Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Yearning for Yerevan

A few images from Armenia
April 2014

Another month another country... 

I hate to think what my carbon footprint looks like at the moment, I fear I am doomed to a lifetime of tree planting to atone for the miles I have spent in the skies in recent months.

Central Yerevan, Armenia

This month's trip was to far flung Armenia, a destination which will probably have you reaching for your school atlas or if your are more technically minded clicking onto Google Maps. But for the rest of you Armenia is the next county beyond Turkey, just above Iran, next to Azerbaijan and just below Georgia - does that help?

As you would expect, its an ex Soviet country but one which has picked itself up, dusted itself down and with the aid of its massive diaspora (population which live abroad) it is in the process of rebuilding itself into a great little nation.  Its small - just 3m people and similar in size to Belgium and landlocked with pretty unsettled relations with three of its four neighbours.

Armeina has suffered more than its share of trials and tribulations over the centuries but even recently it suffered a Genocide at the hands of Turkey in 1905 with a million inhabitants killed and many more fleeing to safety elsewhere and so forming the hugely loyal Diaspora which now number more than the current population, and who faithfully plough huge amounts of cash back to the homeland (shades of the Jewish community). Even more recently they were at war with Azerbaijan following the collapse of the Soviet Union and today the country plays host to refugees from the troubles in the neighbouring middle eastern countries like Syria, whose number plates are a common sight among hoards of ageing Lada's which rattle over the rutted roads.

As you can imagine, its reconstruction is a work in progress, with its capital Yerevan leading the way. Half the population live in Yerevan and its centre has been developed very tastefully, although the state of the roads is a shock absorber manufacturers wet dream! Beyond the central zone the picture is more varied with the brutal ex Soviet remains all around. A bit of a post industrial nightmare in places, but Rome wasn't built in a day and they are getting there with real gems emerging form the industrial ashes.

And then there is the culture. It was the first nation to adopt Christianity as their religion and there are many churches dating back to the third century - an orthodox strand of mainstream Christianity with subtle differences from Catholicism (but dont ask me to define them!).

Above and beyond that there is the underlying geography of the place. Yerevan sits next to a huge fertile plain in the shadow of Mount Ararat, a snow capped dormant volcano and source of potential seismic unrest. To the north there is a magnificent high altitude lake which forms a gateway to a spectacular area of tree clad mountains as you approach the Georgian border. This area is a popular holiday destination in the summer and not dissimilar to the Lake District.

Of all the "exotic" places I have visited on business Armenia is perhaps the one I would most like to revisit for a holiday. Certainly not a laze by the pool sort of destination, but a country with immense variety, culture, interest and perhaps most importantly, a welcoming population who embrace visitors and are wildly enthusiastic to share their passion for their country.

Oh, and before you ask - yes I did do some work whilst was there, but I took every opportunity I could to sample the country, and its most excellent Ararat Brandy!

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