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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mass Exodus Makes For Missing Mechanics

YEREVAN, Armenia -- We were making good progress until we got to Vanadzor. Then, 20 kilometers outside the town once famed for being the glue manufacturing capital of the Soviet Union, a humanitarian aid vehicle the size of a house thundered passed, spraying gravel all over our car and shattering the windshield.

We pulled over beside a snowdrift and began to smash the glass out of the windshield. Dusk was falling and with it a flurry of thick snowflakes.

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At the next village, we asked the boy at the bus stop whether he knew any mechanics. No, Karen said, but his Uncle Hamlet had six old Nivas in his backyard. He used them to keep his chickens warm in the winter. One of them might still have a windshield we could have.

We followed the long, winding path to Uncle Hamlet's farm. By now, the snow was falling steadily. At the farmhouse, there was no sign of Uncle Hamlet, and anyway, the six Nivas in his yard had lost their windshields years ago. Only one of them still had wheels.

"There might be a mechanic in Ashtarak," Karen said. "It's only 25 kilometers."

It took a while to find anyone in Ashtarak. The whole place was deserted. Eventually, we discovered an old man selling apples out of his kitchen window.

"Ashtarak used to have a mechanic," he said. "But he moved to California last year. Took his whole family with him. Everyone leaves Armenia these days."

There was nothing for it but to continue on windshield-less to Yerevan, where we were told a mechanic called Rubik might be able to help.

"I'll see what I can find," Rubik said. He rummaged in the dark cavern at the back of his workshop and returned moments later with a brand new windshield. Within minutes, he had whipped off the old frame and installed the new glass.

I tried to imagine what our mechanic in Baku would have done. Every time we take the car in, he tells us he'll need to keep it for a week to install new wheel axles or an entire ventilation system.

Still, at least you can find a mechanic in Azerbaijan. Estimates show that a quarter of the population has left Armenia since 1991; everyone I meet tells me they have relations living in France or Greece or the United States.

Industry has dried up in Armenia, unemployment is rife and the few who haven't left depend on money sent home to them from abroad.

"Where are you from?" Rubik asked us as we settled up.

"England," we said.

"Oh, I've got a brother living in England," he said. "I'm going to visit him next week."

Chloe Arnold is a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.