More than a decade after the unraveling of the Soviet Union, this tiny Caucasus republic struggled to make its own way in a free market, build a healthy democracy, and overcome the atrocities of man at the beginning of the 20th century, and the wrath of nature near the end.
The demise of Socialism left Armenia with virtually no middle class but ushered in all the material desires of the West. It is a country with a 96 percent literacy rate, yet one where the labs of nuclear scientists had no electricity, and where engineers became common laborers. Religion, frowned upon by former rulers, saw a strong resurgence. The first nation to adopt Christianity as its official faith, Armenia is once again outwardly displaying its beliefs. Ancient Armenia was an empire to be envied, so it became a target, leaving now only a piece—11,500 square miles of a country that once was six times that. But Armenia’s defining (and most devastating) plague came in 1915–1918, when Turks killed at least 1 million Armenians, a genocide forgotten by much of the West. (It remains a political stumbling block.) Then on Dec. 7, 1988, the world again discovered Armenia when news came from Leninakan (now Giumry) that an earthquake had killed 20,000 people and left multiple times that homeless. A year after making promises to rebuild Armenia, the Soviet Union collapsed. That same year, Armenia went to war with Azerbaijan over free rule for Nogorno Karabakh, an enclave 96 percent (Christian) Armenian living under (Islamic) Azeri rule. Nearly 30,000 Armenian soldiers and civilians died before a cease-fire was reached in 1994, though snipers continued to shoot across the border. Now it is the Armenian Diaspora, scattered around the world, that is the new republic’s bloodline to hope of a future better than its present.
This essay looks at life in contemporary Armenia: a microcosm unique in its place in the world, yet one that shares more than just a few similarities with the other nations comprising the former Soviet Union; one that is a complex blend of everything the Old Country was and nothing the New Republic has seen before.