Forgotten corner: Armenia
There are still so many places to discover in the world, is the thought that occurred to me when I was searching for my next destination to travel to. At the end of Eastern Europe, in a bit of a forgotten corner on the world map to me, I found Armenia and decided that I wanted to go there. Why? Because I knew nothing about Armenia. I had never hear anyone talk about it. I hadn’t seen anything pop up in the excess of travel blogs, vlogs or instagrams. This lack of publicity was intriguing. Moreover, upon researching I found out that Armenia is incredibly old and rich in fascinating history, as an old Silk Road country and a former Soviet Union republic. It was also the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion in the year 301. Due to it’s major role in establishing Christianity, the relation to it is present everywhere; you will struggle to drive for half an hour and not stumble upon another beautiful monastery, church, temple or other religious site. Many of these sites that I visited have incredible old tales and myths that instil a mysterious and ancient atmosphere to them. Another major religious According to Old Testament passages the Ark of Noach stranded here in Armenia on Mt Ararat, the impressive snow-capped mountain that’s visible from Yerevan, which is considered a sacred site for Armenians.
I start my trip in the capital, Yerevan, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth that is 2800 years old in 2018, which is 29 years older than Rome. Yerevan has been invaded, destroyed and restored many times. In fact, the whole country always had to deal with countless occupiers, invaders and conquerors (Byzants, Persians, Ottomans, Russians, to name a few), leading to numerous significant conflicts. The most well-known are the horrors of the Armenian genocide, committed by Ottoman Turks. The systematic extermination of more than a million Armenians and other Christian minorities from 1915 left a big scar on the country, while to this day Turkey still denies the genocide. Relations between the two countries are in a poor state and formal diplomatic relations have never been established. Turkey closed the border with Armenia in 1993 out of support for Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed territory operating as a de facto state and was cause for an armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, still unresolved to this day. Although I am listing only a small piece of Armenia’s extensive history here, and in very concise form, it becomes clear that is has been nothing short of eventful. A fascinating history that also includes some awful chapters, that lead to unresolved issues to this day, but are important to realize in order to understand the country and the region a bit better.
Fast forward to modern day life in the capital and you’ll find that Yerevan is, contradictory of what you might expected from a Soviet era city, quite metropolitan. It has a lively nightlife scene with clubs, hip restaurants and European style bars including an excellent craft beer café that is packed with Armenians on the weekend. Mixed with the many remains of older days, like the typical pink colored Soviet buildings and monuments or the 17th century neighborhood Kond, Yerevan has its very own appearance. No, there won’t be any hop on hop off buses here rushing to take you from one amazing landmark to another, collecting Eiffel towers and Big Bens on the way so you can tick that off your list. Instead, it is a city that impress you in a more subtle way and that you come to appreciate as you discover its interesting past, friendly inhabitants and relaxed atmosphere.
After this introduction to Armenia in the capital, it is time to hit the road and see how the rest of the country is living.
The country is small but has an incredible variety in landscapes. From dry, bare hills and green pastures to impressive mountains and canyons. There are deep gorges, cut out by flowing rivers, with hidden caves that are decorated like a fairy tale by unbelievably colorful stalactites and stalagmites. Green hills scattered with endless colorful pallets of wildflowers. Besides the natural landscape, the way Armenians live makes for characteristic sights as well, especially outside of the capital where life takes a step back in time. Rusty, broken down cars and trucks are everywhere. Cattle walks on the roads that have more holes than tarmac. Men playing board games on the street. Old Lada cars, a Soviet reminder, are zooming around. These are typical sights that make driving anywhere in the country interesting. The Armenian people themselves have the appearance of a mixture of Russian and Asian backgrounds, they don’t speak any English, are very friendly and hospitable and sure know their way around making delicious food and wine. There are almost no western tourists to be found, which results in several rural villages in Armenia now suffering from a strained neck as they twisted and turned to get a good look at these white folks passing through their country. All this made me feel further from home than I have ever been, which I deem a highly positive trait of Armenia. This ancient country that oozes the air and mystique of bygone ages and empires, makes you feel like a true explorer without the discomfort of one, as you are being pleasantly welcomed in one of the most interesting corners of the world.