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"Their paths are different": Gevorg Virats compares Georgia with Armenia

Listeners to the Eastern Approaches Podcast will know of Gevorg Virats as Alex Thomson's regular interviewee on geopolitical and religious affairs.

"Their paths are different": Gevorg Virats compares Georgia with Armenia

In this episode, recorded on location in Yerevan, Gevorg compares and contrasts his two home countries: Armenia, his ethnic homeland, and Georgia, where he grew up and still lives. As he puts it, "Both are very worthy of attention but their paths are different."

After an initial segment comparing the forms that very early Christianity took among the two peoples, and relations with Judaism, discussion turns at 25:00 to culture (architecture, art, cuisine and music) and language, to the differing responses to the Soviet legacy, and to relations with Russia and the Levant. At a time when hundreds of thousands of Western-oriented Russians are leaving Russia for neighbouring countries, why is it that Georgians refuse to rent to Russians while Armenians welcome 150,000 of them to their capital (of barely a million people) but triple the prices?

At 40:00, the compelling new development of Armenia's rapprochement with Turkey is considered. During the visit on which this podcast was recorded, Turkey opened its Armenian border (to third-country nationals only) for the first time in nearly thirty years; the Armenian Prime Minister and Turkish President held their first telephone call; and, a few days later, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Tbilisi, Georgia, to try to move on from the countries' recent war, which has previously been discussed on the Eastern Approaches Podcast. We consider briefly how it is that a 44-day war with Azerbaijan as recently as 2020 has apparently set Armenia back less in diplomacy than a five-day war with Russia as far back as 2008 has stymied Georgia’s relations with Russia.

Mention is made of Ashkhen Arakelyan's book Sadistic Pleasures, on which Gevorg Virats and Alex Thomson collaborated, which describes the horrors faced by Armenian prisoners of war in 2020–2021.

The final half-hour is devoted to guidance for travellers to the region. Crime is low in both Georgia and Armenia but Georgia is becoming markedly less safe for female travellers. The Westernising government (2004–2013) of Mikheil Saakashvili is compared with the approach to Westernisation taken in Armenia by Nikol Pashinyan (2018–present).

Gevorg Virats ends by welcoming follow-up questions about the region from listeners and by giving his particular travel tips: the under-appreciated south-western Georgian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, notable for ravishing landscapes and unique viticulture; and the southern Armenian province of Syunik, with its microclimate on the Iranian border where even bananas and kiwis grow.

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