13 August, 2017 13:50

Shaping a New Narrative for Armenia

By Aline Yordikian

Born in the South of France, I am a third-generation French-Armenian, which makes me culturally European but ethnically Armenian.

I have lived in five different countries, thanks to international studies and global corporate roles, but never had the opportunity to visit Armenia before.

Last year, I was invited to the 110th Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) General Assembly in New York, where I discovered the organization’s strategy to expand the reach of the global Armenian nation. Noubar Afeyan, a member of the AGBU Board of Directors, inspired me when he talked about “building the country awareness for Armenians as well as non-Armenians.”

I decided then to visit Armenia, not only for myself but for others, by backpacking the entire country, including Artsakh.

I called the project “Make Armenia Great,” and the objective was to promote Armenia’s hidden gems to everyone, including the global diaspora, and to inspire others to follow my footsteps. How? By increasing awareness of the country through online visibility.

Throughout my travels, I captured stunning photos and videos of the country, emphasizing the rich nature, culture, history, food and architecture.

If you look up “Armenia,” you will get “genocide” and “women” on the Google search results page. Shaping the narrative is key; nowadays a compelling online image is essential to attracting tourists to a new country.

I also contributed to local small businesses by rating their services. For example, I used the Hike Armenia mobile app to rate available hikes and suggest new ones.

The journey started from Yerevan in early June. You can find the whole itinerary here.

In total, I discovered 70 sites in the 12 regions of Armenia including Artsakh, in less than 30 days. I spent about 3,000 kilometers on the road between driving and hiking.

I am a nature-lover, and Lori, Syunik and Artsakh were my favorite regions of the trip. While driving through Artsakh, I often felt as though I had been transported to the rainforest in South America.

What I liked most about Armenia besides its biodiversity was its people. Armenians are open-hearted and always willing to help. The entire country is safe, affordable, clean-water accessible and each site has a rich cultural and historical heritage.

Highlights of my journey in Armenia were trying pine-tree jam, sleeping in a tree house, visiting medieval caves, exploring a Jewish cemetery, tasting “Keush” sparkling wine from Vayots Dzor Province, discovering the origins of Zodiac signs and the Armenian alphabet, observing the lavash-making process and attending classical music concerts in Yerevan.

The challenges I found in the country that could prevent tourism were poor road conditions, lack of English speakers, high pollution in major cities and mining spaces, very few dog-friendly places, indoors smoking and no seat belts in cars.

While preparing for this project in Europe, I met a friend at a gathering in London and he said to me, “I have visited about 80 countries myself and Armenia is the most beautiful one.” I thought his Armenianness was speaking, but after visiting the country I can proudly say he was right. The ecosystem found in Armenia is truly unique.

This journey around Armenia has made me realize that a happy life can be fulfilled with simple ingredients: eating fresh produce, drinking fresh water and being in contact with the nature, animals and people. Armenia offers all this and more.