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Friday, 16 November 2012


My love affair with Armenia...
It began when I stepped into the old Zvartnotz Airport in Yerevan.  My husband and I were traveling with a group from California. For most of us, it was our first visit to Armenia.

After a layover in Paris, we boarded an Armenian airline to Yerevan.  The flight attendants, young Armenian women with over-sized figures, had white outfits which added to their size. They all also wore heavy makeup – a hallmark of Yerevan.

The flight was scary.  The airplane seemed in disarray, with loose seats and water dripping from the sides. However, we were impressed that Armenia had an airline. 

The year was 2001. Ten years earlier, in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia had gained its independence.
On one hand, the bruised and battered country was adjusting to the separation from the former Soviet Union and trying to find the road to recovery. On the other hand, the country was slowly emerging from the dark years of not having electricity and water because of the six-year war (1990-96) with Azerbaijan.  The war had taken thousands of lives, consumed the vitality of the country and put Armenia in a distressed situation.  

I grew up in Iran with a sense of "Garod" - a nostalgic feeling towards Armenia. (There is no exact translation in English for the word "Garod.") Armenia was a forbidden destination because it was one of the Republics of the Soviet Union.  

It was not until the '80s when the Iron Curtain was slowly pulling back and the doors to the Soviet Republics were opening. We Armenians could visit our homeland, and we could experience what our literature and the verses of our poets had praised about its beauty.  

Everyone in our group, including myself, was so excited that we had finally arrived in our ancestral homeland, a place that belonged to us but which we had never set foot in.  

It was late evening when we arrived in Yerevan.  The dimly-lit airport looked deserted. Like Soviet-era government buildings in movie scenes, it was cold, unimpressive and outdated. The interior walls with pink and grayish marble looked very tired and gave us an inkling of what to expect entering Yerevan.

After a woman officer stamped our passports, my husband asked to take a picture with her.  To my surprise she accepted and got up from her chair came out of the cabin to take a picture.  I still cannot believe that a governmental officer was willing to have such a photo taken. The snapshot shows my teary eyes and how I'm holding back my emotions.  Sometimes I wonder if there is another people with so much deep feeling towards their motherland.

We arrived at Hotel Ani, just before midnight. The hotel was totally refurbished and tastefully decorated with Armenian-themed furnishings and interior design.  The spacious lobby and the elongated check-in granite counter put us in awe.  I had not expected to see a swanky hotel.

After we got situated in our rooms, our tour director told us we could have a sandwich at the café next door. The street was again dimly lit, but it didn't prevent us from noticing the extremely wide sidewalk.  It was another jaw-dropping experience.  I could not believe how wide the sidewalk was. Besides the "Champs Élysée," boulevard in Paris, I had not seen such wide sidewalks anywhere else.  

The following morning, our first day in Yerevan started with a visit to the Genocide Museum.  It was a heart-wrenching experience to view the exhibition of the tragic pages of our history.  From there, our tour bus took us to Victory Park to see the imposing 51-meter statue of Mother Armenia, a commanding upright figure of a woman symbolizing the powerful Armenian woman by holding a heavy sword at her waist.  

On the way back from Victory Park, we were ushered to the manuscript museum which is one of the richest depositories of ancient manuscripts and old books in the world.  

Visiting all those monuments and museums, and traveling through the streets of Yerevan and seeing the multitude of stylish buildings – although in dilapidated condition – put me in awe. The wide sidewalks and public art throughout the city were incredible.   It was hard to believe that all these architectural gems in Yerevan were built during Soviet times.

Growing up, all I had heard was anti-Soviet propaganda and how our homeland Armenia had suffered under communism.  But now in Yerevan things were different from what I had expected.

It seems there was a gap in my education.  I was not aware that under Soviet rule, Yerevan was reconstructed with an urban plan very close to European cities like Paris or Vienna. 

After two weeks of traveling in Armenia, we returned home charmed by all the beautiful sites we had visited in Yerevan and throughout Armenia. I decided on a whim: "Given a choice, Armenia is where I'm going to retire."

Yes, Armenia got under my skin.   I was hit by the "love-bug."  As Frank Sinatra left his heart in San Francisco, I left mine in Yerevan.  

FAST FORWARD, JULY 2012 – to be continued....

1 comment:

  1. The story of how Armenia recovered and went into war after 1990 is interesting - there must be a wealth of details which gives an idea of why and how (and why not).

    I think you have been lucky to see the best of Armenia at the right time. I am sure that Armenians even during communist rule were making the best of what it had. I once learned that the country was delivering food to Soviet, - which would indicate that Armenia was a country with agricultural skills. But that may be a story for another day. :)