Following the protocol agreement signing at the Armenian Embassy, it was the collective judgment of Dr. Armand Hammer, Jon Huntsman, and Elder Russell M. Nelson that three members of their entourage be sent to Armenia. Peter Huntsman, David Horn and Elder Hans B. Ringger were to visit the earthquake region at Leninakan, Armenia and return with a recommendation as to how the contributed funds of the American-Armenian Bridge of Friendship could most effectively be used. When I learned of their plans, I asked if I might come along as an observer. Fortunately no one seemed to object.
With only 11,500 square miles, Armenia is the smallest constituted republic of the USSR. It is located in one of the southernmost regions of the Soviet Union. The population is approximately two-and-a-half million. To the west of Armenia is Turkey. To the east is the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan, and to the south is Iran.I was informed that the Armenians dislike all three of their neighbors with the same degree of intensity. Only with the Georgians to the north do they enjoy something that approaches an amicable relationship. The warmth of this friendship may possibly be explained by the fact that the Caucasus mountain range with seven peaks in excess of 15,000 feet divides these two republics.
It is often said that geography determines the disposition of a people. In order to understand the Armenians' fierce sense of independence and nationalism, one only needs to review their long struggle for self-rule against both their Asian and European neighbors.
Aside from the conquest by or wars with the Assyrians, the Medes, the Persians, the Romans, the Greeks, the Neo-Persians, the Arabs, the Seljuks, the Byzantines, the Mongols, the Turks, the Czarist Russians, and finally the Soviets, the Armenians have all but been left on their own over the years.
I was told never to call them "Russians." They are Armenians - quick-witted, hard-working, imaginative, tenacious, talkative, fun-loving, self-sufficient Armenians.
Like many of the other non-Russian republics located on the perimeter of the Soviet Union, the Armenians wish to push for more independence from Moscow. When Chairman Gorbachev came to power in 1985 and began to encourage political and economic reforms in the republics in order to shore up the sagging Soviet economy, the Armenians saw this as an opportunity to finally taste something of self-determination - a political privilege that had eluded them for so many hundreds of years.
Before leaving for Armenia, I had a lengthy conversation with a young, articulate Russian translator who is in the process of applying for American citizenship. When I told him of my plans to fly beyond Moscow to Yerevan, Armenia, he offered these observations:
"You will find the Armenians very different from the Russians. It is very unfortunate you will not be able to visit Georgia or the Ukraine where, incidentally, my family comes from. They, too, are very different. Sometimes I do not think Americans really understand about either these republics or the other non-Russian republics such as the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. All of them wish to be completely independent of Moscow. At the end of the 1917 revolution they all thanked Lenin for overthrowing the Czar and then promptly announced their freedom and independent status. Lenin had to fight to keep them in the empire. He, of course, lost out with the Baltic states. They were completely free of the Soviet Union for 22 years - from 1917 until the outbreak of the Second World War.
Georgia, Armenia and the Ukraine were persuaded to join the loose arrangement of the Soviet Socialist Republics primarily because they, at the time, feared their neighbors to the south and west more than they did the Soviets. All three of them, however, later regretted this decision. Do you recall how the Ukranians welcomed the Nazi Army to their country when Hitler began his second front against the Russians? Hitler unfortunately did not understand his advantage here. He considered the Ukrainians to be Russians and had their leaders shot and most of their men and women sent to concentration camps.
"The only point I am trying to make is that Chairman Gorbachev has the same problem as Lenin did. Gorbachev only wants to somehow keep the empire together. He may be able to pull it off without having to resort to military force. After all, he is a man that possesses remarkable powers of political persuasion."