We have just spent the month of October in the three countries that make up the region known as the Caucasus–Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. Both Sharon and Fred had worked, separately, in the U.S. embassies in Georgia ten years ago. In addition, Sharon had served in Armenia, while Fred served in Azerbaijan.
The choice of this trip for our 2012 autumn adventure was for the two of us to see all three countries together, catch up with old friends made there, and see what had happened to the people (and their textiles) in the last ten years.
We first spent a week in
Baku visiting Fred’s old haunts in Azerbaijan. We stayed in a boutique hotel inside the walls of the old city, drank tea with many carpet dealers, attended a wonderful Azeri opera with a friend, and looked in amazement at what 10 years of unbridled petroleum-fueled growth had done to this ancient city. One ominous fact: 20 percent of GNP is being spent on the military in this small Islamic country closely allied with the West and, oddly enough, with Israel.
In Georgia, which we both love, we arrived just after the first peaceful democratic election ever held in the region. A young US-trained president, who had both transformed the government AND entered into a quickly lost war with Russia in his ten years in office, had graciously given up power to his rival.
We visited with old friends in Tbilisi and saw where the Russian tanks had ground to a halt within sight of the city in 2008. We watched a country filled with refugees (of Internally Displaced Persons–IDP’s) from the war, and with no diplomatic relations with neighbor Russia, buckle down and carry out amazing improvements for its people with few resources other than tourism dollars and oil-pipeline-transfer payments.
We finally ended up in Armenia, a cosmopolitan country with vast foreign diaspora sending huge amounts of money back home to build monuments, shopping malls and art museums, but who still fret continually about the terrible atrocities done to them by the Turks in 1915.
Landlocked Armenia has few resources of its own and relies on Russia for its national security. Its intransigence on the issue of the 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory they have occupied since 1994 has prevented Armenia from normalizing relations with Turkey and, also oddly, has driven them to be closer allies with neighboring Iran.
On this trip, on the micro level, we found little had changed for our friends in the three countries. On the macro level of relations between nations, lots had changed…and not all for the better.