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All across Armenia, in every town, I saw men deeply involved in nardi, both playing and watching with intent interest.

You might call it backgammon, depending on where you trace your lineage. Nardi is backgammon with a few different rules, I’ve been told. I didn’t play backgammon growing up, and I just learned nardi last weekend at an Armenian picnic at Hyde Park, so I can’t comment on the difference (if anyone can, please enlighten me!).

Two essential rules:

  • You can only move forward.
  • You can’t add the dice together.

I went home and taught the game to Steve. His response to the rules: “So it’s like Trouble.” I … guess so? Either way, I wasn’t clear on a few of the rules so we’ve already got our own version of the game going.

This is part of my effort to experience more of Armenia abroad, to better understand how diasporan Armenians connect to Armenian heritage. The first time I watched it played (by men, of course; women have housework to do), the competition was so intense that no time could be spared for an explanation of the rules. “Just watch,” they said. “You’ll figure it out.” And then proceeded to play so fast and aggressively that I had no idea what was going on.

Much like pahklava, although nardi has an Armenianised name, it’s actually a symbol of Armenia’s connection to the countries and cultures surrounding it. This also fascinates me.

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