My last journey along the long road from Shushi, through the border with Armenia, Goris, and finally to Yerevan seems like a lifetime ago. Not a day has gone past that I have not thought about the people of Armenia and Artsakh, my experiences during my trips, or my hopes and aspirations for future visits. I left in early October 2011 having had one of the most memorable trips, wondering how my personal journey with the Armenian people, in Armenian lands, could possibly evolve further.
Work commitments, weather and finances, always led me to the idea that I would return in May 2012, which always meant that there would be a gap of seven months before I returned. The winter months are a long and distant time living in the relative luxury of England, but feeling remote from some more important “luxuries” which I have seen and enjoyed in Armenian Lands – a “luxury” which in the fast-paced, affluent world of the modern West is quite often lost and forgotten.
A well-known English saying is “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence” meaning that you always see that the other person’s life as better than yours. It would be disingenuous of me not to recognise that financial poverty exists within Armenia and Artsakh, and that for many people this is a constant struggle, and can lead to misery and pain. For them, the idea that people can live in pleasant and safe surroundings with a plentiful supply of conveniences, and levels of comfort, must be a form of heaven, and who would seriously wish to turn that away. No one, of course. But something is lost – it is not truly heaven. Therein lies the paradox.
Since I returned, I decided to make contact with Armenians in the Diaspora through the church in Manchester and London. This was a great opportunity to become closer to this worldwide community, and to pursue my intrigue and respect for those people who were passionate about their nationality, ancient heritage, and common suffering. Whilst Armenians throughout the world will all be of different “flavours” through the environment and the social structure that they have brought up in, and there will be cultural and behavioural differences, those elements that simply make Armenians, Armenian – and not French, British, Lebanese etc are so profound, distinctive, and unique, that it creates a special cohesion that the one group of people who are truly blind to the significance and extraordinary nature of this is the Armenians, themselves – after all, this is all they have known! In my pursuit of identifying what it means to be Armenian, the irony is, that the people who are least equipped to answer the questions are Armenians. This is not because they particularly lack perception but that it is difficult to perceive of who you are from the inside, when all you have known is that paradigm. Occasionally a mirror can be raised and one realises, but for many they will not appreciate what it is like to be part of a nation where there is no sense of being special, there is no ancient lineage, and ones connection to a national identity is largely governed by indifference. The one thing that you can say about Armenians is that they are never indifferent to their nationality.
In the modern world all nations are survivors in a Darwinian sense – they have stood the test of time. It is the ultimate proof that, how man can live as a community, has many different variants, which are wide-ranging from the ruthless, independent, high technology, consumerist, capitalist , and hedonistic world of the archetypal west, to the many human, spiritual, earthy, and community oriented societies throughout the world. There is no right answer as to which is the best, and ultimately there is no best solution; some will have certain advantages over others, and some will appeal to certain types of personal traits than others. Hence the notion of migration, and people settling in different regions and enjoying a more harmonious lifestyle; one that has more resonance with their personal aspirations.
Travel is a great way to enter the “chocolate box” of ideas, styles, peoples and cultures. But not in the way that one goes to the zoo, although sadly much tourism is centred around this principle. Through understanding and experiencing different ways that people have survived through the centuries to arrive in the 21st Century as a thriving nation, is an extremely valuable lesson; not to be viewed as a curiosity in a patronising way but pure and simply as spiritual enrichment. Too many occasions one sees the wealthy westerners viewing the “strange foreigner” with some degree of detached observation, seeing their presence as a “souvenir” from their trip.
I return to Artsakh and Armenia in a week’s time not because I see this nation as being better than my own, but because I enjoy its differences, and have great respect for those positive attributes which I can see, and admire. I am proud to be English, and love the country I live in, but I find the history, lineage, spirit and the rich cultural dimensions of the Armenians so compelling, and engaging that I cannot resist the opportunity for my eyes to be opened once again, and the light shone on the area of the “green grass” which makes my life more fulfilling by appreciating the total essence of the Armenian Lands, that for most people, who have not enjoyed this nation, will live in a way which is ultimately, spiritually disadvantaged.