A Note from Jill Carr-Harris:
Day 15 (two week mark) in Armenia
(Day 143 of the Jai Jagat Global Peace March)
The Jai Jagat marchers began by walking from the Iranian border eleven days ago and we have covered about 154 kilometers. Today we are in Sisian, west from the urban center Goris in the large southern Syunmik Region.The terrain of course, is mountainous as we are in the Caucuses and it is often difficult trekking. What helps me to get through most days is the panoramic views of the ice-capped mountains and the weather being mostly sunny and enjoyable.The Caucuses are similar to the Alps: they are majestic and snow covered with a quiet grandeur.
Sometimes when it is windy on the mountain roads, one has to resist the elements with all one’s might. There are areas of snow and less than we thought. We are usually traveling on the cleared roads, and even though there is a constant flow of vehicular traffic with a lot of trucks transporting goods; there is also quite a few automobiles (many old models of Russian Ladas), and although we have been told that this is a highly militarized state, and we are close to the border, we only see the occasional army trucks. Mostly the commodious life of people seems to continue.
Although we have been doing a lot of up and down mountain slopes, and covering on average about 18 kilometers each day to reach the village or place of stay. (Today it will be 15 kms upward), we are invariably grateful at the warm greetings by school leaders who offer us classrooms in which to stay the night. Thankfully the designated classrooms mostly have hot wood stoves or heating, providing a cozy atmosphere in sub-zero temperatures for us to sleep.
A few anecdotes of the travel: on the third night we were in Andokavan and were welcomed into a village school with the hot stove lit and ready for us to begin preparing food. The principal, Samuel had eight students yet it seemed that he was the center of the community life; through him and the other family members we got a glimpse of their unforgettable hospitality. It was reminiscent of the family feeling that we received in much of our four months in rural India.
Again in Artsvanik a few days later in a small village of a eight hundred people that was situated on the side of a mountain half way up from a glacial lake in the valley, the principal who was a woman of Russian origin brought together the teachers and the children for a meeting and they showed a lot of interest in the march and in the stories of the marchers. The children had many questions about different aspects of why we were walking and its relationship to Gandhi. We left knowing that we had spawned something in that place that would likely grow in future.
Another memorable village was Vorodan village, further down in the valley, and close to the border with Azerbaijan. We met the mayor and the village doctor and they gave us riveting narratives about their lives of conflict. They spoke about the fall of the Soviet Union, and the onset of what they called a genocide in 1988. This is when Armenia and Azerbaijan became involved in a cycle of conflict that continues today. The mayor shared his story of being a former combatant and how he had sustained internal injuries that he was taken to a hospital in France where a nine day operation which was performed by caring doctors who brought him back to life. Since then he has continued to fight as a member of the civilian force. What was most interesting about his story was that he had grown up in Voradan and it was majority of Azerbaijan people in his childhood. At that time they were all brothers and sisters. The enmity that grew up has been only a fact in the past three decades when the soviet republics become nation states –at least this is the narrative of the mayor.
The woman doctor who was with the mayor, was a former citizen of Azerbaijan, who spent her childhood there, and had friends, went to University and medical school, and by all accounts, lived a peaceful life. Suddenly it all changed in 1988 when her family had to moved into a small room, where they lost their freedom of movement, and the pogram began of Armenians. She left for Armenia after the earthquake and then continued to stay. What was interesting about her story is that she was prepared to live a very simply life in Voradan for the sake of freedom. She was a remarkable woman doctor who saw her life as serving Armenian combattants and veterans.
Having told these stories of Armenian’s feeling to Azerbaijan, we are aware that Azeries would have their own perspective on the war. This we want to further understand and as a result we hope that we can meet Azerbaijan friends before leaving this region.
On the 7th day we arrived in Goris, the fourth largest city in Armenia. This was an architect’s delight. Goris, a historic center, consisted of beautiful stone houses. The mountains around seemed to be in harmony. Goris provided us with bathrooms for washing. Up until that point we were struggling with water and small toilets in the schools so people needed a good cleaning. We were also able to wash our clothes.
So as sixteen walkers, we are cooking our own food on mobile gas stoves and we are learning to cook the local foods such as millets even though we are still consuming mostly rice, along with dahl (lentils) to make nutritious meals. There is plenty of fresh bread and cheese. Each day on the walk, the cooking team brings lunch to the marchers, often hot soup chalked full of potatoes and vegetables, and then goes forward to the school to begin the dinner preparations. We are finding the energy to walk and are maintaining a limited budget while having good cooperation. The larger team will arrive after a couple of weeks and as we will have 50 cooking, walking and meeting, it will be easier now that the routine has been set.
Beyond cooking, these sixteen committed peace walkers have come together as a strong group to help one another. There are many changes in personal habits towards being more giving and helpful. We are strengthened by the evening prayer and for our many reflections and discussions on Gandhian and nonviolent action with people we meet. We were discussing with Armenians last night the way that people can participate in the training that we proposing to have in Yerevan. The hope is that modeling the march and the nonviolent training will be with local Armenian youth long after our departure.
I would like to conclude by saying that it is a great opportunity to be on this Global Peace March, especially as we see so much violence in the news. By walking from village to village and town to town, person to person, step by step, we see that most people are living commodiously and seeking peaceful lives. This view is often not portrayed by the larger media. The media instead tends to give a “birds eye view” often without context and ground-truthing. At least this march gives us the opportunity to represent the “worms-eye view” which is organic and local. We hold out hope that people will see this portrayal.