About 20 years ago, I was invited to attend a conference on journalism in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. When I told security in Heathrow where I was going, they said they had never heard of the place. Armenia had, however, been through three huge upheavals - the collapse of the Soviet Union, a massive earthquake and a war with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh - so it had been in the news.
In Yerevan, I was given the worst hotel room I have ever had. And I have been in some bad hotels. The country was in an awful state then. The bath in my room looked as if it had not been cleaned for years. There was poverty on the streets and dilapidation in the public buildings.
On the first night of the conference, we were all taken to a concert in the Khachaturian Hall. The carpet was threadbare, the toilets so pungent that it was difficult to enter.
I was used to seeing extreme poverty in hot countries, but not in a wintry European climate. One day, an old woman approached me on the street to sell me a doll she had made with sticks and cord.
The other journalists at that time were working for the equivalent of £30 a month and yet covering these huge stories and working in a vulnerable context, wary of neighbours on all sides.
There was Turkey, which had expelled Armenians and killed massive numbers in 1915. Russia was a worry and Azerbaijan an enemy with whom the country had unfinished business. And the place was so poor. How would it even lift itself up?
There were contrasts. A taxi driver drove me across the city in a rattling Lada with no seat belts, but Pizza Hut had just opened in town.
One day, I met the wife of an MP who had been murdered in a gun attack on the parliament. She was still grief-stricken and agonising over the details of the killing. There were things she needed to know.
One day, we went to the seat of the Armenian Orthodox Church at Etchmiadzen. We were shown the artefacts of their spiritual history, including the spear that had pierced the side of Jesus. It was big. It would have done the job.
And we were received by the head of the Church, their Pope, Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians. He took a particular interest in me when I said I was from Northern Ireland. He hoped that I would go home and tell my fellow countryfolk to mind their manners. Some had caused grave offence by bringing relief after the earthquake and, at the same time, trying to convert people.
On our return to the city, I got separated from my translator. The bus took us up a hill to a cemetery. I hadn't been told about this part of the itinerary, but I was relaxed about it.
In the cemetery, everyone got off the bus and, as we did so, each of us was presented with a large gladiola, then directed by soldiers towards a military grave. The line of people in front of me approached the grave and each in turn laid the gladiola on it and gave a reverential bow.
A TV camera crew filmed me approaching the grave and paying my homage to someone I knew nothing about. I know more about him now. His name was Monte Melkonian. He was born in California of an Armenian family.
He travelled to Beirut and joined a militia there, which fought in the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s.
He was imprisoned for a time in France. He turned up in Serbia. And when Armenia got independence, he joined the Armenian army as a high-ranking officer and led much of the fighting against Azerbaijan.
The interesting detail that popped up when I was reading about Melkonian was that, when he was in Serbia, he passed himself off as Irish with the name Timothy Sean McCormack. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.
I am wary of coming to judgment of other peoples' conflicts. This comes largely from experience of seeing how facile are the judgments others make of the recent history of Northern Ireland. I just don't want other people to think me as superficial, as I found many of those who came here.
A small example: a Danish reporter asked me to introduce him to people he might interview about joyriders and kneecappings.
I took him to meet the mother of a young man in west Belfast who had been shot dead in a stolen car by the RUC. One of his questions was: "During the Troubles, do you have to warn your children not to go into the street and play with Protestants?"
The mother's jaw dropped. It's the little details that trip you up.
The reporter might have read a lot of books and articles to prepare himself for this trip, but he had missed something fundamental: there were no Protestants in those streets for the children to play with.
I took a French woman friend up the Falls to photograph the aftermath of a riot during the hunger strikes. She said: "I just don't understand why the British insist on staying. Is there mineral wealth here?"
At the end of the conference in Yerevan, there was a proposal that we issue a statement on behalf of the conference, making an appeal to Russia over some issue that I knew I didn't have a grasp of.
So, I asked them to leave my name off it. Which must have seemed cowardly and self-important. But my evangelical fellow countrymen had already blundered in and disgraced themselves.
As Armenia and Azerbaijan go to war again, my sympathies go most readily to the Armenian people I met. But I don't know the rights and wrongs of the dispute between them, only that the likely solution - if there's to be one - will be a compromise short of what each side wants.
In the meantime, I'd like to rededicate the gladiola I laid on the grave of the warrior Monte Melkonian McCormack to the old woman with the doll, to the musicians who played in the ragged hall, to the journalists who covered war and turmoil, to people who keep going as things fall apart and to Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, who was right to accost a man from Northern Ireland to tell him to warn his neighbours not to be poking their noses into affairs they don't understand.