Kardashians leave Armenia with celebrity buzz

By Paul Kirby
BBC News

media captionRapper Kanye West is mobbed by fans after jumping into a lake during a gig in Armenia.

Reality TV show sisters Kim and Khloe Kardashian and their entourage have left Armenia, but not before creating quite a splash.

For a nation about to mark the centenary of the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman soldiers, it was both a diversion from a sombre anniversary and a chance to raise the profile of the event internationally.

The final, high-profile moment of their visit did not involve sisters Kim and Khloe, but Kim Kardashian's husband and rapper Kanye West, who gave a concert in the capital Yerevan late on Sunday and jumped into a lake mobbed by fans.

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image captionBefore they left, the sisters broadcast an edition of their TV show Keeping up with the Kardashians

The free gig was the defining moment of the tour, for Richard Giragosian of the independent Regional Studies Center in Yerevan.

"For a country like Armenia, with closed borders and lacking in diversity, this was an important opportunity for young Armenians to embrace an American rap star and for him to embrace them," he told the BBC.

Armenian TV channels went as far as dubbing him "our nation's son-in-law".

media captionArmenians react to the arrival of two of the Kardashian sisters

From the moment they arrived on 8 April, Kim and Khloe, Kim's husband Kanye West and their daughter North West were mobbed by fans and paparazzi, as they documented every step of their way on social media.

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The following day they were guests of Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, and immediately Kim Kardashian drew attention to the centenary of the mass killings in World War One on social media, writing #NeverForget on her Instagram account.

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image captionCritics argued that PM Hovik Abrahamyan (3rd R) had sought to make political capital from the visit

Friday brought the most poignant moment of the trip, when the sisters laid flowers at Yerevan's genocide memorial on the outskirts of the capital.

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image captionPosting a picture on social media, Kim Kardashian described an "emotional day at the genocide museum"

"What was surprising was that their visit alone did more in terms of international publicity and putting a spotlight on the centenary than the government could ever have done." says Mr Giragosian.

"We have an influx of foreign visitors next week, so the fact the Kardashians came earlier resulted in doubling or even trebling international media coverage."

Armenia says up to 1.5 million people lost their lives as the Ottoman Empire fell apart in 1915-16, although Turkey says the number was far fewer and rejects the term genocide.

Thousands were massacred, while many other victims died of starvation and thirst when they were deported en masse to desert regions.

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image captionKanye West (L) was praised by Armenian TV as the nation's "son-in-law"

Pope Francis, in the presence of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, angered Turkey on Sunday by speaking of the tragedy as "widely considered the first genocide of the 20th Century".

The Yerkir website in Armenia praised both the Pope and the Kardashians for "doing the same job", in boosting efforts to have the killings recognised as genocide.

The Kardashians, whose late father's family came from Armenia, are part of a large diaspora estimated at more than eight million, with big populations in Russia, the US and France.

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image captionYoung Armenians were thrilled by the visiting celebrities
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image captionCrowds followed the reality TV stars until they left Armenia

Armenian media were largely thrilled by the celebrity visit, with public TV devoting an eight-minute report to the visit, which included a trip to the family's ancestral home at Gyumri.

But not everyone was impressed. Pro-opposition paper Zhamanak complained that every issue in Armenia was being viewed through the prism of the Kardashians.

But while Armenia is set to return to normality, the Kardashians' trip is not yet over. The next destination to witness their inimitable style is Israel.

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