The elderly woman began to cry as soon as the wheels touched the asphalt.
Small personal tears, not intended for public display, trickled from her eyes as they snatched repeated glances of the landscape outside the cabin of the aircraft arriving in the midnight blackness at Zvartnots airport.
Her daughter in the next seat caressed her mother’s hand in sympathy as she too stared intently out of the window. At the start of the flight some five hours earlier, she had been anxious to have my window seat and in these few seconds as we taxied to a halt on the runway it was clear why.
I don’t know how long the two women had been away from their motherland but they had clearly counted each day until this moment of return. Armenia had been a dark blur during the descent but now it was solid beneath their feet, proof that they were home at last.
For those who go back and forth regularly to Armenia, it is easy to forget the intensity of the dramas playing out in the hearts of some of the passengers on every flight. This is more than business or tourism for them, it is the sweet pleasure of return to a life before whatever it was that took them away. It is remembrance made real.
As these people dissolve into the embrace of family members gathered outside the arrivals hall, the opposite drama plays out nightly in departures. The flow of people out of Armenia, if no longer a flood, remains a steady stream, driven by economic necessity or drawn by hope of better opportunities.
The effect is visible throughout society. The café and consumer culture that has grown up in central Yerevan owes its vibrancy in no small part to the inflow of money to Armenia from family members abroad, now estimated by the Central Bank to be $50 million a month.
The flow of dollars has helped the dram to rise in value by ten per cent against the dollar over the past year, making life cheaper for Armenians who have jobs here. Property prices are soaring too, fuelled heavily by money repatriated by Armenians working mainly in Russia.
The struggle for survival over the past decade has left its mark in other ways. An extreme individualism has grown up, the child of the every-man-for-himself years, which sees personal satisfaction or ambition as the only legitimate impulses.
Two twenty-something Armenians, bright, educated, and hard-working, told me during a dinner conversation this week that the most important thing was to pursue their own business and career interests.
One had experience of working in a government department, another had ambitions to enter the diplomatic sphere. They were cynical about notions of public service or a greater social good, since everyone they knew in government was running their own personal businesses and was interested only in what their position could contribute to those.
A third twenty-something, actively engaged with local government, tells me that she is ambitious to become mayor of her home city one day. She is clever, western-educated, honest and resourceful, everything you would wish to see more of in Armenia’s public life.
She, like the other two, sees only self-interest and venality being practiced by those who currently hold positions of power. It makes her doubt that she could ever challenge the system and then to wonder whether she should bother.
I hope she does. I hope the other two get angry rather than cynical about the state of their country and resolve not to resign themselves to it.
Then the tide of migration out of Armenia may reverse, carried in by many more individual trickles of tears on late-night flights into Zvartnots airport.