Armenia, Iran, Turkey and freedom

The sun is rising here in Armenia and it looks like another beautiful day.  Armenia gets 300 days of sun a year.  Much like Southern California, where there are so many Armenians that the street signs in some neighborhoods are written in Armenian.  Armenians came to live there because the Turks had taken over part of Armenia and the Christian Armenians had run for their lives.  Even today the border is highly fortified and no one can travel between Armenia and Turkey. America’s famous Armenians, the Kardashians, recently came back to Armenia to commemorate the destruction of Western Armenia by Turkey.


From much of Armenia, you can look out on Mount Ararat which was historically Armenian and is now a part of Turkey and can’t even be visited by Armenians.  Armenia was the first Christian country–with monasteries and churches almost 2000 years old.  Later, enemies overran Armenia and all the countries around it, but somehow the Armenians survived and reestablished their country though almost surrounded by Moslem countries.  In addition to Turkey, Armenia also has closed borders with its Moslem neighber Azerbaijan, due to a war after the Soviet Union broke up.

But Armenia is good friends with many Moslem nations today.  Many Americans are surprised to learn that Iran and Armenia share an open border.  I traveled the road to Iran and saw mileage markers written in Iranian numerals.

Iranians love to come to Armenia because they can take off the headscarves and long robes, drink, eat pork and see recent movies–all prohibited in Iran. Armenians like all the money Iranians spend and welcome their visits.

Many Americans believe Iran is our enemy and Armenia is our friend, yet Iran is Armenia’s friend. Many forget Iran used to be our friend and for centuries invaded, destroyed and fought Armenians. Things get confusing in the real world.

Iran decided in the 1930s that people shouldn’t call it Persia.  Until then, the West had always known it as the Persian empire.  This empire swept through Armenia, destroying monasteries, universities and libraries.  The ones which survived were in remote mountainous regions.  I’ve visited many of them and they are hard to get to even today.

The Persian Empire included territories from Greece to China and was the largest empire the world had ever known. The religion of Persia in those days was Zoroastrianism–the first widespread monotheistic religion.  Zoroastrianism was severely repressed when the Moslems took over Iran.  Nearly all Zoroastrians fled to India and the US.

The lack of freedom in Iran is such a severe contrast to the freedom of Armenia. You might wonder why the Iranian government doesn’t close the border with Christian, freedom-loving Armenia.  The answer seems to be that the yearning for freedom is so great in Iran that the government must leave some outlet.  So it leaves the border with tiny Armenia open so those who need a taste of freedom can come and enjoy it.

I’ve traveled all over Armenia and everyone has been gracious and helpful.  I’ve yet to hear a harsh word from anyone–except for the lady who reminded me I was walking by without paying at Geghard Church.  I was glad to pay about 50 cents for the privilege of seeing a church carved into stone with a sacred spring arising in its middle.

Peaceful, hard-working, freedom-loving Armenia has managed to keep its Christian traditions while trapped between hostile Moslem countries. What a contrast to the US, where Christianity is declining with no Moslem countries within thousands of miles. Americans have a lot to learn from Armenia.

Loving your country: Armenia, US, and Neshoba County

In the US, it is fashionable in some circles to disparage the country and blame all the ills of the world on America.  If an Armenian did that in Armenia, he is the one who would be disparaged.  I asked a group of Armenians why Armenians are so much more patriotic than Americans.  They said it’s explained by 1500 years of fighting for your existence among hostile enemies, a genocide at the hands of your neighbor, and being under the thumb of other counties for hundreds of years.armenia US flagsSo maybe Americans will be patriotic in 1500 years if we become surrounded by enemies.  It certainly helps to have an enemy to gin up patriotism.  In recent times, Americans were most proud of their country right after the attacks of 9/11.  Polling today records the lowest numbers ever of Americans saying they are proud to be an American.  Over the years, Republicans have maintained the same level of high pride in America.  Those calling themselves Democrats are the least patriotic.  Less than half say they are extremely proud to be Americans in the latest poll.  This is the lowest level ever.  The second lowest for Democrats was during the Bush administration.  Some Americans’ patriotism appears to be determined by whether they control the White House.

Armenian patriotism has nothing to do with who is in power.  True patriotism never does. Armenians judge their politicians by whether they help the country.  Some in US judge the country by whether it helps their politicians.

Another perspective on patriotism is expressed in a 1926 article called “Patriotism and the Soil.” The author contends that true patriotism is expressed in how much we care for the soil and forests and other renewable resources of our country.  He says, the true patriot builds up his country by literally building up the soil of his country.  Maybe we should judge our politicians and ourselves by how much we care for nature in our country.  Maybe the Democrat who builds up the soil in his garden and supports sustainable agriculture in the US is more patriotic than those say they love America yet destroy our soil and forests and air.

Maybe a more lasting sort of patriotism is built on first loving the actual soil and forests and landscape where you live. In studying US counties where sustainability and resilience are highest (such as Neshoba County, Mississippi), we’ve found that people really love their counties. They don’t want to leave.  If they do leave they want to come back. They care for the place they live and its resources.  When trouble hits, they help each other and bounce back.

Maybe this attitude is the strongest root for enduring patriotism.  And for a patriotism which really improves your country instead of just being flag waving.


Trees are penetrating pastors

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating pastors. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche.
oak in charleston
“In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

“A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

“A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

“When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother.

“A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

“So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

Sometimes you read something that you just have to share.
If you can read German, you can find more of this in Hermann Hesse’s book: Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte.