The Caucasus - 2013
About this blog
Like some other trips, I have waited quite awhile to do this trip to the Caucasus. My earlier plans to travel to the Caucasus in 2008 were upset by conflict in South Ossetia so now I was finally able to see the fabled Caucasus of the famous 19th C Russian writers, not to mention Jason and the Argonauts and Medea.
So this trip starts in Armenia. After a day exploring the capital Yerevan, I went on a 4-day tour of Nagorno-Karabakh. Then a few more days in Yerevan on my own before joining an Explore tour of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Nagorno-Karabakh: I was lured by the translation of Nagorno-Karabakh , a self-proclaimed republic in the Caucasus, as a "Mountainous Black Garden." The tour description adds further: "While there exist many questions about Nagorno-Karabakh and its political status, the beauty and the cultural richness of this remote mountain landscape are undeniable." How could I not be lured? There were beautiful mountain landscapes - now many of the mountainsides bereft of trees used for fuel during the war with Azerbaijan and in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR. And there were monasteries, stone crosses, pastoral scenes of shepherds and flocks, ubiquitous orchards of fruit and nuts, and friendly people proud of their land and heritage. And then there were the signs of war and ethnic strife. My driver Nour guided me around and helped me find postcards and told me anecdotes and tried to answer all my questions ( I have always had lots of questions.) I realized again how lucky I am to live in a place untouched by the immediate effects of war and how resilient people can be.
Armenia: I arrived in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, around 4 am - one of the oddities of travel in this part of the world. Yerevan presented a cosmopolitan look with its grand public buildings constructed from volcanic tufa....as well as its women striding along with what looked like 6" heels. I was impressed with Armenia's unique alphabet and devotion to its old manuscripts, long history of Christianity, picturesque monasteries set high in the mountains, the abundance of fruit and nut orchards, and the generosity of its diaspora. Somehow I had hardly an inkling of Armenia's continued dependence on Russia or its tormented relationship with its more immediate neighbors: Turkey and Azerbaijan. I was also surprised that, of the three Transcaucasian countries, Armenia seemed to be the least economically thriving. There were new, modern areas - and Yerevan's impressive Cascade Complex - but there were also a lot of ramshackle houses and rusty old vehicles littering the countryside. Armenia's economy went from Soviet socialism and industrialization to primarily agricultural. Incomes are low and many people depend on help from overseas relatives. But Armenians are known for their hospitality and love of a good time...and I had a very nice time there.