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Armenia Dispatch: 4 A Bit of a Primer
So I left off saying that Armenia is a country that is only beginning to recognize its promise as a travel destination. My guess is that many people don't even know where Armenia is, and so I figured I'd talk a little bit about the country.
Well, the fact is that Armenia is surrounded by a lot of folks you probably HAVE heard of. Namely, Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. And my guess is that with the exception of Turkey, these countries are also not on the top of your travel list (although perhaps we should all expand our horizons a bit...I am told that Iran, for example, is a superb place to see). But Armenia especially deserves consideration. Why? Because there are some things happening here right now that are changing the face of the country, and because Armenia has some unusual characteristics that make it a very appealing destination, even if you're just stopping by on the way to some place else.
The first big thing happening is modernization and Westernization. As a former Soviet republic that only gained independence in 1991, Armenia has been locked in a post-Soviet stupor that it is only now emerging from....or so the folks I've been talking to tell me. Basic democratic freedoms that are less vibrant in other countries nearby are alive and well here. People feel free to speak their minds, and they are building a culture of tolerance and freedom. People are building successful businesses, examining their place in the world. They want to play a larger role, and their culture It is a very exciting time for Armenia.
Another thing is that Armenians (already very friendly and welcoming) are particularly fond of Americans. They are a Christian nation surrounded by Muslim nations. Many people speak English and/or several other languages. I was out last night with a couple of guys who between them spoke German, Spanish, French, Armenian, English (perfectly), Japanese and Italian. The fact is, more Armenians live outside of Armenia than inside the country. The reasons for this are several, but include the genocide around the First World War, the Soviet occupation and to seek a better life in general. Many of these Diaspora Armenians, as they are called, ended up in the US, mostly California, and so they are completely versed in American culture. And now many of these so-called Diaspora Armenians are heading back here to live and build up the country, to make it a viable Western democracy, which, although there are some problems (corruption and so forth) it is doing.
Anyway, I don't want to speak in such detail about a place I've only been visiting for a short time. What I write here is based partly on what I've read, but also significantly on what I've learned in talking to people on the streets and while hanging out in Yerevan. As I said, I am impressed and excited for this small country. It is very much the kind of place that Americans should celebrate and support. Western-looking, entrepreneurial and enterprising, rich in culture, friendly and open...I honestly think you should check it out. (and if any of this seems rambling and nonsensical...forgive me. I was out until 2 am last night and just woke up)