Armenia, what did I know about Armenia? I knew it was one of the first Christian countries in the world. That seemed to be the extend of my knowledge. I did visit the Armenian quarters in Isfahan, Iran. Where I visited the genocide museum. So I knew about that too. Two small facts. Hm! I have no Lonely planet, so I visited the tourist information centre in Gyumri. I was helped by the gorgeous Araks. My level of ignorance showed up very quickly.
I had seen a star with Charles Aznavour’s name on it in the fort at Akhalkalaki, Georgia. Here is an enormous statue of Charles Aznavour at the beginning of the centre of town.
What has Charles Aznavour got in common with this region? Charles real name is Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian. His father Michael, was Armenian, born in Akhaltsikhe ( now Georgia) and mother, Knar, was Armenian, born in Izmir, Turkey. Apparently he has got his statue, because of his enormous financial support of the people of Gyumri, after the earthquake.
Earthquake? Which earthquake? On the 7th of December 1988 at 11.45 an earthquake hit Armenia. Two different accounts on how high it was on the Richter scale. One source says 7.2 and another 6.8 either way it was enormous. A large area was affected, mainly Gyumri. Most of the buildings that were build during the Soviet time, had a poor quality concrete, and hence collapsed. An estimated 50.000 People died, and an estimated 130,000 were injured. Over 500,000 people ended up homeless.
There is an enormous monument that reminds people of this tragedy. It also explains why so many of the buildings in town are damaged and derelict. Overgrown with weeds, high grasses and wild daisies, it creates a feeling of despair and neglect, even after thirty years. Large concrete blocks, rubble and an enormous amount of rubbish add even more to these negative feelings. The centre of town, the main tourist area, is being done up beautifully, a lot of major repairs are undertaken.
Arak took me to the oldest barbershop, in Armenia(?), which was completely undated by the earthquake, and still in the same state as when it was first opened!
I have read all the articles suggested by the lovely Araks. I now know about the Velvet Revolution last May, when people took to the streets in their millions and over threw the government. Without any blood shed. I now also know more about the Armenian Genocide, but will visit the museum in Yerevan, and afterwards write about it.
One of the major highlights in Gyumri was the visit to the two sisters, Eranuhi and Mariam Aslamazyan. I liked the bold, colourful works of Mariam the best, while I admired the subtle portraits of Eranuhi. These sisters were something else. Eranuhi was married and had a daughter, while Mariam stayed single. These sisters travelled all over the world, India, Sri Lanka, Africa and painted on location. This is way back in the seventies, when home duties, kitchen duties and duties to husbands and children was still the norm!! After spending time here all I wanted to do was paint! I will re think my travelling, I have been dreaming of taking an easel and materials to the slopes of the mountains in Mestia, Georgia. I will look into this!
I stayed in a lovely backpackers, right in the centre of Gyumri, and although very noisy, I had two excellent nights before travelling on to Yerevan.