As usual, I’ve gotten way behind with my blog posts. More will be coming soon, but for now, for those of you who don’t have facebook and haven’t seen them already, here are some pictures of my recent trip to Armenia.
Armenia is Georgia’s neighbour to the south, a small country of about 3 million (though about 8 million more people with Armenian heritage live around the world). It’s much more ethnically homogenous than Georgia, with only about 2% being ethnic minorities (primarily Kurds and Yezidis). The Armenian language is Indo-European, thus completely unlike Georgian. Along with Georgia and Azerbaijan, Armenia was one of 3 South Caucasus Soviet republics.
Armenia was famously the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its official state religion, way back around 300 CE (Georgia, again, was number two). Despite this, I have found Georgia to be much more openly religious; I’ve seen far more churches in Georgia than in Yerevan.
Last week, I travelled with a Georgian tour group to Yerevan for 3 days for a System of a Down concert. I’m not really a hardcore metalhead (and the hardcore metalheads generally don’t like this band anyway), but I’ve long considered SOAD to be one of the more creative heavy bands out there, mostly due to the frontman’s voice.
And “Chop Suey” is quite simply a killer song and a perfect mixture of downtuned power chord aggression, operatic bombast, and harmonic-minor heartstring tugging. In my humble opinion, of course.
I have to open this post with a tiny history lesson. For the Republic of Armenia, this is an incredibly symbolic year, as it marks the 100th year since the Armenian Genocide of 1915, where up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed during their forced expulsion from the Ottoman Empire. This historic event remains controversial mainly in terms of the exact numbers killed and semantics. The government of Turkey has long insisted that only 500,000 Armenians died of starvation and in the conflicts accompanying WWI, and that “genocide” is not an accurate description of what happened since it wasn’t a deliberate campaign of extermination (which Armenians and many historians contradict). Somewhat surprisingly, Turkey’s current president, Erdogan, not exactly a bleeding-heart liberal, last year stated that what happened to the Ottoman Empire’s Armenians was “inhumane” and unfortunate.
Armenia in turn has demanded that every country around the world, especially Turkey, recognize the events of 1915 as genocide, though only about 2 dozen countries have agreed so far, including Canada, France, and very recently, Germany. In any event, this issue is far too complicated for my short summary to do it justice; I’d suggest doing some research of your own (just…please avoid the comments section of ANY news article on this topic if you still maintain a single shred of faith in humanity). I haven’t even got into the black hole that is Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, but man, if you thought the conflict between Israel and Palestine looked intractable…
April 24 of every year is genocide memorial day for the millions of Armenians around the world, and System of a Down, as Armenian-Americans, wanted to have a free concert in their ethnic homeland to mark this event. Right now, there are many commemorative signs and monuments set up throughout the entire country, many of them featuring the purple flower symbol. This topic is completely unavoidable when talking about Armenia, particularly when you travel there at this time of year. As SOAD’s lead singer stated at one point, “We are a nation of survivors.” For Armenians, the events of 1915 occupy a similar place in their historical self-conception as the Holocaust does for Jews.
In any event, I found Yerevan to be a pleasant city with lots of green spaces, very pedestrian-friendly (the cars here actually stop when you’re walking across the road, which was a shock after living in Tbilisi for almost 3 months), and full of delicious kebab and shawarma.
Of course, there was the challenge of a completely new alphabet; I also found that English was less useful here than in Georgia and I had to try to rely on my severely atrophied Russian (almost a complete failure, though I did manage to direct the taxi back to the right hotel at the very least).
Many of the buildings in Yerevan are an interesting pinkish colour since they were all sourced from the same quarry during the Soviet years.
Although Armenia has an ancient history, Yerevan as a major city isn’t actually that old. In fact, Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city, was populated by a majority Armenian population for centuries, while the Georgians were primarily rural; this is one demonstration of the interconnectedness of ethnic groups and territories in the Caucasus.
In addition to Yerevan, we stopped by Lake Sevan, a famous landmark in the area, on the way back to Georgia.
Only a few hours from Tbilisi, Armenia is definitely worth the visit, and I’m looking forward to taking Yok and Rosa there next time.