Thursday, May 03, 2007

Assignment: Gyumri

I’ve gotten word that my assignment in Armenia will involve observing political campaign and election activities in the city of Gyumri, in the northwest corner of Armenia near the border with Turkey.

Ever curious, I’ve done some homework about where I’ll be spending some time.

The city of Gyumri has about 120,000 voters. As is common for many cities of the former Soviet Union, it has been know by a variety of names which reflect the politics of the times. It was briefly known as Kumayri at the end of the Cold War, before that Leninakan, and before that Alexandropol.

Perhaps it’s most conspicuous “modern” feature are the large cemeteries, some full of the victims of the 1988 earthquake that killed nearly 25,000 people. Despite many well-intentioned efforts, the economy of the city remains a shambles ten years after the event. There is still a substantial international presence from various assistance projects. The past few years have seen noticeable progress in housing, as well as business, infrastructural and beautification efforts.

As Armenia's largest old town, much of it showing earthquake damage, Gyumri provides the opportunity for very interesting walks. Gyumri's people had a great deal of pride in their city before the earthquake, which is today in large part replaced with despair at the lack of job opportunities.

The city is built on a north-south axis, with the center consisting of a main square that has a couple of pedestrians-only streets leading away from it, two large churches anchoring the two ends, and fountains in the center. It used to be the big partly covered shuka (market) which was leveled by the Soviet government (commie rat bastards...)

There are a variety of sites of historic and archeological interest in and around the city, including Iron Age, Bronze Age, Roman and Medieval settlements as well as the relatively more modern remnants of the Russian Alexandropol fortress that was constructed in 1834.

In fact, the city was site of a major Russian Army garrison and fortress since its conquest in 1804, a role it continues to play even today. The few thousand Russian troops still based in Armenia serve as a reminder that Russia would intervene militarily were Turkey to invade Armenia. Pending the unlikely event of an invasion, the Russian troops grow potatoes and find other ways to stay alive.


Onnik Krikorian said...

This might also be of interest to you, as it happened just before the election campaign period began, in case you didn't know already:

Three Killed As Gyumri Mayor Survives Assassination Bid
Law-enforcement authorities were hunting on Tuesday for gunmen that wounded the controversial mayor of Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri and killed three of his bodyguards in a drive-by shooting which they believe was an attempt on his life.

Full story here.

It's not known whether it's election-related, however. Officials say it isn't, and some personal opinion from people living in Gyumri say it's more likely personal, but anyway, of interest, I'm sure.

Les Margosian said...

Gyumri is a city/region known in Aarmenia for its wits and wags. Unlike many regional stereotypes, I think this one quite apt-the folks I've met from there did seem to have a great sense of humor despite the bleak, post-earthquake environment.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Yes, that's right and even holds true today, although I'd also agree that Gyumri still has the feel of that "bleak, post-earthquake environment" regardless of what is said in the main post. It's quite outrageous that the situation in Armenia's second largest city is as it is nearly 20 years after the 1988 earthquake.