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Turkey To Open Borders With Armenia
October 7, 2009, 4:07 am
Filed under: Armenia, Turkey

Hi friends,

Just wanted to post an incredibly interesting and pertinent article about relations between Armenia and Turkey, that was written in the Wall Street Journal today.

Check it out Here.

A lot of people who find and read my website are those who search about Armenians, and I wanted to give a bit of information on relations between Armenians and Turks. First off, I would like to say that I am Armenian and my own great-grandmother and her family (and my great-grandfather) fled from Anatolia right before 1915 to the United States, and our family has passed down stories of the atrocities that happened there (this is stating my biases). I have traveled to Turkey and Armenia, and I did a research project in Turkey on the way the events of 1915 are viewed there (I say ‘the events of 1915′ to try to remain as unbiased as possible, even though I am part of the Armenian Diaspora), as well as the effects it has on Armenians in Turkey and Armenians in Armenia. I feel that this article is very interesting considering the research I have done, and I want to deconstruct it a little.

Personally I am shocked that it passed, and the reason why it did. I thought that Turkey wouldn’t agree to open borders with Armenia unless they negotiated the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan (For those who know little about this, in 1993 Armenia invaded Azerbaijan and took a large chunk of land where many Armenians lived. Consequently, relations between Azeris and Armenians are downright poisonous). Turkey closed borders with Armenia in 1993 because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in solidarity with Azerbaijan. Why did they do this? One, Azerbaijan is a Muslim country. Two, Azerbaijan is an oil-wealthy country that has a direct pipeline to Turkey.

However, Turkey DROPPED the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia and the bill is set to sign on October 10th. Why they dropped the conflict from the bill, I don’t know, but I would be really interested to find out. Another thing that stood out to me in the article is that there is a general backlash from the Armenian Diaspora for this bill to be passed, and I don’t quite understand why. I can see that they make the arguement that Turkey could use this as a way to undermine the Armenian genocide- but overwhelmingly, I feel that this is a very good thing. The economy in Armenia will boom and prices for Armenians will drastically lower from imports, and it will also create jobs for many Armenians who would want to work in Turkey. It would also generally greatly improve relations between Armenians (in Armenia and Turkey) with Turks, maybe not immediately, but over time. However, it also seems that there are Armenians in Armenia that are unhappy with the bill, which is a whole different issue. I have no way to see the bill and what it entails (I wish I could), but maybe there is something a bit fishy going on here.

There is also a much larger issue here which is not being focused on. Turkey says that they plan to work on the Armenian genocide issue by jointly reviewing the events of 1915. This says to me that Turkey and Armenia would therefore be determining and working together on the events of 1915. What I take issue with here is that the Armenian Diaspora is not included in this committee, which is a key figure as most of the Armenians who were AFFECTED by the events of 1915 fled to other countries like Europe and the US, which is why there IS an Armenian Diaspora. To not take their accounts and opinions into consideration is a red flag for me, and something that should seriously be discussed. To be fair, I know that the Armenian Diaspora will probably put an enormous amount of pressure on Armenia to uphold the word ‘genocide’ in their commission with Turkey. However, I am afraid that Armenia will do what’s best for Armenia and not necessarily the Armenian Diaspora, the ones who were most affected by it.

Another issue I’d like to address are all of the Armenian monuments and artifacts in SouthEastern Turkey that are not properly taken care of; cities that were once key Armenian cities that are now in Turkey; and Mount Ararat, the mountain that is so revered by Armenians, that also lies in Turkey. What about the slander that the Turkish government use against the Armenians in their school textbooks? What about the way they approach the issue of 1915 and what they tell to their students? These are all things that Armenia needs to resolve with Turkey, and I dearly hope that they will continue to bring these up. While this is a big step for Armenian-Turkish relations and generally a positive thing in many ways, I hope that it will not end here and that all parties will continue to try to make progress for both countries.

Good night,

Brittany Boroian (gotta wave the Armenian flag here- most Armenian names end in ‘ian’ and mine is no exception).



Time Spent In Airports
May 15, 2009, 9:54 am
Filed under: Armenia

Zvartnots Airport (in Armenia) is definitely the nicest airport I have ever been to. Wild, huh? Just like the American embassy in Yerevan is the largest embassy in the world (and quite nice too), Zvartnots Airport has relaxing chairs, a quiet atmosphere, and the best of all- free wireless!

I seem to spend such a large majority of my time in airports these days- I’ve lost count to how many I’ve been in this year. Each time I am in an airport, I always reflect on my life- the experience I’ve just had, and the change that is about to come. This time, I am leaving for London. LONDON! I am going to be spending an entire month now in EUROPE! I have never been to Europe before, so this is incredibly exciting for me.

But while I am mentally preparing myself for the last remnants of Armenia, I’ve had to stop and check in with myself. I’ve come to the realization this past week, that I am utterly mentally and emotionally exhausted. I feel physically drained. I have been traveling for eight months now, and I still have three more to go before I finally go home. Then I will only be home for a two weeks before I go out to Latin America for three more months. While I am constantly counting my lucky stars that I have such amazing opportunities to travel and experience the world, I feel that I’m starting to reach my limit. I’ve seen and done so many amazing things this year and every single day is a new adventure- but I miss the small things in life. I miss sleeping in my bed at home with my two dogs. I miss driving a car to WalGreens. I miss my Mom’s homecooked meals. I miss walking outside of our house and feeling the saturating humidity of South Florida drench me, tampered by a slightly cool breeze from the ocean. I miss stealing my Dad’s flip flops that are a little bit too big for me. It’s the little things that I miss, but they all come together to form one big feeling of homesickness, one that I haven’t felt so potently until now.

So going to Europe, while an amazing experience, has some bittersweet connotations for me. I feel that I’m getting a bit jaded from traveling- living my life out of a backpack for 8+ months, wearing the same clothes every day, constantly packing and repacking my life: while I LOVE doing this, I just need to recharge my batteries. I just need to lie in a hammock in Florida for a few weeks and not think about anything but watching movies with my little sisters and listening to my parents putter around the house. The next year of my life is going to be crazy, busy, overwhelming, amazing- but I need to mentally prepare myself for it. And doing an internship in Bangladesh where I am walking 6-7 miles a day in rural villages, is not going to give me that preparation.

Of course this is all pointless for me to complain. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for the world (what a terrible pun). But I just hope that I can fully enjoy all this amazing 3 month span of travel in front of me.

In other news, I got a haircut. I was getting quite tired of my CRC friends teasing me for my strange hairstyle (I have been called Peter Pan, Liza Minelli, ‘that mom from the Brady Bunch,’ a singer from the Monkees, FRODO, etc.) I’ve been trying to grow it out but obviously it hasn’t been working out too well. So in Armenia I went to a saloon and paid 2,000 dram (about 5 dollars) for a pixie cut. Back to short hair again!

Here comes the airplane. See you in England, friends.

Much love,

Brittany



Time to Move On, Yet Again
May 14, 2009, 5:13 pm
Filed under: Armenia

The memorial for the Armenian genocide. I placed these flowers
here on behalf of my family.

Hi friends,

Well, quite suddenly it is my final day in Armenia, and I am feeling a few emotions at once: extreme sadness and preparing myself for the nostalgia, fear that I will never find my way here again, happiness to be moving on from the paradoxical feelings I’ve had the past week, and general confusion as to how I should ascertain these experiences I’ve had.

While Armenia is an absolutely gorgeous country, I felt quite a disconnect from the people and the culture. There were times this week when I was walking around in Yerevan, or doing a home stay in Dilijan, or bumming around Vanadzor, where it didn’t even register with me that this was my own roots and back round that I was experiencing. It just felt like I was in another random country with a language that I don’t speak, with unfamiliar food, with different customs and ways of life I’ve never been exposed to before. Since I have been doing this for the past year (that is, traveling to many different places and experiencing many different things), it was quite easy for me to imagine this was just another old country I was passing through. Then the time would come where I would pinch myself and go “HELLO? You are in ARMENIA.” And my self would go “Oh, right!” and suddenly try to make the images and conversations in front of me take on special meaning. But the fact is, they didn’t. And while this is something I expected coming to Armenia, it was still a hard pill to swallow.

I suppose that feeling really sunk in when I realized yesterday at the genocide memorial that this was the only time I had ever felt I was actually in Armenia. The genocide memorial is in Yerevan, and it is situated on top of the city, against the spectacular backdrop of Mount Ararat (as previously stated, Mount Ararat is very holy for Armenians). I brought flowers to the memorial from our family in honor of those who died during the genocide (including my own ancestors in Anatolia). When I placed it down by the continuously burning fire, I looked up and saw the mountains, suddenly clear from their usual overhanging clouds, positively dazzling in the sky- and for the first time it really hit me- Wow. I am in Armenia right now. I am an Armenian, and I am actually here, in Armenia.

The genocide musuem was beautiful, and it was the perfect complement to all of the research I’ve been doing in Turkey to find out my family history, mixed in with the current events and issues of the genocide bill being recognized in the US. I wrote a paper arguing why the genocide bill should NOT be passed in the US, but when I walked through that cool and dark musuem, I felt so proud and honored that this structure stood and publicly mourned the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians. So much of this ‘genocide’ is swept under the rug- even the US, which has the largest Armenian Diaspora in the world, does not officially recognize it- and when traveling in Turkey, doing research on something that is strictly taboo has forced me to think of the genocide issue as something that should be incredibly covert. But to see it in plain daylight in Yerevan, to read testimonies by tons of European and American missionaries who laid witness to the atrocities, to see actual photographs, to look at the figures of the province of my own great grandmother (Kharpert) and see the numbers of the people who died- I felt truly honored and blessed to be in my own homeland, to be getting a piece of my past, and to be able to bring it back to my entire family.

To have had the wonderful experience of seeing so many ancient churches, to see incredible gorges, beautiful snow-capped mountains, quaint little villages, to have dined on all different kinds of Armenian homemade delicacies, to have met quite a few nice Armenians who have explained in detail to me the way of life here, to have experienced the bohemia of Yerevan, to have had the overwhelming amount of experiences I’ve had in a mere 10 days- I am incredibly fortunate. My life is an amazing continuation of events, and it only gets better as time goes on.

Tomorrow I leave for London. Time for another adventure.

Much love,

Brittany



Armenia- A Bit of the Village Life
May 8, 2009, 1:23 pm
Filed under: Armenia, Pictures Post

Here are some pictures from a tour I took. The pictures I have of this country are SO beautiful- walking through the village, I felt I had entered a dream land. The people were great, the food was absolutely delicious, and it was another amazing day in Armenia, the most beautiful country in the world.

Pictures



Land ho Armenia!
May 7, 2009, 8:25 am
Filed under: Armenia, Pictures Post

Paradise

Beautiful.

Well yesterday was another amazing day in Armenia. I went on a tour of St. Echmiadzin, Khor Virap, and Noravank- we visited three different regions in Armenia (The Ararat Region, The Armavir Region, and Vayots Dzor- all BEAUTIFUL places) and saw some absolutely stunning sights. Truthfully, (and I’m not just saying this because it’s the motherland) Armenia is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I’m shocked that it hasn’t boomed as a huge tourist destination, though I’m sure it will sometime in the next twenty years or so. But that means that I get to see all of the beautiful sights without anyone in my way. I have never seen a place so open and free- I mean, if India has an overpopulation problem, they should just ship ‘em all over here- there’s empty plains as far as the eye can see.

Culturally, it’s been an intense experience for me. I don’t feel like this is my culture. I’ve been ashamed that I’m Armenian and only know a few words of the language. But according to my Armenian tour guide, Gevorg (English name: George), it doesn’t matter whether I speak Armenian or not. I am still viewed as a tourist. That’s been a hard pill to swallow also; that I am just as much of a tourist as a Russian, or a Yugoslavian, or a German tourist hanging out in the hostel. One thing that I really feel strongly as a Diasporan Armenian is this sense of unique specialness being an Armenian- when you meet another one in other parts of the world, it’s this great discovery. You look at one another and you think we are both Armenian! And you smile and clasp hands and secretly make a blood-brother pact that you have each other’s backs. It’s a feeling I get whenever I meet another Armenian- that knowing smile that passes between us, and that sense of pride that flares up in both of our hearts.

But in Armenia this is not the case. When I proudly say to other Armenians ‘You’re Armenian? I am Armenian.’ They just kind of nod and smile, as if I am saying ‘I am a tourist.’ I can’t say that hasn’t been disappointing, although I was warned this is the kind of treatment Diasporan Armenians recieve. The hardest thing I’ve had to deal with is seeing that in so many ways I don’t connect with this culture, because I don’t understand it. It’s like I may as well be in Thailand learning about the Thai people- that’s how much of a disconnect there is.

But I can’t let this get me down, partly because I am a fourth generation removed, and partly because I love studying and learning about new cultures anyway, so it’s been that much more of an interesting experience. Yesterday I learned, most importantly, that Armenians love Russia, and ties between both countries are very strong. Many Armenians go to Russia to find work, because the unemployment rate in Armenia is incredibly high. Armenians are very conservative and dogmatic; it takes centuries to change their minds on something (for example, Christianity, anyone? Armenians have refused to convert to Islam for nearly two thousand years, and they have greatly suffered for it through history. Just shows how stubborn we all are). It’s actually quite offensive to ask an Armenian if they’re Christian- you should automatically assume that they all are. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity (301 A.D.) and they definitely shout it from the rooftops.

The majority of the tours we did were of ancient churches, some of them the oldest in the world. The tour yesterday was fantastic. I learned a whole slew of Armenian jokes thanks to my Armenian tour guide Gayvorg, ate a traditional Armenian lunch, saw a large portion of the motherland, and learned quite a few words and phrases. I also met one Armenian family who were happy that I was an Armenian Diaspora visiting the homeland (I suppose partly because they have an Armenian sister in San Francisco).

Every day here is an amazing experience. If you’re a fellow Armenian and you’d like to make a trip here someday, here is an amazing website Gevorg showed me: http://www.birthrightarmenia.org/

I took about 500 pictures yesterday, and I weeded through all of them to pick out the best pictures. Enjoy fellow Armenians/friends! Today is a rest day in Yerevan, tomorrow I am planning on going into an Armenian village, and on Friday I leave for Dilijan, a beautiful village in the Lori Region.

Click here for Pictures



Armenia… I am Here!
May 5, 2009, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Armenia, Pictures Post

Armenia- Prepare yourself!

Welcome to Armenia! This is the Armenian flag billowing
proudly in the breeze in Yerevan. So surreal that I am actually
here.

Who knew I would actually make it here? I suspected one of the planes I was on would end in a fiery crash, but surprisingly, I am alive and kicking and IN YEREVAN! I first spent about six hours sleeping fitfully on a chair in Moscow, waking up with a start every half hour or so and panicking because I thought I had missed my flight. It’s one of those things about traveling that you hate… you know, when you’re in transit and in another country and you don’t have their currency- and then the currency converter won’t work and you’re dying of thirst but you have no money, and it’s 5 in the morning and you’ve gotten two hours of sleep… the jet lag makes you want to punch something. But fortunately I chatted with a nice Russian girl who was also going to Yerevan. I pointed out to her I was also a bit Russian. So yes, I visited TWO cultural heritage sites in one day, friends (but according to most travelers, sitting in an airport in transit doesn’t mean that you’ve actually been to the country. That is debatable in my opinion. Technically I HAVE been to Russia, have I not?).

The first glimpse of Armenia from the airplane.

Yerevan, Armenia right before we landed.

Welcome sign in the airport- I am actually here!

Yerevan is amazing. For some reason, it reminds me of the 70’s in the U.S. Obviously I haven’t been alive during that time, but in my mind’s eye this is what the 70’s looked like. There are old cars, ancient cabs, leafy city streets, and a bit of a laid-back attitude around the city- if you could even constitute Yerevan as a city! From the look on the map it’s incredibly small. I spent the afternoon wandering around in a daze and there weren’t many people out. The strangest realization for me was that everyone walking down the street was Armenian. It was bizarre to conceptualize that I was actually in Armenia! But the Armenian flags waved at me proudly from the sky, stout buildings with their signs in blatant Armenian language grinned at me from every turn- I am truly here.

The beginning of Yerevan- cab drive from the airport

As you can see things are a bit old-fashioned here. I love it.

Yerevan, Armenia

The cars are way old school here.

I’m not so sure about this culture yet- it’s quite interesting for me because I am an Armenian Diaspora and I’ve grown up with little to no Armenian culture. I don’t speak the language, know the customs, wear the traditional clothes, and I can only rattle off three or four different kinds of foods. I didn’t know what to expect when I came here. But upon further inspection, I’ve come to the realization that Armenia is probably something of a mix between Turkish culture (Turkish and Armenian culture are actually very similar in food and customs) and Russian (Armenia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991). I’m not sure where the Turkish culture ends and the Russian begins and where Armenian fits into that, but this has been my first impression. It’s also hard to judge because I’ve never been to Russia (besides my six hour stint in the airport today).

But I WILL tell you something about Armenian culture. THE FOOD! The food is SO GOOD! All day today I’ve wandered around bazaars while strangers popped sticky dried peaches and apricots and other delicacies into my mouth. By suggestion from the hostel I’m staying at, I ate at the ‘Yerevan Tavern,’ and tried Borsch (which turns out to be a Ukranian food rather than Armenian), and some kind of chicken julienne. Just looking at both of them made my mouth water. Even checking out the vendors on the street and seeing all of the different kinds of breads and cheese points to the fact that Armenia is a FOOD culture! And I love trying new things, so I can’t complain, only grin happily as I let the nice Armenian lady named Susan rip me off and charge 500 dram for one dried peach (Hey, it’s going into the Armenian economy, so I will not complain).

Armenian breads stuffed with cheese, olives, spices, and other
yummy good stuff.

Dried peaches, apricots, and other delicious goodies. The long
ropes are called Sujukh, an Armenian delicacy- they’re walnuts
dipped in some kind of liquefied fruit, then they’re laid out to dry.
I am eating some right now- tastes like caramel. Mmmmm.

Armenian spices.

Armenian figs, apricots, and dried fruits in a floral display.

Chicken Julienne at ‘Yerevan Tavern’

Yerevan Tavern.

I think this is pretty generic Armenian food- very similar to
Turkish food. Lots of meat, bread, and cheese.

The outside view of the fruit/vegetables bazaar in Yerevan.

Pastries and desserts inside of a market.

Dried peach. It was so sticky and sweet… and so delicious.

The one frustrating thing about being in Armenia is being Armenian and not speaking the language. I want to run down the street screaming ‘WE ARE ALL ARMENIAN! LET’S HAVE A CONVERSATION!’ Well, no one speaks English. I feel a bit ashamed being an Armenian and not understanding this country. I’ve gotten people’s attention by pointing at random people and asking ‘Armenian?’ They nod. Then I point back at myself and say proudly ‘I AM ARMENIAN!’ They nod kind of blandly, a bit disturbed. I suppose being Armenian is only a BIT of a novelty here. I’ve also heard that being an Armenian Diaspora is even more of a novelty, as we constitute most of the tourism here. But I refuse to be deterred.

Proudly showing off my Armenian visa.

Armenian currency. I have no idea who these people are. It’s
also a bit weird that 1 US dollar= 361 dram. For example, my
lunch was 1,000 dram. That seems so expensive it’s ridiculous.
Actually Brittany, it’s three dollars.

Beautiful Armenian language. Someday I hope to know what
this means… actually I do now because there was another sign in
English. ‘Cafe.’ I’m so smart.

The only people that have welcomed me with open arms has been the staff of Envoy Hostel (…probably because they’re the only ones who speak English). They are all excited that I am an Armenian Diaspora visiting the motherland, and they’ve given me all kinds of tips. Tomorrow I am going on an all day tour with them to see some sights- St. Echmiadzin, Khor Virap, and Noravank (plus a delicious home-cooked lunch with a local artist and his family, and a trip to a winery for some pomegranate and cherry wine). In a few days time, I am planning a trip up to Vanadzor to meet a Peace Corps Volunteer and hear about his adventures. Meanwhile, I’m happy to stay in the city and continue my wondrous adventures.

My first day here has been intoxicating. I am in love with this place. Nine more days to soak in as much culture as I can.

Hope you are all as happy and healthy and lucky as I am friends,
Much love,
Brittany




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