Yes, it seems like forever, but Armenia is just 21 years old today (well, the current independent Armenia anyway). If Armenia was a Californian, she’d only today be allowed to take her first drink. It’s been a crazy ride, and certainly there have been growing pains, but there’s no question she’s come a long, long way.
After 70 years of pseudo-communism, the Russian Empire (USSR) collapsed again, and Armenia found itself independent again. Sure we’d voted for independence, but we only really got it when everything fell apart. While the USSR was collapsing, Armenia was dealing with the aftermath of the catastrophic Spitak/Gyumri earthquake of winter ’88/89 still, Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan, a conflict with Azerbaijan that was turning to full-scale war, a blockade by both Azerbaijan and Turkey combined with tenuous links to an unstable Georgia and even more tenuous links to Iran at the time. That, plus the complete collapse of the Soviet economy, which arguably hit landlocked, blockaded Armenia harder than anyone else.
Some of these problems were handled much better than others. The Karabakh war ended with freedom for Karabakhtsi Armenians, albeit with no international recognition. The borders with a now stable Georgia and Iran allow a relatively normal flow of goods. We have electricity again, and natural gas, and petrol. Everything has been privatized and people are doing business. Thousands and thousands of earthquake victims were given new homes. Ties with the Diaspora have been reborn – though again with some hiccups. Armenia went from firing a Minister of Foreign Affairs for mentioning the Armenian Genocide, to actively lobbying for its recognition worldwide.
One big failure was the poor reception most Armenians from Azerbaijan received. Hundreds of thousands should have been welcomed and incorporated into the new republic, but most were driven out as much by discrimination about these refugees who spoke little Armenian overall as by the completely collapsed economy. Additional hundreds of thousands have left due to the same poor economy. In the early days that economic failure was no fault of Armenia, and today the economy has grown many times over from that base. But it should have grown much much more, and would have if it hadn’t been for the stifling effects of corruption.
The early 90s were a time when the people made great sacrifices – truly great and heroic sacrifices – for their new country. They lived with a couple of hours of electricity or water a day. They lived somehow without money. They climbed 15 story buildings to their dark freezing apartments, and carried their water up with them. They made these incredible sacrifices gladly, for themselves and for Karabakh, where they sent many of their boys to fight for its freedom, many never coming back. When they saw that their leaders were not sharing in their deprivation, and were in fact helping themselves at the people’s expense, disillusionment set in, and the tide of emigration became a tidal wave. People who should have been building this new nation, people who should have fighting all that was wrong with society, they left and left. The young especially, and the young men even more so. Combined with a large drop in the birthrate, Armenia now faces a demographic problem that it yet has to solve.
So much more has happened, and many books will be written about it all. The nuclear power plant being restarted, the presidential re-election that Levon Ter Petrossian stole, as well as banning the Tashnags and dual citizenship, the good relations Armenia shares with three very conflicted world powers (Russia, the USA and Iran), the construction boom that transformed the heart of Yerevan, and then ended with the world economic collapse, the presidency of two consecutive presidents of Armenia from Karabakh, the lifting of the ban on the Tashnags and dual citizenship, massive growth in tourism and IT, and so much more…
Armenia is now deep in talks to create a free trade zone and eased visa regime with the EU. That’s huge. It’s also talking about free trade with Russia, Georgia, and even Iran. It has created a stable, independent and democratic Karabakh. Big changes are happening. Turkey is becoming more and more tolerant of the word genocide, and recognition and open borders will come. That will be another game changer. If they have any decency, they will offer reparations of all kinds, to make up for our loss of life, culture, land, livelihoods…
I can’t imagine where Armenia will be in another 21 years, but I have hye hopes (forgive the pun)