Armenia Impressions

December 2015 & July 2016

@ Yerevan. What to write about Armenia and Armenians? I’ve been in capital now few weeks and liked my visit a lot. Center Yerevan has effectively washed its face from the Soviet past. Although it doesn’t take long walk after grey concrete blocks starts to appear. Downtown has several western style avenues with cafe’s, restaurants, hotels and boutique shops.

Prices compared to Europe are reasonable. Living expenses, gasoline and transportation, accommodation etc. are attractive. EU citizens don’t need visa for arrival, and can stay as tourist for half a year (and in neighbouring Georgia tourist visa permits stay a full year!). People are friendly, and women true beauties. Yerevan weather can be hazy when it hasn’t rained for a while, but once air is cleared, Ararat is providing magnificent views over the city.

Mount Ararat and statue Mother of Armenia.

Population of Armenia is just 3 million, and its a land locked country. Border can be crossed north from Georgia and south from Iran. Country was the first in world to turn officially Christian, year was AD301. Most Armenian churches are well older than Europeans counterparts. Compare for example Echmiazin Cathedral that was founded same year that country turned Christianity. Notre Dame de Paris, ancient by European standards, was founded “only” AD1163. Although center Yerevan contains little historic sights, it is surrounded with several interesting places to see, one or two hour drive away.

Etchmiadzin Cathedral, oldest state built church in the world. It has same meaning for Armenian Christians as Vatican for Catholics.

Etchmiadzin Cathedral

Sevan, second highest lake in world (after Titicaca in South America). Sevan has magnificent sights for surrounding regions, and two ancient churches. Winds were chilly in December, but lake is popular spot during summer time

Cave chapel of Geghard from AD1215

Mount Ararat

Mountain seen from Yerevan, Armenian side (above) and Dogubeyazit, Turkey (bellow).

Monastery of Khor Virap, winter (above) and summer (bellow).

@ August 2016, Yerevan. Is there angry God of Photography at Mt. Ararat? How hard it can be to take a single decent photo of something as fast moving as 5000 meter tall mountain and 1000 year old stone monastery? After 3 attempts, winter and summer, I must confess not as easy as one might think.

Mount Ararat and monastery of Khor Virap offer perhaps the most scenic vista near Yerevan. Trip is easily doable with half a day trip using public transport. Taxi or own vehicle even less. Problem is that Yerevan plain emit mist that can hide mountain entirely. And also, clouds can appear out of nowhere to cover the mountain. Best bet to go after the rain, when air has been cleared, but not too soon to allow skies clear. Naturally golden hours of sunrise and sunset give most scenic views.

Ararat for Armenians is what Fuji is for Japanese, a holy mountain that has been part of their culture and history throughout the millenniums. After borders where redrawn at the end of WW1, Ararat now stands in Turkish side of border.

Noah descending from Mount Ararat (Genesis 8:1-17):

Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

@ Goris, Armenian south. Surprisingly, there was no busses available from Yerevan to Goris, so I had a share-taxi with locals. Journey was interesting. Our Armenian driver nicknamed Schumacher, manoeuvred his big Mercedes at high altitudes in South Caucasus. Speeding around 160km so we were literally flying on a curvy and bumpy roads.

Speakers were blaring Armenian pop songs, and Schumacher was doing little dance performances while overtaking old Lada’s on our way. Utility vehicles have uncommon mix of historic equipment. Soviet era trucks, like Kamaz are remnants of Armenias past. Old oil trucks coming from Iran are made in USA Mack trucks, from Iran’s pre-revolution days. Views were great, even with a bit shaken about driving, couldn’t stop awing them.

Goris is in a deep U-shaped valley. Buildings are lower brick houses, normally 3 floors high. Streets are Russian style prospeks, wide streets in grid formation. I find the remoteness and grittiness of Goris quite appealing.

@ West Armenia

Mount Aragats is dormant volcano massif in western Armenia. Its highest summit at 4090m is also the highest point of the Armenia.

Mamashen Monastery near Gyumri.

Interior of Sanahin Monastery, near Alaverdi.

Dilijan, Armenian Alpine region north from Yerevan.


History: Armenian Genocide — What Prompted It?

This year that is soon ending, marked 100 years since Armenian Genocide. According to Wikipedia, around 800000 to 1.5 million Armenians died in 1915, during World War One. Although the term was familiar, I kind of leaned common thinking that tragedy was result of war surfacing wrong people to power, who created horrible conditions with terror, famine and freezing winters. How wrong was I…

Genocide Memorial in Yerevan center

In 1915, genocide developed in three phases. First was drafting Armenian and other Christian men to take part in Ottoman armies, at the wake of war. After disastrous campaign against Russians, these men were made as scapegoats for the losses. Had the war gone any better for Ottomans, who knows if later events had happened in their severity? Men were disarmed and put on hard labor companies, and gradually exhausted and murdered. Second phase was spring 1915, when 200-300 Armenian intellectuals (priests, artists, business and other noteworthy people) were executed throughout the empire, and especially in the capital Constantinople (today’s Istanbul). In last third phase, targets were the leaderless and helpless women, children and older men. They were forced to death marches in Syrian deserts, tortured, starved, murdered. These stages were planned and organised by Young Turk government at the head of Ottoman Empire, and were not impulsive and improvised violence by armed thugs.

Besides events of 1915, similar though smaller atrocities happen over the decades. Several Ottoman/Turkish governments, often hostile to each other, followed the same policy consistently: last Sultan still wielding state power, Abdul Hamid II (Hamidian Massacres 1894–1896, Adana Holocaust 1909). Sultan was deposed by Young Turk movement that drove Ottoman’s to war. And lastly the Kemalists, after the war (Smyrna Fire 1923).

Atrocities resulted population transfers and immigration through the years. For example, California today has significant Armenian population living as Americans. Similarly France and other European countries received multitudes of Armenian refugees. After Greco-Turkish War (1919–22), both sides agreed of population transfer. Muhacirs from Balkans transferred to now depopulated West Armenia and elsewhere in modern day Turkey. Anatolian Greeks and Macedonians in turn moved to Balkans.

So back to question, what was the reason behind tragedy?

In late 1800’s, new ideals such as Nationalism and Communism not only undermine traditional order, but inspired a rifts between ethnicities and religions. People had earlier just one ruler, the Sultan, to worry about. Now they were forming new ideas how their future should be shaped, where their loyalties should be, and who their allies were.

Developments in Ottoman Empire, during its last century was continued struggle from one setback to another. In hands of several incompetent Sultans the empire seemed to fell apart. It was leaving behind militarily to European powers. Due to mismanagement, it also became financially dependant on them. Anatolia was still home of large Christian population. Greeks, Armenians and other Christians influenced local business and spiritual communities. They were often better educated and wealthier than Muslims. If old trend continued, could Turkish Muslims become second class citizens in their homeland? My guess the reason for genocide was simply out of fear that one day, if Anatolia was lost, there would be no place to withdraw anymore. So ethnic cleansing was planned and executed by successive regimes.

Eternal flame, in Genocide Memorial of Yerevan

Today, this topic today is still full of controversy. It is spurring demonstrations in Turkey and Armenia. Journalists have lost lives, monuments destroyed and defaced. Turkish-Armenian border stays closed from trade and tourism.
Modern day Turkey is more wealthy, mature and educated than ever before. Still its denying the word genocide, to describe what happened to Armenians. Perhaps it would be finally time to acknowledge the wrongs of the past? Armenians will never forget the Great Crime that was done to them, and history wont be going anywhere.