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"You went to the Chaplain, who also kicked you out. How do you antagonize a Chaplain?"
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I'm Evan and I like hard liquor, trashy EDM, and shooting things. On the side, I dabble in strategic analysis and I have a blast working through logistical planning.

I study nuclear engineering: It's basically a sophisticated counting exercise that usually ends up in two ways depending on if your math is right or not: either water boils or people die horribly.

Most Recent Posts

Sevan, Armenia

Hagop’s alarm clock pierced through the comforting shroud of his sleep, waking him up at precisely nine in the morning. He flailed underneath his light blanket, futilely waving his hand around to try and stop the ringing. After a few seconds of searching, he finally was able to slam the alarm into silence, knocking something off the bedside table the process. He laid face-down on his pillow for a few more seconds. With a heavy sigh, he stretched out into a pose not unlike that of a dog’s, and sat up. He looked around through his sparse apartment’s bedroom, at the ugly green wallpaper and beige carpet that needed to be cleaned. Scratching his unruly curly black hair, he checked back to the floor and saw that he had knocked his handgun off the table while trying to turn his alarm clock off. Hagop sighed again, gingerly reaching down to put the handgun back with his things: it was loaded, of course, with one in the chamber and its safety off. Such was the life of a Mafiya foot soldier.

His creaking wooden door opened to the smell of potatoes, sausage, and black tea. He lived with Mikael, who cooked simple Russian breakfasts almost every morning. Since Hagop couldn’t cook, or at least couldn’t cook very well, he ate whatever Mikael came up with, which often consisted of a very repetitive quick dish. A ceramic plate was already on the sturdy wooden table with some food on it. Hagop brushed past the table in his sitting room to poke his head into the kitchen, where Mikael was cooking. The Russian wore a blue-and-white striped sleeveless undershirt around the apartment, a unique piece of gear from the Tsarist military that wound up in Armenia with the Russian community. It was lazily untucked over cotton athletic shorts and a pair of slippers. He turned around, greeting Hagop. “Did you see I made sausage?” he asked in his usual deeply accented Armenian.

“I did, it looks delicious,” answered Hagop, sitting down at the dining table. He pawed for the metal fork next to the plate and used the side of it to slice off some of the sausage. He ate it, chewing while scratching his hair. “So do you have anything going on today?” asked the Armenian.

“I still have to do my laundry,” Mikael answered casually, gesturing with his hand still holding the spatula out the window to the end of their block where a laundromat had just opened up.

“I thought you did you laundry yesterday,” asked Hagop curiously. He leaned back in the chair and rolled out his arms in a big, lazy circle: his right shoulder still pained him from an injury back in his youth when he was on his school’s wrestling team. He grew up near the Persian neighborhood of Sevan, where almost every single boy wrestled. They called it koshti, and they were good at it. Good enough to tear fourteen-year-old Hagop’s shoulder out in a match when he couldn’t submit quickly enough.

“Funny story about that,” Mikael said with a grin. He flipped two sausages onto his own plate and turned off the gas to the stove. He brought the plate down to the table and sat in the wooden chair opposite of Hagop. “I went down yesterday, right? And this guy, some middle-aged fatass, starts telling me I can’t use his machines because he could tell I’m Russian. My accent gives me away, heh.”

Hagop chuckled. “Another one of those ‘Russians are taking our jobs’ people?”

“He said that if I were to use his machines and an Armenian came in and had to wait, it would be unfair,” Mikael continued, taking a bite of his own breakfast.

“Why didn’t you do anything about it?”

“Well,” Mikael answered with a laugh. “I asked him very politely if he knew who he was dealing with. I showed him my arm. He told me that he knew exactly who I was: a Russian.”

On Mikael’s arm was a Russian mafiya tattoo, done in the style of gulag art. All of these tattoos had a history from Russia and an associated meaning. While tattoos were generally less-accepted in Armenian society, Russian gangsters often bore a “suit”, known in Russian as a mast, of tattoos. His chest was well marked with a church bearing a cupola, for one stint in prison, and a sun rising over it with four rays to denote four years. A cat sat at the entrance of the church, looking out, denoting his status as a thief. Beside the sun, on the other side of his chest and over his shoulder, were a constellation of stars with an eight-pointed star in the middle: he had killed the head thief in his prison in Russia, becoming the boss after only a few short years. Yet he kept only the outline of a skull on the inside of his left arm. It was subtle enough that he could operate in regular life with no suspicion as long as he wore longer sleeves, but if he needed to show someone that he has killed then it was easy to flash the symbol of a murderer.

“The fuck had no idea, I don’t even think he noticed the tattoo,” Mikael continued, looking down at the skull and shaking his head. “So I asked again, and I told him that if he continued behaving like this then bad things would happen.”

Hagop raised an eyebrow. “He’s a rather dense fellow, isn’t he?”

Mikael rolled his eyes. “Usually I would have beaten his ass right then and there but… well, there were a few old women doing laundry there at the time and they didn’t need to see that. So I told him I’d be back and that he should seriously consider changing his mind.”

Hagop sighed and finished the last of his sausage. “Why do you have to keep getting into trouble like this? I just wanted to relax today and maybe go to the cinema later.”

“We’ll still have time to go to the cinema,” replied Mikael. “But first I’m going to do my laundry. Actually, can you help me carry it there? I’ve got the bag in the corner over by the sofa.”

Hagop agreed and finished his breakfast. The two washed their dishes, placing them carefully on the drying rack: Hagop, at least, tried to keep things organized. Even if the apartment was cheap and dingy, located in an old building next to the seedier parts of town, he still didn’t see that as an excuse for messiness. Many youths left their time as National Service conscripts with a disdain for dress-right-dress cleanliness and almost overbearing organization, but Hagop tried to strike a balance between being obsessively ordered and a slob. Fighting with Mikael about it was an uphill battle, since the Russian was careless with his things and often just left piles of stuff on the floor. Somehow, it was completely normal for him to leave his shotgun on the sofa next to a suitcoat draped over the arm of it. He didn’t even let Hagop clean his things out of the common areas, somehow claiming that he knew exactly where in the mess everything was and if it were cleaned up then he’d lose things.

The two dressed, Hagop throwing on a light blue cotton summer shirt over a pair of loose pants. He slicked back his long hair and slid his handgun into the waistband of the pants before tightening his belt around it. Mikael tossed him the laundry bag as he chambered some rounds into his own revolver. They left the apartment just before ten, locking up and walking down the stairs. They chatted about the results of the football game that both of them had missed that week: FC Sevan had beaten the historically amazing Ararat team in what both of them had considered to be a very lucky upset. Tied 1-1 into penalty shots, FC Sevan’s new striker from the deserts of West Armenia kicked one that bounced right off the frame of the goal, past the goalie’s fingertips, and into the net. They made quite a bit of money on it and had to go collect their winnings later that day. The laundromat wasn’t that far away, a red awning with the words “Laundry Service – 50 Dram, Modern Machines” emblazoned on the side.

A little bell rang as the door creaked open. The owner, in the back, called out “Just a second!” as Hagop and Mikael walked to the counter. Hagop dropped the laundry bag next to his feet and leaned over on the counter, looking over to Mikael who appeared almost bored with the experience. The owner, true to Mikael’s description as an overweight, balding, middle-aged man came out wearing comically small glasses, poring over a dry-cleaning receipt. “Can I help you?” he asked, before looking up. His mouth turned downwards into a scowl. “What are you doing here? I told you that I’m not letting you use the damn machines.”

Mikael didn’t say a word before his hand reached out to grab the fat man’s collar and slam him into the table. His glasses flew off towards the ground, scattering off to the side. Hagop just looked down at the scene and crossed his arms. The laundromat owner yelped in pain and grunted, a trickle of blood coming out of his crooked nose.

“So I asked you if you would reconsider your decision,” Mikael said, “and it appears you haven’t. So I’m going to give you one last chance. I give a lot of chances, don’t I?”

The fat man blubbered and tried to spit out an answer, flailing beneath the grip of the Russian gangster. He tried to use his hands to push away, but was unsuccessful. Instead, Mikael gripped tighter and forced the man harder into his counter. The gangster, with his other hand, grabbed the handle of his steel revolver out of his waistband and audibly clicked back the hammer. He screwed it into the owner’s ear, causing another yelp. Hagop almost felt bad for him. Almost.

“There are two options now. One, you let me, and anyone else for that matter, do my laundry like a regular customer. I’ll pay you, you’ll take my money, and you’ll support your family. You’re ugly, but I still think you have a wife and children. Do you?”

“Y-yes,” stammered the owner, almost hyperventilating now.

“How many?” asked Mikael nonchalantly, like he was making small talk before a job interview.

“My wife… We have… Three boys,” he said, shakily, trembling underneath Mikael’s grip.

“Three boys are a lot to feed,” observed Mikael, looking to Hagop and nodding. “I had a few brothers and my mother really had to do a lot to get us food when we were young. So I know the struggle, and I would rather not subject your kids to a single mother. I can, though.”

“No!” screamed the owner.

“Alright, so that’s our first option. I come in, I pay, and I do my laundry. We don’t forget this happened, we learn a lesson from this… but it’s water under the bridge from now on. God forgives, and so do I. It’s the right thing to do. I’m sure I don’t need to explain the other option, but I’m sure it would be a tragedy if an investment like these washing machines went up in flames.”

Mikael gripped the man’s collar tighter again and lifted him up to his feet, holding the owner in place as he stumbled on unsteady legs. “Alright, alright, alright,” he cried, wiping blood away from his nose. “It’s fine, it’s alright… Do your laundry, just… just leave me alone.”

Mikael smiled, looking back at Hagop. He turned his attention back to the fat man, still quivering with the Russian’s hand on his shoulder. He took his handgun away from the head of the owner but, instead of holstering it, raised it above his shoulder to bring it down onto his temple with a loud thud. The fat man grunted and dropped to the table, smacking his head on the counter and splattering blood across it. He lay moaning on the floor, hands clutching his head to stop the bleeding.

“Listen, that was for the disrespect,” Mikael explained as he inspected the handle of his revolver and tucked it back into his pants. “I’m a believer in respect. I’ve killed over respect. Next time, think before you act.”

The fat man moaned again, sobbing softly on the ground and writhing in pain. Hagop, who had been absently playing with the thin metal arms of the fat man’s glasses, leaned over the counter and tossed them down to him. Mikael reached into his pocket, withdrawing a brown leather wallet. Opening it, he took a purple-and-blue banknote with a 50 emblazoned on the front alongside a heroic portrait of a young and handsome Mikael Serovian in his prime. He took the bag of laundry and went to the closest washing machine, opening the door and pouring some soap into the receptacle. He put a load in, turned the timer, and hit the start button. With an electrical buzz, the dull thumping of the wash cycle drowned out the moans of the owner. He patted Hagop on the back, who put his hands into his pockets and shrugged as they went for the exit. The little bell rang again as the glass door opened up. Mikael hesitated as a warm summer breeze rushed through into the building, and turned his attention to the “open” sign on the door. He flipped it over to read “closed”, and turned back to the owner: “Clean the place up, will you?”

Without waiting for a response, both of them left. They stood on the sidewalk, hands in their pockets, as a car rushed by, stopping at a stop sign, to turn at the intersection. Hagop withdrew a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket along with a match, striking it and lighting up one for him and one for his partner. They smoked silently for a minute on the sidewalk underneath the shade of the awning, stopping only to say hello to an old woman walking by. She looked at the sign on the laundromat and frowned: “Closed?” she asked.

“I’m afraid so, ma’am,” Hagop answered with a shrug, looking back to the counter at the end of the building. “I think he’s doing some cleaning in the back. Shouldn’t take too long.”
“Well… thank you,” the old woman replied. “Maybe I’ll come back later. This is easier on my old hands than the clothesline. It’s amazing how far things have come, isn’t it?”

“It sure is, ma’am,” Hagop said. The old woman smiled at him and turned around to hobble back to her apartment, leaving the two underneath the awning again. Within another minute, they had finished their cigarettes, thrown them into a drain, and were going back to their own place. The entire day was theirs to enjoy.

Yerevan, Armenia

The Council, or at least the council’s building, sat upon a hill overlooking Armenia. Inside a modest estate with a sprawling garden lived the last remaining members of the Armenian Separatist Federation, elderly and frail after years of rough life. Accompanied by a contingent of nurses and assistants, the Councilmen lived comfortably. Within the walls of this estate, long after their retirements from politics, they provided counsel and assistance to Armenian politicians seeking solutions for challenges in line with the revolution’s spirit. The Council had no actual legal power, of course, but their societal power as liberators and immortal heroes gave them clout to influence decisions and policy. A prominent example emerged during the election, where the Council published routine statements on the state of Armenian democracy and warned people against the dangers of undermining. It was certainly a curious government organ, but one that was due to be gone very soon. There were only three surviving members of the ASF of the original twelve, and they were aged anywhere between seventy and ninety years old.

In the years just after independence, the Council traveled and talked and held council sessions across the country. As they aged, however, they withdrew to their estate to let people come to them, like monks in a monastery. They watched from their garden as Yerevan grew taller and wider, as roads began to inch outwards towards other cities like spider webs. They watched society undergo shifts and changes with the time, offering their guidance on where it should go. A massive library of literature of politics, economics, and philosophy, including many of their own writings on the Armenian state, was compiled and the Council often debated these subjects amongst each other. George Washington, Voltaire, and others were compared to Karl Marx or even contemporary figures like Hou Tsai Tang. Over time, their mystique only grew with their isolation: they became more and more mythical, blending into the national story as strong characters. Some even called them the philosopher kings of Armenia, ruling by way of the national government in the city below.

Assanian sat with Mikael Serovian on a carved wooden bench beside a rock-bordered pool. Lilly pads floated lazily atop its greenish-hued water, fish swimming gently under the still surface. In the center, a rock bearing the Arevakhach wheel of eternity, peeked above the water. The gentle trickle of a stream, combined with the rustle of various plants, trees, and flowers in the wind, soothed the men. Serovian, dressed in a somber black suit, had grown almost completely bald: a far cry from his famously wild and ragged, golden-brown hair that he wore around the mountains as a revolutionary Fedayeen. His strong, muscular body had deteriorated to a frail, pale frame that hunched over when he walked with a cane. Yet the mind of the first Armenian president remained sharp as ever, the grips of age not yet taking his thoughts from him. He had his hands folded on his lap as Assanian talked through what Moysisian had briefed him on, his eyes focused on the mountains in the distance but nodding along understandingly.

“It’s very focused on partisans and militias, irregular forces and cooperation with the civilian government,” Assanian mused, watching as a fish jumped out of the water and back in with a tiny splash. “The NSS minimizes the deployment of regular military formations to major urban and production areas, but wants us to work hand in hand with the Georgians. We want them to trust us.”

Serovian leaned back into the bench and nodded again. “If you’re looking for a strategic assessment, my days of the Fedayeen are behind me. I know that war has changed… Tanks, airplanes, even an infantryman’s rifle are all alien to us. Your troops can shoot thirty rounds with one chambering of the bolt, we had one! I think Moysisian can give you a better picture than I can. What I know you want the answer to is ‘should we do it?’”

Assanian nodded, looking towards Serovian. The former president was still looking off into the distance, at the half-finished Tsaghkum Tower destined to be the tallest building in the region. Its skeleton frame barely peeked above the other modest towers that had been built in the city center of Yerevan for the last fifteen years. The Councilman continued: “I know there has been a lot of debate about foreign intervention. Your party in particular has been hesitant about it, you’ve all been so focused on the interior affairs and cleaning up the mess that the Independence Party’s rule made.”

“There’s no consensus on a platform, it’s like we ignored it when I was in Parliament,” Assanian agreed, thinking back to his time as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party watching these discussions from the sideline. “My Prime Minister has been trying to ask for opinions on it, but there’s no coherency. Especially with what could be construed as a foreign invasion. Our military is geared towards defense… The trenches in the west, and our war in the Artsakh. The only foreign posting we have is Poti, and most people think that it’s just port guards so we can refuel our cargo ships in peace.”

“The intent of the Armenian state was always to defend the Armenian people and our culture,” Serovian reminded him. “That’s us, that’s the diaspora from France to India to America, that’s everyone who hails from Hayk, near or far. Keep in mind that the republic you currently lead is the first Armenian state since the thirteenth century. Even then, that state was like a kingdom in exile in Cilicia, not our ancestral homeland. It’s been even longer since the Armenian people have had total control, not just subjugation and vassalization, over our lands.”

“Then we’re not necessarily responsible for other states’ securities,” Assanian said, as if continuing his explanation.

“Not entirely, no, and I know many of your reservations come from the fact that you do not want to be an empire. The greatest irony of them all is the Ottoman Empire being replaced with an Armenian Empire conquering its way through Georgia. I fear we may already be on that slope just from the way we treat the Russians… The Turks did the same thing to us before they started killing us.”

“Then how do I balance something like this with our integrity as a nation?” Assanian asked, his insides turning to ice at the mere mention that they could be becoming the monster they sought liberation from. Were forty years really enough to forget the pain? Were they that wrapped up in protecting their people that they lost sight of who they were? “The Georgia Plan… Well, it makes sense to me. It makes sense to my cabinet. My ministers agree that it is thought out well and could offer the relief we need to deal with several issues. The bandits, the refugees, the drugs, the crime… Georgia is a major component in all of them. It gives us an opportunity to stabilize our region and stop suffering on all sides.”

Serovian sighed and frowned. “It’s a check that you have to make sure that your government understands before you undertake an operation such as this. You know what our intent is, you know what Armenia is supposed to be. I am very proud of how far we’ve come, but I know the rest of the Council worries that we could lose sight of ourselves. Make it apparent who we are and what we do. We have ideals, we have values. Vadratian, your predecessor, forgot much of this despite our concerns. I implore you to think about these things. You’re a smart man, Hasmik. You’re caring. I know who you are and I know of your service to the Army. You have values, too. You know what duty is.” The Councilman looked back towards the estate, then back to Assanian: “I trust you. I think that you can order this.”

Assanian crossed his arms and thought. Of course, the old clichés about a best defense being offense came to mind. But more practically, the Armenians could have their cake and eat it, too: a protected state and a retention of their ideology. The warnings of empire stirred something in him, made him think about the morality of what they were about to do. The Great War was supposed to be the death of empire, the death of the world order that had kept them from greatness. Around the world, it was not always like that, but something led Assanian to believe that they could take these lessons and learn something. They were weak now, sapped of their strength and unity by those who sought to extract instead of build. If people recognized this, if they internalized it, then something great could happen. But something had to start the fire, someone had to take initiative and champion a new age. Armenia was stronger now than it had been in hundreds of years: why couldn’t they come from the shadows to make the region as they wanted?

Destiny, for once, was in the hands of the Armenians. No longer were foreign powers there to determine what people could and couldn’t do. The Caucasus and the Near East were finally free to change everything. Assanian smirked and looked over to see a glint in Serovian’s eye, as if he read Assanian’s mind and knew what he was thinking. The President thanked the Councilman for his time and excused himself. He took his coat and his briefcase, and returned to the city.
Aygestan, Armenia

Mary Kandarian stood with her family at the dinner table as the sun dipped below the dark green mountains of the Artsakh. She looked down wordlessly at the meal prepared, dressed in a deep blue silk dress with the traditional brightly decorative patterned trim subdued in tone, her jewelry and ornaments removed, and a scarf wrapped loosely around her head. The night before the funeral was the ritual of Dan Gark, a wake at home to be with family before the priest took them to the church the following morning. Both the parents of Mary and Gor, her own two sisters, Gor’s younger brother and sister, and the couple’s children were there: Mary’s brother was unable to get leave from the western border to attend, while Gor’s older brother was training in Nakhchivan. They had spent the day each other, recalling memories of Gor’s life and his marriage to Mary. His casket was prepared in the sitting room, open as per tradition. The church had dressed him in his suit, covered the wounds on his head with makeup, and made him look peaceful as he laid there.

The family ate and drank together until midnight, laughing and crying over childhood stories or pointless arguments that they had. One time, Gor had been out getting water from the well with his mother when he saw a dog running through the woods and decided to chase it: he had loved dogs and wanted one badly at the time. His father had to run after him and grab him as he tried to find it and “tame” it. A year later, Gor’s parents finally adopted a small dog from a family friend whose herding dog had puppies. It was a runt, but it lived through Gor’s childhood. Its name was Hovit. Many years later, when Mary and Gor had their second child, they would adopt another one for their kids. That one, old and riddled with arthritis, was curled up peacefully on the floor next to a window.

The wake of Gor was ended around midnight when his parents announced that they were tired and wished to rest for the next day. The sons went to the front door where the casket lid was placed upright, a traditional way of notifying the neighbors of a death in the family. They brought it into the house and carefully went to their rooms, while Mary returned to her now empty bedrooms. Photographs of her and Gor still stood on the dresser: that and the closet were still filled with clothes she had not sorted through yet. After the funeral and a few days of mourning, she knew she had to start looking for places to send his old possessions. Looking through the cleaned clothes hanging from the closet or stumbling on his hunting rifle and ammunition by the front door filled her with sadness, like she thought he was coming home at the end of the day before that thought was quickly crushed. Gor was never coming home from the forest again, he had been claimed by the mountains of the Artsakh like many others. A stupid, meaningless death. It was frustrating to watch someone die like that: not for a purpose, not for a cause, but because of an accident. She remembered simmering with rage when the foreman told her that it was a rusted-out clip holding a line in place. A rusted-out clip, a ten dram piece they could have picked up from the hardware store on their way over.

Aygestan’s priest arrived on the quiet Friday morning with a small group of volunteers the next morning. Mary, who had done her best to look presentable and stoic for the funeral, could not hide the lack of sleep in her eyes. Aygestan’s church’s pastor was an older man with a well-kept greying beard. Wrinkles covered his olive skin, but he maintained a tall and sturdy build despite his age. He wore the simple black robes of the Armenian Church with the pointed hood down, golden cross dangling low across his neck. His followers, young men and teenagers with strong arms to lift Gor’s casket, stood a distance behind him in almost identical black suits. Father Deradoorian bowed his head respectfully to Mary. “Good morning, Miss Kandarian”, he said softly. He looked to her tired face and sunken eyes in the way priests always tried to do, with compassion and understanding.

“Good morning, Father,” Mary answered duly and without overt emotion. She stared emptily ahead at him, diverting her gaze to scan the followers behind him. “Today is Yegeghetsvo Gark, isn’t it?” she said rhetorically, referring to the church services of Armenian funerals.

“Yes. With your permission, we would like to bring Gor’s casket to the church for this morning’s service.”

Mary nodded, stepping aside and offering Father Deradoorian a path through her door. The volunteers wordlessly entered in a single-file line to the sitting room where they ensured the casket was closed and properly secured. After Dan Gark, the casket was always to be closed when going to the church for services and burial. They lifted the dark black wooden coffin off the floor and shouldered it, bringing it right back out the front door and towards their modest black sedan that sat on the road with its rear doors propped open. They then lifted the coffin, spun it three times, and brought it back down to shoulder level. Father Deradoorian stood with his hands clasped together, watching. Mary had blanked her face, coldly watching the casket of her husband leave their home for the last time. The church’s car had been fitted with rails specifically for coffins, which the bearers carefully slid Gor’s onto. They locked it into place to stop it from sliding around on the winding mountain roads and pressed the rear doors closed.

“We will see you this afternoon once the preparations are completed,” Father Deradoorian continued. The volunteers of his all piled into the sedan, closing their doors to wait patiently for their pastor. “Who will you be bringing with you to the final ceremony?”

“Just our family and his,” Mary answered. He adjusted her dress and looked back to her house, where her children were still sleeping in their rooms.

Father Deradoorian nodded solemnly. “Well then, I shall give you a few hours to get ready. One in the afternoon is when I shall start the service.”

The pastor placed his hand over his heart and offered a blessing to Mary, before turning back towards the church car. He climbed into the side passenger seat and the engine rumbled to life: the wheels crunched gravel as it pulled back onto the road and began to drive off towards the main part of Aygestan. Mary’s house was only a few minutes from the town, nestled quietly along with three or four other wooden country homes on a lonely road. The vibrant summer forest enveloped their little street, stretching up and down the side of the hill that it was cut in on. Mary looked around at the road, noticing a flight of birds coming down past the power lines that stretched across the street. They turned right towards town, almost following the priest and his followers on their journey to the church. With a sigh, she turned back to her house and went back in. She woke her children and ordered them into their dark suits, then knocked on the door of her parents. They, too, were dressing in their mourning clothes.

Mary had to borrow a neighbor’s car to get them to the church. It took two trips to carry the entire extended family into town. Aygestan wasn’t large: the distance between her house and the church was only a few kilometers. It was a typical western Artsakh town: in the valley, nestled by the mountainsides that were comfortable to residents. Along with the church, there were only two restaurants, a coffeehouse, and a small hotel; a grocer, butcher, baker, and a general store all located in the same block of town; a single school for children of all ages; and one increasingly elderly policeman for the town. The biggest employer was the Aygestan Brandy Company, where Gor had previously worked in his teens before logging offered a more competitive paycheck. The only medical clinic was midway between Aygestan and the neighboring village of Kyatuk.

By one in the afternoon, the family had filled into the church’s graveyard for the ceremony of Yegeghetsvo Gark. They stood themselves around the grave plot that was freshly dug, looking towards the front and Father Deradoorian. Gor’s casket was positioned at the front of the ceremony. A trio of candles stood beside the casket and a traditional funeral wreath decorated by family and friends called the psak. Beside it, a khachkar had been carved for Gor by a local craftsman. The stone slab, engraved with his name at the top and symbols like the cross and the Armenian wheel of eternity stood stoically beside an altar. It was dug in like a gravestone at the foot of the plot. Assistants moved back and forth across the church, preparing things for the final ceremony. Mary came around next to her sister Anna, who gave her a quick look to make sure she was alright. They waited, standing straight with their hands clasped as Father Deradoorian went to the pedestal.

“Welcome,” began the pastor as he surveyed the gathered family with his kind eyes, “I hope that the journey here to our humble church was safe and comfortable.”

He looked over to his followers, who were positioned next to Gor’s casket. In a slow, steady voice, he gave his last rites: “While Gor was a good man, his time came early. We have celebrated him through life and now death, and now we must lay him to rest. God shall receive him, but we mustn’t forget him from his time in this world. Always keep Gor Kandarian in your hearts, always remember his contributions to his family and his village.”

Armenian funerals never had eulogies. The church services were short, efficient, and official affairs. Most of the remembrance was done at Dank Gark the night before, with family and food. More days of remembrance, especially on the seventh and fortieth days after the burial and annually after that, would be part of the Kerezmanee Gark graveside services. But for now, it was time for Gor’s final burial. The casket bearers slowly lowered the body into the plot, slowly putting it to a final rest. The pastor watched, then called the ceremony to a close after the body was securely in its plot. He dismissed the waiting family, who shuffled out towards their waiting car. It took another two trips to head back home, where they went back to their rooms and prepared themselves for the evening meal, hogehats. Consisting simply of cooked meat and potatoes, this meal was to remember Gor for everyone present at the ceremony. Until the end of the night, the Kandarian family ate and drank together. When they were tired and full, they retired to their beds. Gor was finally with God. He was at rest.

Yerevan, Armenia

The presidential office in Yerevan was located on the second floor of the palace directly in front of the main square. A vaguely rectangular room with an ornate wooden desk near the windows and balcony and an Armenian rug laid out in front of it, there was a sofa and table for meetings along with a library filled with literature and books about any subject relevant to the President. Hanging from the carved and decorated ceiling was a golden chandelier that bathed the room in yellow-white light as the sun dipped below the skyline of Yerevan. Like with many late night at the office, President Assanian was dressed down to his shirt, his jacket and tie slung across his chair. With him were a stack of files on his desk and the director of the National Security Service. A lighter man with wild, curly black hair and a perpetual stubble, Director Marko Moysisian wore his outfit with the sleeves of his white dress shirt rolled up and black suspenders slipped off to sling low from his hips. He swirled a large amount of brandy in a crystal glass.

The National Security Service was Armenia’s prime intelligence organization. Born from the Fedayeen spy networks after the formation of the military, the NSS became one of the most important parts of the government. It had agents collecting information across Armenia, and had spread out into Georgia and Turkey to locate threats to Armenian security. They earned their reputation for being snakes, stopping at nothing to get what they needed. Their operations embodied the dark side of militia tradition: apathy towards laws and decency, fighting against all odds to finish the fight. Eventually, they branched out into partisan operations: drawing on their Fedayeen heritage, they trained people to conduct assassinations and sabotage. The result was a small, relatively unknown, but incredibly effective organization that was difficult to control. They did what they wanted in ways that roughly lined up with the intent of the government at large, but one could never be certain of their actions. An Armenian soldier was trained not to kill a civilian, despite his own personal feelings: an NSS operative had no such reservations.

“So as you can see, our Border Service hit a few bandit positions in Georgia this month,” Moysisian stated, tracing a line along the Georgian border that was circled by his analysts. “They got a few of our guys, so the commander of the battalion there asked our assets in Georgia to see where they could strike back to send a message.”

President Assanian nodded along, reading into his file. Three companies went out and attacked several different positions, mostly small minor outposts and resupply bases used by Georgian border raiders. It was the largest such operation undertaken in the history of the Border Service. A quick, professional raid that caused a significant amount of damage. But the question now was what could be done in the future. Border raids had been causing more and more damage over the past few months, and the increase of refugees and drug smuggling was causing problems at home. The police in Gyumri were raiding weapons caches and settling ethnic feuds, while in Sevan there were drive-bys with machineguns. The former President, Joseph Vadratian, had chosen to handle it internally by putting down Russian and Georgian immigrants.

“Maybe it’s time we think offensively,” suggested Moysisian. “Our elements did a lot of damage and based on the information I’ve received, the Mountain Wolves’ lieutenants are starting to worry.” He looked back at the map and saw the village of Patara Darbazi. “One was executed for ordering those initial raids that caused our retaliation,” he added with a slight chuckle.

“What would offensive thinking entail,” carefully answered Assanian. He knew the NSS and their suggestions were often grey at best, and he knew that Moysisian wouldn’t be giving him the full picture even if he asked. Moysisian smiled again, adjusting the a roll on his sleeve that sagged a little low.

“If we could… figure out a solution to our Georgian problem, what do you think that could be?”

Assanian frowned, eyeing Moysisian and his casual posture. “I’ve been working on policy for the internal affairs portion of it but… we need all the options we can get.”

“What if we could have a Georgian government to take the brunt of Russia’s collapse for us? We’ve already gone into Poti to stabilize that port for our own economic interests and it’s worked out for us.”

“Have you been planning this?” asked Assanian, somewhat startled. “Going into another country and setting up a government?”

“It’s what the Persians did in former Azerbaijan,” pointed out Moysisian. “After the war, we have had no further problems in the Artsakh.”

He rearranged the folders to present one to the President. In bold, black letters on the top, it was labeled: “Plan Georgia – Offense.” It looked like a few dozen sheets of paper, along with maps and other figures, were inside. The President looked over it hesitantly: troops in the streets of Georgian cities, using Christian militias to secure areas of the countries against Islamists in the southeast. Politicians and organizations propped up by the NSS. Economic aid, propaganda to sway the people towards the Armenian state. The formation of an allied government built around a Caucasian identity. A union between the two states. They would be using the Georgians to absorb the refugees from Russia instead of the Armenians. On some level, it made sense, but it didn’t quite sit right with Assanian. “We’re going to invade another country and set up a government? That doesn’t sound like us,” he replied.

“What do you mean, not like us?” answered Moysisian. “We’re securing our people against the Russian criminal elements and Georgian bandits. Setting up the Georgians as a functional government instead of a wasteland gives us a buffer.”

Assanian continued to read through. Some of the details were not fully fleshed out or were left vague on purpose. He wanted to ask but he knew he had to spend more time reading over it. “This just sounds like we’d be extending too far. Meddling with other countries. I’m not sure if this is how I want to govern Armenia.”

Moysisian took another sip of his brandy. “I think that we’ve put together a good plan here. Poti is just a small case of it, a test undertaken by Vadratian’s administration. He wanted to see how it would work on a small scale and the Georgian Poti Regiment has been trained up for several years now. We’ve just started cycling Armenian officers out of it and replacing them with junior Georgians trained and fighting with the force. It’s working well.”

“I’ve read the reports on Poti, Marko,” replied Assanian. “It’s been making good progress and we’ve had tremendous growth from using it as a shipping port but… If we were to march on Tbilisi like this, it would be different.”

“At the end of the day, this is your decision to make. But we have included assessments there as well.”

Assanian looked back to Moysisian and put the folder on his desk. “I’ll look at it further tonight. Is there anything else you wanted to tell me, Director?”

Moysisian shook his head and gathered up his coat. He offered a goodbye to the President and excused himself from the room where a guard escorted him to his waiting car. Inside the office, Assanian looked through the maps and thought. He had issues with taking control of a country like that, but what Moysisian was saying made sense. Five years of term could yield positive results but he knew it would be expensive and difficult. It took long enough for Armenia to get back on its feet, and it could very easily be overextended when it came to helping out another country. 1960 was the first year that Armenia could begin paying back at least some of its massive loans to Persia and Europe. But it was a valid suggestion, one that he would have to consider. Having someone else deal with the drugs and crime that Russian immigrants brought would be better for the Armenian state, and would offer the country some respite to begin solving the problems that had already manifested.

But Assanian was still not positive. Moysisian’s enthusiasm for foreign intervention concerned him, and it was something he wanted to discuss with the Councilmen of the Revolution. The founders of the Armenian Separatist Federation, or at least the few who were still alive, formed the Council as an unofficial organization to assist politicians when problems came up regarding governance in a post-revolutionary Armenia. He knew that they would make time to speak with him, especially on a topic like this. Their insight would help him make a final decision.

Before he left for the night, Assanian tossed the folder back to his desk. He straightened his tie, tucked in his shirt, and threw his jacket back on. Turning towards the calendar on his wall beside the desk, he picked up a marker and wrote down a note: Meet with the Council. Then he turned off the light and went home. The Georgia Plan could wait.
Gyumri, Armenia

The Gyumri policemen crowded around a table covered with memos, manifests, photographs, and pertinent pieces of evidence. Two military policemen from the Gyumri base talked quietly with each other. A rack of weapons, tagged with evidence stickers, stood next to the table as Tigran quietly inspected one of the rifles that Private Marovian had hidden in his room. The metal receiver of the rifle bore, at the base near the rear sight, a serial number and the location of manufacture. All four of the rifles’ identifying information matched with the service carbines that went missing in Marovian’s truck. A military interrogation of Private Marovian had been conducted on-base by military police officers, and which had led to the location of another arms cache underneath a Russian restaurant in the eastern ghettos. The truck, too, was found by a hiker in Lake Arpi. Thirty kilometers north of the city, it had appeared that Private Marovian drove the truck to the edge of a dirt firebreak. In a move that somewhat impressed Tigran, the young arms dealer then put the truck in neutral and pointed it down a hill, jumping out before it started rolling too fast.

The military police presented their investigations to the Gyumri department: Marovian was cooperative with the investigation thus far, but Karlovian had fled to the north and slipped across the Georgian border upon hearing about the recent murders. He was terrified, and rightly so, that a police investigation would be coming towards him. A military investigator had been sent north to check with Border Service posts and see if he had emigrated across the border through a checkpoint, especially since the Karlovian family automobile was reported stolen a few days prior. That, however, was no longer Chief Tigran’s problem. The weapons found in the Russian restaurant were part of the stolen arms, and the location was suspiciously close to the residences of several suspected Mafiya lieutenants. It was determined that the lieutenants were trying to incentivize teens and unemployed young adults with money to start hitting Armenian establishments with these weapons, furthering tensions in the city. What the Mafiya sought to gain by inciting race riots was still unclear, but the police were beginning crackdowns on any and all gang activity to try and start building an information network from apprehended suspects.

After the conclusion of the military investigation, one of the MPs turned to Tigran: “Chief Korkarian, we’ve wrapped up all we can for you. The rest of the weapons fall into our jurisdiction, so we are focusing on finding those arms caches. Unfortunately, aside from that, we can’t help you with the Russians. That’s for the Gyumri boys, since you started the case.”

Tigran nodded, shaking the man’s hand. “I understand. Thank you, Corporal,” he said, eyeing the black chevrons on the soldier’s collar. “The weapons are still a big part of it, and we’ll help you once we uncover more of this. Marovian had a ‘sell-list’ that we sent to Sergeant Kavalian. Nothing like any sort of official ledger, he was a little bit sloppy on that, but it was addresses and names.”

The MP smirked, crossing his arms. “We’re excited to kick down some doors. Beats grabbing drunks who are too wasted to fight back well.”

Tigran just nodded solemnly, keeping his thoughts to himself. He knew all about cocky young cops taking risks and going straight for the action. They were like soldiers, almost, and every time they learned the same lesson: policing, especially nowadays, was nasty and sometimes brutal. The first time they see a real victim of heavy assault, murder, or rape, they reevaluate their thoughts on door-kicking and shooting bad guys. It broke some people, jaded others, but nobody ever really was the same. Nothing could be said to them before then, so Tigran thanked the Corporal and escorted him to the jeep waiting outside. He and his partner threw on their taraz soft covers, waved, and jumped in their vehicle to roar off down the road. Tigran sighed and turned to Alex, who was beside him. “Fucking kids,” he muttered. “I hope they don’t crash.” His partner nodded, shrugged, and put his hands in his pockets. They both went back to their desks to handle administrative work.

A few minutes of form-filing had passed before the telephone on Tigran’s desk rang. The patrol chief put his pen down, reached for it, and picked it up to hear his dispatcher in the telephone room: “Chief, two patrols are requested for a vehicle fire in Yerkatgtsi Norvan east of the rail depot at the Axayan-Garegin intersection. Looks like a sedan on fire in an intersection, possibly arson. Firefighters are heading on scene now.”

“Alright, I’ll be there,” Tigran answered, before hanging up the phone. He grabbed his blue policeman’s jacket that was draped off the back of his chair and his duty belt from the coat rack. He busted out through the door, to find Alex smoking a cigarette next to the coffee table. “We’re going to East Gyumri,” he said. “Grab your things, I’ll pull the car out.”

Alex simply nodded, moving towards his desk to grab whatever gear he needed to put on. Tigran, meanwhile, dipped out through the side exit of the police office and withdrew his key ring from the pocket of his pants. Getting through several fence doors, he lightly jogged over to his patrol vehicle: trusty number seventeen, complete with scratches on its bumper from pushing cars off the road and a buffed-out scattering of shotgun pellets on the trunk. Tigran and Alex took care of it, however, and kept it freshly painted after anything happened to it. He swung open the doors to the motor pool, hopped in the driver’s seat, and whipped it out to the front of the office where the second patrolmen were already waiting. Tigran honked his horn at Alex on the curb, who shook the hand of the second car’s passenger and jogged over to get in. “Ready, chief?”

The pair took off, carefully swinging around the corner before heading towards the main through-street of the city. Gyumri was one of Armenia’s largest cities but also one of its oldest. The streets were crowded and winding, having evolved from pedestrian alleys to avenues traversed by horses to automobile roads. One road, Haghtanaki Avenue, flanked the long and narrow Victory Park through a north-south slice of the city: it provided the quickest way to get from one end to another and had been widened for buses, trucks, and the increasingly numerous cars owned by Armenians. Despite this, police response time in the Russian-dominated ghettos in the east often suffered as the patrols struggled to quickly get through. While major infrastructure improvements had been constructed in local areas by provincial governments, a grand national highway system was still being debated in Parliament. The police still had to take constrained city roads to get from one neighborhood to another. It was thirty minutes of driving through traffic, sometimes requiring a siren to move dawdling drivers out of the way, before Tigran and Alex spotted the plume of smoke rising from an intersection.

Yerkatgtsi Norvan had developed a reputation as the bad part of town. Part of that stemmed from the Russians, but it was also just a neighborhood occupied almost exclusively by the working class. Due to its proximity to the train tracks and warehouses of Gyumri, many people worked industry. It was dirty, loud, and smelled of burnt coal constantly. City officials preferred to spend their sanitation budgets elsewhere, providing only the bare minimum of services to apartments here. Russian graffiti covered the bare concrete public housing blocks, shoes dangled from electrical wires, trash blew down empty alleys, and passerby stared at the police. Tigran and Alex stopped their car a safe distance away from the central intersection of the neighborhood and cautiously dismounted. Alex put his hand to his pistol belt, feeling for the wooden handle of his revolver as both of them fanned out to opposite ends of the street. There were no more onlookers, nobody coming to see what was happening. Just the crackling of a fire as the gasoline from the car burned. Tigran eyed the windows of the drab apartment blocks, barely noticing a long object appearing at the top floor of a seven-story building.

“Gun!” he shouted, diving to cover by a streetlight as a shot rang out. His ageing body hit the ground with a thud as a rifle round shattered the window of the police car. Alex tried to return fire with his handgun, putting three wildly inaccurate downrange before kneeling down next to a bus stop. “It’s an ambush!” Tigran repeated, just as a group of people appeared from behind a fence. There were four, armed with shotguns and one with a carbine. Alex swore and ducked down again: one of them leveled their piece and fired off a spray of pellets towards the police. Tigran rolled past the streetlight and got into cover in an entranceway beside him as another volley of shots ripped across the street. He struggled for the revolver in his leather holster, pointing it down the street to shoot off a round. He was now separated from his partner, on opposite ends of the street, outnumbered and outgunned.

In the distance, someone called out in Russian. “Politsiya! Politsiya! Von tam!” The four gangsters fanned out into the road, exchanging more shots with the Armenian police. A carbine round smashed into the concrete by Tigran, blowing chunks of it down onto the sidewalk and hitting the old man with a concussive thud. He stuck his arm out of cover and returned shots before drawing it back in to reload shells from his cartridge belt. He had personally never seen a use for revolver speedloaders like the younger cops, but now could see where they would be handy. The gangsters moved into cover, just as Alex looked back to Tigran from his position.

“I’m gonna go for the shotgun!” he yelled across the street. “Cover me!”

Tigran nodded, got up onto a knee behind the cover of his concrete alcove, and scanned the road with his pistol. Alex stood up, took a deep breath, and started sprinting to the police car. The Russian sniper in the apartment block tried to zero in on the cop, but he was too slow or poorly trained to get a good lock on: a shot went high, shattering a window further down the street. Alex dove into cover by the trunk of the car and fumbled for the latch. It popped open with ease, and he reached for the wood-stocked shotgun strapped into the trunk’s floor. Cursing as he loaded its magazine with shells and racking it, Tigran’s partner kneeled back down and leaned towards the side of his cover. “Come out, fuckers!” he shouted. He followed up in some of the only Russian words he knew: “Syuka blyad!

A gangster, sufficiently enraged by this, emerged from hiding behind a street corner and leveled his shotgun against the police car. He shot off two rounds in rapid succession, before Alex returned fire with an expertly-aimed slug to the chest. Armenian cops had two types of shells in their cars: buckshot, for closer breaching actions, and solid slug shells for longer-ranged street fights. The Russian was hit center of mass with a 12 gauge slug, his torso exploding in a shower of blood as he was thrown to the ground screaming. Alex racked the shotgun, ejecting a shell onto the concrete, and took aim as the gangster’s friend ran to the middle of the street to retrieve the wounded man. Alex shot again, this one shattering the gangster’s leg and almost tearing it off. The man dropped his carbine as he fell face-first into the concrete. He tried crawling for it, inching towards the piece as Tigran followed up with a second slug that blew his shoulder away. Two dead Russians lay in pools of blood in the street, which was enough to convince the other two to drop their guns and sprint away.

The Russians ran down through the road, dipping behind into an alleyway. The Armenians, unsure if they could still pursue with the sniper aimed squarely at them still, cursed them and fired off a few ineffective return shots. All these did were harmlessly impact into the concrete. Now, it was just them and the burning car: the sniper watched them closely. Tigran and Alex turned to each other, shaking their heads. The chief slumped back into his alcove, holstering his revolver, running a hand through his grey hair. The firefight had taken all of fifteen harrowing minutes, but he had no idea where the other patrol was. They were supposed to flank around to the other side of the intersection but they hadn’t been around during the fight. Yerkatgtsi Norvan was notorious for being confusing and dense, leaving Tigran wondering if they had just gotten lost or were in trouble of their own. With no way to contact them, he wouldn’t know until much later. The pair waited in their cover for another few minutes, unsure if they should chance the sniper.

Tigran, ultimately, decided to regroup with Alex. He steadied himself, nodded at his partner, and took off at as fast of a jog as he could manage while praying that he wouldn’t be shot in the side. He remembered from his military service that it took a trained sniper four seconds to zero in on a moving target. It was obvious that the gangster wasn’t trained, nor was he any good at his job, but Tigran counted in his head as he rushed to the car. There was no return fire, just silence. He ducked down to behind the trunk with Alex: “I think he’s gone,” he said breathlessly.

“Yeah, probably dropped his shit and ran when I blew his friends apart,” Alex remarked, lighting a cigarette out of his trusty steel case. He offered one to the chief, who declined by waving his hand in front of his face and tried again to catch his breath.

“It was an ambush, goddammit,” Tigran scowled. “I haven’t seen this shit before. Fuck them. Fuck them all. This is the shittiest, most cowardly fucking thing you can do. They’re not men, they’re fucking pussies.”

The chief paused again, taking a deep breath to calm down. He couldn’t let his emotions control him like that. They still had to get home. Alex exhaled, leaning his shotgun against the car before standing up out of his squat. With a look to the former sniper’s nest and another drag on the cigarette, he heard a car moving behind them. The cops turned around to see their lost partner, driving slowly towards them. The car stopped, and a bewildered junior patrolman hopped out of the driver’s seat, apologizing profusely. “Chief! Shit, I’m sorry, we took a wrong turn a while back and got lost in this damn neighborhood.”

“Are you a fucking retard? Do we need to institutionalize you with all the other fucking retard babies who got dropped on their heads by alcoholic piece of shit mothers?” Alex shouted, straightening his belt as he walked angrily towards the patrolman. “Who gets lost for twenty fucking minutes in this town? It’s not even that big!”

“Sir! Wha-“ the patrolman began, before noticing the bodies ahead of them. Alex continued his march to the driver, closing in and extending his fingers into a knife that he waved in the face of the new hire. Before any explanation could be offered, Alex turned his knife-hand towards the boyish face of the patrolman and slapped him with an echoing smack. The cop stumbled, but regained his composure.

“We were ambushed, for God sake! Fucking ambushed! It was a fucking trap!”

“Alex!” Tigran called out from the patrol car as he inspected the damage. “Calm down and help me change this tire. And you! Officer… I forget your name.”

“Hovnanian, sir,” the patrolman uttered. “Officer Hovnanian.”
“Get the evidence. There are four guns in the street and we suspect one in that apartment over there,” Tigran ordered. “Recover them and head home. There’s no emergency here, just an ambush. We’ll let the locals deal with the wreck.”

Alex trudged over to Tigran, fuming. The chief had taken a jack and tire iron from the trunk and was busy rolling the spare tire over to the front-left, which had been riddled with buckshot. Small divots pockmarked the hood and side of the car, shredding the rubber tire. Luckily, it was just the one: they didn’t have to cannibalize any spare tired from the other cruiser. “Keep your shit in check, Alex,” warned Tigran as he kneeled down to place the jack under the car’s sturdy frame. “I know it’s frustrating. You saw my response.”

“He’s an idiot,” Alex replied as Tigran jacked up the car. “I wanted to punch him right in his little gut.”

“Show some restraint, next time. We’re professionals. We have laws in this society, we have rules. Everything is going to hell in this city, but we’re stopping it. Does law and order mean nothing to you? Why are you a cop?”

Alex sighed, taking the tire iron from his chief. He loosened the bolts on the wheel, snatching them up and lining them in a neat row as he worked. In the background, the junior patrolman walked through the bodies, picking up guns and slinging them over his shoulder while his partner smoked a cigarette and scanned the potential avenues of approach with his shotgun. Tigran stood back as Alex lifted the wheel off and handed it over. “I don’t like getting shot at,” grumbled Alex.

“If you did, I’d be sending you over to the psychological ward at the hospital,” joked Tigran. “Could you put the tire back on for me? I’m too old and frail.”

The tire was replaced as Hovnanian and his partner emerged from the apartment block. An elderly woman had led them up the stairs to the sniper’s nest, explaining that she had seen a man jump from the second story of the staircase out onto an awning and run away. It had been one of her tenants, renting out the room for only a week. His partner clutched a Mosin Nagant rifle awkwardly in one hand, shotgun in the other. The pair returned to Tigran and Alex: “Sir, we got the weapons. Four in the street and one in that apartment. Was that everything?”

“Yeah, you got it. Thanks, kid,” Tigran answered as he threw them in the back seat, closing the door. “That should be it… Nobody’s hurt, we’re all fine.”

Alex looked back to the still-burning car in the intersection. “So we’re not extinguishing it?”

“It’ll burn out,” Tigran said with a shrug. “Now let’s get out of here.”

The police mounted up in their cars, backing away from the intersection. Rattled but not discouraged, they turned and drove off back to headquarters. The weapons in the back appeared to be part of Private Moravian’s stash still, leading them to think that the gangsters were starting to get more aggressive. With the evidence turned in and the reports beginning to be written by Hovnanian, Tigran and Alex sat together with the case file. Carefully annotating the events of the day, the case thickened still. More weapons, more gangsters, more violence. The military were closing in on Karlovian and the Gyumri police were still hitting suspected sites in the ghettos. Gyumri had turned into a time-bomb, one that the police hoped to diffuse before it escalated into the worst violence the country had seen yet. But for now, the day was over and the police were changing shifts. Tigran and Alex were heading home, done with another day at the office.
<Snipped quote by TheEvanCat>

Genuine question here: Looking at your sheet, I don't see a mention of the Armenian Genocide anywhere, so I assume it just didn't happen in this timeline on the same scale (Your sheet does mention massacres, but I assume that isn't to the scale of the Armenian Genocide OTL)?

Just got back from New York:

But yep, established canon is that the Turks were basically too busy fighting in this shittier version of the Great War to dedicate manpower needed to kill the minorities they didn't like (Armenians, Assyrians, etc.) so there was no real genocide for anyone.

but thanks tho
<Snipped quote by TheEvanCat>

Now looking at it, I see what you mean and I do think it would be unrealistic for Assyria to have a goal to stabilize any surrounding nations, so I'm just going to scrap that idea out of the application and make it so they focus more on stabilizing internally.

I think a good direction to go would be reconciling what happened during the civil war and what happened to the Kurds. Keep in mind there's a Kurdistan that's been alluded to and there might be opportunities for stories there. Other than that, I personally have no further concerns.
I've redone the application to be back to the original, with a bit worked in saying that a goal of the Assyrian Free State is to "stabilize" some of the surrounding nations in the Middle East.

Just gotta think about why a state would be willing to do that. Obviously you can act it out, but stuff has got to flow naturally. Especially considering the fact that a global force for good is a big 180 from "Kurdish genocide."

Also consider internal factors: You're still reeling from a civil war. Just gotta work around and through all that.
Yeah, I like the idea of Assyria and the Kurdish conflict that's going on (although Mosul may need to be re looked at.)

But the Mosul Pact is stretching it... a lot. It's falling into that NRP trope of wanting to blob your country, and in this case it doesn't make sense either considering the factors at play in the Middle East and your country. We also don't have any explanation about it, which hurts your case even more.

Edit: Yeah, ninja'd while writing the post.
Yeah, the Middle East is kind of a nebulous area. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire it's just been kind of "yeah, there are Arab states... I guess." You can take a look at me (Armenia) and Chap (Turkey) for the base behind the history, which boils down to "Arab Revolt and then choose your own adventure after that."
Odessa, Ukraine

“Sorry to hear about it, officer. Yeah, they work for my company, I can take them back with us.”

In the back of a Ukrainian police van were four Armenian sailors with various black eyes and scratches, all looking down at their handcuffs as an Odessa policeman smoked a cigarette outside. Every once in a while, the Ukrainians would arrest a few people fighting at the bars, as sailors do, and keep them until after their ship sailed. The next crew would have to pick them up, take them back, and turn them over to the company management where they would almost inevitably be fired for missing their return leg of a shipment. It turned into a running joke with Armenian ship captains on the Black Sea, like getting tipped at a restaurant but only with drunk and disorderly prisoners to be tossed in the brig. So far, Captain Sarkisian’s return haul would include several hundred tons of steel and four future former employees of the Black Sea Maritime company. He directed his executive officer, Nazarbekian, to take them to the company security guards loitering around on the dock for this exchange.

The Captain thanked the police officer in his decently-pronounced Russian before asking for a cigarette. The Ukrainian policeman sighed and reluctantly offered one out of his pack, which Sarkisian lit with his company-branded lighter before thanking the policeman again. He ran a hand through his greying, thinning hair and cursed the summer heat. Nazarbekian delivered the prisoners to his security team and tipped his hat at them: they took the men inside to be seated in the brig. With an Iranian swagger, the executive officer came back to his captain and withdrew his own cigarettes, smirking while the policeman got in his van and drove off. “You asshole,” Sarkisian muttered. “I don’t like bumming off of strangers.”

“So bumming off of your subordinates is better with you?” quipped Nazarbekian, blowing a puff of smoke through his nostrils. “What a fine reflection of a selfless Merchant Marine leader of character.”

“Do you want to stop being a sarcastic fuck?” replied Sarkisian with a sigh. “It’s bad enough I’m getting tipped four today.”

Nazarbekian scoffed and took a few more drags on the cigarette. “What are the plans for tonight, boss?”

Sarkisian looked back at his ship: the longshoremen were now swarming around the dock with forklifts, cranes, and other pieces of logistical equipment. The Odessa harbormaster worked almost as hard as the Trabzon one, working an intricate timetable of both ingoing and outgoing shipments. Armenia’s gold would be taken off the Breadwinner, driven to a nearby railway, and shipped off to wherever the industrial base of Ukraine needed it. In exchange, as the contract went, a certain tonnage of steel produced in cities like Mariupol or Kryvi Rih was loaded onto sprawling railways and trucks and ships and sent right over the Black Sea. Once it left Trabzon, cities like Hrazdan would receive the steel. Naturally, some of the products were sent straight back to Europe. The captain recalled once transporting a steel shipment and, a week later, receiving machine tools that happened to come from the same factory at the end of their contract chain. Capitalism worked as it worked, and he had a feeling that this was better for the country: Armenia prized self-dependence above all else, but was in a tricky place in terms of natural resources.

Nazarbekian smoked the unfiltered cigarette down to the tips of his fingers, before tossing it away into an open gutter. “You lost or something?” he asked after not getting his reply.

The captain shook himself back to reality: “Yeah, sorry, I was thinking about the timetable.”

“You need to let yourself loose a bit,” Nazarbekian recommended. He wasn’t much younger than Captain Sarkisian, but his strong, muscular build and youthful features stood out in stark contrast to his superior’s receding hairline and facial stress lines. “Going to have some fun or something?”

“Well, I do have opera tickets. You know I’m not into the same scene that you and the junior officers are,” admitted Sarkisian. “I have a wife and a house now, I’m not as young as some of the Lieutenants. Can’t be going around spending all my money on Ukrainian prostitutes and drinks.”

Nazarbekian chuckled and put his hands into his pockets. “If you’re worried about them doing that, I’ll have to keep an eye on them.”

“Mhm, ‘keep an eye on them’, Mister Nazarbekian,” quipped the captain. “You mean take your face out from between a dancer’s breasts every five minutes?”

“Every ten, sir, I think they’re more trustworthy than that,” replied the executive officer just as sharply. He looked back at the port as a taxi zipped past them. Inside were a few of his sailors, already swigging from bottles at noon. “If we keep the lost to recovered prisoner exchange rate even, we can put these guys in the brig to work and have no problems. But we can deal with that tomorrow. If you need me, you know where my hotel is.”

“Absolutely. Go and have a good time, but not too good,” Sarkisian said with a pat on his back. “I’ll see you around.”

Captain Sarkisian set off as Nazarbekian sent his regards. His destination for the evening was a late lunch before an opera, which gave him some time to set out and explore the city he visited often. The port of Odessa quickly gave way to the Square de Richelieu, surrounded by ornate European buildings. Stark industry quickly became European-styled architecture with its tight alleys and painted facades with columns and stone balcony railings. The formal entrance to the city was the Primorsky Stairs, which led down to the city proper from the port and the square. Sarkisian passed through throngs of Odessa’s people enjoying their summer afternoon at cafes and shops as he walked towards the main streets. A statue of Duc de Richelieu, clad in a classical toga like the Greeks of old, towered over the steps. The Primorsky stairs were designed in such a way that, at the top, Sarkisian could only see the landings. He walked his way down the stairs lined with flourishing green trees and arrived at the bottom to look back and only see the stairs. A thin smile reached his lips: the stories about the stairs’ optical illusion were true.

In many ways, Odessa reminded him of Yerevan. The Primorsky stairs were reminiscent of the Yerevan cascade, with its flanking gardens and trees and its beautiful park. The memorials of Armenian heroes and flags hanging from lightposts were almost exactly the same as the ones in Odessa. Being a sailor enabled Sarkisian to see the world beyond Armenia, something that most of his countrymen lacked an idea of. With enemies surrounding them, it became easy to adopt a fortress mentality: seeing the beauty and peace of a European city on a summer’s day and taking in the culture of another people lessened the edge. While Persia was definitely accessible to the Armenians, owing to their strong ties, not many people he knew had been there. The captain was hoping to use some of his vacation time and saved money to visit the empire in the near future. Perhaps someday he could go further into the European world, or even see the United States. Politics, for now, stood firmly in the way on the ageing sea captain’s dreams.

Odessa’s opera house wasn’t too far from the steps. Down the road, the massive Italian baroque structure towered over low-rise apartments that hugged the streets. Odessa, as it seemed, was doing quite well for itself. A few cafes dotted the wide avenue, and Captain Sarkisian instinctually navigated to his favorite one. Ukrainian food to him seemed more or less the same as Russian or even most Armenian foods, but one in particular seemed to be well-done every time he went. The chefs knew his ship and its crew at this point, always welcoming them when they were scheduled to arrive in town. With a table to himself on the shaded patio, he ate reddish-soupy borsch with local fish while the sun began its slow descent to the horizon. He paid in loose Ukrainian hryvnia that he kept from his previous travels before wishing the staff a warm farewell and offering a promise to come in for breakfast in the morning. Adjusting his pants and belt and straightening out his hat, Captain Sarkisian pushed out through the glass door and into the streets again: he had a relaxing evening set out for him.

Yerevan, Armenia

As was the political tradition in Armenia, the handoff of power took place in Republican Square by the government buildings. As throngs of citizens gathered, the ceremony began with an invocation from the Catholicos of All Armenians. As the country, the government, the office, and the people were blessed, Hasmik Assanian stood quietly behind the tall man in ornate red, black, and gold robes with his head bowed. With words of thanks and appreciation, the new president stepped forward and began the process of inauguration. A copy of the Armenian Constitution was brought forth by the dark-skinned Premier Justice of Armenia, a solemn man of almost seventy years with a neatly-trimmed grey beard. He placed it down on the podium, inviting Assanian to place his hand upon it. The photographers in the crowd snapped pictures of the new president in front of flag-colored banners and the Parliament and Cabinet stoically standing behind him. A gust of wind rippled through the square before the Premier Justice adjusted a microphone closer to their faces. He turned to Assanian, serious as always: “Please place your hand on the podium and repeat after me.”

In segments, a phrase at a time, the oath of office was delivered in front of the crowd and broadcasted to Armenians across the country and in various diaspora communities: “, Hasmik Assanian, swear to faithfully and fully exercise the powers of the President of the Republic of Armenia. I am devoted to the defense and progression of the state and the Armenian people, and will diligently work to ensure their sovereignty, independence, security, and integrity. I am committed to the rights and freedoms of every Armenian and the Constitution of the Republic. In the name of God, I wholly and without reservation accept this elected position.”

A round of applause and cheers erupted from the crowd as Assanian’s supporters waved flags, banners, and shouted slogans. Journalists jostled for photos while police patrolled for demonstrators or the rowdier spectators. On the podium, the new president took a handshake from the old one. They looked each other in the eye and nodded, no one offering up any emotion after such a bitter race that often devolved into personal attacks. The old administration went back to their seats while the newly elected governors took their places behind Assanian. The transition of power, like every cycle was complete. The world, it seemed, was sparse with these moments. Monarchies, empires, and dictators flying the flag of their various ideologies were more common than not. The Fedayi and the Council fought long and bitterly for their Armenian republic: Vadratian and Assanian had an understanding that, if nothing else, this democracy was the only thing they had.

A speech closed out the inauguration. It was a speech like many that had been given during the campaign, promising freedom and prosperity and continued security. Assanian, at the podium under the sun with the flag behind him, felt almost tired as he seemed to say the same things over and over. Armenia, the Fatherland, shining brighter than before: a secure future for their people. Applause shook the square when he finished, people cheering in the crowd and chanting popular slogans. A new hope for the troubling times, and end to the turbulence of the past decade. As the ceremony drew to a close and Assanian waved one last time before walking off the stage, he wondered how long this euphoria would last. It seemed that he was stepping into a complicated, muddled situation. Security, politics, money, power, and the fate of a people were all intertwined in obtuse and difficult ways. Work already awaited him at the office.

Hrazdan, Armenia

The exams were over and the summer had started for the students of Hrazdan’s universities. For many of them, that meant going to work in the industries to apply their skills and gain experience before they graduated in the coming years. Others would travel around to conduct research or do projects, but nobody was left to their own devices. A student’s life in Armenia was funded by the government, so they were sure to be put to work to return that investment. The Hrazdan University of Industry in particular had a special contract with an ordnance factory in the west of the city. Far from the city center and the gentrification there, the Tsaghkadzor Heavy Industry Plant sat nestled in some hills on its complex. Jon Korkarian, in a taxi with his briefcase, drove through the grey cityscape and looked through the windows as they approached a concrete wall and a blue metal gate. A flag hung from the barbed-wire topping on the wall, alongside murals featuring tanks rolling off the assembly line. A police officer read a newspaper in a guard shack just outside, his partner dozing off in the police car parked nearby.

Jon paid the taxi driver and struggled to get out, his tall and lanky frame hitting the doorframe as he opened the door. He waved at the taxi as it pulled away and sped back towards the city, then turned to face the policeman who had been throwing his jacket on in the guard shack: the heat was sweltering in the small metal building. Jon exchanged pleasantries with the man before handing in his ID and factory papers that had been mailed to him the week before: he introduced himself as a new assistant there and that he would be working for the summer. The cop absentmindedly flipped through the stack of papers and forms that Jon had brought through, not particularly caring about a brand new university intern that had to get through. A bead of sweat ran down his wrinkled face and dripped onto Jon’s ID. The student subtly grimaced and muttered “Gross” under his breath, but the policeman didn’t seem to notice. Without any other questions, the cop handed the ID back to Jon and walked to the metal door blocking the road. He banged on it three times, and another bored policeman unlocked the latch and opened it. With a screech, the door came open for the new intern.

“Good morning, sir,” Jon said to the third police officer. “I’m one of the new employees here, do you know where I can go?”

The cop, cigarette dangling from his mouth, shrugged and stuck his hands into his pants pockets. “I just make sure nobody runs off with the fuckin’ scrap metal, kid. Maybe go over there and ask someone else.”

Jon rolled his eyes, thanked the officer for his help, and moved on. The road to the factory was at least two hundred meters from here, with a massive parking lot of tanks in between him and the gigantic industrial plant. Built with Persian loans almost five years ago, this plant was one of the newer government contracts for heavy military equipment. Jon’s father had been an officer in the armored corps before his retirement and had set him up with this job through his business connections. The work certainly showed: rows of vintage-looking tanks were parked in the hot sun in neat rows outside the massive assembly line ahead of him. Jon walked the road in awe, gazing at the large, brutish machines. Their metal hulls, painted an olive green, were riveted and plated with armor. Guns with massive bores poked out of turrets on the sides on top. Curiously, these models seemed older: they almost looked like machines from the Great War instead of new designs. Some of them bore unusual modifications, like dozer blades or mine flails.

After a few more minutes of wandering towards the factory, Jon found himself at the door of the assembly line. The building stretched for some distance to the rear and was many times taller than the tanks inside. Groups of technicians with welding torches, air hammers for riveting, and any other tools necessary for the job crowded around the machines. The hall echoed with the sounds of men and, surprisingly, women fixing and modifying the tanks. A crane on its rails near the ceiling of the factory brought a massive turret towards one of them, lowering it on chains as a crew helped guide it into place. Jon, awestruck at the operation, didn’t notice when a man in a dress shirt and slacks came up behind him. “Is this our new hire?” he nearly shouted, startling the young student. Jon spun around to see an older, middle-aged man in a blue shirt with a tie tucked in between its buttons. He extended his hand out, Jon took it and put his hand on his chest as he introduced himself.

“My apologies for shouting,” said the man, “but it gets noisy here. My hearing isn’t too great on its own either. But I’m happy to see you made it. My name is Andrei Bagruntsian, I’m the modernization program manager here. All of this you see is what we do.”

Mr. Bagruntsian swept his hand out to the rows of tanks parked outside. Then, looking back, his brow furrowed. With a quick hand motion, he waved Jon back to the side of the assembly line. A group of overall-clad workers pushing a cart full of metal plates came through, nodding their greetings at the boss. “We should go to the office,” he stated quickly, before leading Jon back to a metal staircase. They went up to a catwalk that ran parallel to the assembly line before ducking off into a side wing of the factory where the offices were. The offices were a labyrinth of grey concrete, and Mr. Bagruntsian walked Jon through some more staircases and winding turns before they reached a wood-paneled door. His name appeared on the window: the boss used a key from his pocket to unlock it and lead him in. It was a modest, spacious office with a desk on one side and a pair of couches next to a coffee table on the other. A flag hung from the wall above his bookshelf, along with several photographs of what appeared to be tank crews with their machines.

“Sorry it’s a little hot in here,” Mr. Bagruntsian apologized again as he turned on the ceiling fan. “I would open the windows but it lets the carbon and metal particulates in here and makes me quite ill. Plus it smells all day and my wife doesn’t like when I come home all coated in it.”

Jon sat down on the red fabric couch and set his papers down beside him. Mr. Bagruntsian went to a coffeemaker set aside next to his desk and began to prepare two cups as he spoke. “So, Mr. Korkarian, you’re here to work with my department?”

“Yes, sir,” Jon replied quickly, his hands folded politely in his lap. “Since I study industrial management and all, I’m here with your operations department.”

“I’m aware… You’re here to help with deliveries to the military. It’s a fun job, I assure you. Lots of travel,” he said with a chuckle. “Hope you like the desert. And trains.”

Jon nervously laughed as well, accepting a steaming cup of coffee. Mr. Bagruntsian reached into his shirt pocket and offered up a cigarette. The younger student accepted, even if he didn’t smoke all that often, and accepted the lighter as well. Mr. Bagruntsian, seeing this, grinned and reached down below the table. He withdrew a bottle of brandy from a drawer and placed it on the table before popping the top. “I hope you’re not afraid of a little day drinking, either,” the director joked. He poured a hefty portion into both coffees.

The boss sat back in his couch, slumping into the fabric with an exhale. “So do you know what we do here?” he asked. Jon replied back with a vague and general answer about military equipment production, to which Mr. Bagruntsian nodded. “Well it’s not just that, our factory specializes in refitting old equipment.”

“Are those the tanks I saw outside?” Jon asked, looking out the window to the rows of old armored vehicles on the pavement.

“Exactly. See, when the Great War ended we acquired a good deal of Ottoman military equipment. A lot of it is still good. We have been using these tanks for almost forty years now, but they’re starting to get old. New weapons development have outpaced what these are: the first, most primitive armored vehicles. However, the government has maintained a directive that essentially boils down to ‘we don’t throw anything away.’”

The director took a sip from his coffee and wiped his mustached face with a handkerchief. He continued: “So these tanks have been operating with reserve units and people like the Border Service who still function, but aren’t on the priority list for new equipment. But what’s cheaper than buying new tanks for them is refitting old ones. See, steel is steel. Engines are engines. Guns are guns. Something made in the Great War will still kill you, and it’s the summer of 1960. That’s why you see guerrillas running around Georgia with old Tsarist Mosins. So what we can do is apply our knowledge and change up these platforms as we need to. We can simply bolt new armor on and replace the engines with something more powerful. New armament can be added, it’s as easy as swapping out a turret. We can even use these workhorses for utility tasks. Do you know what an assault looks like nowadays?”

Jon shook his head. “Not really.”

“Well a lot of these old tanks, they’re sturdy. Especially with new engines, we can outfit them with mobile bridges. Drop them down on trenches and you can drive other vehicles across without getting them stuck. It’s how you storm a line. You can also fit them with mine flails, use those dangling metal chains to trip up landmines and clear a path. Dozer blades are cheap and cut through obstacles. There’s a lot that you can do, and the government tasked us to use our imaginations sometimes. We come up with good ideas, we sell them. The engineers in particular have been very pleased with these. Not having to clear minefields by hand has been a life saver.”

“So I deliver these?” Jon asked, recoiling at the taste after a sip of his spiked coffee. “And… market the other ones?”

“Exactly, yes. So we’re glad to have you with the project. Sounds like a good time, yes?”

“Absolutely, sir. I’m excited to get out and work.”

“Well first, we’re going to tour you around and get you settled with the operations department. You’ll learn up on operations at the factory before we send you out. Pretty easy job, and the pay isn’t awful,” Mr. Bagruntsian joked again. He stood up again, offering his hand. Jon shook it, thanked him for the coffee, and collected up his briefcase.

“Thank you for the job, sir,” he said with a hand over his heart again.

Mr. Bagruntsian laughed. “I’ll be around, so don’t worry if you can’t figure something out. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting to prepare for. I need to find my jacket, even if it is the damned summer."

Jon nodded and thanked him again, then left the room. He closed the door on his way out, reflecting on his new work for the next few months. He was excited to travel, and the factory was already looking like an interesting place to work. Mr. Bagruntsian seemed like a good enough boss, even if he appeared hurried all the time. That, however, was probably normal for Armenian ordnance factories. The student ran a hand through his hair and shrugged: it was a good job with some good experience involved. He waited outside the office to dwell on it. Within a few minutes, someone came to grab him and get him settled in the operations office. For the first time in his adult life, he was finally working on something real.
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