Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Yerevan, Armenia

I had a fun-filled trip from Ganja to Tbilisi that consisted mainly of being woken up by various officials and either handing over my passport or waving in the direction of my bags. The Azeri border folk got a but miffed by my persistnce in staying under the blanket but the Georgians were a jolly lot were more amused than anything else. One customs lady helped me with the custom declaration form (it was in the obscure Georgian alphabet that reminds me a lot of the Cambodian one) and agreed with me that "2 rucksacks, big and small, containing stuff" was actually a pretty good description of what I was bringing into their country.

I got into Tbilisi, secured lodgings and set about curing my stomach ills by filling myself up with the Georgian staple of various pastries filled or covered with cheese. Suitably stodged up I hopped onto a Mashrutka and set off on the scenic road to Yerevan. Well, mostly scenic. After going over the Pambak mountains I got to glimpse a huge blanket of fog. This covered the bowl that Armenia's capital nestles in. We descended into the peasoup and the first identifiable thing I saw in Yerevan was the huge neon sign of a brandy factory. An omen?

Yerevan is nothing truly remarkable but not ugly either. From what I could glimpse through the fog it has a suitable amount of nice plazas, museums and statues including a huge one of Mother Armenia holding a sword and daring someone (the Turks?) to come on and have a go. Best of all there are cafes that serve real coffee and barbecue joints that do pork.

Now that I am amongst the infidels again I am eating as much piggy as I can before I exit the Caucasus and re-enter the lands of those whose God doesn't dig swine. I am not worried about booze as I know that there are few countries on Earth were getting pissed is truly a challenge.

One thing of note to see in Yerevan is the memorial and museum commemorating the Armenian Genocide. If I decide to go there it will be on my last day in the country so as not to put to much of a downer on my short time here. This won't stop me from writing about it now.

There are some good sources on the web abouty this atrocity so I will just outline the basics here. At the beginning of the 20th century the Ottoman Empire started to attack the Armenians that they ruled over. This started off with localised massacres then escalated into a more systematic attempt at extermination with confiscation of assets, deportations, death marches and concentration areas. Estimates of the death toll range from half a million to 2 million.

It was the first genocide of the 20th centuty and sadly not the last. It can be called a genocide as the evidence points to a planned attempt to wipe out a whole people. The sequencing of events, from arresting and killing Armeniaa intellectuals in Constantinople and disarming and killing the Armenian conscripts in the Ottoman army points to something that was well thought out.

You could wonder why this matters. The reason this is still relevant today is that, should I write this in Turkey, the above paragraphs could get me sent to jail (even stranger is that you can end up doing porridge for taking the piss out of the Turkish assembly). Using the words "Armenian Genocide" apparently insults Turkishness, whatever the fuck that means. Turkey's notorious article 301 has linked historical revisionism to national identity. Turkey is so adamant in not recognising what they have done that they are actually willing to harm themselves as a result. The denial of what was done to the Armenians offers a great weapon to those who want to block Turkey in one of its most desired long term objective: entering Europe.

Whether or not Turkey shoild join Europe is a complex one but I suspect the debate hides more basic principles. At the forefront of the naysayers is France. They have many reasons to say non but what I suspect is the real motive is that France is generally unhappy at any expansion of the EU. This would go against the unavowed French policy of creating a tightly linked political entity that they would have great control over. The "Welcome Turkey" brigade is headed by the UK who do so as it helps the unavowed British policy of creating a Europe so large and diverse it becomes essentially ungovernable as a whole and therefore has to revert to one big free market area. Also the Yanks want Turkey to join and HM's governement is only to keen to do their bidding.

Turkey and its silly laws and denials allows the opponents of EU menbership to easily fuck them over whenever the subject is discussed. All an opponent has to do is make some day in some country Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day and it guarantees an overreaction from the Turks. It then becomes quite easy to portray the Turks as dodgy, childish and ill-tempered Asiatics who don't truly get what modern democracies are about. Turkey could remove this problem just by admitting that what happened was genocide and that would probably be the end of it. As far as I know there are no perpetrators or survivors alive so reparation payments would be unlikely and/or hard to evaluate.

I still don't know what is worse. Denying history or letting that denial shoot yourself in the foot. Stupidity compounded. At the moment Turkey has some success in bullying other countries into not calling the genocide exactly that, particularly with the US. Bush and Rice recently scuppered a motion by the US house to recognise the Armenian Genocide as Turkey threatened to stop being a good friend in the War on Terror. This little piece of blackmail will cease to work when the White house will have as resident someone who (privately) recognises TWOT for the nonsensical bollocks it is. Turkey will have to acknowledge that it gains more than it gives by being chummy with the yanks.

Moving on. Tomorrow I will get myself to Echmiadzin, the Vatican of the Armenian Church. They claim to have a piece of the spear that some centurion put through the ribcage of JC while he was up on the cross. The Armenian Church was a national church when the Catholic Church was but a collection of fanatics hiding in Rome, totally unaware of the vast power their church would one day have and the many young boys their successors would be able to molest. The big boss of the Armenain Chruch is confusingly called ther Catholicos which is cool but doesn't score as much fun points on terms of address as he is also a Holiness. I prefer the Orthodox "Your Beatitude". That's a title.

After that it's off to some village for a piss-up with a Peace Corps volunteer who invited me after a chat about the worlwide differences and similarities in getting bladdered. He claims getting completely aresholed in Armenai is a unique experience and I strongly believe in discovering local mores.

Take care,



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