In search of a better "definition" I googled the word and here's what the Urban Dictionary tells me:
Rabiz (n). A slang word describing a social class of Armenians that exhibit socially questionable behaviors. The "rabiz" are similar to the "redneck" class of Americans [...]. Those typicalled dubbed "rabiz" by the Armenian community generally exhibit the following characteristics, although this is not a definitive list:
1. materialistic flamboyancy,
2. the desire to wear sunglasses on all occasions, regardless of weather conditions,
3. formal clothing typically consisting of imitation Italian leather shoes, slacks, and collared silk shirts,
4. strong blend of Russian and Armenian slang words
5. "rabiz" music which, ironically, is an adaptation of Turkish songs adapted for a rabiz-Armenian audience.
6. strong body odors, prominently onions.
7. over-confidence of "picking up" girls regardless of location, occasion, or setting.
I wouldn't want to say I like this description, but it's pretty close.
The great irony is, of course, that despite the supposed national conviction and the ever-present propaganda that everything Turkish, Azeri and/or Arabic-related is inherently evil, the fans of rabiz seem to have no qualms about adopting themes and styles (and sometimes even the translated lyrics) from these cultures. For instance, here is a "song" that has absolutely nothing "Armenian" about it culture-wise (if we are to take the typical ethnocentric, xenophobic and isolationist perspective).
I cannot stand this music (just as I despise the so-called sub-culture) and I do my best to avoid it as much as possible. Yet, the tragedy of it all is that over the past several years it has come to play a central role in Armenia's public diplomacy, especially within the aspect of the popular culture.
Thanks to Armenia's geography, history as well as economic "well-being", there are more people who would identify themselves as "Armenians" abroad than within the country itself (some estimates of the Diaspora range from 4 to 6 million, while the country has, officially, a population of about 3 million, though many would say that's a gross over-exaggeration).
The significance of public diplomacy in reaching out to diasporas, as well as mobilizing them for the work of public diplomacy is already a much-discussed (and well-practiced) theme. It becomes even more important for tiny and insignificant countries, like Armenia. (And, although I dislike this example, I'll draw the parallel with Israel since prominent Armenian leaders at home and abroad always seem to be looking up to it.)
The numbers of these expats (essentially, emigrants) increased over the past couple of decades as the Soviet Armenia, as well as its economy, collapsed. With them, they took their most recent culture and music tastes - often along the lines of the rabiz - inevitably making the latter the representatives of modern-day Armenia. This view is further reinforced by the Armenian TV channels broadcast from Armenia over the satellites (I believe there are about 4-5 different channels of "Armenian origin" that people can get in various parts of the world).
Here, for example, one can witness the extraordinary blend of an Oriental Armenian pearl with American-Armenian rap. (Horrible...)
It's not just TV, though. The very prominent Armenian oligarchs (the so-called "major businessmen") based in Russia, for example, have recently started sponsoring major Armenian concerts and musical festivals, usually held in Moscow, that feature - more often than not - rabiz "artists". Earlier this year, one of these events stirred up a major controversy, for instance. Yet, I guess one should be grateful that they are not making it to places such as Eurovision; not just yet, at least (although this year's Armenia's representative wasn't much better, even if she was different).
Why all this intro? Just to demonstrate why it pains me to see "decent" culture, and especially high culture, virtually absent from Armenia's cultural and public diplomacy. Yes, the National Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as certain other artists do sometimes travel abroad, but I can (most definitely) bet that the audience they reach numbers in the hundreds, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) reached by the rabiz.
Photos by Yelena Osipova
Last night I had the opportunity to attend a ballet - Prokofiev's "Romeo & Juliet" - performed by the National Opera and Ballet Theater. Yes, perhaps there is nothing "Armenian" about this piece, either (written by an Englishman, and composed by a Russian); yet, the choreography as well as the performance was all done by Armenian artists. What is more, the Armenian Ministry of Culture was the one to provide the major chunk of the financial support. Why not use this opportunity for "high culture" public diplomacy, whether live or televised? After all, the Montagues and Capulets can speak for the Armenians as well as for the British... as long as there is will.
Sergei Prokofiev - Dance of the Knights
The ballet was well-done and most of the lead roles performed very well. Although there can be very little comparison with Russia's Bolshoi or the Mariinski, I still walked out from the hall quite impressed. And although many would say that high culture is inherently exclusive and not well-fitted for the "cultural enlightenment of the masses", I am more than just confident that when it comes to Armenian public diplomacy, the impressions and formed opinions will be infinitely better than those by the rabiz (and its admirers).
After all, such occasions provide the great opportunity of bringing the more or less familiar and much-liked pieces of global culture (to foreigners, but especially to Diasporans who might, in many ways, be closer to their host cultures than to the modern Armenian "pop folk") with what can be seen as "Armenian packaging".
I just wish the so-called Ministry of Diaspora starts considering musical culture as a real PD issue, as well...