Monday, August 8, 2016

Rio and Beyond: Armenia

Here is a country that fascinates me...more like a people, as Armenia is much bigger than its officially borders. I had the good fortune of meeting many Armenians when I lived in Lebanon and they put Armenia into my head. I would very much like to visit.

Armenia the country is smaller than Armenia the people, for Armenians are scattered everywhere (unfortunately, the Kardashians are Armenian), largely due to the fact that everyone is always trying to push them out or rule them or kill them. The Turks still won't acknowledge they committed genocide against the Armenians, murdering 1.5 million of them in 1915. In fact, only 26 countries officially acknowledge the genocide, including the United States, which counts 800,000-1.5 million Armenians among its population. The 1915 genocide wasn't even the first mass murder of Armenians by the Turks. From 1894-1896, they murdered between 80,000 - 300,000 Armenians as the Ottomans were asserting Pan-Islamism.

You see, the Armenians are the oldest Christians in the world and remained Christian through centuries of Islamic expansion, when most of the Middle East was converting to Islam by choice or by force. The Armenians refused and have been repeatedly persecuted for it. The official date of adoption of Christianity is 301 AD, when the Kingdom of Armenia was run by Armenians. A little over a century later, the kingdom was split between the Byzantines and the Persians. With the exception of a brief period of self rule in the 9th century and two years between WWI and the establishment of the Soviet Union, Armenia was ruled by other empires. Armenia finally got its own country in 1991 when the USSR was dissolved.

The land of the country of Armenia is actually only one-tenth of historical Armenia, with most of the rest of it in current Turkey and some in Iran, Iraq, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. There are some groups who want the land back. Although dormant in recent times, some of these are militia groups considered to be terrorists. That is probably an inaccurate description, but pols these days...

On a way better note...Armenian food is fantastic. I ate at several Armenian restaurants in Lebanon and went to Bourj Hammoud on occasion. Bourj Hammoud is a large Armenian neighborhood in Beirut. It was founded by survivors of the genocide as a refugee camp and became an independent municipality in 1952. It's located on the other side of Beirut from Hamra, where I lived, so I didn't get there too often, but when I did, it was always to eat!

But Lebanon is not Armenia. Armenia is a land full of historic churches and monasteries, pomegranate wine, mountains, and more. The country is doing pretty well these days. I want to go.

Capital: Yerevan
Major cities: Gyumi, Vanadzor
Population: 3 million
Athletes in the Olympics: 32
Medals in history: 12 (1 gold, 2 silver, 9 bronze) in wrestling, weightlifting, and boxing. Armenian athletes competed for USSR prior to 1992 Barcelona games
Languages spoken: Armenian
Heroes: The list of prominent Armenians is numerous. They are entertainers. They are astrophysicists. They are world leaders. The number of prominent scientists and mathematicians is too numerous to list, so I'll mention one I didn't know about: Hovannes Adamian (inventor of color TV). In fact, Armenians are so successful that there's a tinfoil hat crowd that believes Armenians are conspiring for world dominance (the same kind of racist arguments you hear about the Jews.) Some Armenian-Americans are Cher, Tim Kurkijan(baseball writer), Matt Vasgersian (MLB Network), David Ignatius (Washington Post)
Bad guys: This one is tough because some who would be viewed as bad guys by some were freedom fighters for others. The world is not black and white.
Persecuted groups: They ARE the persecuted group.
Current conflicts: Azerbaijan - Skirmishes periodically breakout on the border. A ceasefire is currently in place.

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