By Edmond Y. Azadian
The Russian novelist Anton Chekhov once wrote a satirical short story about the significance of medals in 19th-century Russian society. The story dwells on the predicament of a poor teacher who is invited to a dinner party in high society circles. To prove that he deserves the honor, he decides to borrow a medal from a friend. Upon arriving at the party, however, he encounters an acquaintance, who knows that he has not received such an honor. The teacher tries to hide the medal, devising many ruses which eventually spoil the dinner and the evening. But before taking his leave, he discovers that his acquaintance is also in the same boat, trying to hide his own borrowed medal.
Chekhov ridiculed characters chasing such vanities. He died in 1905 and yet, since then, not much has changed in that part of the world when it comes to tributes.
The Soviet inheritors of the Russian Empire also stressed the significance of those medals, to the point that many anecdotes and jokes were cracked about Leonid Brezhnev, a particular devotee of medals. As the chevrons on his lapel extended, Armenians were wondering that they had never seen hyphenated chevrons.
Today, those coveted medals can be bought at the Vernissage, the glorified flea market in Yerevan, for pennies.
But, on the other hand, the tradition seems to be entrenched in Armenia so much so that pretty soon no tourist will return from Yerevan without a medal awarded by an authority or agency in Armenia.