Mount Ararat

Armenia today is a country only one tenth of its original size with a very sad history, wedged as it once was between three great empires: Russia, Persia and Ottoman Turkey.

Even today its border with Azerbaijan to the east is closed and Armenia is in dispute over issues to complex to go into here.

We crossed into the country from Georgia in the north east and it was not long before we encountered our first 10th/13th century Armenian Apostolic Church monastery perched on an inaccessible rock deep into a wild ravine surrounded by copper coloured peaks.

Such sites were to become a frequent experience as we moved south towards the Iranian border despite the fact that so many of the thousands of Christian religious sites were destroyed by non-Christian invaders especially in the early twentieth century.

Armenia's location between Turkey and the old Soviet Stans to the East means that it once formed part of the Silk Road and indeed we came upon a long-abandoned thirteenth century caravanserai overnight lodge with wonderful views over valleys nestled between 7000 ft peaks of Dartmoor-like treeless terrain.

All roads in the country eventually lead to the capital Yerevan, a city only established in the early 1900s and somehow feeling a bit like Helsinki in Finland also built at the same time from scratch. As so often the case, the capital seemed a bit more prosperous and modern than the agricultural outer regions with international levels of traffic jams. The overall architectural style, as in Helsinki, might be described as art nouveau in a rather sombre solid stone but interspersed with gardens and tree-lined streets.

Our final day focussed on a visit to the Genocide Museum which covered the dreadful ethnic cleansing which took place in 1915 when over one and a half million ethnic Armenians were exterminated by Turkey, often burnt to death, resulting in camps of over 25,000 orphaned children.

It is amazing how everyone knows about the holocaust but how little we know of similiar attrocities which took place 25 years earlier.

Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that the wonderful backdrop to the capital is the looming snow-covered 15,000 ft peaks of Mount Ararat, a major symbol of its history but sadly now not within its own borders since 1921. It is in Turkey.

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