Armenia may be a little country. But it is really BIG on grit!
It stretches like a tadpole from north to south. Not a friend, or an ocean, in sight. Neighbours double down to douse, snuff out, smother and choke it.
It’s a marvel Armenia is still on the world map. Just take at look!
Its two long borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan totally closed.
Today, its border with Turkey is closed! Its border with Azerbaijan is closed. This blockade of essential goods cripples its economy. Armenia nurtures its tiny border in the north with Georgia and in the south with Iran. But the relationship with Georgia is fragile as Georgia supports Azerbaijan. And the relationship with Iran is delicate as it is an Islamic state. Armenia is 94% Christian.
A geopolitical nightmare!
Armenia, in the past, had a lot more people on a lot more square kilometres. But in the early 1900s; Turkey exterminates 1.5 million Armenians and western Armenia becomes eastern Turkey. And under Soviet rule, Stalin declares large regions, home to Armenians, as Azerbaijan territory. So, eastern Armenia becomes western Azerbaijan. Here conflict leaves 30,000 Armenians dead and 1 million displaced. Tensions still simmer.
Today 3 million people still stand on 30,000 square km! BIG, little ARMENIA!
This memorial in Yerevan, the capital, commemorates the Armenian Genocide. The Young Turk movement of the early 1900s envisions a sweep of Islam from Turkey eastwards.
But Christian Armenia stands in the way. 1.5 million are killed and many women and childen are marched to labour camps and orphanages in Syria and elsewhere.
This is the eastern region, Nagorno Karabakh, disputed with Azerbaijan. We ride past and clearly see the buildings and churches abandoned by Armenians. In the center of the picture just above the buildlings is the Azerbaijan army compound. Anyone attemping to go to the abandoned buildings will be shot at.
The Armenian toll to date is 30,000 dead and 1 million displaced. Tensions here also still exist.
When Harry & I arrive in the capital, Yerevan, something feels amiss. In the central square, youngsters gather in the rain! This is their 5th day of non-violent protest, they say!
Turns out, BIG little ARMENIA has an enemy within, too!
Their president, Serzh Sargsyan, is far too fond of Putin, oligarchs and corrupt deals. But his most recent stunt proves one step too far. He creates a powerful presidential position, to slip into after his 10 year stint as prime minister. A bit like Putin did in 2008. Armenians are not happy.
Their next five days of peaceful protest suck us in. Meticulous planning, social media, unfurl cleverly before us. We sympathise with their cause but are pessimistic about the outcome. These things drag on forever elsewhere.
But then again this is BIG little ARMENIA. See what happens …..
We arrive in Yerevan the capital. We stroll to Republic Square in the city centre and see …. hundreds gather in the rain under umbrellas …
… they want President Serzh Sargsyan to resign. He has created the new powerful position of President to step into after a 10 year stint as Prime Minister.
And fancy, the ear piercing VUVUZELA is in high demand.
Their day 6, our day 2, and the crowds start gathering in the early morning.
They stream in from all sides throughout the day.
The police too are out, protecting government buildings.
By the end of day 6, the police are in full force. We hear of a few skirmishes, but we see none …
… the police are afterall the older brothers of many of the protesters.
Their day 7, our day 3, and the demonstration definitely gains momentum.
We are told, students and a seasoned opposition activist Nikol Pashinyan, are carefully organising events.
Bicycles and …
… pedestrians respond to social media alerts and march to Republic Square. We live nearby and see it all quite closely.
It is defintely not, students only, anymore.
Their day 8, our day 4, and, it seems, all policemen are bussed in …
… kitted out in riot gear …
… and positioned strategically.
The swell is large, but peaceful.
Families are out.
And the message is clear. Serzh Sargsyan must GO.
The Armenian flag circles Republic Square over and over again.
50,000 protesters gather here this day 9 … together with smaller protests throughout Armenia.
We befriend Lucile who gives us enthusiastic insight into this wonderul Armenian moment … like …
… this single clap of hands is followed by open and empty raised hands … it symbolises their peaceful request, free of weapons and violence …
The president Sargsyan has proved obstinate and dictatorial in the past and Harry and I hope for, but cannot imagine a positive outcome.
On their day 10, and our day 5, Harry & I set off again, to the southern most settlement of Armenia, Meghri.
We cross two endless snowy mountain ranges, with our thoughts still firmly with the protestors in Yerevan.
At last the village of Meghri just down below us, and beyond that our next country, Iran.
We try to take a decent selfie, this is the best of at least 7 attempts.
But here is our homestay in the little village of Meghri. Our bikes stand in front of an array of fruit trees that will produce as soon as they recover from winter.
Our host Henrietta, with Harry, in front of her mini fabrika for vodka. She tells us President Sargsyan has resigned. New elections will be held. We celebrate BIGTIME
Inside our cosy bedrom I finish the last of my rather nice Armenian red wine out of a plastic bottle … the last booze for 45 days as we enter Iran the next day.
Breakfast the next morning heartens before we enter Iran ….
… with everything here, made by our Henriette herself from her garden and her animals on her small plot. VIVA ARMENIA.
Yes, Armenia still stands, and almost certainly better than before.