After the break with communism, everything should have been different, a wave of optimism surged through the ex-Soviet world. But Armenia was moving away from the world. Similar to Europe today, it struggled with the complete rupture of its energy supply. Today, even though the country remains under Russia’s spell alone, it is up to the people to keep going.
During the existence of the Union, the Armenian Soviet Republic was heavily dependent on subsidized oil and gas supplies from its neighboring republics to keep its industry going. Yet the Soviets had developed the country into a highly industrialized region that contributed significantly to the communist computer and space industries. With the end of the Soviet Union and independence, Armenians were suddenly left to fend for themselves. It became even more fatal when they found themselves in a border war over Nagorno-Karabakh with natural gas-rich Azerbaijan, which blocked Armenia’s energy supply. The country fell into a deep crisis: In those cold and dark years, it would have become the first country to fall back from the space age into the Stone Age, Armenians scoffed.
But at the same time, Armenians took the opportunity to use their improvisational talent, ingenuity and entrepreneurial mind to survive the times. Andrak created a recycling center out of the rubble of Gyumri, a city destroyed by an earthquake a few years earlier, before becoming an artist. Many cars were converted to propane gas, which even attracted international organizations such as the International Energy Agency, declaring the country a pioneer of climate-friendly mobility, with 60% gas-powered vehicles.
The Armenians thus also became particularly exemplary for the post-Soviet generation that had experienced the fall of communism. Most of them had entered universities during the communist era, knowing that they would find work and a livelihood in the country’s numerous companies and factories. But after graduation, there was not much left of them. The once large Soviet markets had shrunk to barely three million Armenians – too few to run the monstrous factories profitably. Within a few years, the number of subsistence farmers exploded and hunger returned to the former industrialized country. Numerous families hired themselves out by buying Western products, such as medicines, and tried to distribute them in their homeland. Many of them were left with a deep trauma and uncertainty about the future, which they have not yet overcome and for which there is rarely any understanding in the West.