A message from Ruby

Wondering what to do to celebrate women this International Women’s Day? Empower one young woman from Armenia! Ruby–soccer player, international relations student and true original–won a coveted place at LCC, an international university in Lithuania. Her expenses–tuition, dormitory, books, food and travel–total $6,100 a year. We’ve raised nearly a third of that to make sure she can continue her studies next year. Will you do what you can to help her? Ruby has made a 1 minute video thanking everyone who has contributed so far. Watch it, get to know her a little and please become part of her success story. Happy March 8! https://uk.gofundme.com/f/help-erik-and-ruby-finish-college

Erik–a second student from Armenia at LCC–is also fighting to stay in school. You’ll hear from him a little later in the spring 😉

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Keep these Noses in those Books

Today, National Book Day, it seems fitting that not one but TWO publishing companies have invested in Ruby and Erik. Thank you Sandra at New Bay Books and Peter at Medina Publishing. Thank you for knowing that book learning is valuable and important and life-changing: worth paying for.

Ruby and Erik are students at LCC, an English-language University in Lithuania. They are not Lithuanian, but Armenian. English is their third language. They have travelled far away from their war-torn homeland because they want to make the best of themselves, learning alongside bright, ambitious young people from more than 50 countries. They worked hard to secure their places here.

Ruby is studying international relations. Erik is studying contemporary communications. I know them both. Ruby is spunky and original and brave. She could be a future head of the UN. Erik is persistent and passionate and since he went to Lithuania he looks younger, less strained, happy. One day he’ll invent Twitter or Reddit 2.0.

I have been to Ruby’s home on a large but bleak village right on the Armenian border with Turkey. A forbidding wall of wire surrounds one side of the village, making sure no child or animal strays into a narrow stretch of no man’s land. Most of the roads in the village are made of compacted dirt. Ruby’s mum is a teacher. Her dad farms– but COVID and war and the collapse of the Armenian economy means he no longer brings home a wage. Ruby has a little brother and sister–twins. Her grandma keeps an eye on them while her mum goes out to work.

I haven’t been to Erik’s home which is in the north of Armenia, close to the border with Georgia. I know his dad is disabled and can’t work. His mother is busy every minute of the day but earns no wage at home.

$6100 is what it costs to keep Ruby or Erik at LCC for a year. That covers tuition fees, books, dormitory, meals and one flight a year home. In a country where the average wage is $3 a day it is a fortune–beyond the reach even of families with two wage earners. Compared to the cost of study in the US or the UK it is a snip. A bargain.

Ruby and Erik are proud people and so are their parents. The concept of shame–amot— runs very deep in Armenia. They all hate that they have to ask you for money. They wouldn’t do it if education wasn’t all-important– these bright sparks’ only chance of reaching their full potential and making a self-sustaining, fulfilling future for themselves.

We have raised about a fifth of the $12,100 needed to keep both kids in college in the next academic year. If you can find $6 — the wages for two days work in Armenia– will you give it to Ruby and Erik? You can choose to contribute via Go Fund Me or FaceBook. This national book day let’s keep these noses in those books. Thank you.

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Home Comforts–and Ugly Reminders

I find myself on the same stretch of the Ravenhill Road where I had a flat thirty-five years ago. Then, I chose not to notice the ragged flags that shawled every lamppost, flapping damply in the wind. I ignored the murals glorifying terrorism on gable ends. Today it is rather a shock to find the same flags–red, white and blue; orange and purple–flying still. There is fresh paint on the UVF mural on the corner opposite the wee shop selling filled sodas, bacon baps and sausage rolls. They have an Ulster Fry to go. Can’t wait, but must: I am in quarantine for two weeks.

From the kitchen window, I can see the twin cranes of Harland and Wolff. The room that will be my office boasts a view of Napoleon’s nose. These reassuring landmarks are visible from almost every part of the city, forcing me to confront why I looked for a place to live only in South and East Belfast, and never considered North and West. I am more of a tribalist than I choose to acknowledge, I realise now I’m ‘home.’

Posted in Belfast, identity, Northern Ireland | 6 Comments

The Price of Peace.

Peace is ALWAYS something to be thankful for, and it ALWAYS comes at a price.

Last night, Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan, leader of the country’s Velvet Revolution which established democracy in 2018, and a man who himself fought for Artsakh in a previous war, signed a treaty with Azerbaijan and Russia to end hostilities and begin a new way forward. He had no choice. Azerbaijan, much bigger, much richer and backed by Turkey had made gains in the six weeks of this current combat. Pashinyan had to deal before more Armenians were wiped out, and before the few people still left in the enclave of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh were cut off from their kinsfolk. The families of soldiers and volunteers killed and injured–several of them close to me–can be proud that they were able to hold the Azerbaijani at bay at all, and that Artsakh has not been completely wiped off the map.

That said, the situation is far from ideal. Analyst Canadian-Armenian Raffi Elliott, a friend of mine, outlines it very well in his Facebook post from last night:

So by now most have heard that Nikol Pashinyan has signed a ceasefire, likely ending the war. The deal as it stands does not do us any favours. It means giving up large portions of Artsakh It means some instability It means Russian peacekeepers It means both Armenia and Azerbaijan will be closer into Russia’s pocket than ever. Ultimately we fought against a small dictatorship allied to a NATO-member dictatorship using foreign mercenaries and technology while our most important security ally stood back and watched us struggle. Despite our best efforts both in the battlefield and in the Diaspora—the world once again ignored us or stood by as we struggled for survival. The war took our young and the covid took our old, eventually it was just about preserving the lives of our brightest generation. This isn’t Nikol’s fault or the soldiers’ fault or someone else’s. This war was inevitable ever since both sides failed to compromise in the 1990s, and continued to do so until now. We all wanted to keep Artsakh at any cost but instead of building a strong economy and military we made excuses as oligarchs pissed away our potential. It is what it is. I know you’re disappointed—God knows I am. Go outside, scream at the sky or punch a pillow if you have to. Now: we still have a republic. We still have an army and an economy. Right now, Armenia needs you. Eventually this mess will be cleaned up and we will, as we’ve always had, live on. The goals now is to ensure that democratic and economic progress continues, that investments continue, that we put our faith in Armenia 🇦🇲 when it needs us most. We’ve survived much worse in our history.

We in the Western world order should feel ashamed. You, me, our governments and our international organizations–let down the 150,000 people of Artsakh, hounded and butchered out of their homes in the last six weeks. We have failed to support Armenia’s small democracy over two dictatorships. Six weeks was too long for a tiny country of 3 million people, crippled by poverty and pandemic, to stand alone against two powerful enemies. There is other blame to share around: Raffi is right that Armenia’s previous oligarch’s failed their people too, and that Russia, now playing the role of peacemaker, has (naturally) served its own ends, keeping Armenia firmly tied to its purse strings, even as Pashinyan has tried to build an autonomous republic, looking to China, Europe and Iran to build trade. This will not be the last we hear of Russian, Azeri and Turkish ambition in the region and beyond.

Now in Armenia, many who would prefer to fight on are turning against their PM. It is not for me to say, but I believe Pashinyan to be wise, strategic, transparent and passionate about the security and well-being of all Armenians. I hope the people who brought him to power through the revolution will continue to keep the faith. I am crying for the people of Armenia and share their fears for the future. Stick together my friends. I will stick with you.

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The day I went to Shushi

Today in Nagorno-Karabakh, there is a terrible battle for Shushi. The city high on a mountain is of great strategic importance in the war between Armenians and Azerbaijan/Turkey. In 2019, I was fortunate to visit Shushi and learn a little about the long history of the enclave Armenians call Artsakh. The city was peaceful then, not shelled and nearly empty as it is today. Please read below and learn a little more about this beautiful place and provide any humanitarian aid you can.https://www.himnadram.org/en

Peace Corps’ rule remained in force until my last day of service: no volunteers were to cross the border into Artsakh.  Ethnic Armenians living there had formed a breakaway state in 1991 in a stand-off with Azerbaijan. They, and the people of Armenia, saw the self-styled independent republic as an interim step, satisfactory until Baku relinquished its claim to the disputed territory. The dream was then for Artsakh to become a fully-fledged region of Armenia—a status it had held in pre-Christian times. Not even Armenia officially recognized the independence of Artsakh—because it already considered the land to be its own. I was very interested in all of this because of the parallels to disputes between Britain and Ireland over Northern Ireland where all the players were johnny-come-lately beginners compared to the warring factions in the Caucasus.

Artsakh was only forty minutes from Goris. I signed off my Peace Corps service in May 2019 and immediately planned a trip to the forbidden land.

‘Bring your passport, Liz jan. We will need to get paperwork at the border,’ said Ara.

I looked around as we waited for the border guard to handwrite our visas. Already the size of the landscape was vast and quite different from the misty, barren part of Syunik marz I lived in. All around were dark, forested mountains, fertile corn fields, and a big, bright blue sky.

 Just metres from the road, a cow was cleaning her minutes-old calf, licking it all over. We moved a little closer to take a look.

‘Hundreds of people died right here in the 1990s’ said Ara, breaking the spell.

From a nearby field, the sound of two men calling to each other as they worked to secure a hay load on the back of their truck.



‘There was shelling here and rockets. In the Nineties– and not all that long ago too. More people died here in the Four Day War in April 2016,’ Ara told me.

I knew this flare-up had been beyond the constant sniping that still took place every day where the territory bordered Azerbaijan. In 2016, the Russians had helped negotiate a ceasefire. The war had lasted less than a week but more than 500 people were said to have died. Peace was fragile in this part of the world.

‘The long war at the beginning of the ‘90s spilled over into Armenia too of course,’ said Ara.’ I remember watching shelling and fighting in the fields below our village. I remember the time four of our local shepherds disappeared – didn’t come home. They were found beheaded. Thousands of Armenians fled from Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan. They weren’t safe. Of course, all the Azerbaijanis – Muslim people we’d lived alongside quite happily for years – they had to leave Armenia too’.

‘Azerbaijan is so much bigger than this place and Armenia put together. How on earth did you win the war?’

‘Yes, only 150,000 people lived here then – there are fewer today of course – but our Armenian fighters were more strategic and more determined than the Azerbaijanis. We are chess players, Liz jan.’

There was pride in Ara’s voice.

He pointed out thin wires, threaded high across deep ravines and gorges.

‘The Azerbaijan pilots couldn’t see these wires. When they hit them, they crashed. Many of their pilots were Ukrainian – mercenaries the Azerbaijanis had hired to fight on their side. That’s definitely true. This might not be true, but it’s a great story: I heard that Armenian planes dropped bags of flour on the Azerbaijan soldiers. They thought the flour was a chemical weapon. Turned and ran, Liz jan. Turned and ran.’ Ara laughed.

‘Now look ahead. See that plateau ahead, and the wall of rock? The city of Shushi is on top of that rock. The Azerbaijanis controlled it at the time the war began. They lit truck tyres on fire and rolled them over the cliff edge to destroy Karintak village below. The name of the village means ‘under the rock.’ They also shot our people in their houses. Their bullets came through the rooves. People killed in their own kitchens. In their own beds.’


‘But the Armenians were too smart Liz jan. We started small fights in the villages on the plain – drew the enemy away from Shushi. Then thousands of Armenians stormed the city from the side with this steep gorge. They recaptured Shushi and the war was won. We celebrate it on the 9th of May Liz jan. It was a major, heroic turning point in the war.’

We parked the car and walked to the age of the cliff. A cuckoo sang. I was too confused to explore this as a metaphor.

In Shushi, we visited a small octagonal room in the basement of the white stone cathredral.

‘Stand here, Liz jan’ said Ara, pulling me into the centre of the room. ‘Now whisper’.

The sound echoed off the walls.

‘There was only one bishop here when Holy Saviour Cathedral was built in the 19th century Liz jan. He was alone, so he had no one to hear his confession. The builder helped him out. He made this room an echo chamber. Stand just under the hole in the roof, and your own breath and words will come back to you. The bishop could hear his own confession. Ingenious, isn’t it?’

I agreed it was.

On to Stepanakert. The capital city was delightful, clean, open, sunny, and built from white stone.  It seemed prosperous–near-new top-brand cars were parked in front of bright-looking shops.

How come this place looks so much better off than Goris? Than most of Armenia?’

Ara shrugged. ‘No idea, Liz jan. Eighty per cent of all the Republic’s bills are paid by the Armenian government. Artsakh is too small to be self-sustaining. But we will continue to support it until this land is ours again.’

We stopped at Stepanakert market to buy zhingalov hats, the delicious local flatbread filled with herbs. One of the bakers was napping at her stall, head resting on her folded arms. There were other women ready to meet our needs.

 ‘Amerikatsi, Amerikatsi’ they called, urging me to look in the direction of their bread boards and rolling pins.  We paid in Armenian drams—the only currency used in Artsakh–and ate our pan-griddled snack as we walked around the rest of the market.

‘Zhingalov hats was invented here, Liz jan. The ones made in Artsakh are bigger and better than anywhere else.’ I had thought nothing could beat the herb-stuffed flatbread I’d enjoyed at the sheep-shearing festival. But Ara was right—the ones in Artsakh were world-beating.

On the way out of the city, we stopped to take pictures at the Grandma and Grandpa –Tatik and Papik–monument, two ugly-to-me faces composed of giant red rock. The man face was tall, square and stately, the woman’s head squat and triangular, as though tented by a headscarf.  On her face, only the grandma’s eyes and nose were visible. The bottom third of the Tatik’s face was built in rock etched to look like a medical mask. Up until the 1920s or ‘30s it was common for Armenian women to keep their mouth and chin covered by a scarf. The colour of the scarf depended on whether or not the woman was married. I asked Ara why women young and old had been effectively gagged.

‘Just tradition,’ he said. ‘Tatik and Papik feature in Artsakh’s coat of arms, Liz jan. The real name of the monument is We are our mountains. It means our bodies are part of our land, that is why you see only the heads. The rock is red tuff. It was brought from Armenia when the monument was built in the ‘60s. There is none of that stone here.’

Ara told me that, for many people, a photo with the monument was the main reason to visit Artsakh. I declined the offer of my own souvenir snap. I was more interested in getting on the road to the ancient capital of Tigranakert. Named for an Armenian king in the days when the country had stretched from the Caspian to the Black and Mediterranean seas, the remains of this city fuelled Armenia’s claim that this land had always been theirs.

This prompted another question: ‘Why do the Azerbaijanis consider this land is theirs by right?’ History, I knew, always had at least two sides.

‘Stalin,’ said Ara. ‘In 1921 he decreed this land, and Nakhchivan would belong to Azerbaijan. Our country and Azerbaijan were briefly independent back then. Soon of course the Soviets annexed both our countries and, while we were all part of the USSR, there was no fighting. ‘

‘Then the Soviet left and the old disputes flared up again,’ I finished for him.

‘That’s right Liz jan.’

On the way to the pre-Christian capital, Ara pointed out the missile silos surrounding a 7th century limestone church on top of a steep hill overlooking a plain. 

‘A lot of fighting on this plain, Liz jan.’

‘How many people died altogether in the Nineties? Armenians, people from here, and Azerbaijanis?’

‘Maybe 25,000, Liz jan, and maybe more. And thousands of others displaced of course. And you will see casualties everywhere still today.’

The misery of the war stories was taking the shine off the day.

‘Have you nothing more cheerful to show me Ara jan?’ I asked

‘After Tigranakert Liz jan, I promise you.’

Posted in Armenia | 1 Comment

November’s Art for Artsakh

USE this link to buy: https://marigoldmoment.com/buy-liz-barrons-original-art/

Interested in providing humanitarian aid to the people of Armenia and Artsakh who have been bereaved, injured or displaced by the current war? All proceeds from Armenian landscapes sold here will be donated.

Concerned that a Liz Barron original acrylic would not work with your decor? Never mind: You can donate direct at https://www.himnadram.org/en, and keep the design integrity of your home intact. You can view all paintings for sale–from Armenia, Ireland and The Rest of the World–below, but remember you will need to click on this link to buy.

In November, all paintings will have complimentary mats/mounts, so that you can send them as gifts if you wish. Prices are fixed and pictures are sold first come, first served. Shipping to anywhere in the world is included in the price you pay.

I am truly amazed and grateful that so many people have bought or commissioned paintings. I am honoured to be able to do something that supports the people of Artsakh and Armenia this way. Thanks for looking and for buying.

Here is the link you need to buy: https://marigoldmoment.com/buy-liz-barrons-original-art/

Posted in Armenia | 5 Comments

Link to Liz Barron Originals


Thank you for your interest. I hope you are successful in securing the painting you like most.

Posted in Armenia | 4 Comments

Limited release: Liz Barron original acrylics

I am a pub singer of a painter. When it comes to drawing, I am a dad dancer. Perspective? I am the triangle player who misses her cue. In the world of amateur acrylics, I am rank. Nonetheless, at 12 noon ET, I am having a sale of some of my original and recent creations.

Lovers of fine art should move on. Those who love a splash of colour, a slap-happy brush stroke and my interpretations of everyday landscapes should check here for the link I will post on Friday October 2, at 12 noon ET. https://marigoldmoment.com/buy-liz-barrons-original-art/

Please note that profits from Armenian landscapes (everything but mailing costs) will be donated to support the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia at this difficult time.

Thanks to everyone who invested (ahem!) last month, and to those who commissioned paintings. Thanks for checking back tomorrow.

Fixed, affordable prices include shipping (unframed). First come, first served. Each piece is original, unique, idiosyncratic and signed.

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Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh: an outsider’s guide.

Born in Belfast, I don’t like to write about disputes over territory; conflicts where opponents have different religions; and fights where no-one can agree when history starts. I despise situations where power-brokers act only in their own economic or strategic interests, without thought for the value of human life and dignity. I have seen the pain and chaos all of this causes.

Unfortunately, an upbringing in Northern Ireland in the 1970s is a horribly good preparation for discussing what is now happening in Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh. (You see: this part of the South Caucasus uses the back slash just as it is used in Derry/Londonderry–to respect two names used by stakeholders with different points of view). You may not wish to know, but there are good reasons for people in Stroke City and far beyond to care what is happening now in a small enclave far away.

Let’s start with a map:

Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh is the land coloured lavender on this map.

Just over thirty years ago, the 150,000 ethnic Armenians who live on this beautiful, fertile land declared independence from Azerbaijan. A bloody war ensued, with the people of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh supported by their kinfolk in neighbouring Armenia. Azerbaijan did not want to let go of land gifted to it by Soviet Administrators not even one hundred years before. Ideally, the people of the self-styled republic wanted to become part of a sovereign Armenia, a country which, like Azerbaijan, was newly free from Soviet rule. Independence was seen as a short-term solution.

Size isn’t everything

You see how much bigger Azerbaijan is than Armenia and Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh combined? It is also much richer, endowed with oil and gas important to customers in Europe and beyond. Common sense would say that Azerbaijan would have won in the war in the early 1990s. They did not. The ethnic Armenians strategy was better, and the people of the enclave and Armenia itself cared passionately about the fight in a way neighbouring soldiers did not. More than 30,000 people died. Ethnic cleansing ensued. Today, there are no ethnic Armenians in Azerbaijan. There are no Azerbaijanis in Armenia.

Why two names?

Armenia and the people of the enclave prefer Artsakh, a name for this land dating back more than two thousand years, to a time when Greater Armenia stretched between the Caspian, Mediterranean and Black Seas. Azerbaijanis call the territory by a Turkish name: Nagorno-Karabakh. The name means black garden, a reference to the dark loam of the terrain. Over millennia, as the shape of Greater Armenia shrunk and changed, today’s disputed land was claimed at different times by different armies, including in their time the Persians and the Turks. Did I mention that Iran lies to the South of the area in the map above, and Turkey to the West?

What is happening now?

In the last four days, Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, has been attacking the enclave. The ethnic Armenian death toll of civilians and Armenian soldiers is 90. Many of the dead soldiers are not even 20 years old. Reports today say that there have been 400 Azerbaijani losses. In the Armenian town of Goris where I lived 2017-19, people are taking in refugees and the hospital is treating casualties from the enclave. There are reports that a Turkish F-16 has been flying in Armenian airspace, and that Syrians are being paid as border guards by Azerbaijan– Aliev knows that deaths will not be popular in his own population and mercenaries were commonly used by Azerbaijan in the 1990s.

Armenia did not seek this fight, does not believe there can be a military solution, and seeks the support of the OCSE Minsk Group and other international bodies to stop the fighting and restore international law. Just like Northern Ireland. But if they have to, every Armenian will fight to the death for Artsakh’s right to self-determination. Why? Because if the republic falls and its people are killed or scattered, Armenia itself will be next. Look at the map, and imagine the squeeze between Turkey and Azerbaijan.

A century ago, as Azerbaijan got control of Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey launched an attack on ethnic Armenians living on its sovereign territory to the West of today’s fight–families who had lived there for many generations. 1.5 million were killed and many more fled. Today there are many millions more Armenians living outside the region, than there are in Armenia itself–a country of only 3 million people. Armenians are terrified and angry, fearing that another genocide is underway.

What’s it to You?

Destabilization in the area is dangerous for us all. Turkey seeks to be a superpower. Russia, selling arms to both Azerbaijan and Armenia, is an ally of Armenia in order to keep Erdogan in check–but Putin has yet to make a move. Macron spoke out today in favour of a ceasefire–France, like the U.S. and Russia is a key member of the Minsk group. Trump has said and done nothing–yet. Iran waits and watches. The South Caucasus is where the Christian and Muslim worlds meet.

I have called both WV Senators’ office and my representative. A mix of Democrats and Republicans, their staffers were polite but mystified. All the other calls they are getting are about the Debate and the Election, I bet. I care about those things, and many more, but I do not think any of us can afford to turn our back on Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh. Please do what you can to support a return to peace in the region, and the well-being of the people under fire.

I am not an historian, or a politician. I believe what I have written above is factual, and I have done my best to be even-handed in my language. If I have made a mistake, please do let me know.

Posted in Armenia | 3 Comments

The Artist formerly known as…

I have been taking online classes in acrylic painting during lockdown (check out Racquel Keller’s classes here) and have found it an unexpected joy. I was never considered artistic at school or at home, but I have always loved colour and of course it is pleasing when people compliment me on what I have created.

Unlikely as it seems, it is now possible to buy a Liz Barron original on this site. Should you wish, please check out https://marigoldmoment.com/buy-liz-barrons-original-art/

Posted in Armenia | 3 Comments