ACOM Book Club for February 2023

Book Club FebruaryThe ACOM Book Club held a Zoom meeting on Thursday, February 16, 2023. Attendees were Tashina, Francis, Jim, Margaret, Tom, Peter, Azad, Cynthia and me. For this month's book we revisited "An Armenian Sketchbook" by Vasily Grossman. It was also our book of the month for September in 2017.
Religion in Armenia was being discussed by the group. Tashina said that when she was in Armenia several years ago the people did not seem to be very religious. Azad said that western Armenians were more religious. Soviet communism discouraged religion in the Armenian SSR.
Jim pointed out that the top prelates in the Armenian church objected to communist policies and were removed by the state. They were replaced by more pro-Russian people.

This led to discussion of some of Grossman's comments on society in Armenia. Peter commented that a friend of his who spent a year in Kazakhstan learned to not try to make friends and not to smile in public.
Meanwhile, Francis noted that a friend of his who visited Tajikistan found that the people there were very interested in finding out about living in a democracy.
Peter noted that outside sects in the USSR who were shunned and thus avoided being part of the common social and economic groups learned to depend on themselves and work outside the Soviet economy. They were in good shape after the fall of the USSR.
In commenting on the Soviet society, Azad said that he noticed that Armenian women often had sad faces.
The discussion moved on to how Christianity built on older religions and co-opted some of their celebrations. Jim said that he noticed that some of the buildings in Echmiatzin were built on older pagan temples, some of which you can still see parts of. While looking at some of them he saw crosses etched into the walls. Peter said that there was a celebration in February for the ancient Armenian fire god. The Armenian christian church adopted it as one of their ceremonies. Cynthia noted that there was a fire worshiping holiday in Garni in June.
Peter asked how the Armenian SSR was viewed by the other SSRs. Francis said that Armenia provided a high percentage of the scientists for the USSR.
Azad talked about how much of the buildings in Armenia are built of stone, usually tufa. He wondered, though, about how the base layers of many buildings that he saw used a harder black stone.
In discussing specific comments in Grossman's book, Azad liked how when Grossman visited one city, an old man there continued to talk to him in Armenian, which Grossman didn't understand. The old man stated that it was impossible that a man with such good, kind eyes didn't speak Armenian.
Francis liked the chapter about the wedding. Other members did, too.
We discussed how the tunnel was bored into the bottom of lake Sevan to provide a flow of water for hydroelectric power, which dropped the level of the lake by several meters. The lake is no longer being drained that way.
We ended the discussion here. I hope to see you all next month.

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