Listening for the Alien Heartbeat

There was apricot jam from their apricot tree, pears, apples, plums and walnuts from their garden, and a large grandmother in black, rolling cabbage rolls.

A picture of their son in uniform was on the mantelpiece, a cross leaning against it.  I did not need to ask – many Armenian mantelpieces have a crucifix leaning against a picture of a 20-something boy in uniform.  It was their son, killed like so many other sons, in the 1988-94 war with Azerbaijan.

These people were my hosts. Around the place were an accordion, a violin (which the husband used to teach), dusty Beatles records, a 1950s gramophone, books in Russian, English and Armenian, carpets on the wall.

There was always food out somewhere and food being cooked.  That night at dinner:

“We have homemade vodka *and* homemade wine.”
“Ah, sorry, I don’t drink.”

My host did not think this was worth discussing:

“You are in wrong country.  You will drink”

Hospitable people.  Civilized people.  All the greater pity that they live in a depressing, deforested, industrial wasteland.  Left by the Soviets as they retreated from history:

Alaverdi - chimney

Not just me who got depressed.  An Armenian friend Aleksandr, posted here once, described it:

“Alaverdi…even food changes taste…suicide trigger”

Alaverdi - industry - copper mine

Yet living here, this boy tending his pigs:

Sarahart - boy_tending_pigs

One afternoon after walking on the plateau just above Alaverdi, I was hungry so hung around the Sarahart town square eating peanuts, bananas and dried apricots.  I bought and ate apples and oranges from these people:

Sanahin - fruit_vendors

though the gent on the left was unable to persuade me to buy any of his meat:

Sanahin - meat_chopper

And this dual headstone, following the custom of husband and wife to be buried together:

Sanahin_church - dual_headstone

Even in death nice people, serious people, people worthy of respect:

Sanahin_church - dual_headstone - closeup

People who somehow have kept their souls despite the destructions of centuries and the desolations of today.  I finally start to understand.  Armenians.

13 Responses to “I Finally Understand”

  1. Chillbrook

    You have done the people of Armenia a great service with these brilliant posts and I have respect for a people now I knew so little of.

    • alienheartbeat

      Thanks. I knew nothing of them before I went there either. And it took me 3 months to even really start to understand.

  2. Arpine

    Really nice article !!!! I from Armenia and it is very interesting for me to see a foreigner’s opinion about my country!!!

  3. madalina.d

    I like the expression on their faces.
    Despite life’s difficulties…they seem to be so serene.

    • alienheartbeat

      Yes, I instantly liked them, especially the old lady fruit seller, the boy and the two on the headstone.

      I have added a closeup of the 2 on the headstone.

  4. Tamar Najarian

    Beautiful post! It makes me yearn to go back, though I’m stuck in a foreign country for another few months. That respect is something that is lost to the modern cultures. It is in the villages that you find the purity of the culture, though the people live in such deplorable conditions…. The double headstone captured me. I actually did not know those existed..

    • alienheartbeat

      There were many of these double headstones. They struck me too. I plan to do a post on them later, as some of them told their own stories.

  5. John Garabadian

    As an Armenian, but yet to have been, I have heard but rarely seen directly. Thanks so much.

  6. alienheartbeat

    Yes, there are many Armenians who live in Russia, Georgia, Lebanon, Syria not to mention Europe, the US etc. Armenians have a strong attachment to their ancient culture, which gives them strength and identity even when they are not in Armenia.

  7. Haywood

    Your work seems to focus on very stark emotive imagery, although I find your words and photography quite enthralling and as such now follow…


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