A small nation with a big heart, Armenia has nearly been whittled away by its neighbors over the centuries. Today, most Armenians live outside the country’s borders in diaspora communities throughout the world. Its ancient traditions remain strong and intact, however, despite years of invasion, persecution, occupation and displacement. Even though conflict continues to this day, Armenia’s hospitable and vibrant people have not lost their disposition to live life to the fullest, seemingly oblivious to current and past upheaval.
Armenia has been called a master of geopolitics. Straddling Eastern Europe and Western Asia, and in the peripheral vision of both Tehran and Moscow, it maintains excellent relations with the two while looking more toward the West for its model of government. Above, Leyli learns to walk in Gusangagyugh Village, Shirak Region.
The Caucasus region is no stranger to turmoil. Nearby Georgia experienced the most recent eruption of conflict in the area this summer. The brief Russia-Georgia war was a reminder of the competing spheres of influence in the world, and that this narrow strip of land between the Black and Caspian Seas is still as strategic as it has ever been. Above, Naira Sargsyan (36) feeds her youngest of eight children, Leyli. Large families are common in Armenia, as they are throughout the developing world.
The Capital city of Yerevan is the only bustling metropolis in this small nation of 3.2 million in the Caucasus Mountains. Above, the doorway of an indoor food market in central Yerevan.
Despite Yerevan’s wealth and western feel, conditions outside the capital city are less developed, and the post-Soviet collapse is still evident. Often it feels like stepping back in time. Below, potato harvesters in Saramedj village, Lori Region.
A statue of Mother Armenia stands sword-in-hand looking toward the Turkish border in a Soviet-era plaza in Yerevan. Turkey and Armenia have never experienced normal diplomatic relations with each other since Turkey’s refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
Above, a view of the valley from an earthquake-damaged home in Saramedj village. The great Spitak earthquake of 1988 killed at least 25,000 people in this area and prompted Mikhail Gorbachev to call for foreign aid in the Soviet Union for the first time since World War II.
Twenty years later, residents like Tsaghik Frangulyan (31) and her children still live in “temporary” trailers brought in by the Soviet government’s FEMA equivalent.
My visit to Armenia coincided with harvest time. I’ve never tasted such rich, flavorful produce than in the Caucasus. Much of life outside the capital centers around agriculture and farming. Above, Susanna Karakhanyan harvests vegetables from her organic garden. Below, a bit of her freshly harvested, all-organic vegetables.
A farmer negotiates rush hour in Lori Region.
Above, a view of Berkaber village along the Azerbaijan/Armenia border. The center lake marks the countries’ boundary. The two nations continue to exchange cross border gunfire several times a week in spite of a 1994 ceasefire agreement.
Residents in Berkaber like Mr. Yura Tamrazyan and his wife Siranuysh Mantashyan must remain vigilant. Several villagers have been killed by sniper fire in years past.
At the source of the conflict between the Armenians and Azeris is a portion of land within the borders of Azerbaijan known as the Nagorno-Karabakh, whose population is predominantly ethnic Armenian. This month, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev sat down in Moscow with the presidents of both countries, successfully persuading them to engage in future talks on a political solution to the stalemate.
Wood and dried cow manure are stored for winter fuel in the shell of an old Lada in the village of Gusangagyugh, Shirak Region. Extreme Canadian-like winters last until April or May throughout much of the country.
Hrach Nalbandyan (66) and his wife Zubeida (60), in the village of Gusangagyugh in Shirak Region, with pickled vegetables stored for consumption during the harsh winter ahead.
Yerevan residents attend a jazz concert at the Opera House.
Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion. It did so in the early 4th century. Since then, the Armenian Apostolic church continues to play an important role in the lives of citizens here. The church made history again this century as the only one in the Soviet Union to operate openly in staunch defiance of Soviet policy. Above, a Sunday service at St. Karapet Church (circa 1227) at Noravank Monastery near Yeghegnadzor.
A tomb from around the turn of the first millennium, Areni Village, Vayots Dzor Region.
New generation: Hripsime Hovhannisyan (5) sits on her living room couch with her grandparents Artavazd (82, left) and Siranuysh (79, right) Karakhanyan, in the village of Areni, Vayots Dzor Region.
Church leaders from around the world tour the Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum in Yerevan. Karekin II, who is the Catholicos, or head of the Armenian church, walks in the center holding a staff. Below, the eternal flame.
In 1915, the Ottoman Empire began its systematic campaign of destruction against the Armenian people living within its borders. Most Armenian diaspora communities were established as a result of the genocide which ended in the extermination of up to 1.5 million Armenians.
Mount Ararat, the Genesis account’s final resting place of the ark. Even though the mountain was ceded to nearby Turkey in 1923, following the invasion of the Red Army, Mount Ararat continues to be the symbol of Armenia today, keeping its place on the coat of arms and dominating Yerevan’s skyline.