We contemplate the houses that fill the valley below the hill of Haghtanak, site of the Park of Victory of Yerevan. A dense morning mist triumphs over the sun and rounds the edges of the yellowish buildings. It makes the silhouette of the brother summits of Mount Ararat more distant and diffuse.
A couple at the fence that closes the park's balcony share a committed embrace and, in that embrace, a view over the urban heart of the motherland.
From behind, 51 meters high, the bronze warlike figure of Mother Armenia watches over us all: us, the couple and the million children who, at that hour, were getting ready to dispute the capital.
Like all cities and nations, Yerevan has followed again and again down paths he has repented of. As a capital in the vast universe of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, it admitted a monumental statue of Stalin that celebrated the supremacy of the USSR in World War II.
When Armenian Mother Dethroned Stalin
Five years later, the despotic brutality of Stalin made it persona non grata. In Yerevan, shortly after the dictator's death, it was decided that an Armenian Mother would take his place. In the process, a soldier died. Several workers were injured. The comment that “even in his grave Stalin it made victims”.
The original statue was once considered a masterpiece by sculptor Sergey Mercurov. Rafael Israyelian, the artist in charge of designing the original pedestal – which is the current one – resorted to common sense: “aware that the glory of the dictators is temporary, I built a simple three-nave Armenian basilica.”
Israyelian's work could only please. Armenia was the first state to enact Christianity as an official religion in the early fourth century. The overwhelming majority of its population is part of the Armenian Apostolic Church. This millenary belief does not prevent the faithful from engaging in the conflicts in which they have seen the nation involved.
Every 9th of May, thousands of people climb the Haghtanak Hill to leave flowers at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a tribute to the Armenian martyrs of World War II.
Armenian Genocide, World War II and Nagorno-Karabak
With the event of the Nagorno-Karabak War - enclave that Armenia played with the Azerbaijan from 1988 to 1994 – much fresher in his memoirs, a section of the park was donated to evoke this war.
From her perch above, recharged daily by the glorious Caucasus sun, Mayr Hayastan, as she is referred to in the national dialect, oversees the life of the capital. It also seems to peer into Mount Ararat, long claimed by Armenia but situated just across the border from the nation's other arch-enemy, the Turkey.
A Turkey – or rather the Ottoman Empire of the time – is, in fact, the executioner of a slaughter of more than a million Armenians during and after the 1st World War, from 1914 to 1923, that the victimized nation does everything to make it known as the Armenian Genocide .
Whatever its name, the resentment and hatred generated by such a slaughter ran through successive generations. We prove it whenever, for one reason or another, we mention the Turkey and guide Cristina Kyureghyan and driver Vladimir react with undisguised hurt and disgust.
In 1967, the Armenian Genocide merited a solemn memorial-museum erected on the hill of Tsitsenakaberd, endowed with a 44-meter stele symbolizing the rebirth of the Armenian nation and another eternal flame dedicated to the victims.
At the feet of suffering Mother Armenia now lie military relics. An anti-aircraft missile, a wheelless fighter, two tanks and some other large items.
Behind it, a short distance away, is the Haghtanak amusement park where a colorful Ferris wheel turns every evening, loaded with children and teenagers.
The Soviet and War Legacy of Yerevan
Despite the contrasts and inconsistencies, Yerevan thrives. The woman who arrives out of nowhere and parks her flamboyant white Mercedes SLK right next to the tanks and the missile, leaves us with no doubts.
Like the fleet of relics Lada that, without complexes, competes for the capital's roads with more modern and luxurious rivals; the discos, nightclubs and upscale shops that bolide owners frequent, as opposed to the tea houses and retro boutiques that fuel a range of old-fashioned Armenian fashions and inspire the growing local hipster current.
Another key place in the city's commercial dynamics and customs is the Vernissage Market, located along Hanrapetutyun and Khanjyan streets.
There we find a little bit of everything from traditional Armenian, from dolls to hand-woven rugs, but also countless leftovers from Soviet times, including shopgirls with proud looks. babushkas.
Since 1988, Republic Square in Yerevan has been the scene of massive demonstrations (some with more than 1 million protesters) that challenged the excessive Russification and corruption in which the nation found itself, demanded democracy and a liberation that, thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev and the Glasnost and Perestroika reforms did not take long.
Post-USSR Bipolar Armenia
Following independence on September 21, 1991, shaky about an amateur transition to a market economy, Armenia's finances collapsed. To the point where, until the mid-90s, the supply of gas and electricity was insufficient and inconsistent.
Real estate speculation has taken hold of Yerevan. Despite the opposition of a large part of the population, new and modern projects led to the destruction of numerous older buildings in the capital, some from the time of the Russian Empire.
As we walk through its streets, old housing relics are rare. We find the exceptions on Avenida Mashtots – comparable to Lisbon's Avenida da Liberdade and on Abovyan and Aram streets.
On these routes, some facades display meticulous and secular masonry works that illustrate the Armenian past in a solitary but dignified way.
To compensate, Yerevan is full of green spaces. As long as the climate permits, outside the inclement winter of the Caucasus, its people enjoy the parks and terraces. Residents feed the season of khoravats (barbecues) accompanied by oghee (fruit vodka), wine or beer.
As we explore the capital, autumn is about to close. Still, we are contemplated by sunny days, without wind. We almost only feel cold after sunset. The visit thus brings us to an unexpected winter season.
Cristina Kyureghyan and Vladimir take us to traditional taverns and restaurants. There, they fill us with irresistible gastronomic specialties and then present us with new emblematic corners of the capital.
An Elegant Cascade of History
On another of these occasions, we approached the Cascade de Yerevan, a huge limestone staircase at the base of Parque da Vitória. At the entrance, the monument to Alexander Tamanian – the capital's planner, author of several of its grandiose buildings and squares – shows the neoclassical architect examining a plan.
There are several bronze sculptures swollen by the artistic whim of the Colombian Fernando Botero: “Woman smoking a cigarette","cat"and "The Warrior”. Couples of lovers, mothers and grandmothers with children spend the afternoon in the bosom of these eccentric characters.
Nearby, the sight of a black and maroon Citroën 2 Horses at the base of elegant pink buildings and autumn-leaf trees gives us a Parisian impression.
At a glance, the passage of two soldiers in camouflage with an obvious Eastern Bloc style brings us back to the post-Soviet reality of Cascade itself. Erected, mouthwashed, from 1971 to 2009, from 2000 onwards, it was handed over to the American/Armenian magnate and collector Gerard Cafesjian. This one, renewed it, provided it with art, events and public.
We check into the complex. We come across a long escalator interrupted on each floor so that the visitor can admire the works of art. Part of them appears inside.
Another part, in the large outdoor courtyards, the higher, with better views of Yerevan and Mount Ararat. But never as unobstructed as those on Soviet Armenia's 50th Anniversary monument above, or by the towering Armenian Mother.
Between West and East
96 years have passed since the Bolsheviks annexed Armenia to the USSR, as they did neighboring Georgia and the enemy. Azerbaijan.
Today, officially in control of its destiny, Armenia is far from freeing itself from the Kremlin's yoke. The historic enmity with the Azerbaijan and Turkey forces it to rely on Russian military power and admit that the Russia maintain a military base near the border with the Turkey.
But submission to the Big Bear goes further. Like the other former Soviet republics, Armenia is at the mercy of Siberian oil and natural gas and of commercial speculation imposed by Moscow.
It is also dependent on Russian management and maintenance of the Metsamor nuclear power plant, just 36 km from Yerevan. This is an old-fashioned plant located in a highly vulnerable seismic zone.
And it suffers from Russian manipulation by the country's corrupt oligarchs and politicians, several at the head of private or state-owned companies. Together, these front men have diverted many millions of drams (national currency) from the Armenian people to Russian bank accounts, but not only.
Yerevan: a capital in a kind of political twilight
Afternoon gives way to evening. As daylight fades, artificial lighting gilds the pink tuft of the five main buildings on Republic Square of Yerevan, another of Alexander Tamanian's sumptuous works that we soon explored.
The twilight generates a resplendent gold. Pedestrian columns crisscross what is considered Yerevan's supreme civic space, its most majestic architectural ensemble.
Military buses are installed in the square's parking lot. In a flash, dozens of agents disembark and renew their intimidation.
In recent months, the Armenian people seem to have lost patience once again. He returned to the demonstrations, with redoubled determination.
Part of a reaction dubbed the Velvet Revolution, several civil and political groups led by Nikol Pashinyan of the Civil Contract party organized anti-government protests against the intention of now former Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan to extend a third term. At times, these protests reached over 100.000 participants.
Sargsyan resigned. On April 28, 2018, all opposition parties announced that they would support Pashinyan's candidacy, which, in the first instance, the Republican Party managed to defeat. THE Russia has been monitoring and trying to maneuver events.
Still, on 8 May, Pashinyan was elected the new Prime Minister of Armenia. With this result, Armenia took a giant step away from its Soviet and Russian-phile past. In the direction of the democratic West.
More information about Armenia and Eravan on the Armenian Tourism website