The Dark Years in Cartoons

Jivan Cheterian is a Swiss-Armenian student and he volunteered for us at Hayashen during his brief stay in London. He immediately impressed us with his eagerness to learn, excellent knowledge of politics and history, and kindness. 

One of the things we asked him to do was to go through and organise our extensive digital archives, and when he came across to a collection of cartoons from 1990s Armenia, we decided to publish some of them with an introduction from Jivan as we’re sure some of our readers have experienced these years themselves. 

I have been working in Hayashen’s library for a few weeks now. My role, as a volunteer, consists of, in short, sorting out folders, documents and papers in order to bring back some clarity and organisation. In other words, my main occupation is to rename, reformat, upload, download, create and delete files so that their accessibility is improved. While it might sound quite repetitive, going through these documents enabled me to discover some jewels and cast a new light on the event of the past for me.

This past was for me, until this date, lying in the shadow. These pictures that I would like to share with you are my first grasp into a time I didn’t know so much about and that seemed to be far and unseizable. For some of you, perhaps, these cartoons might wake the memories of this time up; for others, like me, it is a way to dip into the unlived reality. These depictions are a means of comprehension of the past, whether you’ve been touched by it or no. They are gathered from a number of Armenian publications from 1990s, which everyone calls The Dark Years in Armenia, referring not only the literal lack of electricty, light and heating, but also the general state of the country, trying to cope with the breakup of the Sociey Union and the Karabakh war. 

Despite the simplicity of the line, the shortness of the message, these cartoons convey striking irony, which besides of being plain messages of criticism, are a way to cope with the hardship of the situation. On the one hand, the irony lightens the difficulty of the context by prompting us a smile or a laugh and so softens the burden of life. On the other hand, the exacerbations of these situations can be understood in their historical context and description of life. They describe how men and women had to cope with daily ordeals, as finding enough food for their family or having enough wood and coal to keep them warm enough during the harsh winter of 1993.

For some who lived through this, these pictures might have an impact by reminding them of these days. For others, it allows a glimpse to the past. In any case, they give some perspective to the post-Soviet years of Armenia, affected by the Karabakh war, extensive power cuts, the devastating earthquake of 1988, mass migration and widespread unemployment and poverty.