Clipper Staff Writer
WEST BOUNTIFUL — Armenia has been occupied by almost every major power since ancient times.
Yet they have retained their culture and their faith through it all, members of the Bountiful Breakfast Exchange Club were told Thursday.
Steve Walker, a Bountiful resident who spent time in Armenia as a contractor for Armenia’s telephone company in the mid-1990s, said that through the centuries Armenia was a crossroads for trade. As such it has been a prime target for occupation.
The country’s latest occupation was by the Soviet Union. That occupation began in 1922 and lasted until 1991.
Walker was there as the country was beginning to privatize. He found Armenians knew nothing of free commerce. As a consequence, Walker found employees expected to have to bribe him with gifts and money.
“A gift was customary (for bosses),” Walker said. “I knew how little they made, and I told them ‘no gifts for Mr. Steve’ (the name his employees called him). Because of that, I had the pick of all the best people.”
When Walker arrived in Armenia, unemployment was 75 percent.
“Our poorest people have so much more than the Armenians. There were people starving to death,” he said.
The country has been populated since the beginning of recorded history, Walker said. It’s a part of Anatolia, which once encompassed Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The people still view history much differently than we do, Walker said.
While traveling with his driver, Walker and his wife heard a story of a palace in a town that the driver said was “destroyed in the war.”
When asked which war, the driver said, “the war with Genghis Khan,” Walker said.
“The only reason Armenians as a people exist is because of their faith,” Walker said. Armenian is the oldest Christian country in the world. It’s king became a Christian in 301 A.D., even before the Emperor Constantine converted, Walker said.
Most Armenians are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is similar to the Greek Orthodox churches, Walker said.
While Walker and his wife were there, the country was still rebuilding following a December 1988 earthquake.
They attended a ceremony held upon the restoration of a church that had been destroyed in that earthquake.
A group of young people decided to rebuild what they thought was a 17th century church, but when they started sorting through the rubble, they found a foundation for a 12th century church. Then, Walker said, the young people discovered some of the stones still didn’t fit. They asked the assistance of an archeologist, who determined the church had originally been built in 375 A.D.
The church was domed, much like the LDS Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Walker said, except it was narrower and higher.
Standing outside the building, Walker could hear a beautiful sound coming from inside. Upon investigation, Walker said he found, “a group of gray hairs,” who were participating in a liturgical chant.
“It was live and beautiful,” Walker said.
When the Walkers first arrived, they had no car and took the bus everywhere.
Members of his LDS branch held a birthday party for him, and on the way to the celebration, others on the bus asked him if he sang. He said yes, and stood up in the aisle to belt out “God Bless America.”
“If we allowed Armenians into this country, half of them would come and we’d be better off,” Walker said.