The historical records of this region comprise a first period from 2 300 BC to 600 BC covering the development of Urartu kingdoms centered on Van Lake and their unending struggle for the control of trade routes with the Assyrians to the south, until they both fell to the Medes from the south and the Scythians from the north.
A second period, lasting until now, began with the arrival of Hayk tribes from Phrygia (today's central Turkey) who set up a kingdom in Van and became known as Armenians. The Armenian history is dramatic as they were subjected to foreign domination during half of their 26 century existence as a people. They were incorporated into the Achaemenid Persian Empire until 330 BC, then had three free dynasties, Orontes, Artaxias and Arsaces until 430 AD followed by four centuries of domination successively by Persian, Byzantine and Arab rule. They had two free dynasties, Bagrat and Reuben from 885 AD to 1400 and then they fell under the Ottoman yoke for 500 years. Throughout these tribulations, the Armenians have maintained their religion and culture and developed a strong national identity.
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Coming in by overnight train from Tbilisi, I could see Mount Ararat the distant Turkish territory where most of the lands once occupied by ancient Armenia now lie. At its zenith under Tigran the great in 83 BC, Armenia included most of modern Azerbaijan and Georgia, it stretched down into Iran and Iraq and had access to three seas, the Caspian, the Black sea and the Mediterranean sea.
In the 18th century, the Russians moved south into Ottoman territory and did not stop until the 1870 russo-turkish war. By then they had taken the northern half of Azerbaijan from Persia and some of Armenia from the Turks leaving half of it and 2.5 million Armenians in Turkish hands. In 1894 - 96, hundreds of thousands of these Christian Armenians were massacred in Muslim Turkey and in 1915 the Young Turk government ordered the elimination of the remaining Armenian population. Well over a million are reckoned to have died.
When the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Republic was split up into Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1936, Azerbaijan was awarded control of Karabakh, an island of Christian Armenians who voted to be re-united with Armenia when they had a chance to do so in 1988. Azerbaijan opposed the secession, war ensued and thousands of refugees fled in both directions. A part of Karabakh came under Armenian control and declared itself an independent republic in 1991. Fighting subsided but the enclave is virtually under siege and the problem remains a time-bomb between the two countries.
The History Museum and Art Gallery building stands in ploshchad Lenina which marks the center of the city.
I arrived on a Thursday morning and took a room in Shirak Hotel for 20 US$/day. Then I called the three internet contacts I had in Yerevan. One was away and the other two were too busy to meet me at that time but Arthur Petrossian made a date for beers on the following evening.
Also on ploshchad Lenina is this handsome building housing the Ararat restaurant, stores and offices.
I visited Yerevan on foot by myself on Thursday and Friday stopping at the Museum, the Art Gallery, the Opera House, the Central Market and the parks.
The Armenian Council of Ministers is another fine building on ploshchad Lenina.
I tried in vain to get internet access at a couple of big hotels, I wrote a bunch of post cards and mailed them from the post office across the street from this building and wandered about like any solitary tourist would.
The Opera and Ballet Theater is north of the center.
On Friday, I went to the airline office near here and bought a plane ticket to Odessa for Sunday, grudgingly paying 240 US dollars for it, twice the 120 US$ fare charged to Armenians.
Small park next to the Opera and Ballet Theater.
Friday evening Arthur came right on time and we had a few beers chewing the fat about life in Armenia and about my travels. We got along fine and he suggested we should go to Lake Sevan for the day on Saturday which I thought was a good idea.
The following morning, Arthur, his wife Annetta and I took an early bus to beautiful Sevan Lake. We lazed in the burning sun and enjoyed the cheese, dry sausage and tomatoes we had with lavash (Armenian bread) for lunch. Then, we got lucky as Arthur met his friend Elos who invited the three of us to join him on a sail boat.
The Sevan Sailing Club (government owned) was putting on a regatta that day and Elos Avakian had the use of a sailboat like this one to monitor and time the contestants' passage by one of the course buoys. There were seven of us aboard, Elos with his wife Marina and three children, Arthur, Annetta and I.
Annetta, Arthur and Elos are enjoying this as much as I am. The waters of Sevan Lake are really this incredible milky green colour!
The weather was just right and the mood as well, Elos, Marina and I couldn't ask for more!
Here is the buoy and the racing boats, big and small. Just look at the colour of that water!
After the race, we had tea in a very modest cabin Elos was renting for a week. Later he took us for a drive in his jalopy so I could see other parts of the lake. We flagged a bus back to Yerevan and had a restaurant dinner before saying good-bye...
The next day was Sunday, I went to visit the great Cathedral of Holy Echmiadzin, a few kms out of town. Founded in the 4th century on the site of a fire-worshippers' temple, the Cathedral shows several different styles because it was modified, restored and added to many times until now. The west door and main entrance were added in 1658 and the sacristy in 1882.
The Armenian Christians agree with the Greek Christians to disagree with Roman Christians by denying the infallibility of the Pope and by holding that the Holy Ghost proceeds only from the Father and not from both the Father and from the Son but they disagree with the Greek and with the Roman Christians by believing that there is only one nature in Christ and not two. The Armenians have maintained their beliefs through ten centuries of domination by Mazdaen Persians, Greek Christian Byzantium, Muslim Arabs from Baghdad and Muslim Ottoman Turks. Consequently their particular brand of religion has become the hallmark of their identity.
The above photos speak of the wonderful time I had in Armenia. I had the luck to meet warm friendly people, Yerevan is a clean city with a good museum, nice buildings and lovely parks and I had no problems with border guards, corrupt policemen or stubborn, unfeeling bureaucrats.
I must however admit that my photos do not fairly represent the extremely poor quality of life in post soviet Armenia. In 1995 GNP had fallen to only 30% of what it had been in 1990 and recovery has been slow in '96 and '97. There is no work and those who work are often not paid for months. Housing is run down like this typical soviet style apartment block and people have a hard time to make ends meet. There is also a nagging insecurity for the truce in the war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh could break down anytime.