide it was promised to provide information on all areas of general and everyday culture, rules of conduct, relationships between men and women, urban and rural life in the three Caucasian countries. Well, after reading it, I put the book down in confusion. Have I been to a completely different region for about 31 years? Because I only recognize “my” Armenia in parts in this book. Despite the title, “Kulturschock Caucasus” is largely about Armenia, where the author Ute Friesen worked as a German teacher for three years. Your co-author Dr. According to the publisher's information, Würmli lived “in the Caucasus” for four years. He dealt scientifically with the insects and arthropods native to the Caucasus. He traveled a lot through the various landscapes of the Caucasus. (...) His specialties are kitchen and wine cellar, antique carpets and zoology. ”(P. 256) In fact, U. Friesen / M. Würmli is an experienced duo of authors who have jointly written travel guides to Australia and Italy, but also a children's lexicon for Bertelsmann Verlag.

Together with the Georgians, the authors believe that the cultivation of the grapevine is indigenous to Georgia (not in Egypt, not in Mesopotamia, despite older archaeological findings). They also share the conviction with the Georgians that they belong to an exceptionally educated people, in contrast to the Armenians and Azeris (p. 145). The authors worked critically on the Armenians in particular, and that what is said in general about "the" Caucasians is almost always substantiated with examples from Armenia. Heavy artillery is brought up: Caucasians are nationalistic, fixated on the past, but only perceive their history very selectively. They are vain, obsessed with fashion and fixated on outward appearances, but at the same time unhygienic, insincere, superstitious to the point of ridiculousness, believing in fate and therefore passive and apathetic and shy away from physical work. The Armenians in particular suffer from overestimating themselves (p. 145), they are basically irreligious; their apostolic church is "a merciless church" (p. 105), which is limited to the rite (the fact that other areas of activity were suppressed by the Soviet power for 70 years is not mentioned). Armenians, as Friesen / Würmli maintain repeatedly, are jealous of Israel and the Jews and at the same time are desolate anti-Semites (p. 23 and 145), although they have so much in common with the Jews, namely the crooked noses already depicted in the anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda and the familiar Mediterranean fever (p. 145). Widows are considered prostitutes and are also willing to prostitute themselves for dinner (p. 71). Armenian men are pampered princes as children and machos as adults and at the same time inattentive lovers, as German women are supposed to have perceived (p. 58). Armenians are also obsessed with shoes, allegedly because there were hardly any shoes in the Soviet era. The three-year-old mower already knows “that his social prestige as a man depends to a large extent on his shoes”. Both sexes have problems with personal hygiene in Armenia: "In adult women, the perfume often does not cover the smell of the rotting ruins of the dentition." (P. 84) While the clean Germans "in Armenia (...) again and again in winter Showers (visiting) ”,“ many locals (...) seem to not have this opportunity to clean themselves regularly and smell more quickly because they are almost exclusively dressed in synthetic materials. If someone smells, then a death in the family can be to blame. Older people adhere to the ban on not washing 40 days after the death of a relative. ”(P. 85) In plain language: Armenians stink seasonally, especially towards the end of winter.

According to the authors, the fact that Armenians and Caucasians - allegedly - prefer synthetic fibers instead of natural products is due to their disturbed relationship with nature. U. Friesen attaches this to wool socks in particular, which seem to be of central importance to them and are therefore mentioned several times in the book. Because socks are still being knitted in traditional patterns and wool is spun in Georgian mountain villages, the authors conclude with razor sharpness: "Unlike the Armenians, Georgians are not ashamed of their rural culture." (P. 31) I would like to have Ms. Friesen's own collection Beautiful Armenian knitted wool and cotton socks on display, made by Armenian knitters not so long ago. Perhaps her image of Armenia would brighten.

The allegedly disturbed relationship with nature of the Caucasians is allegedly also evident in their negative attitude towards their own bodily functions: In order not to have to urinate, Caucasians chronically drink too little. “You rarely see men peeing on trees on the side of the road.” (P. 90) That's a very positive thing, I think. The fact that German men unrestrainedly and publicly knock off their water wherever they feel the urge to urinate has nothing to do with an undisturbed relationship with nature, but much to do with ruthlessness and a lack of nursery.

At the latest in the section “Silent places” it was enough for me. The indigestible thing about this book is not so much the individual perceptions as the superficial, distorted and sometimes wrong explanations of the abuses described. The fact that mothers in Armenia gave and gave their children to drink only after class had nothing to do with a disturbed relationship with nature, but very much to do with the fear of epidemics and contagion. This fear of public toilets or the widespread use of toilets in schools and universities was not unfounded, especially during the energy blockade and the water closures. It is a fear that older people in Germany also share, who have come to know times of crisis and the risk of infection in such times.

The disdainful accounting with the Caucasians, which the authors, who are obviously frustrated by the Caucasus, are based on a largely static and deterministic view of mankind. Your own norms and habits are not questioned. One hardly learns anything about the enormous adjustment efforts that people in post-socialist states are required to make in the transition from the state-planned economy to the free market economy. The claims that there are no civil rights initiatives or women's movements in Armenia or in the Caucasus, that Armenians are incapable of helping themselves and only appear to make demands, are simply not true. Even with a simple internet search one comes across many knowledgeable descriptions of the civil society organizational structure of Armenia; Many of the NGOs working there are devoted to social problems, the problems of women and, increasingly, environmental issues. The presentation of the three ongoing conflicts Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia also remains unsatisfactory. In the opinion of the authors, the peace process in Karabakh is not making progress because “both sides are (not) willing to compromise. Azerbaijan would rather negotiate with the last Armenians in Karabakh, those affected, than with the neighboring state (Armenia), which has interfered in their affairs. "(P. 157) It would be nice, yes. But the fact that Karabakh has continued to be excluded from negotiations since 1994 - primarily by Azerbaijan - is just part of the problem. The keyword right to self-determination does not even appear when looking at the “frozen conflicts”. The authors describe South Ossetia and Abkhazia superficially or unintentionally funny and from an official Georgian point of view as a smuggler or multi-ethnic holiday paradise, to which the Russians came "from hunger for sun and ice cream" (p. 32) - as if it hadn’t already been in Russia Probably the best ice cream in the world was given in the days of the Tsars. The Russians in general, the traditional German object of hatred and ridicule: when the Soviet Union collapsed and “the civil war began in Georgia”, “they supplied the Abkhazians with weapons”. In Abkhazia the Russians are supposedly still the majority of the population (p. 39). The authors know: Russian women have “less strict sexual morals than Caucasian women”, which is why prostitutes in the Caucasus used to be predominantly Russian. That is why "the whole of the Caucasus" still associates "tall, blond and blue-eyed" with Russian hookers (p. 167).

The authors advise travelers to take part in a cultural exchange without teaching the locals (p. 169). But they don't follow this advice themselves. They continue to judge and teach. One wishes that they would interrupt their apodictic, penetrating moralizing and generalizing tone at least from time to time in order to objectify their statements with quotes from the Armenian media or to let an Armenian or Caucasian expert have their say on women and gender issues In Armenia, for example, the sociologist and MP Ludmilla Harutjunjan, investigative journalists such as Ara Manukjan or Edik Bardassarjan on sensitive topics such as the international sex industry, trafficking in women and prostitution, whose research and reports from Dubai online are also highly recommendedhetqonline- Investigative journalists of Armenia(http://www.hetq.am/eng/society/0606-arab.html and http://hetq.am/eng/society/0503-dub-5.html). The United Arab Emirates are responsible for this critical reportinghetqonlinehave it blocked. The British-Armenian blog founded by Matt Malcomson in 2004 is equally up-to-date and provides critical information on numerous areasblogrel(http://www.blogrel.com/category/armenia/).

The personal experiences interspersed by U. Friesen with her fictional or anonymized Armenian friends Meri, Anahit etc. can be believed or not. My personal experiences differ from hers: I have made male friends among Armenians and know single widows who do not dream of prostitution. I know and appreciate colleagues who are active in the human rights field. I know examples of animal love (but unfortunately also the opposite). The question is how representative our personal experiences are and which trends we as authors emphasize or leave out.

As a reader, you will soon block yourself against a non-verifiable presentation based on purely personal experiences and at the same time generalizing. In the case of serious issues that are difficult for Armenian society, such as anti-Semitism, the "sexualization" of the female appearance that is noticeable in the streets and public life, prostitution, migration, etc. I miss information on the following questions: Are these phenomena more recent or post-socialist phenomena? ? How representative are they? Who are their social carriers? Are there already studies or public debates or criticisms in Armenia (in the Caucasus) and abroad? Beyond the pair of opposites “uncritical tourism advertising or pejorative denunciation” there are a number of acceptable forms of objectifying personal impressions.

I would like to illustrate my criticism with three examples:

- lackpersonal hygiene: Friesen / Würmli justify this partly with excessive funeral rites. The fact that the haircut, shaving and washing bans are part of the Old Testament Talmudic legacy that the Armenian Church has inherited from the Jewish religion is not mentioned. During the shiva, the first seven-day and strongest time of mourning for the deceased, mirrors are also imposed in a Jewish “Orthodox” mourning house (I know stopping clocks and hanging mirrors from German mourning houses, including my own family tradition). But in an Israel travel guide, the authors would probably not have critically noted that “orthodox” grieving Jews “smell”. The fact that Central Europeans regularly spread annoying body odor, regardless of funeral rites, can be observed in every subway during rush hour.

-Armenian: Friesen / Würmli claim that the Armenian grammar is shaped by Persian and Turkish and that the colloquial language contains numerous Russisms (pp. 80, 126-128, 136). It is correct that linguistic influences also occur during long-term foreign rule. In the course of time, New Armenian was lexically exposed to the influence of Persian and Turkish, then - in New East Armenian - Russian. Convincing philological proof of the change in the linguistic deep structures, such as the New East Armenian grammar or syntax, is still pending and cannot only be provided by a philological contribution. The influence of foreign languages ​​on vocabulary takes place in Central Europe, especially Germany, but also without foreign rule, as the phenomenon "Denglisch" proves. There are more and more people in our country who can hardly or want to express themselves without borrowing from English or American. The official GDR German developed a preference for noun chains - a consequence of the "Russification" of East Germany? The fact that French was once the language of the upper and management classes in all of Europe, including Russia, is another example of the supranational use of a language. However, one looks in vain for comparative comparisons or cultural-historical references in the “Travel Shock Caucasus”. The main concern of the authors seems to be to deny the cultural achievements of the Caucasians. In the section “Science and Brain Drain”, on almost three pages of the book, no more or no less is asserted than that science in Armenia, with the exception of astrophysics and botany, is “bobbing”. On the empirical basis of one example each, U. Friesen describes the Armenian linguistics deluded as nationalistic (p. 136) and ethnology and psychology as stupid. U. Friesen: "It can be assumed that this is one of the reasons why an etymological dictionary was never published, because it would then find out how many words were adopted from Turkish and Persian." (P. 136) U. Friesen lived in Armenia for three years, without ever using the four-volume root dictionary (Hayerēn Armatakan Bararan, 1971-79)by Hratschia Adscharjan and M.G. To stumble upon Nersisjan or the four-volume “Contemporary Armenian Explanatory Dictionary” (1970-80)? For the linguistic interactions between Armenian and Turkish, but also Greek, Kurdish and the South Caucasian languages ​​Lasisch and Georgian in the Pontos region, the monograph by Uwe Blasing "Armenian - Turkish" (1995) should be used; it represents a continuation and deepening of the volume "Armenisches Lehngut im Türkeitürkischen" (1992) by the same author.

-Courtship: The further away a region is and the less it is visited by Germans, the easier and less consequential it is to circulate unproven claims about supposedly exotic customs. The non-folklorists Friesen / Würmli claim: “The wedding is preceded by courtship. Relatives of the man go to the house of the desired bride and ask for the hand. In the area of ​​Gjümri (sic!) In Northern Armenia it is a pure show of brides. The bride must appear in different clothes and also in a bathing suit so that the relatives can recognize any disabilities.In the other countries this custom has died out. ”(P. 62) However, none of my acquaintances from northern Armenia has ever heard of such a custom. In Germany, if you look for it, you will be able to find the relics of a number of highly bizarre customs. But such phenomena belong more in ethnological special studies than in a travel guide “Kulturschock Deutschland”, because they say nothing about the average behavior of millions of people.

Anyone who wants to understand the social behavior of today's Armenians or Caucasians should be aware of what shaped it: In the historically short period of only 50 years, society was exposed to repeated massacres and genocide, the Stalinist purges and two world wars in which the South Caucasus became, at least in part, a theater of war. After the Second World War, the industrialization of the South Caucasus followed, connected with the resulting migration processes, the collapse of the USSR, the outbreak of interethnic violence with the displacement or flight of hundreds of thousands of people in the South Caucasus and the earthquake in North Armenia (1988) with tens of thousands of victims.

Perhaps the shortcomings of this book lie in the concept of a series called culture shock. Those who experience the encounter with a different culture as a shock and not as an enrichment and expansion of their own horizons will first suffer from the encounter with the other, foreign and incomprehensible, before the differences are accepted in a final development phase and contradictions are endured. A few years ago, a guide from a completely different series helped me to prepare well for a trip to Japan. As a “travel guest in Japan” I approached this country, which is very different for Central Europeans, with curiosity, interest and a good dose of respect, without Eurocentric prejudice. I was not only prepared to avoid the grossest behavioral errors and intercultural misunderstandings, but was also able to enjoy Kyoto's cultural treasures more intensely because the authors Gothild and Kristina Thomas understood how to sensitively introduce their readers to the historical and cultural-historical peculiarities. Friesen / Würmli, on the other hand, claim that we travelers in the Caucasus do not have to bother to adapt: ​​“It is hopeless to try to adapt” (p. 165) “Because whatever you do, you do it as Western Europeans. Your behavior will not be condemned. ”(P. 163) However, they are very much mistaken, as the angry reactions of their Caucasian readers prove. The Caucasian long-suffering with German peculiarities reaches its limit in this case: culture shock Germany!

So how should you travel? In case of doubt, always with the Kantian imperative in mind, which the German proverb sums up: “What you don't want to be done to you, don't do it to anyone else!” When we judge, we have to apply our own standards to ourselves same severity. We will quickly find that our similarities with the criticized are greater than the differences. For example, if we accuse Armenians of anti-Semitism, then we should not only be aware of our own sins in this area, but also remember the racist utterances of Germans who are directed against Armenians and Jews alike and against whose background the comparisons that Frisians / Employing Würmli between Jews and Armenians (“The Armenians compete with the Jews for the role of the most troubled people in the world.” P. 145), to judge is: “(...) the Armenian, like the Jew, is outside of his homeland a parasite that soaks up the health of the country in which it has settled. ”This comes from the Armenian hater Major General Fritz Bronsart von Schellendorff, the second most important man in the Ottoman army command during the First World War and apologist for the Turkish deportation order. It is these connections that moved the German Bundestag to speak in a statement on June 16, 2005 of German co-responsibility for the genocide of the Armenians.

In a new edition of the “Kulturschock Caucasus”, two chapters written by Armenian authors about the perception of European travelers and about Armenian experiences in and with Germany could provide a welcome, instructive addition and compensation: We Germans and our society in the mirror of those we mirror .Quid pro quo- one of the basic rules of coexistence in the Caucasus, which Friesen / Würmli does not mention - would finally be restored.