I don’t really know what to make of Armenia. I’ve really enjoyed travelling around this country where everything is so very different. First impression from Yerevan is that it is a cosmopolitan, cultured place with a very western feel.
As one moves further away from the capital the mountains increasingly dominate.
Whether you live high up on the high ridges or down on the valley farmlands or in the concrete and steel of the towns and cities, life is hard, really hard. There is little money, winters are long and raw, industry and the infrastructure is painfully run down. The beauty of the landscape cannot hide the fact that with the collapse of the Soviet Union the country has been in a time warp for fifty odd years and it will require a superhuman effort to overcome the legacy of the past.
I can visit spiritual places and medieval monasteries and beautiful forests and eat juicy tomatoes and drink wonderful wine. I can interact with the locals in gardens and bars and share a laugh and shake a hand.
But then I pass through Alaverdi and any optimism hits rock bottom. This city used to have a copper factory. No longer. It now feels like a war zone with empty, wrecked buildings and a feeling of desolation and hopelessness.
From the 16th century Eastern Armenia came under the influence of Iran and Western Armenia became part of the Ottoman Empire. By 1800s the former was occupied by Russia and the western part, the vast proportion of the Armenian ancestral lands, remained in Turkey.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Turks began the process of genocide against the western Armenian territories. In 1894/6 villages were razed to ground and 1000s killed. East Armenia sided with Russia in WWI. In 1915 the Turks began the ‘Turkification’ of the Armenian population. The men were treated as virtual slaves and labourers. Their families were sent into desert where they suffered enormously. Of a population of 2 million Armenians in 1915, only 388,000 remained in 1922.
This is the main reason why the population of present-day Armenia is 2.5 million and over 10 million ethnic Armenians live elsewhere in the world. The fact is that only 10% of Armenia’s ancestral land lies in the present-day republic. 90% of it lies in Turkey.
There is still much evidence of the Soviet Union throughout Armenia. The Russians are popular with many. They came to the aid of Armenia against foreign aggression throughout recent history and they still guard the border between Armenia and Turkey today.
The job ahead is huge. But the people are focussed on creating a fair society where people from different backgrounds can live together in harmony, reflecting the strength of their history and the nature of their geography. Good luck to them.