Sunday, 11 November 2012

Day 226 – On our way to an internationally unrecognised state. (Nagorno Karabakh visas in Yerevan, Armenia)

Our first priority on arrival in Armenia’s capital city, Yerevan, was to visit the Embassy of Nagorno Karabakh (also known as RMK – Republic of Mountainous Karabakh, NKR – Nagorno Karabakh Republic and Artsakh Republic). We found it easily, parked outside the front, and carried our passports to the front gate. An A4 piece of paper was taped to the fence telling us in Armenian, Russian and English, that to enter we should press “1*” on the number pad. Denner did, and we waited. Nothing happened, so he pressed it again. We waited again. Perhaps he was pressing the buttons wrong, so Ben stepped up and gave it a shot. Again we waited, and again nobody came for us. After a few minutes Ben decided to give the gate a push, and lo and behold, it swung open easily. Oops.

We passed the diplomatically plated cars and ascended the steps leading to the front of the somewhat dilapidated, but surprisingly elegant red-brick building. Inside reminded me a little of an old house that has been turned into an obscure museum, with yellowing pictures hung sporadically along the walls of the entrance corridor, a majestic but frayed carpet running along the dusty floorboards, and a sturdy mahogany desk tucked away in the corner. A man appeared from a side room, addressed us with “visa?” and led us to a door at the end of the corridor which he knocked on and opened for us.

Inside a young lady sat at one desk while a motherly woman at another gestured us towards her. She asked us to fill in application forms at the previously mentioned mahogany desk, and gave us some maps to look at as reference for the “where do you intend to visit?” question. Despite the fact that there was a spot to stick a photo on, she told us not to worry about that. When we’d answered all the questions, we took the forms and our passports back to her office and sat down while she looked through our intentions. After giving us a little advice on where we should visit, she asked us to visit the accountant to pay 3,000 Dram ($7.50) each.

When we returned with our receipt we were told to come back at 3pm (it was now about midday) to collect our visas, then as an afterthought she checked whether we want a group visa or four individual visas, and whether we wanted it in our passports or not. She seemed quite surprised when we said we’d like individual visas if possible and that in our passports was fine. We are aware that with a Karabakh visa we can’t travel to Azerbaijan, but by the time any of us go back there we’ll have new passports anyway. We thought there could be a problem entering Turkey with Karabakh visas, but a friend recently managed it with no problems and we’ve done a bit of research and decided it’s probably not an issue. Considering she now had to make four visas instead of just one, we were asked to return at 4pm instead of the original 3pm.

What a peculiar concept – an Embassy offering to issue visas outside of your passport. It’s hard for us to imagine coming from a nation that is not recognised by the rest of the world and people can be caused problems just by visiting. And being offered a group visa seems like a ridiculous idea – I have to admit it is a little hard to take a visa seriously when multiple people can choose to share it, just for the sake of ease.

We returned just before the designated 4pm and entered the same office as before. Our motherly visa issuer greeted us with a smile and took her glasses off to look up at us. Our visas sat at the front of her desk, and she picked them up to hand over to us. “I see you like travelling a lot. You have visited many interesting places.” Well yes, we have. “You usually travel together?” We explained that most of the visas in our current passports are from this trip, which we are doing as a group, all the way from Australia to Scotland. She seemed impressed by this and wished us well on our travels. A lovely lady giving us visas and actually understanding let along taking an interest in our trip is a nice little change. We left feeling very satisfied with Karabakh so far and looking forward to visiting the country itself.

Interestingly, everyone we came across who worked in that Embassy (the lady who dealt with us, her young female assistant, and the two women in the accountancy office) were females, except for the male receptionist who initially greeted us. How’s that for a role reversal.

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