Subtitled ‘Explorations in Armenia & the Soviet Union, 1966-2055’ the Eagle in the title is Armenia; the Bear is Russia. The author is Professor Emeritus of Business Economics at the University of Toronto’s prestigious Rotman School of Business. Prof. Safarian, born in Southern Ontario, has had a long and illustrious career as teacher, author, statistician, political economist, and expert on Canadian federation and economic integration, in addition to being a keen observer on how multinationals operate.
Between 1966 and 2005 Prof. Safarian visited the USSR, Soviet Armenia, Russia and the Republic of Armenia at least half-a-dozen times. As speaker on economic affairs to the elite of Soviet academia, and as a member of Canadian economics delegations, Prof. Safarian travelled across the Soviet Union, visiting everywhere from Riga and St. Petersburg in the west to Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Tashkent, Samarkand and Lake Baikal in the east.
Away from the university podium or roundtable discussions, these group tours took him to a Minsk tractor plant which
While his account of meetings with Soviet academics, his observations on wage rates, pensions, income distribution, lack of durable goods, the shoddy quality of products, the lackadaisical service ethic are pithy and sharply-delineated, of particular interest to Armenian readers are Prof. Safarian’s impressions of Soviet Armenia and of now-independent Armenia. Always optimistic at the prospects of his motherland, the Canadian-Armenian academic, who is fluent in Armenian, pulls no punches when he talks about the shortcoming of Soviet Armenia and of the current Republic of Armenia.
Whether on official or private visits to Armenia, he made a point of visiting and re-visiting the major historic, religious and cultural sites of the country. But in addition to building bridges with leading Armenian economists and academics, he found time to meet “regular” people, to learn about their lives.
Prof. Safarian’s brief memoirs of the Soviet Union and of Armenia (Soviet and post-Soviet) are not all somber and earnest. “The Eagle and the Bear” is replete with humorous and dramatic incidents, and with funny asides. The author describes how while discussing the Artsakh situation with the Catholicos of All Armenians in the latter’s Echmiadzin office, the conversation was interrupted by a telephone call, forcing the Patriarch of the Armenian Church to haggle with the caller for the price of a large carpet to be sent to the Armenian church in Vienna. Then there is the episode of the Canadian pilot who fell off his plane. Luckily, the aircraft was on the ground…the pilot had backed out of the cockpit before the aircraft door had closed. The Armenian invention of “Sarkis Cola” in the old Soviet Union is another gem.
Perhaps the most dramatic and most humorous anecdote is the author’s dinner with Marshal Hovhannes Bagramian and friends in Moscow. We will not spoil the reader’s fun by describing the incident. You have to buy Prof. Safarian’s book to enjoy the full account.
On a serious take, there is an account of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia while Prof. Safarian and his colleagues were attending an economics conference in the Soviet Union. And in 1998, while watching “Don Quixote” in Yerevan, Safarian and the audience could hear 10,000 demonstrators chanting “Karapagh is ours.” The opera fans stepped out of the imposing building. writes Safarian, to witness a historic moment in modern Armenian history. Two years later, on April 24, Prof. Safarian joined thousands of Armenians as they walked to Dzidzernagapert for the 75th commemoration of the Genocide of Armenians. He writes that although the memorial is just outside Yerevan, it took two hours to walk the short distance through the teeming but silent crowd.
During his trips to “The Eagle and the Bear”, Prof. Safarian became close friends of academicians Prof. A. Arakelyan (head of the Institute of Economics of the Armenian Academy of Sciences), Hrant Poghossyan, Yeghiazarian, Kotanyan, Abel Aghanbegyan and others. Through the impetus of these prominent people, 20 Armenian students spent a summer in Toronto, taking university courses in management. Prof. Safarian was instrumental in organizing the project and in obtaining funds.
“The Eagle and the Bear” ($15 in Canada; $17 in the US), including shipping, can be obtained by writing to Prof. Edward Safarian at Rotman School of Management, 105 St. George Street, Toronto, M5S 3E6 or by emailing aesafariatgmail.com