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Armenia’s Golden Opportunity

text and photographs by Armineh Johannes

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The midday arrival of a fruit vendor last summer seemed the only intrusion in the tranquil life of the Armenian village of Gosh, located about 96 miles north of the capital of Yerevan. The vendor parked his Soviet-era Lada in the middle of the village square. The backseat and trunk of the car were stuffed with fruit and vegetables and, within minutes of his arrival, he was busy weighing produce with a crude scale and bartering with the villagers.

“400 drams [just under U.S. $1] for two pounds of tomatoes?” complained one customer. “Would you sell them for 300 drams, or in exchange for some cheese?” asked another.

Watching this daily ritual from under the shade of trees, a group of elderly men looked at one another, exchanged remarks about the high cost of living in post-Soviet Armenia, and longed for the good old days of low-cost bread and guaranteed work.

Surrounded by lush greenery and grazing cows, Gosh is a sleepy Armenian village. Rows of sun-dried corn on the cob, strung from house to house, drape the village streets. Ducks and chickens loiter about. Children swing idly from metal bars. As with many villages in independent Armenia, the villagers live in relative isolation, their thoughts and concerns seemingly unlike those experienced by city dwellers. However, such is not the case.

“Our cathedral was closed by the Soviets in 1930,” an elderly-looking woman named Zarik said as I paused while wandering about the village’s 13th-century cathedral, which is commonly called Goshuvank, or the Cathedral of Gosh.

“For more than 30 years it served as a warehouse for products produced by thekolkhoz [collective farm],” she continued.

As she spoke, I thought about the adversities that had undoubtedly carved the deep wrinkles in her lovely face. As if she read my thoughts she told me about her family, who were exiled to Siberia in 1949.

“I was 10 years old when we were removed from our home in Gosh. For 22 days we traveled by train in a compartment packed with animals – it was a real nightmare. Just before we were permitted to return to Gosh in 1956, my mother died. Ever since, I have wanted to serve the church. Today I am proud to act like a guardian for our cathedral.”

Since Armenia’s declaration of independence on 23 September 1991, the role of the Armenian Apostolic Church – the preeminent church of the nation – has grown considerably.

“Preaching the Christian faith in theory is insufficient,” stated the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin I, when I met with him earlier this year.

“We have to relate the teachings of Christ to the everyday life of our people. We have to explain in practical terms the sacredness of life, the value of the human person and of honest work, the importance of respecting order, preserving nature and natural resources,” the Catholicos continued.

“We have to go to the people and not wait for them to come to the church. The clergy must meet the people in their homes and in their workshops, in the villages and in the cities.”

Among the Soviet system’s greatest failings were its assaults on the dignity of human life and the attempted destruction of the institution called to defend human life, the Christian Church.

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Tags: Armenia Village life Armenian Apostolic Church Economic hardships