Jon’s go-to bar was stood up a few blocks away from the school’s student apartments, at the bottom floor of a five-story building with a newspaper printing office right above it. In a row of several bars capped off by a corner store, the Hollywood Hayeren stood out with its obnoxious red, white, and blue neon lighting and an American flag hanging in the window next to an Armenian one. In English, American beer brands like Budweiser and Miller were proudly advertised: “The only place in town for imported American beers!” exclaimed the chalk sign on the sidewalk outside. Inside was dimly lit in red, a speaker playing jazz recordings, and Americana plastered on the walls. A surfboard, a stolen spade-shaped California State Route 110 road sign, and framed photographs of Los Angeles landmarks like the Hollywood sign and the skyline all covered the worn wooden panels. The bar was steel, fashioned almost like a diner’s, with round swiveling stools bolted next to it. Cigarette smoke wafted across the ceiling. The bartender, Mike Sinanian, polished off a glass as Jon came through the door.
“And make sure you close leave that open a little bit, yeah?” asked Mike. Jon stopped to kick the doorstop in, allowing some of the smoke to funnel its way out of the door. “I’m not trying to choke to death in my own bar tonight.”
Jon removed his suitcoat and hung it up on the coatrack next to the door. He loosened his tie, removed it, and threw it haphazardly onto the same rack. Unbuttoning his collar and pushing his sleeves up, he sat down at the counter. Mike slid him a coaster and an ashtray as Jon took a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. “You got any of those American ones from your guy back home? You know, the ones with the Mexican sounding name and the cowboys?” Jon asked. “Always wondered what those were like.”
“Marlboros?” replied Mike. He chuckled a bit. “Haven’t been able to get any. I’m already struggling to talk to my guy in LA enough as is. Ordered a bit more of my stock just in case. The only reason I get business is curiosity. People wonder what the Amerikahayer live like. You know, LA is pretty busy nowadays. Things are back to normal, I suppose, after the war but it’s getting bigger and better there and he’s forgetting about little old me.”
Without asking, Mike filled a glass of Budweiser from his tap and placed it on top. Like a routine, Jon placed twenty dram in a neat stack in front of him. The beer, light and refreshing, hit his lips and he drank it down like the water it basically was. Jon checked his watch. “We’ve been getting busy at work trying to rush orders for the Amrots landships ever since Parliament started debating the president’s new war plans. There are a few Reserve battalions we are ready to equip with the damn things. I’ve heard they’re not trying to pull the inactive men, though. Thank God.”
“Everyone’s in the Reserve,” Mike reminded him. And he was right: all Armenian men were, on a macro level, organized into five distinct readiness classes of personnel. Status A troops were the volunteer, elite, frontline units given the best training and equipment: they worked the front with new equipment like automatic assault rifles. Status B troops were the rank-and-file members of the Army or Border Service, often conscripts, and were by far the most common sight to see. Jon and Mike belonged to the Status G reservists, serving their mandatory National Service term as a civilian with annual trainings and the occasional set of orders through the mailbox. Status D men were organized loosely into local Fedayeen militias, armed often only with bolt action rifles and an armband to indicate their status as a combatant. The rest belonged to Status F: special forces, irregular combatants, and secret programs that were well out of most of the country’s sight. Mike smiled and chuckled: “That’s a disruption. Shit, what would you do if I got called up and had to shutter the bar for a while?” he asked.
“Well if the Hollywood closed down I’d just take my business elsewhere. Tsaghkadzor pays well for a summer work exposure job.”
“I’m sure it does. Government contracts are very lucrative nowadays,” Mike agreed. He rested his arms down onto the table and adjusted the large, black-rimmed glasses he wore. “You’d think the state would just take control of everything at this point.”
“But then where would the money go?” joked Jon. He took another sip of his beer: “I’m already paying enough in taxes. They take so much of my money already. They tax shit and make it more expensive. My boss is already grumbling about the new fuel tax increase, since it’s getting more expensive to run the tanks through the proving ground. But at least this new guy doesn’t want to like, pay to resettle the Russians… Can you imagine? They’ve already crowded themselves into shitty parts of town. Where was Vadratian going to put them? Camps or some shit? Let ‘em live in their crappy apartments and shoot each other, they’re not shooting me or setting my corner store on fire, so I’ll live with that.”
“But hey, at least rent would be cheaper,” admitted Mike. “That is, if you want to move into the ghettoes. Gyumri used to be way more expensive until the Russians moved in. Which I suppose is a blessing if you just stay out of the east.”
“Last I heard through the rumor mill from one of the tank crews was that the police just found a deserter who stole a ton of guns and gave them to the Mafiya. Another one tried to make a run for Georgia and was arrested by the Border Service.”
“Jesus Christ,” Mike exclaimed. “That’s some Wild West shit if I’ve ever heard it,” he said, even if Jon only vaguely caught his reference to the film genre.
“A bunch of Russians on meth with submachineguns,” commented the student with a knowing nod. “Can you imagine? Shooting a guy four times and he’s still coming at you?”
He finished off his beer, downing it until only a light ring of foam was left at the bottom of the glass. He pushed the coaster and glass to the other side of the bar, which Mike took to the tap. He pulled back on the lever with an ornately advertised red Budweiser logo: only a touch of liquid dribbled its way out of the head. The bartender kicked the keg down below the bar like it would help, but was unsuccessful. He shrugged and turned to his patron: “Want to come to the cellar and help me get another keg up here? It’s a pain in the ass doing it myself.”
Jon agreed, sliding off the stool to follow the bartender around the bar and through a metal door that sat inconspicuously in the corner. Above it, a yellow metal sign featured a white circle with a falling bomb and “shelter” in big capital letters. Most buildings in the country, especially newer ones, were mandated to have a bomb shelter of a certain capacity: one family’s size for your own home, enough for your tenants in an apartment building, or a sizeable one enough for your patrons in an establishment. Ostensibly, they were supposed to be stocked and ready to use at all times, but most people were using them for storage in the absence of a credible threat. Mike had been keeping the spare spirits in his shelter so that he could free up the actual storage room for more seating. The pair descended the creaking wooden stairs, lit dimly by a single lightbulb, and entered through another door. Metal shelves of bottles, boxes, and kegs lined the shelter along with other acquired junk that the bartender owned. Mike and Jon found a keg of the beer and hoisted it up, climbing the stairs again.
The hoses connected and the tap working as intended, Mike poured the first glass of mostly foam out into the sink before offering Jon another beer. He poured himself another glass, claiming that he was thirsty as well, and toasted it with the student. They sipped on the cold brew together, listening to the jazz, as the door creaked open again. A young woman, probably no older than her early twenties, stepped through the door. The first thing Jon noticed was her hair, obviously dyed a light blonde, clashing with her olive brown skin. On her face, a crooked sloped nose betrayed her Persian ethnicity. A Muslim woman drinking in a bar? But Jon was familiar enough with the Persian culture to know that many of them, particularly city-folk, were not avid Muslims. Tehran had wild underground parties, speakeasies where the liquor flowed, and even red light districts tucked away in various alleys and backstreets. A woman with, of all things, dyed hair was definitely not from the countryside. She sat down at one of the seats on the far end of the bar while Mike and Jon exchanged looks.
“Welcome, miss… Have you been here before?” Mike asked gently as he went over to her side. He stayed standing straight with his arms crossed, careful not to get too close. She looked at him curiously.
“Eh, no,” she said in her soft, girlish Tehrani accent, pausing between words as she searched for the right one. “But I have just moved in the next block over. Can I get one of whatever is cheap?”
The bartender quickly passed her a beer, accepting her cash. She grabbed the glass gingerly with both hands and sipped it from the foam: she looked slightly offended by the taste. Jon observed this and smirked a little into his drink, turning his head to try and hide it. The woman shook her head and asked in disbelief: “How can you drink this? Is this American?”
“Well, yes… but it’s an acquired taste,” Jon answered, looking over her perplexed face. In his best Persian, he tried to ask her about what she usually drank: “Dar Iran, chetor mahmuli shoma mi nushid?”
The woman’s eyes shot from her drink to Jon as she smiled broadly. “Farsi sohbat mi koni? Che ali!” she answered rapidly. “Hijkes tu Armanistan zibaan-am nadonan!”
Jon shook his head and smiled at Mike, who just crossed his arms. “I don’t know that much,” Jon admitted. “See, I just study it at university. Hrazdan Industrial University. Esm-e shoma chi eh?” he added, asking her name. The girl laughed at his accent.
“Farah Kalantari!” she answered excitedly, leaning in closer to Jon. “I am also here at that school for this next term. See, I am one of the first women to study management in Persia. Armenia has a… a… a good reputation for factories! Very efficient, very modern. Like Europe!”
“We learned a lot from the Europeans who came here. We have lots of Armenians in those countries who brought their skills home after the war,” Jon explained, running his hands through his hair. “I’m glad that my school is very famous. It even draws fine women now, plenty like you. My name is Jon, by the way. Korkarian.”
The night went on in the bar as the two students introduced themselves and talked. Drinks were filled and emptied, Mike filling the glasses from his tap until he was ready to close them out. The youths remained the only people in the bar until the lights started to turn off and the record was removed from its needle. Curtains were closed, windows were locked, and Mike had to let them loose on the streets of Hrazdan as the clock struck ten. He thanked them for their business and let them know he was excited to see them whenever they came back. Jon and Farah decided to walk home together to her apartment, crossing the main street by the entrance to the bar’s alley and continuing down a row of identical concrete apartment buildings. Illuminated by the yellow streetlamps, Farah led Jon to the entrance of her building. “I can go home from here,” she said with a smile. In a hopeful tone, she asked: “You said you come there all the time, yes?”
The student put his hands in his pocket: “Of course. I love Mike, he’s my friend. The bar is a good place in town. I’ll see you there sometime soon, right?”
“Of course! Have a good night, Jon.” Farah bounded off to unlock the creaky wooden door of her building and slip inside. Jon turned away, casting one last glance at the address of her building and heading off down the street, alcohol buzzing through his veins and making his feet feel almost like they had weights in them. Luckily, he wasn’t too drunk: he could manage. His apartment was in the complete opposite direction, a few blocks down past the Hollywood. He didn’t mind the walk, the streets of Hrazdan were peaceful after dark. The industrial town operated almost like a factory itself: aside from the obvious like firemen or policemen, nobody was out after nightfall. They all needed their sleep for their job. Jon didn’t even see a stray animal on his way back to the student apartments. He climbed the stairs up to his floor and opened the door quietly so as to not disturb his roommate. They both had work in the morning as well: Jon went right to sleep.
Sochi, Kuban Unorganized Territories
Their seaplane wobbled its wings as it hit a patch of turbulence. Its ungainly body, shaped more like a hull than anything else, shook slightly. The strong propellers cut through the air. It flew in the darkness of night, skimming the water and dipping up to head through a valley once it reached the shore. A red light illuminated the cabin, in which a crew chief looked out through a window. He scanned the dark forests below, looking for his target. The plane passed over what looked to be a large swatch of farmland just on the outskirts of the city, right behind a mountain range. He turned his head to the two figures sitting in the cabin, burdened by green parachute packs and rucksacks. He raised his arms in a “get up” motion, ordering them to clip into a steel wire hanging above the seats. Wordlessly, the yellow static lines were clipped in and the jumpers stood up with their equipment. The crew chief opened up the door, letting the wind whistle through the cabin. He looked out one last time and shouted: “Go!”
Natalia Dadeshvili was the first out the door, snapping straight into a streamlined jump posture as the wind took her and she trailed out behind the aircraft. Her stomach shot straight into her throat and she was terrified before every jump, but the adrenaline kept her fear of heights at bay. In her head, the only thing she could do was count to five. At five seconds, she felt the violent shock of a successful parachute deployment and her free-fall came to an end. The woman looked up at the round nylon canvas now sprawled out against the dark blue sky and checked on her partner: Anton Kapanian. He was falling just behind her, but at a stable speed. Relieved, she checked on the plane as it began to bank away. The pilot waggled his wings at the jumpers before tearing off back to the coast. Natalia pulled on her risers to steer into the center of a field, trying to avoid landing in the nearby vineyards or orchards. Spotting a convenient landing place, she tucked her feet together and prepared for impact.
The ground met her at substantial speed. She impacted with the balls of her feet and fell immediately onto her side. Feet, calves, thigh, hip, and back. Her hands were tucked into her face to protect it and she dropped like a sack of potatoes. Relieved, she waited a few more seconds as the parachute floated down gently behind her. Anton landed a few meters away as Natalia unclipped her harness and reached for her gear. A huge rucksack contained supplies for three days of operation: she struggled to get it on her back and reached for the padded weapon case that contained her carbine. She ripped off her leather jump helmet and goggles, tossed them into the weapon case, and went for her parachute. Anton jogged up to come meet her. “Everything alright?” he asked quietly. “Nothing hurt, broken?”
“I’m fine,” Natalia replied, dragging the parachute across the dry ground of the farmer’s field back to its bag. “Where are we going to toss these?”
“I saw a creek down there,” Anton said as he pointed south. The pair gathered up their equipment and dragged it down a hundred meters or so to the small running creek that meandered its way through the valley. Natalia stepped down the embankment and quickly tossed her parachute bag and weapons case into the bottom of it. She picked a few rocks to bundle up in her parachute canvas and threw that in as well. There would be no signs that they had entered the country: Natalia and Anton were field agents in the Armenian National Security Service, tasked with gathering intelligence on pirate operations in Sochi after a civilian merchant ship was boarded and captured. A reconnaissance plane, sent out the day before to look for landing zones and pirate bases, identified the MV Breadwinner of Rize in dock undergoing repairs by the Sochi bandits. They were going to check the area out for a few days: the Navy had notified the NSS that they were planning a rescue operation and had begun to mobilize forces in the only Armenian foreign base at Poti, Georgia.
Natalia sat down on the bank of the creek, leaning up against the metal frame of her rucksack. She wiped the sweat on her hands off on the blotchy camouflaged smock she wore, before fixing the twin braids of hair that rested over the front of her shoulders. Anton dragged his equipment into the creek and slung his sniper rifle across his chest, before laying down with his map and a pen. He took the direction of two mountain peaks with his compass and used the intersecting lines to determine their location, before plotting a route to a hilltop that would be their observation post. “Ready?” he asked, putting his hands in his pockets. As much as he wanted a smoke, the smell would linger and he didn’t want to leave trash like a butt by the water for the farmers to find in the morning. The other spy struggled her way up, clambering onto her feet with the weight of the ruck on her back. The path ahead of them was a rough hike up the forested side of a mountain. They got going without further conversation.
It took them another few hours before they had everything set up. Natalia and Anton were posted on a forested hilltop ten kilometers away from the north of the city: the pirates appeared to live on a base there, ruling over the rest of the city. The Unorganized Territories were a feudal mix of warlords and strongmen, the politics of which were lost on the two NSS agents. Natalia herself was born to a Georgian family in Javakhk, the most northern province of Armenia. She saw what happened just across the border, where her cousins and grandparents were living under the rule of a self-defense militia that carved out their turf from a few small towns. The pirates who ran attacks on shipping routes were most likely sailors pressed into crews by a warlord operating as the governor of the region: he collected tax from the farmers and craftsmen, funded public projects, and restored some semblance of frontier justice against criminals. Others in the former Russian state organized their own nations in miniature from ideology: provinces ruled by communist governments were just as common as libertarian communes or Orthodox theocracies.
Natalia stepped out from underneath her shelter-half, strung up against a tree in the woodline and covered with vegetation to camouflage it. Her pant legs were rolled up to her knees as she walked barefoot in the grass. The spy wore a green woolen sweater in the chilly, dew-drenched Russian late-summer morning. Her sweat-drenched jacket was drying out on a tree branch nearby. In one hand, she slung her rifle across her shoulder: in the other, she carried a pair of binoculars. Anton knelt in the damp grass beside a bush at the top of the hill, scanning through his rifle’s scope down at the city below. Russian towns in the north Caucasus looked almost like any other Ukrainian or European city at the end of the 19th century. Classical architecture, scarred and faded by years of poor care, still remained beside cobblestone streets. The sun peeked its way over the eastern hills, casting its shadows on the figures who began their morning routines. At the northern harbor, Natalia noticed boats starting to go out with the tide.
“There,” Anton said, “look around two-hundred and fifteen degrees on your compass.”
Natalia swiveled to that direction, turning her gaze to a mechanic yard where trucks had just dropped off a shift of workers. Figures with guns walked around on perimeter patrols while others clad in jumpsuits carried toolboxes and bulky equipment towards the dark hull of the Breadwinner. Even at their distance, the bright lights of welding torches could be seen popping on and off across the deck. “It looks like they’re repairing it in drydock,” Anton assessed, adjusting the focus on his sniper scope with a concentrated look about his face. A ship like an Independence-Class could easily act as a mothership. Pirates mostly operated near the shore on small, low-ranged boats. A clever engineer, of which the former wartime Tsarist education system produced many, could outfit the ship with fuel tanks and boat racks to maintain and refuel pirate skiffs. Natalia took turns looking down the binoculars and drawing what she saw in a brown-leather bound notebook.
“Well obviously the ship is their prize. Remember the stories of old pirates?” Natalia asked. “The Americans fought the Barbary pirates because they kept stealing their ships and… sailors.”
“Huh?” Anton asked, lowering his rifle and turning his head to her.
“The Barbary pirates used to be these Ottomans in the 19th century who would capture American merchant ships and crews,” Natalia explained, still drawing the harbor layout with annotated buildings and positions. “They said they were prize vessels, used to grow the Ottoman navy. The crews would become slaves made to work on the vessels or ransomed off to get more money for the Sultan. It really hurts a nation’s pride when pirates steal their shit. Especially new ones… America was barely just past twenty years from writing their constitution. We’re only four decades removed from the Great War.”
“Are you think the Merchant Mariners here are being held hostage as crews for the ship?”
“Look at it, they’re fixing it. Obviously they’re going to use it. If I were a warlord I’d ransom it and the crew as is if I just wanted the money. I’d suspect they’re going to force the crew to man it, too. Wouldn’t you?”
Anton nodded, peering back through his magnified scope. “And if the crew is going to man it, they’re going to be coming and going… supervising repairs. Showing the pirates around. And we can see where they’re coming from.”
The day continued, townspeople moving about the city. Farmers went out to their fields, herders released their cattle, and the fishermen went to sea. Life here was like life anywhere else: a far cry from the disastrous, apocalyptic Russia of famine and death that made Natalia think that Russian-Armenians were perhaps exaggerating their situation. Then she remembered her own Georgia, reading a letter from her aunt about the militias burning down the home of a suspected homosexual only to discover the accuser was simply lying to cover up her own affair. Goosebumps rolled across her skin: she shook the chills away. Her home was in Armenia where the rule of law applied. By noon, another pirate truck had arrived at the drydock: Anton and Natalia focused steadily on it as the back cover was thrown open and a half-dozen sailors, still in their dark blue peacoats and white duty pants, were forced off by more armed men. They walked single-file up the gangway to come aboard their ship, disappearing into the superstructure. “That’s them,” Anton muttered.
The spies waited for hours, at least one of them with eyes on the ship the whole time. The sun began to set again, people started to return home. Natalia first noticed the Armenian sailors leave the ship and get back into the truck. She alerted Anton and, together, they watched the pirates’ vehicle turn back on. Bright lights illuminated the street ahead of it, painting the buildings a white color as it rumbled out of the yard. Anton and Natalia watched it turn out, heading down away from the center of town. Natalia compared it to her notes and the map of Sochi provided as part of the intelligence kit. The truck drove out to the north of town, stopping just shy of the exit sign where fields took over from residential houses. It turned again, heading down a small street until it reached what appeared to be a complex of short, green buildings. Natalia took a look at the buildings and traced the road on her map to the same location: the Mamayka Primary School.
Natalia scribbled a mark on her map and jot down the notes in her book while Anton confirmed that the sailors were being herded into the school’s old gymnasium on the east side. “Well there we have it. Our sailors are in the school,” Anton reported. “I suppose that was a good first day.”
“Yeah,” Natalia answered, closing her book. The sun now was dipping down over the glittering sea, reflecting off of the water. The day was over, nothing else was going to happen that required the both of them she asked if Anton wanted the first watch and went back to her shelter-half. Her ration for the night was a box containing, amongst other things, a simple tin of salted pork. She scarfed down the too-greasy meat, washing it down with warm water from her canteen. Dry, stale biscuits complemented the food, followed by a bag of nuts and raisins and a chocolate bar. The only thing remaining was a gleefully-advertised pack of cigarettes that she put aside for Anton. With a yawn, she looked back at the hilltop. Another few days of reconnaissance. Then exfiltration. Then a ride home. It was all so simple.
“So, the issue of Foreign Policy Number Nineteen has formally been introduced by the office of President Hasmik Assanian. This will require a majority of two-thirds to enact in accordance with Article Seven of the Constitution.”
Prime Minister Antabian spoke from the carved wooden lectern at the front of the Armenian National Assembly’s main hall. It featured a bold coat of arms, eloquently carved into the podium and surrounded by ornate bordering with arevakhach wheels at the base of each side. A massive flag hung behind the Prime Minister. A microphone carried the old man’s voice throughout the hall, where one hundred and one leather-bound seats were arranged in a semicircle in front of him. Alphabetically, the parties were arranged from his left to right with each position inside the parties determined by seniority. Marble columns on each side of the hall supported a curved roof from which an ornate chandelier hung. Carvings of Armenian folk stories had been cut into each section of the hall. Gold from the West tastefully lined the walls and ceiling: it was a hall of power modeled after the finest European tastes. Many years of work and more money than anyone was comfortable admitting had gone into its construction. It also served as President Serovian’s defiant symbol of resistance to the Turks.
President Assanian and his advisors sat in their specially designated section at the rear. While dignitaries were free to join, the National Assembly had the parliamentary delegates sit in the front while their business was assigned to them. They had spent hours debating over the finer points of the Georgia Plan, about troop numbers and revenue. About what parts of the border troops were called in from. Timelines, allied forces in the country, logistics, and anything else that even Assanian and Moysisian hadn’t thought of were talked about my old men in suits for the better part of that day. Vice-President Idratian had nudged Assanian awake a few times during some of the longer-winded speeches by Revolutionary Party veterans about their vehement opposition to a “great breach of the Fedayeen’s philosophy.” A few minor changes had been agreed on by members of the Liberal Democratic Party, mostly involving the timeline for troop rotations: deployments of troops in country after the setup of initial government had been shortened from twelve to nine months. It was a compromise: a faction of rather dovish Independence Party wanted six months.
A short recess was called so that the party leaders could gather votes from their members. Each one would tally their yes or no on a piece of paper turned into the party leader, which would then be announced at the request of Prime Minister Antabian. Assanian and Idratian talked amongst themselves during the half-hour break. The Prime Minister patrolled the hallways, monitoring for discussion: the final voting was done in silence, and any conversation would render the speaker and the listener’s vote as invalid abstains. The time for discussion and debate had passed. Each party leader duly received the paper and did the math on their own, writing down the final yes-no vote before waiting out the remainder of the recess period. It was an eerie quietness that Assanian so rarely heard in the halls of democratic action. The Prime Minister finished his walk and hobbled his way up the stairs to the podium, where he called to order the assembly: “The voting period has finished and we shall now hear the results. We start with the Communist Party.”
The leader of the Communist Party loudly cleared his throat and stood. The bearded man’s neatly-combed hair was flecked with grey. His bright red tie and pocketsquare clashed against the muted black of his double-breasted suit. “It is the stated position of the Communist Party to never involve itself in political actions that do not benefit the workers and proletariat of this country. An action in a foreign land exploits the labor of not only our conscripted soldiers but the workers of the industry that support them. It also leads to, what we fear, will become the exploitation of native Georgians by your administration if it grows in power and authority. This sets a dangerous precedent. Both of our votes are no: there are no agreements.”
“Thank you,” said Antabian, marking down the number on his own notepad. The speaker for the Communist Party sat back in his seat, looking at his partner. Their vote didn’t count for much besides their voice, but that was all they needed. “Now we look to the Enforcement Party for their results.”
The Enforcement Party’s younger, huskier leader stood from his seat. He looked down to the sheet of paper in his hand. “The spread of refugees into this country,” he began, “has created security and crime issues unforeseen by our original Fedayeen predecessors. Internally, we are becoming divided. There are attacks on policemen in Gyumri, street crime in Sevan, and ambushes on border troops to the north. After the Artsakh, we have become complacent with our position in the region and have had to rely on Persia to secure our eastern and southern flanks. While we strongly caution the decision to remove troops from the border to carry out this plan, we believe that it is necessary to show that we as Armenians can project power from beyond our own borders. We share a strong historical, cultural, and religious bond with our brothers to the north in the Georgian mountains. We must rid them of the bandits and criminals that plague their society while providing an answer for the ills that plague our own. All of our votes are in the affirmative: ten to zero.”
Assanian turned to Moysisian and gave him a knowing look. Antabian had been correct in his assumption that the Enforcement Party would vote on this, despite the cuts to reservist activations. The President mentally chalked up the victory before the next block of voters came to stand and present their closing vote. The notorious Independence Party took the stand, their leader visibly anxious. It appears that he, too, had done the math on this bill when it was being introduced and debated upon over the last few sessions of parliament. “The Independence Party recognizes the threat that emerging changes in the Armenian demographics present. We concur with Enforcement Party members in saying that Russian communities are often sources of crime in our own cities. During the administration of President Vadratian, we sought to minimize the impact that this would have on our own sovereignty.”
He looked back at his party, his eyes darting to the strongmen in a way that told Assanian they were defectors. “Our party, here, for this policy proposal, has voted twenty to fifteen in favor of ‘yes.’”
A wave of murmurs crossed the parliament, prompting the Prime Minister to order them to quiet down. The politicians being represented sat in their seats uncomfortably. The leader of the Independence Party had once been a proud man, a leader in traditional values by the name of Armen Tsaghzian. Now, he looked like a shadow of his former self: he looked hungover, like he hadn’t slept the last few nights. Stubble shaded his chin and his shirt and pants appeared rumpled, like he only threw a new jacket and tie on to appear well-kept after a rough night. Assanian, not usually partisan by nature, felt a sort of humor watching him stumble through a statement so obviously trying to downplay his party breaking loyalty and voting on a Liberal Democratic proposal. A thin smile broke through his lips as Tsaghzian continued to save face: “Traditionally, we believe that internal threats should remain internal and there is a clear distinction between foreign and domestic policy. The new decade has turned and we are facing a variety of unconventional threats. This requires… an unconventional response. As such, the Independence Party will support this initiative.”
Prime Minister Antabian and Assanian exchanged looks from across the hall, albeit just briefly. He looked down emotionlessly at his sheet and scratched in the new numbers. Thirty to seventeen. The old man thanked Tsaghzian for his remarks and moved to the next speaker: the Armenian Liberal Democratic Party. This man, Philip Babovian, was once Antabian’s second in command when the ALDP was on the minority end. The right-hand-man of Assanian and Antabian’s party, Babovian nodded knowingly at his old boss. “I believe everyone wants to get out of here early, I think?” he asked rhetorically, eliciting low, forced chuckles from the politicians in attendance. “We stand by President Assanian’s foreign relations policy. In the legislative party’s opinion, we think that it represents a mix of internal and external policy to deal with societal change. Obviously, as time marches on, our society will experience new chapters. While before we avoided extermination, now we must prosper. But we must prosper as a land that others in the shadow of the Ottoman Empire can turn to. Noah landed his ark at Mount Ararat as the world flooded. He landed right here, in the Fatherland.”
Assanian nodded along, Idratian crossing his arms and listening intently beside him. “Just as it was then, the world now is on the brink of catastrophe and the precipice of war. Our war with the Ottomans has continued to be deterred to this day. Going to Georgia, using our treasure and power to stabilize our northern neighbors, is our next stepping stone. We take risk with the troop deployments. We take risk on our military and economy. We take risk on our political affiliations. But we believe that this is worth it to establish a positive environment in the Caucasus. It is better for us. We cannot live surrounded by enemies: the Artsakh War proved that enough. But instead of relying on the Shah’s deus ex machina, we are taking matters into our own hands in a way that supports the continued development of a liberal democracy at home and across our borders. We vote thirty-nine in favor, with four dissents from the party opinion.”
Thirty-nine was one off from Antabian’s supposed expectation of forty, but it passed the threshold nonetheless. Idratian patted his president on the back and muttered a light congratulations as Babovian took his seat. Before they had more time to react, the leader of the Revolutionary Party shot up to give his speech: “The Councilmen wrote very little into the Constitution about this sort of action,” said the spokesman in a low-rumbling gruffness that betrayed his deep frustrations. “And as such we cannot stand with it. We recognize that, despite our vote of eleven to ‘no’, the decision still stands. But we will take our platform to speak our continued defense of conforming to values outlined in the Constitution. We fought a revolution, a war against foreign oppression, to create our own Fatherland. And now, we risk becoming the oppressors of someone else. Another Ottoman Empire. This is not what the Fedayeen wanted. This is not what the Armenian Separatist Front wanted. This is what we continue to be the vanguard of. The policy represents a dangerously slope to go down on: I hope that, when this vote appears in the history books, we all realize with hindsight the consequences of our decisions.”
Prime Minister Antabian tallied up the votes. He scribbled in some numbers with his pencil and wiped the lead away before leaning into the microphone: “As it stands, the voting from our National Assembly’s parties has closed. In total, Foreign Policy Number Nineteen, known informally here as the ‘Georgia Plan’, passes the two-thirds threshold: sixty-nine to thirty-two. It is narrow, but it passes. You are dismissed.”
The National Assembly rose simultaneously, the individual parliamentarians turning to each other to give congratulatory handshakes or shake their heads. Assanian and his cabinet congratulated each other and offered words of encouragement as Antabian came off the podium with his folder of documents from the hearing. The masses of politicians streamed out of the wooden double doors at the end of the walkway, flanked by policemen in dress uniform, while Assanian smiled at the Prime Minister and shook his hand. “We won!” he announced in a rare burst of excitement. “How quickly can we get this published and sent out in a statement?”
The Prime Minister looked down at the document. “It’s all marked up, so we’ll have to retype it. By tomorrow the official release should be out. But it is law. The Georgia Plan is slated to begin on schedule, like we thought.” He smiled as well, watching the last of the stragglers leave the hall. Some mingled outside, others went to the balcony watching over Republic Square to smoke cigarettes. Others just left straight to go to their homes. The President, hands in his pockets, stood by the Prime Minister. Armenia, for the first time since antiquity, was going beyond self-defense. The mountains to the north held the next chapter for his country’s story. Assanian watched as Antabian delivered his folder to the staff courier, who departed hastily along with a policeman escorting him. That order, already written by Moysisian’s NSS, was to be distributed to the Ministry of War. The chains began turning on the largest mobilization of men in the region since the Artsakh War almost a decade ago. And for Assanian, it was his first victory in parliament.
“Well I don’t know about you gents,” he said, straightening out his purple tie, “but I’ll be back home celebrating. I hope that you’ll join me as well if you don’t have anything else to do tonight.”