Posts Tagged With: Armenian Genocide

Astonishing Armenia.

Shangri-La I’ll be honest – I wasn’t very excited when Heifer International suggested I visit Armenia last year in one of my trips visiting its projects working to end poverty and hunger around the world. I’d never known anybody who’d been to Armenia, and had barely heard the name Yerevan, the country’s capital. And so, it came as a big surprise to me that I didn’t just like Armenia – I fell madly in love with it.Prayer CrossesFor one thing, the land itself is beautiful. From Mt. Ararat towering just over the treacherous border with Turkey…

Even Armenia's beloved Mt. Ararat, where Noah's Ark supposedly landed, is now part of Turkey.

….to the dun northern hills that made me think of Afghanistan…landscape…to the lush green pastures that support gorgeous orchards of fruit and nuts…Apples…to the rocky outcroppings where Christian churches were tucked in the crevasses, hidden from marauding invaders. rock churchThis is an ancient land with a totally unique history.buggy Armenia is the first Christian country in the world, and is ardently religious still.crossIt was the first country to experience heartbreaking genocide after World War I,

The Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan

The haunting Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan

A country in near-constant conflict with its neighbors: Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey.

Across the lake and in gunsight: the Azerbaijan Border Station

Across the lake and within gun range: the Azerbaijan Border Station

And then, of course, there is the food.fruit pyramid

 Armenians dearly love to welcome you. And wine you. And dine you. And bread you. And fruit you. And cheese you. And coffee you.

Lahvosh & cheese You better come hungry when you visit Armenia, because you’re going to eat.PicklesAnd despite the severe challenges of moving beyond a Soviet mentality to establish an economy that can sustain the young people growing up here (which Heifer is working so tirelessly and creatively to support), there is a tenacity of spirit and national pride that is simply not to be denied.

Look at these beautiful faces!One of 44 members of Tsaghkavan CARMAC committee

Tamara Sargsyan

Naira Gyulnazaryan

The I am enI am Hope of Armenia

rabbitsBarev, Armenia – I’ll never forget our time together!cute boy

Categories: Armenia, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

In the Line of Fire.

Dangerously beautiful: Joghaz Lake & Berqaber Village on the border with Azerbaijan.

On my second day in Armenia, we went to the border town of Berqaber (which means “Bringing Fruit Harvest”). It was the end of a long day we’d spent visiting other youth groups and Heifer projects in regions northeast of Yerevan, but Vahe, my Heifer guide, was intent upon taking me to visit this one family before we made the 2-hour trek back to Yerevan.

The Gasparyans have been involved with Heifer for several years.  The father Gorik works in the border patrol, on a small lake that is half-owned by Armenia and half-owned by Azerbaijan (and yes, that is a recipe for disaster). The military is the only industry the town has, so Ella stays home with her three sweet children and mother-in-law, raising food and animals.

Valeria, Hrachya and Veronica Gasparyan

In late 2011, Ella received a heifer that gave birth to twins (a rarity); she’ll pass on the baby heifer to another needy family in a few months. Veronica, Ella’s beautiful daughter, received a turkey as part of her Heifer Animal Husbandry training – which she’s now parlayed into 6 turkeys, 17 turkey chicks, 10 chicken hens and 30 chicks.

The household is full of animals, the yard is laden with fruit and flowers, and the setting is beautiful – except that while we were sitting there having coffee, we heard gunfire (it sounded like firecrackers). Ella’s children told me that when the guns start firing during the school day, they push their desks back from the window and keep studying. And then they showed me the bullets they’d pulled out of the walls of their house.I guess this is what it’s like to live in the Palestinian territories or the settlements. It was simultaneously frightening (not for myself, but for the beautiful children, whom I never wanted to let out of my sight) and totally surreal. You have to wonder how the heck it’s ever going to end and what could possibly be the point of prolonging this age-old conflict.

Across the lake and in sight: the Azerbaijan Border Station

Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, a former Soviet Republic like Armenia, and a big country with untold riches in oil and gas. Its conflict with Armenia is over Nagorno-Karabagh, the predominantly Armenian territory that was made a special autonomous administrative zone under Azerbaijan control by Stalin in the 1920’s, but then sought independence from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union disintegrated in the 1990s. The resulting conflict was a bloodbath on both sides, with 30,000 killed and countless others displaced (most all the Azeris fled their homes in Karabagh and moved east). In 1994, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabagh won the war and declared their independence (though the republic hasn’t been recognized by any other country in the world). Yet the Azeris have not forgiven, forgotten – or even accepted this secession, and troops are still dug in trenches on both sides.

Turkey, in solidarity with Azerbaijan, closed its borders with Armenia, effectively cutting it off from trade and commerce development – and yes, this whole saga is like listening to somebody telling you stories from a bad divorce. You just want it to stop already.

Veronica’s grandmother, who’s lived through the aftermath of the genocide, the Soviets, and the Azeri war.

But for Armenians like the Gasparyans, this is life. Their small village of 450 people has dozens of boarded-up houses, as neighbors flee the violence. Yura, Berqaber’s devoted community leader, is working with Heifer to try to stabilize and empower the village with income-producing animals, but it’s hard not to listen to the words of Veronica’s grandmother and feel some despair.

“My husband’s family came from Western Armenia (now Turkey). We went through the genocide and still they shoot at us. Why our government doesn’t let us shoot back?”

It’s a raw feeling. Two months ago, Heifer visitors were scheduled to come see Veronica’s thriving turkeys but it was too unsafe. She was heartbroken with disappointment. Today, she’s holding my hand and hugging me fiercely as we walk through the gates. I don’t want to let her go. As strong and competent as her mother is, I simply cannot imagine raising my children in this culture of war – and nothing seems destined to change.

I’m so happy Heifer is helping families in Berqabar survive, when no one else is coming to their aid. But until peace comes, I’ll be worried sick about Veronica. She’s in my heart now.

Categories: Heifer International | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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