July 2006



Truth is a funny thing.

What is truth shifts from person to person based on experience. It shifts based on the mores of society.

I’ve been thinking about this of late in part due to my upcoming trip to Armenia, one of the places that was not just locked behind the Iron Curtain, but also inside the Soviet Union.

This trip is going to be an interesting one, my third one to a former Soviet Republic.

My first visit was to Estonia, one of the Soviet republics to have changed the most—it, along with fellow Baltic states Latvia and Lithuania, have joined the European Union. Estonia was an interesting country to visit—I was in Tallinn for a couple of nights in February 2005. Cold couldn’t begin to describe the weather, but the weather outside didn’t stop the city from being beautiful.

One of the more interesting aspects was visiting the city’s history museum. Signage was in Estonian first, English second, and Russian third, and it was obvious that Estonia resented the Soviet occupation of their country—and as presented in the museums, they felt that Estonia had been occupied.

The second country I visited was The Ukraine, this past New Year’s. The Ukraine seems to be in a mixed place, tugged on one side by Russia and on the other the European Union is ever beckoning. It’s a struggle and I witnessed it from my friend, as she expressed opinions about facts that I couldn’t understand with my background. Suddenly my American education seemed dramatically different.

I was quizzed as to why America, the most powerful country in the world, didn’t prevent the Ukraine from becoming part of the Soviet Union. Stalin wasn’t that bad a leader. The Western Allies only invaded Normandy because it looked like the Soviet Union was going to crush Hitler’s Germany into submission and get all the spoils of war.

It was baffling to me—and not just because I couldn’t read the Cyrillic alphabet. Effective transportation was privatized, the visual cues were ones that were just enough different from the West that it was challenging to

So this is going to be a trip to my third country that was once part of the Soviet Union. Armenia’s had a rougher transition in many respects—they’ve been at war, and their borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey are closed—you can only go north to Georgia (the country) or south to Iran. Armenians were victims of one of the first genocides of the 20th century, one that Turkey needs to fully admit to in order to join the European Union.

For me, it’s going to be quite the challenge. I don’t speak either the primary or secondary language. I also don’t recognize a single letter in the alphabet (unlike Cyrillic where I might recognize the shape, but not know the sound that is associated with the letter). Thankfully my experience in Kiev should help me figure out the private transportation system, where according to Lonely Planet you can get from one end of the country to another for about $20.

I’m really looking forward to the experience—it should be a whole lot of fun.

5 comments to Pravda

  • Wow. It’s hard for me to think of anything more articulate to say than that, but I’ll try.

    I have so much admiration for these journeys of yours. I went to Tallinn in April (still cold!), and I spent nearly four hours in the Occupation Museum. I experienced many of the things you describe in Estonia: the hostility and discomfort towards the Russians and to some extent other foreigners, the very palpable sense of national pride, and at the same time the sense that the Soviet occupiers had changed the face of the country very, very profoundly.

    It is amazing that you’re going to Armenia. If I had the money and if I knew you a little better than not at all, I’d try to get a flight there too. I’ve studied the Armenian genocide at some length, and I’m fascinated by a people who have suffered so much in silence and denial. Their culture is really unique, and I think if you make the effort to connect with people you’ll transcend the language barriers to some extent.

    Good luck, and have a great trip.

    I wish you all the best.

  • Orhan Pamuk and Noam Chomsky have faced prosecution in Turkey for talking about the Armenian genocide (Chomsky’s publisher was indicted in the past week or so). 🙁

  • koko

    I would totally go with you if I weren’t so amazingly poor. le sigh…

  • Nome–It should be a trip, while it would be awesome to have somebody with me, it should also be quite the adventure all by myself.

    Jerry–Turkey has a long way to go. The First Amendment is one of the best things about the United States.

    Koko–one day we’ll travel together.

  • I have no doubt that it will be an illuminating journey for you either way. After three months of travelling on my own, I know that the experiences you will have will be totally unique and precious because they will be yours alone.