A couple weeks ago, I went to my 27th country. It was the first time I reached my age “level” (I’m 27), and I will soon get beyond it when I will land in the United Arabs Emirates on the 17th of October.
But my 27th country isn’t just any country. It’s a country that doesn’t exist. The Republic of Artsakh.
Stuck in between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran, this self-proclaimed state is not recognized by any member of the UN and doesn’t appear on any world map. Officially, we are in Azerbaijan, in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
But on the field, since 1991, reality says otherwise. This small piece of mountainous land is obviously autonomous (although highly dependant on its Armenian neighbour). With its 150 000 inhabitants being ethnically Armenians, apostolic Christians and having their own dialect, the Republic of Artsakh doesn’t have much in common with Azerbaijan and is only accessible through Armenia. Founded by a people who survived a genocide, braved deportations and underwent the biggest empires of the last two millennia, it offers a stunning historical and symbolic landscape.
There is almost something fairy to it.
Here, people are proud to be – with Armenia – the oldest Christian country in the world.
Here, the people has been under the dominance of the Persians and the Romans, the Turks and the Russians, the Ottomans and the Soviets before being given to Azerbaijan and finally, in 1994, take arms to win back the land it had always lived in.
Here, millenary Orthodox churches and Iranian mosques still stand in the same village.
Here, they grow fruits on what was still landmines a couple decades ago. Mostly pomegranate (which is ironic in French since it’s litterally called “grenade”).
Here, with a national assembly, and army and a de facto autonomy, people claim their right to self-determination but can’t seem to get an official support from any country in the world.
Here, the monument erected at the entrance of Artsakh’s capital city and considered as the national emblem is named “We are our mountains”.
27 countries in 27 years is obviously not a record. But to the slow pace of the last years, spending about two months per country, my interest for History, politics and open spaces has always been filled.
Stretch your presence in some place, as if you were part of that spot on the globe, only if for a moment. As if you were planting your roots here and there, as if you were learning about your own past as a human being, about a reality that evades us constantly.
That place, lost between Europe, Asia and the Middle East, certainly adds a little something ineffable to it.