During the month of November I visited Armenia for the second time in the last two years as part of the faculty exchange program between Yerevan State University (YSU) and California State University, Fresno.
What fascinated me the most is the strong spirit of endurance and survival that I encountered on the streets of Yerevan.
A year ago I visited some of the sacred monasteries and churches outside Yerevan. While visiting these sites I felt a strong presence of God. Since most of the monasteries are atop mountain peaks, one gets the feeling that the people wanted to be as close to God as they could. Entering inside the caves of Keghart Monastery I had a feeling that I was entering heaven. Etchmiadzin, Garni, Zvartnots, and Khor Virap all radiate with mystical purity. To ensure that you are not deceived by all the human-made monasteries, nature has made sure you realize how sacred Armenia is by placing the most spectacular mountain right in front of you. There are no words that can describe the inspiring view of Mt. Ararat. It was something sacred that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
This year I gave three lectures at the Department of Economics at YSU, which allowed me to interact with numerous students. Their English was outstanding. I feel fortunate to have met these university students whose energy and enthusiasm will have a positive impact on the future economic growth in Armenia.
Through my interaction with students and faculty at the university I began to understand the Armenian people’s innate ability to survive and endure the most difficult challenges. Things have been very difficult since Armenia won its independence from Soviet Union however the strong desire for people to better their lives and move things forward it is apparent on every corner. Just in one year the changes are fascinating.
Yerevan radiates with culture and entertainment. Restaurants, shops, cafés are on every corner in this rapidly growing city. I had the pleasure of enjoying the concert at the National Symphony, which made me appreciate the Armenian survival spirit even more.
Strolling through the streets of Yerevan is very pleasant even though sometimes it can be a challenge to cross the street. Since the work day does not start until 9:00 am you can see people on the streets and in cafés until late at night socializing with their families and friends. The lifestyle seems very relaxed although majority of people I have encountered have multiple jobs or run their own business in order to earn a living.
Technology has also transformed the way people live their lives. Internet cafes are filled with young Armenians surfing the web and chatting with people around the world. Almost everyone carries a cell phone however the usage is low due to the high calling rates. As you are walking through Yerevan you see numerous billboards advertising Armenian as well as western products and services. Modern stores selling appliances, clothing, electronics, furniture, computers, food, and other goods have significantly increased in number and variety since my last visit.
Through my conversations with our hosts I have learned that the number of foreign visitors and investors in Armenia has doubled in the last year.
The Republic Square is very impressive especially at night. All the buildings are lit and the center of the square contains a spectacular water fountain. The most intriguing part is that where ones stood a statue of Lenin now there is a video wall playing MTW and BMW commercials.
I am thankful to have had the opportunity to visit Armenia during this period and witness the transformation that this amazing country and its people are going through yet again ensuring that the Armenian spirit will continue on for many years to come.