BBC Travel Magazine
By Ben Lerwill
5 October 2017
Why Armenians love strangers
Armenians, like their Caucasus neighbours, have long been renowned for generosity to outsiders – a result of the country’s historical location on the Silk Road.
It was clear early on that Armenia was going to be interesting
But I never meant to spend the night in Dilijan. I’d dawdled for too long around the Unesco-listed monasteries of Debed Canyon, and by the time I arrived in late afternoon, the marshrutkas, I gathered via sign language, were resolutely done for the day. No transport was forthcoming.
The house was on a quiet residential hill, set back from a dusty road behind metal gates. I knocked, and was met with a long silence. Guests, it seemed, were not a regular occurrence. The chance was considerable, I realised, that it was no longer even a guesthouse. I wondered whether I might have the wrong place. I tried hollering the Armenian words for hello – an optimistic “barev dzez” – into the driveway, first tentatively, then louder, feeling foolish. At last there were footsteps, and the gates were opened by a middle-aged lady in an apron.
The food came in huge portions. The lady that had welcomed me in was Lusine’s mother, and she took charge of affairs. Plates appeared piled high with lavash, the unleavened flatbread that forms the staple of the Armenian larder. There were aubergines and olives, fresh radishes and mounds of stringy cheese. Then came barbequed pork, and greens with garlic. At some point there was a bowl of chopped mushrooms fried with onions, and chicken in an unctuous, spicy sauce. The menu became something of a blur.
When I left the next morning, tender-headed but filled with a bumper breakfast and more generous goodwill, my resolve to leave some money for the previous night’s meal received such stern refusal that I backed down for fear of causing insult. After being handed an address for a relative in southern Armenia – a contact I now deeply regret never following up – I was seen off with warmth, and wandered down to the marshrutka yard in a daze.
When you encounter hospitality in Armenia, you’re unlikely to forget it
Only then did the extent of the family’s welcome sink in. I was a complete stranger from a country thousands of miles away. I’d turned up at their gate, unannounced, unshaven and barely an hour before a landmark family dinner, yet I’d not just been granted a bed but been ushered into the festivities as naturally and lavishly as if I’d been one of their own. It stretched the definition of ‘guesthouse’ to improbable extremes.
Armenians, like their Caucasus neighbours, have long been renowned for generosity to outsiders. The country’s location on the historical trade networks of the Silk Road is integral to this. The region has seen the passage of countless thousands of merchants, soldiers, migrants and wayfarers. As long ago as 400BC, the Greek general Xenophon brought his troops this way and gave accounts of tables groaning with lamb, poultry and barley wine.
It should perhaps be pointed out that the three Caucasus nations – Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – retain a healthy suspicion of each other. There’s a wry Armenian joke that sums it up. A boy asks his grandfather why Armenia hasn’t yet sent an astronaut to space. “Because the Georgians would die of envy,” the grandfather replies. “And if the Georgians died of envy, then we’d die of pleasure – and the Azeris would be left with all the land.” Towards travellers and outsiders, however, local hospitality throughout the region is astonishingly generous.
Armenia has known unspeakable pain and hardship, not least in the form of the deportations and deaths of up to 1.5 million of its people between 1914 and 1923. Dozens of US states and 29 countries have recognised this as an act of genocide by the Ottoman Empire. Today’s Turkish state denies the description. Armenia’s national psyche has, inevitably, been shaped by the period. And in so doing, the notion that those who come in peace should be welcomed with open arms has only been strengthened.
I can say this much: when you encounter hospitality in Armenia, you’re unlikely to forget it.
Source : http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20171004-why-armenians-love-strangers?ocid=ww.social.link.facebook
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