Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Bedkee Yertam Hima Armenia

Today has been a whirlwind. Three very different TV interviews in Yerevan, a visit to the Genocide museum & memorial, a trip outside the capital to see a 1st century AD pagan temple and a monastry, a meeting with a dozen Armenian political bloggers, drinks with an organisation called Britain Connect and finally dinner with alumni of the John Smith Memorial Trust Fellowship programme.

Everyone here keeps asking if I am going to blog about today. To be honest I am so knackered I'd rather go to bed, but I guess I had better do my duty. The other thing people are very keen to find out is what I think of Armenia. I have to be honest and say it is one of the friendliest countries I have ever been to, even if the drivers are absolute lunatics! It's also a country with a tremendous sense of national identity and pride. There's a real can-do attitude and a desire to learn how to do things better, which is why the JSMT programme is so well received here. I really think I will try to come back here for a proper visit - two days is just ridiculous.

The TV interviews were mainly about the JSMT and internet politics. However, I was asked one curveball questions by an interviewer who is also writing next year's Armenian Eurovision entry (he hasn't got a hard act to follow). He asked where I thought Armenia would have moved to in 5-10 years. I was tempted to say that I suspected it would still be bordering Turkey, and Iran, but thought better of it. Instead I managed to compose a vaguely sensible answer about building better relations with Turkey and other neighbours. People recognise the value of restoring relations with Turkey, but Azerbaijan is a different kettle of fish. Travel between the two countries is almost impossible and there is a latent antipathy. For a landlocked country like Armenia, it is not good news to be at loggerheads with two such powerful neighbours. I understand the reasons, and they are perfectly valid, but bridges clearly need to be built.

One great thing about Armenia is that they cannot abide John Prescott. Apparently he came here as an election observer and achieved the unique distinction of annoying both the government and the opposition.

The genocide museum is located on top of one of the hills which surround Yerevan. It's location is superb. While it hasn't got the same emotional tugs as other genocide and holocaust memorials I have been to in Israel and Rwanda, its understatement is to its credit. It's not a large place and doesn't take very long to go round, but it does what it intends to. You emerge wondering how on earth it was allowed to happen. And you wonder at your own ignorance of the details. More than 1.1 million Armenians died. And finally you think to yourself, if only the world had acted to stop it, might the ensuing Nazi holocaust have been prevented. When asked about his plans for the "Final Solution " Hitler is reputed to have retorted "And who remembers the Armenians?" Well, I remembered them today.

The trip to Garni, about 40 minutes outside Yerevan was the highlight of the whole visit. There hadn't been time for sightseeing, but last night the British Ambassador urged our British Council visit planner Mariam (who, incidentally, is brilliant at her job) to find a gap in the schedule to take me to Garni. She did so and we headed off there mid morning in a BMW 4 wheel drive jeep driven by an absolute lunatic. Armenian roads and Armenian drivers are second only to Rwandans in thei unique brand of danger which they jointly present. Three times I thought we were a dead cert for a head on collision. No matter, we got there. And back. The monastry at Geghard was worth the whole trip. Unspoilt by tourists (so far) it dates back to the first century AD. The pagan temple at Garni was similarly impressive and also fates back to the same era.

We drove back for a meeting in the afternoon with a dozen Armenian political bloggers. They were a lively lot and it was interesting to see that we all experience similar issues. The Armenian blogosphere is in its infancy, and it is clear that there are issues of government censorship in Armenia, although the bloggers were at pains to say that it was more directed at the MSM. So far. Notes from Hairenik has blogged the event HERE. I promised them all a link, so here goes...

Notes from Hairenik
Onnik Krikorian
Arthur Papyan
Samvel Martirosyan (Kornelij)
Tigran Kocharian (Pigh)
Gegham Vardanian (Reporter_Arm)
Artak Kirakosian Human Rights Armenia blog
Karen Vrtanesian (Ahousekeeper)
Shushan Harutyunian (Blansh)
David Sandukhchian (david_sand)
Mikayel Kazarian
David Tevyants
Vahan Ishkhanyan
Artak Aleksanyan
Uzogh

And there are more HERE.

If I have missed anyone out, please leave a comment below!

I head back to England tomorrow morning feeling that the trip has been worthwile, both from the point of view of its purpose of promoting the John Smith Memorial Trust but also because I learned a lot about a new country. One of the TV interviewers asked me my views of Armenia and if I liked it. At the end of my reply I said: "And in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, 'I will be back'". I meant it. Unfortunately the translator had never heard of Arnie and didn't both translating it!

And finally, a few words of thanks.

Firstly to Mariam (pic left) and her colleagues from the British Council who did so much to make this trip work. This was my first experience of the BC and I have to say I was impressed. I only hope the staff of the organisation in other countries are as efficient and helpful. And secondly thanks to the John Smith Memorial Trust for inviting me to go on the visit. I hope my "selling" skills were adequate! Aisling Conboy (pic 2nd left) has been a delightful travelling companion and has made a very good impression here on all the potential participants in their programme next year.

PS Most unexpected sentence heard today from an Armenian: "Give my regards to Andrew Rosindell"!

PPS I hope the headline is OK and I don't create a diplomatic incident. I got it from a website translation. It is supposed to mean goodbye. Someone please reassure me it does!

PPPS If you want to see the rest of the photos from my trip, click HERE.

30 comments:

trevorsden said...

Is that bloke really 18 st? Whose his tailor?

jailhouselawyer said...

Good post. A strong contender for post of the week and it's only Tuesday!

jailhouselawyer said...

18st? In prison we would call that a big lump!

Anonymous said...

Mr Dale keep posting its good reading .

and enjoy you trip xxxx

subrosa said...

Excellent summary Iain. As jailhouselawyer says it may well be worthy of a mention on my Super Seven on Saturday. :)

Our Snot Gobbling PM said...

a meeting with a dozen Armenian political bloggers

It doesn't come any more exciting than that.

Katia said...

Bedkee Yertam Hima "Hayastan" (Armenia) = I must got to Armenia now

Katia said...

Bedkee Yertam Hima "Hayastan" (Armenia) = I must go now to Armenia

Praguetory said...

You will find that Rosindell has many fans abroad from people who remember his work with DEMYC and other international conservative youth movements. I suppose a lot of people in the Conservative Party dont know that.

uzogh said...

You've left me out of the list.
;)
It's me - progovernment knife-collector, sitting in 1 o'clock direction from you.

erg0 said...

Clearly you haven't travelled enough. For death-wish drivers, I really can't imagine that anywhere beats India. The first sight of a juggernaut or bullock and cart coming straight at you in the outside lane of a dual carriageway (because it's clear, unlike the other side of the road) is alarming but then just becomes part of the everyday risks of life. Not surprising to learn that India is top of the WHO list of road deaths, with around 115,000 officially recorded casualties last year (and probably many more not recorded). While the precautions being taken here in India against swine flu, which has very few victims, are extensive, government and people seem pretty well indifferent to the daily carnage on the roads.

As for Rwanda, where I spent a few months earlier this year, you obviously haven't been there in recent years. Unlikely as it may seem, it's now probably the safest place in Africa, not just on the roads (which have a 50km speed limit rigorously enforced by legions of roadside speed cops) but in the streets: Kigali is one of the only cities in Africa where white women feel safe to walk alone.

Idi Amin said...

With apologies to the late great Alan Coren:

Well well, and there was I expekertin to see episode 96 o' de bannisters or de selekerted shorts o' de family tuckin' in to de dream toppin' an' de Oxo cubes or de loony wot stickin' de maggernets all over de map in de hope o' magickin' de rain out (de man a fool. any chile know you gotta rattle de lizard bones fust), an'wot meetin dis reader's ole eye but de sight o' de amazin' an' beloved Iain Dale Esq fillin de page wiv de overpowerin' pusonality an de de gleamin 'teef, an' de amazin shimmerin' prose. Every time he openin' de mouf de jokes an' de wit an' de wisserdom rushin out like de guts o' a trod-on frog! Wot a towerin' start de man are. He lookin jus' like Errol de Finn only more strappin'

Alix said...

Hehe. I love the terribly British way you are standing in front of dramatic ancient monuments/arid mountainscapes etc in shirt and tie. Standards must be maintained, dammit!

Donal Blaney said...

Your Rosindell comment reminds me of when I was in Odessa training people 8 years ago.

"Ah, you know Andrew Rosindell? You know Spike?"

Yes, Rozza's late pet dog was known in Ukraine! If Rozza ever ran to be President of Europe he might just win he's that well known :)

Mike Rouse said...

You certainly don't look 18st. you do indeed carry it well.

geagleesq said...

Merhaba, Efendi Iain

Being pro-Turkish/Armenian/Azeri, I just wish they could all be persuaded to see that it is in their interests to get on with each other

Allahismarladik

G E

BrianSJ said...

Nothing on the football? Surely that is the big story out there?

wonderfulforhisage said...

trevorsden 9:55

If that chap is 18stone he's got to be about 7ft tall. Maybe his pockets were full of bulls eyes and the like when he weighed in.

Observer said...

Nice post, Mr. Dale and thanks for the link!

We thoroughly enjoyed your company.

True Belle said...

Thank you for putting together an amazing travelogue. Excellent stuff , and great pics, well done.

I have been boning up on Armenian history- yep, what a shock to say the least. Patrick Leigh Fermor may have touched briefly on that, it's ages since I read his books.

Keep up the good work.

Jonforest said...

A couple of nice looking (female) companions Iain. The trip was totally wasted on you!

Martin Kearns said...

Everyone here keeps asking if I am going to blog about today. To be honest I am so knackered I'd rather go to bed, but...

Continues for the next 1008 words...

I'd rather go to bed meself now, having trawled through all that!

Robin B'stard MP said...

Mike Rouse said...
You certainly don't look 18st. you do indeed carry it well....September 09, 2009 9:38 AM



Mike, it's all tucked round the back.......Iains got a huge arse, each cheek probably weighs in at 4st!!

Thomas Rossetti said...

Small error: "...didn't both translating it!"

I have to agree with "trevorsden" and "Mike Rouse". If you are indeed 18st you either carry it very well or have a superb tailor.

(If you don't manage to lose the weight, just come to America, where the people are getting more spherical by the year. I remember walking around DC with my parents sometime ago. Their eyes were on stalks the people were so big. I barely notice it any more, and you, Iain, would be a very model of health!)

Anonymous said...

Armenia does need better relationships with it's neighbours, don't we all. Is it realistic though to expect this when the Turks actively deny the Armenian genocide? It is nearly a century ago, and like some of the British empires activities sufficiently shameful for apology.

How would we feel about Germany if it was government policy to deny the Jewish holocaust? Or to claim that it was a legitimate antipartisan operation? This is in effect what Turkish policy is. I believe that this is a major obstacle to EU entry for the Turks, but not the only one.

Christian Garbis said...

Once again it was wonderful meeting you. Looking forward to your next visit.

trevorsden said...

Off topic (but there has not been one all day)

The BBC are absolutely flogging to death the story of them filming Cameron and hague talking together and (unsurprisingly) asking questions about the validity of the Afghan elections. Elections which were paid for in the blood of British soldiers.

The BBC's take is to smear Cameron and Hague as being somehow unfit for office because they made these comments. (Never mind that the USA rep has blasted krzi to his face for the vote-rigging)

Any grubby port in a storm for the blatantly biased BBC.

Close it down.

Nicholas Heneghan. said...

Dear Old Thing, many years ago when I was selling schmutter for Meakers of Picadilly Gents Outfitters (Northampton branch!) we were always advised: three button suit jacket, middle button done up; two button suit jacket, top button only done up.
Try it, it looks so much smarter.
Image is all!!

Mariam said...

I guess I was among those rare people who actually did not expect to appear on your blog :) I am really happy you enjoyed your stay in Armenia and I am grateful for your warm words of appreciation! I hope you had a safe trip back with upgraded seats on bmi.

Claíomh na Saoirse said...

How nice it must have been to visit somewhere as exotic and unknown - but still within touching distance of home - as Armenia.

I feel that the Turkish behaviour towards the genocide (yes, Turks, it *was* a genocide) is the major, the only, barrier to normal relations between the two republics.

An anonymous contributor earlier drew the parallel between the Armenian and Jewish Holocausts. And yes, whilst the Turkish and German governments are good partners in the metaphor, imagine how much worse it would be for the victims of the Holocaust if not only the German government refused to accept that there was a genocide, but that the EU became a cheerleader for that self-same régime.

Turkey must not be allowed to join the civilised world until it confronts its murky and wicked past. It's too late now for reparations and atonement; but it's not too late to accept responsibility.