Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook- Armavir Marz

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Armavir Marz is located in the Arax (Yeraskh in historical times) river valley, and has some of the richest and most fertile land in Armenia, made up of the three Soviet regions of Ejmiatsin (the basin of the lower Kasagh river), Armavir (the Metsamor, formerly Kara Su or Sevjur --"Blackwater" -- basin), and Baghramian, the rocky western upland. Jewel in the touristic crown is Ejmiatsin, the mother church of Armenia, with its treasury and outlying early medieval churches, including the ruined Zvartnots Cathedral. The Sardarapat battle monument includes a splendid, recently refurbished ethnographic museum worth a separate visit. The Urartian/Hellenistic city of Armavir/Argishtihinili and fortress of Aragats, and the early Iron Age site/museum of Metsamor, are of considerable archaeological significance, though somewhat mysterious to non-specialists.

Inhabited since the Neolithic period, and of great importance in Urartian and Hellenistic times (Armavir and Yervandashat were ancient Armenian capitals), under Mongol, Turkish and Persian occupation these fertile river lands were too tempting to the conquerors, who pushed the Armenian population into the foothills. Only around Ejmiatsin, where the Armenian church held on to rich estates, did the Armenian people retain a majority in the Arax valley before the 20th century population transfers. Thus, medieval Armenian remnants are fairly sparse. Nor has Russian/Soviet rule been kind to the monuments of Armenia's subsequent Persian overlords.

Though flat, the country is intersected by streams, ponds and canals, with rich bird life. Swifts dart along the road at evening, and storks soar sternly overhead.

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Ejmiatsin and Environs (Section 1; Map D)

Leaving Yerevan on the airport road, a left turn at the light just after the huge traffic circle leads to the village of Argavand. Take the right fork at the sign "Customs Warehouse" and immediately look right. Standing on its own is a substantial faceted stone funerary tower, one of the handful of significant Islamic monuments remaining intact in Armenia. The lengthy Arabic frieze inscription dated to 1413 begins with a famous Sura from the Koran and commemorates Pir Hussein son of Sa'ad, a somewhat self-satisfied tribal lord in Armenia during the brief period after the death of Timur Lenk when Kara Yusuf, leader of the Turkmen Karakoyunlu (Black Sheep) tribal confederation, was supreme ruler of much of Timur's Persian empire. Pir Budaq was Kara-Yusuf's son, who briefly shared the throne with his father. The Karakoyunlu got mixed reviews in Armenian accounts, and were in any case soon driven out by the Akkoyunlu, or White Sheep, a rival confederation.

In the name of Allah gracious and merciful! Allah -- there is no god besides him, alive, real; neither drowsiness nor sleep can seize Him, He owns everything in the Heavens and on the Earth. Who will plead, except with His permission? He knows what was before them and what will be after them, while they perceive nothing from His knowledge other than He wishes. His throne embraces the heavens and the earth, and He is not burdened by guarding them. Indeed Great and High is He.
Ordered to build this blessed tomb (kubba) the greatest, the noblest, abundant in generosity and magnanimity, the support of kings and sultans, refuge for the weak and the poor, guardian of scientists and those who seek knowledge, aid to the poor and wayfarers, the glory of the state and the faith, Emir Pir-Hussein, son of the late absolved Emir elevated to His [Allah's] patronage, the most merciful Emir Sa'ad, -- may the soil lie light upon him -- in the days of reign of the Great Sultan, the most generous Khakan, the Sultan of Sultans in the East and the West, the aid of the state and the faith, Pir Budaq Khan and Yusuf Noyon, -- may Allah perpetuate their power, on the fifteenth of Radzhab of the year 816 [October 11, 1413].
Zvartnots Ruins

Back on the airport road, next is the village of Parakar (4816 population, with gypsum mine, S. Mariam Astvatsatsin, S. Harutyun church of 1855). Next is Musaler (2340 p, named for the heroic resistance at Musa Dagh (Mt. Moses) in Turkey), with an annual celebration of their final resue by the French with 40 massive pots of harissa which are free to all, and other festivities around the Musa Ler monument in late September. The next villages are Ptghunk (1355 p) and Zvartnots =70= (40 09.62n x 044 20.25e) ("Place of Angels"). Marked on the highway (S) by an ornamental gateway and backward-looking eagle, the massive, centrally planned church of [armo5_zvartnots.html Zvartnots S. Grigor Lusavorich]* would have been a marvel in any case, though scholars disagree on how to restore the ruined foundations. The wedding-cake restoration in most tourist books, three stories high with gallery, is unprecedented and probably incorrect. The church was built by Katholikos Nerses III (641-662) to house the relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator, presumably where he converted King Trdat/Tiridates in 301 or (more likely) 314 AD. Beyond the church, which shows signs of North Syrian influence and which has some interesting sculpted decorations, are remains of Nerses' palace and a winepress, with a tiny (closed) museum. Behind the winepress is a Chalcolithic tell. In front of the museum is a 7th c. cuneiform inscription of Urartian King Rusa II commemorating the construction of a canal from the Hrazdan ("Ildaruni") River.


The <A HREF=armo5_echmiadzin.html>Monastery of Surp Ejmiatsin</A>** ("The Descent of the Only-Begotten" in traditional etymology) =85+= (40 09.70n x 044 17.53e) is surrounded by the city of the same name, now officially renamed Vagharshapat (51280 p) after its 2nd century AC founder, King Vagharshak (117-140). The city may also be identical with Kainepolis ("New City") founded as a replacement for the ruined Artashat by King Sohaemus/Tigran, who was twice installed on the throne by Roman armies, first by Antoninus Pius (lasting from 144-161 AC) and then by Marcus Aurelius (164-186). Two Roman inscriptions, now in the State Historical Museum, document the presence of a Roman garrison in Ejmiatsin, the remote edge of Rome's military extension to the Caucasus. One of them was put up by a tribune of the 15th Legion in memory of his wife and daughter. It was left in ruins by Persian troops in 364-369 The city's common name in early modern times was Üch-Kilise or "Three Churches," named for the most prominent features of the local landscape.

Ejmiatsin Cathedral

Entrance to the monastery is by turning left from the main traffic circle inside the town. The Mother Temple (Mayr Tachar) was begun in the 4th century, built on the ruins of a pagan cult site, but it has been heavily restored through the centuries, most thoroughly in the 17th c. The basilical composition of the original temple was changed to cross-shaped one with the central dome in 483. At the beginning of the seventh century the building's wooden dome, probably octohedral and shaped like the roof of the Armenian peasant home was replaced by a stone one. This composition of the cathedral has come down to our day almost unchanged. In the 17th century (1653-1658), a new cupola and a three-tier belfry were built, the latter in front of the western entrance to the cathedral. The interior murals, created by the Armenian painter Nagash Ovnatan in 1720, were restored and elaborated upon by his grandson, Ovnatan Ovnatanian. in 1782-1786. In 1955-1956, the interior murals of the cathedral and of the belfry were renewed by a group of Soviet artists under the leadership of L. Durnovo. The monastery has been seat of the Katholikos in the 4th and 5th centuries and again since 1441. As such, and as the seat of the miraculous relics of the Armenian church -- the Lance, the hand of St. Gregory the Illuminator, the hand of the Apostle Thaddeus, a finger of St. Jude, a drop of St. Hripsime's blood, etc. -- it came to control vast estates and received rich gifts from around the Armenian world. The Treasury, which houses some of this largesse, and steps down to the fire temple, are reached through the church, right of the altar. English-speaking deacons are available as guides, but contributions are expected. Opposite the entrance to the church and through the arch is the Palace of the Katholikos, with a smaller treasury not open to the public. At the foot of the arch is a guard who you need to ask to see the great Alex Manougian Museum. This museum houses an impressive collection of primarily non-secular art as well as a very colorful sampling of the gifts Katholicos Vazgen received from around the world during his leadership. Among the various museum exhibits are gorgeous church attires embroidered with gold and pearls, printed curtains, embroidered coverlets. crosses, croziers, all kinds of ritual vessels of silver gold, ivory, adorned with filigree work and jewels. Most of these articles date back to the l7th-19th centuries. Some of the exhibits of Echmiadzin monastery are put on display in the monastery's garden, notably the khachkars from all over Armenia and old <A HREF=armo5_jugha.html>Jugha</A>. There is a rebuilt theological school (Chemaran) on the grounds.

Ejmiatsin has received many eminent visitors over the centuries. The Reverends Smith and Dwight, after a chilly welcome based on the misapprehension that they were on the same baleful errand as their missionary colleagues in Shushi, spent four days over November 19-23, 1830, as far as they knew the first Americans ever to come there. They described the walled monastery and the town itself: "a crowded collection of mud cabins, perhaps 500 in number." They never met the aging Katholikos Eprem, but had a pleasant conversation with his secretary Hovhannes, the only monk of the place who knew Russian. They noted snidely the wealth of the decor: "The protestant Chardin and the papal Tournefort unite in testifying that much of this wealth has come from the pope in the form of bribes for the conversion of the Katholikos; and now remains a monument of the credulity of the one, and the deception of the other." Visiting a bishop's apartments, Smith wrote, "Everything had an air of ease, if not of luxury, little corresponding with the ideas usually entertained of the cell of a monk, and confirming what we in other ways learned, that the leading inmates of this establishment practice few of the self-denials for which their profession is reputed."

The French/Russian scholar Marie-Felicite Berge shivered for the better part of 40 days in Ejmiatsin in January 1848, a prisoner of that winter's extreme cold. He provided a detailed description of the manuscript collection, drawing from the first catalogue prepared at the insistence of then-Archbishop Nerses of Ashtarak. Berge reported that outside the Cathedral, S of the bell tower was an inscription in Greek, Persian and English marking the cenotaph of Lt. Col. Sir John MacDonald, who expired in Tabriz in 1830 as envoy of the British East India company to the Shah of Persia. In 1830 according to Shopen, Ejmiatsin housed the Katholikos, 12 archbishops and bishops, 26 archimandrites and monks, 14 archdeacons, 9 protodeacons, and eight acolytes, half the monastic population of the former Khanate of Yerevan. British Colonel Herbert Chermside visited Ejmiatsin in 1888 and wrote, "I heard great complaints as to the profligacy of the celibate Bishops and monks of Etchmiadzin. In Turkey the Armenians have a safeguard against this in their habit of surrounding and surprising houses where the ecclesiastics are supposed to be taking advantage of their privileges to debauch the women, but this species of lynch law is not allowed by the police in Russia."

S. Hripsime Church

There are three other major early churches in town: First is <A HREF=armo5_hripsime.html>S. Hripsime*</A> Church of 618 =75= (40 10.05n x 044 18.62e), built to the right of the main road on the traditional site of this martyr's tomb -- traditionally, she and her virgin followers came escaping persecution in Rome; her relics were allegedly pilfered in the 17th century by two Latin monks, but then recovered, except for fragments which by 1830 had reached churches in Venice, Goa in India, Nakhichevan, and Galata in Constantinople. <IMG SRC=pics/picm/th_20000420-gayane-frontview.jpg alt="S. Gayane Church" align=right><A HREF=armo5_gayane.html>S. Gayane*</A> church =35= (40 09.04n x 044 17.55e) of 630 was also built on the site of Gayane's martyrdom. <A HREF=armo5_shoghakat.html>Shoghakat</A> =20= church of 1694 was built by Prince Aghamal Shorotetsi on the site of an early chapel to one of S. Hripsime's companions. Near Shoghakat is a small, ruined single-aisle chapel of the 5-6th c. Because the Armavir diocese, founded in 1996 on creation of the marz, has no church or bishop's residence in the marz capital of Armavir city, the Bishop currently operates out of Ejmiatsin's S. Astvatsatsin church (1767). In 1998 there were only eight working churches and 13 priests to serve Armavir Marz's official population of 315,000.

Vagharshapat also claims a hotel, the museums of local artists Manuk Abeghian and Hovhannes Hovhannisian, and the gallery of Khoren Harutian. Just S of Ejmiatsin is the tell of Teghut, a Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age settlement excavated and published by archaeologist Rafik Torosian.

About four km S of Ejmiatsin, about 150 m W of the main S road to Margara just before a railroad embankment, is a low hill behind a little hamlet, surrounded by an iron fence (gaps in NE side). This is the Chalcolithic (late 4th Mill. BC) through Hellenistic (4th-1st c. BC) site of Mokhrablur ("Ash Hill"). There are 8 meters of deposits representing 12 distinct habitation layers. Very little is visible, beyond one huge stone block and a wide range of pottery fragments. The Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia makes the daring claim that Mokhrablur's central temple, which they say dates to the 10th c. but actually seems to be of the 1st half of the 3rd millennium BC, was the earliest known example of monumental stone architecture in the Soviet Union.

North from Zvartnots are: Norakert (2503 p) and Baghramyan (2363 p), founded 1947, named in honor of Hero of the Soviet Union and later Marshal Hovhannes (Ivan) Baghramyan (born in Chardakhlu village of Elisavetpol, now Ganca [Gyanja] region in Azerbaijan in 1897). The village has a church and S. Sargis shrine built 1997. Further E are Aygek (1103 p), founded in 1946 to house immigrants from Iran, and Merdzavan (2722 p), founded in 1947 and home of various agricultural institutes.

South of Zvartnots are Voskehat (2197 p), and Arevashat (1413 p) with a church and 19th c. Tukh Manuk ("Dark Baby") shrine.

[#section2]The Northeast Corner -- Aghavnatun and Targmanchats (Section 2; Map D)

At the entrance to Ejmiatsin, the main highway angles right to bypass the city. The first paved road on the right leads to a tall stone pillar, a monument erected in 1833 in the presence of the visiting Czar Nicholas I to commemorate the 1131 Russian soldiers who fell nearby at the so-called battle of Oshakan on August 17, 1827 "defending Holy Ejmiatsin" against the Persian army. In April 1827, the Russian army, accompanied by the energetic Archbishop Nerses of Ashtarak (the future Katholikos Nerses V), had occupied the Holy See, which had been since 1822 in moribund condition, the unworldly Katholikos Eprem having taken refuge in Karabakh and then Haghpat Monastery (already in Russian territory) to avoid voracious Persian debt collectors. A large Persian army under Abbas Mirza, son of the Shah of Persia, was advancing against the walled but sparsely-garrisoned monastery, when General Krasovskii, dividing his forces (which included Armenian auxiliaries), rushed to the defense, cutting his way through the Persians at enormous loss, while Nerses brandished the Holy Spear from the battlements. Though Krasovskii was criticized for losing most of his force, his action may well have saved the life of the pro-Russian Nerses, who had already in 1810 narrowly escaped being blown apart by one of Hassan Khan's cannon in retribution for his complaints of the Church's ill-treatment at Persian hands. The battle also spawned an Armenian folk-hero. Hakob Harutyunian, gunner in the Persian army, won a name in Armenian history books for pointing his cannon at his own army. He was horribly tortured by the irritated Persians, losing his eyes, nose, lips, etc, but survived to collect a Russian imperial pension. (Note, however, that Nerses' own recommendation for the pension says Harutyunian had crossed over to the Russians with information about Abbas Mirza's plans, a less colorful action than fratricide but perhaps also less likely to make a Russian officer squeamish.)

The spur road then curves W to join the road N from Ejmiatsin to Mrgastan (944 p, S. Hovhannes church built 1912) and beyond. Back toward Ejmiatsin, only 50 m E of the road to Oshakan, is Shresh Blur, a Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age settlement. Next village is Shahumian (939 p, named after the martyred Baku Commissar) and the nearby Shahumiani Poultry Factory (929 p). N is Dasht ("Field", 556 v, founded 1926). In the vicinity (N and left of road?) is a 1st millennium BC cyclopean fort called "Ardar Davit" (David the Just) by locals.

Angling left from Dasht, once reaches Aigeshat (1368 p, until 1935 Hajighara, mixed Armenian/Kurdish), which has (turn right at the SE edge of town) the badly ruined Targmanchats ("Translators") Vank of the 7th c., and maybe also a S. Gevorg church of the 18th c. and, on a hill nearby, an early tower. West of Aigeshat is Amberd (1276 p), with a Tovmas Arakeal (Thomas the Apostle) church of the 12th c. and Poghos-Petros church of 19th c.

A further turnoff from the main Ejmiatsin bypass leads NW to Tsaghkunk (1097 p, till 1946 Abdurahman), with S. Astvatsatsin church of 19th c, restaurant; NW is Mkhltapa Neolithic tell. Next come Hovtamej (1025 p, church 19th c.), and Tsiatsan ("Rainbow") (1058 p, till 1978 Grampa), with ruined S. Astvatsatsin church. Further N is Doghs (1195 p), site of a glorious victory here in 894 of Smbat I Bagratuni over the invading Emir Apshin of Atrapatakan. Doghs has a S. Stepanos church built in the 19th c.

Further W, opposite the turnoff for Taronik/Metsamor, a signposted road leads NE to Arshaluys ("Dawn",3836 p, till 1935 Kyorpalu), with S. Astvatsatsin church built 1903-09; fort, restaurant; S. Karapet shrine/pilgrimage site of 14-18th c. 2 km S. Next village is Haytagh (2441 p, church of 19th c.). A small road bears left to Ferik (267 p), named in honor of the revolutionary and poet Ferik Polatbekov, while the main road continues N to Samaghar (2360 p, formerly Geghakert, S. Harutyun church of 13th c.), and Tsaghkalanj (1225 p, till 1978 Aghjaghala), with a S. Gevorg church of the 1870s. Nearby are Bronze Age grave mounds and, to the NE, Amenaprkich medieval settlement with graveyard. The Neolithic-Chalcolithic tell site of Aghjaghala is on the E side of the village.

Continuing north, one reaches the village of Aragats (2973 p, Armenians/Kurds, till 1946 Khznauz), with a S. Stepanos church of 1870. To reach the Urartian fortress/settlement just SW of the village, turn left from the large building festooned with storks' nests on the W side of the main road, then right following the asphalt road, then take the second dirt road left to where it becomes impassible. The rough walls of the site are visible, embedded in a rocky 10 m high mound. Total area of this important early 7th c defense site is about 10-15 acres.

Entering from the S. the village of Aghavnatun (2934 p), there are sparse remains of an Iron Age cyclopean fort. On the left of the road entering the village from the S is a ruined medieval princely tomb of 13th c., chapel and graveyard surrounding. There are remains of four churches: S. Astvatsatsin church of 1876, S. Gevorg of 10th c; Tsiranavor of 14th c; Karmravor; S. Karapet churches; and reportedly a restaurant. Turning left (N) on a paved road at the N end of town, a dusty road leads through a major tuff quarry (prehistoric graveyard below) to a hilltop with a prominent circular tower*. Build of massive stones, with a tiny entrance, this tower commands a sweeping view and may have served as a watchtower or, perhaps, as a Zoroastrian funeral site (cf Parsee "towers of silence" in India). In any case, no finds are associated with the tower, which is undated. Next village N, Lernamerdz (395 p, once Ayarlu) once also had a restaurant.

[#section3]Metsamor and Environs (Section 3; Map D)

Passing Ejmiatsin on the E bypass, 2 km past the overpass is on the left a conspicuous monument to 7 Yugoslav (now Serbian) aviators killed in December 1988 when their plane, carrying relief supplies to the December 7 Gyumri-Spitak earthquake victims, crashed in a field. Behind the monument, a small mound and water-worn stones mark a Bronze Age (but marked on the sign as 5-4th millennium BC) occupation site, partly covered now by a little shed that has become a local shrine.

The skyline is dominated by the four cooling towers of the Metsamor Armenian Nuclear Power Plant. The nuclear plant, not open to the public, still generates about 40% of Armenia's electricity. Though neither of the two reactor units suffered damage in the December 1988 earthquake, they were shut down in response to domestic populist pressure as inherently unsafe. Unit Two was reopened in 1996, with loans from Russia and subsequent safety assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy and the International Atomic Energy Agency. As a further safety measure, the plant management brought Katholikos Garegin I to bless a new chapel in the plant's main administrative building in 1997. The Government of Armenia pledged under international pressure to shut the reactors down permanently by the end of 2004, but is likely to renege unless financing is found to build safer new reactors and keep its nuclear power sector employed. About 6.1 km after the Ejmiatsin overpass, about two km before the Metsamor reactor, shortly after a gas station, an unsignposted road leads left in 3 km to Taronik (1888 p), rich in storks' nests. Turning right in the village, the left after 500 meters, the paved road leads to a substantial mound 1 km W of Taronik, the site of the Chalcolithic through Early Iron Age settlement of <A HREF=armo5_metsamor.html>Metsamor*</A>, with a small but rich archaeological museum* attached. Excavations have shown that back in the early Bronze Age (late 4th-3rd millenia BC) Metsamor was flourishing, occupied an area of 10.5 hectares and consisted of a citadel fenced in by a sturdy Cyclopean wall and a zikkurat observatory sited on a low mountain ridge. In the early Iron Age (11th-9th cc BC) Metsamor was already a city. The citadel, observatory and dwelling blocks that occupied the lowland stretching to Lake Akna covered an area of 100 hectares. The fortress proper within the huge Cyclopean wall housed the palacial structures, the temple ensemble with its seven sanctuaries and the outbuildings. Half a kilometer to the southeast of the citadel was the traditional necropolis which was tentatively supposed to cover an area short of 100 hectares. Small interments have been excavated along with large burial mounds and underlying crushed-stone layers yielding large-sized tombs built of red tufa blocks and encircled by cromlechs. Excavations were resumed in 1998 with funding from the nuclear plant (which pumps its cooling water from next door) in a vain effort to locate a gate (and preferably an inscription giving the ancient name) in the lower defensive wall. The summit of the mound has an early first millennium BC sanctuary, and there are important remains of pits used for gravitational separation of iron from slag. A little SW is a hill with 3rd millennium BC carvings on the rock indicating the direction of the rising of Sirius. The settlement experienced many ups and downs before disappearing in the 17th cc. The museum - opened in 1966 and with 22,000 artifacts - has a treasury in the basement exhibiting jewelry from chamber tombs around the site, and upstairs rooms display the full sequence of Armenian prehistoric pottery, including splendid black and red burnished vases. An agate frog-weight in the possesion of the Babylonian ruler Ulam Vurarish (end of the 16th cc BC) and a seal of cornelian with Egyptian heiroglyphs owned by the Babylonian ruler Kurigalz (15th cc BC) are especially interesting. A visit to the site can be followed by jogging NW to Aknalich (2673 p). The small lake between Metsamor and Aknalich, for which the latter village is named, is one of the sources of the Metsamor river, fed by underground springs. The lake is overlooked by a pleasant restaurant. Nearby villages include Aratashen (2688 p, church of 1870, S of village is Neolithic-Chalcolithic tell), Khoronk (2164 p, S. Nshan church of 1880), and Artimet (1513 p, till recently Atarbekian, S. Grigor Lusavorich church of 1876). Further south by the railroad are Zartonk (1831 p, originally with Yeghegnut), Yeghegnut (1759 p, until 1947 Ghamishlu, before then Sefiabad), and Artashar (962 p, formerly Azeris). W of Aknalich, the new city of Metsamor (8853 p, hotel) rises on the right. It was incorporated in 1979, designed to house workers for the nuclear power plant.

[#section4]Sardarapat and Ancient Armavir (Section 4; Map D)

On reaching the Marz capital of Armavir (28733 p), the main road passes under a large red stone overpass. Turning right before the overpass, one enters the city, passing on the right the Armavir Cognac factory. Armavir also boasts a hotel, restaurants, and a private zoo/botanical garden.

To reach Sardarapat, pass underneath the overpass and immediately turn right and back up and over the railroad lines. The road will jog right, then left, passing through the village of Norapat (2675 p) and become the wide main road leading straight to Sardarapat battle monument and museum =70+= (40 05.58n x 043 56.77e). First village is Hoktember (5387 p, church). Turning right on the paved road in the village (W toward the village of Dzerzhinski), somewhere on the right before the cemetery is the site of the important Persian fortress of Sardari Berd. This was built around 1810 with British technical assistance by Sardar Hosein Qoli Khan, last and best of the Persian governors of the Erevan Khanate, using stones taken from the ruins of ancient Armavir, some still bearing traces of cuneiform inscriptions. Used as administrative center for the Sardarapat district and summer residence of the Khan of Erevan, the fortress was taken by the Russians under General Paskevich in 1828, despite stout defense by Khan Hasan, Hosein's brother. Almost no trace of the fortress is left, this remnant of foreign rule having been dismantled to build Soviet Armenia.

On this side road is Dzerzhinski (1512 p), a former state farm founded in 1946 in honor of Felix Dzerzhinski (1877-1926), Lenin's Secret Police chief and hero in the ceaseless war against counterrevolutionary traitors and saboteurs. Also, the village of Lenughi (1510 p), till 1946 Aghlanli Nerkin, with S. Nshan church from 1870s.

Sardarapat Monument

Back on the Sardarapat road, Araks (1521 p) was founded in 1940 as a state farm. Just beyond on a low ridge is the <A HREF=armo5_sardarapat.html>battle monument of Sardarapat</A>*, commemorating the Armenian defeat of an invading Turkish army, May 20-22, 1918. The Turks, coming south down the railroad from Alexandropol (Gyumri), were pushed back, giving the wavering Armenian provisional government the encouragement to declare the independent Republic of Armenia on May 28, 1918. The monument is guarded by massive Assyrian-style winged lions, and is flanked by a memorial garden for Karabakh martyrs. Bearing left before the monument, a driveway skirts the monument ridge to reach a tourist pavilion (refreshments) and the highly attractive <A HREF=armo5_sardarapat.html>Sardarapat museum</A>**. Director (at least of the military museum) is the head (since the untimely 1999 death of Sergei Grigorevich Badalian) of the Armenian Communist Party. The ground floor central hall contains commemorative material from the battle. Starting from the right, the lower galleries present archaeological materials from Neolithic to Medieval, and implements for various traditional handicrafts. Upstairs are exhibits of carpets and embroidery, modern Armenian decorative ceramics, and jewelry.

The main road SW jogs right, skirting the Sardarapat hill and passing turnoffs for Amasia (905 p), and Hushakert (L) (850 p), Bagaran (R), Nor Kesaria (1288 p), Shenavan (1770 p), Ge shen (2129 p, S. Harutyun church) and Berkashat (521 p). Continuing straight, one soon reaches the Russian-controlled border zone check-point, closed to foreigners without advance permission.

The excavated remains of Arghishtihinili/Ancient Armavir spread over two volcanic hills and the intervening ridge which rise out of the river plain. Site of an Armenian capital city in antiquity, the ruins are now a series of low stone walls and decaying mudbrick, strewn with ancient pottery fragments and the occasional ancient coin. On the S edge of Nor Armavir, a paved road runs E to the unprepossessing chapel and pilgrimage site of S. Davit, rebuilt in 1833 on a foundation of ancient boulders. The entire ridge above the church is occupied by the massive walls of the Urartian city of Argishtihinili, founded ca. 776 BC by Argishti I, who added the Arax valley and much of the rest of modern Armenia to his empire based near Lake Van. A cuneiform inscription discovered at the site says, "For the greatness of god Khaldi, Argishti son of Menua, speaks. I built a majestic fortress and gave it a name from my own, Argishtihinili. The earth was wilderness: nothing was built there. Out of the rivers I built four canals; the vineyards and the orchards were divided. I accomplished many heroic deeds there." There are still substantial remains of mud brick walls visible in the scarp, and an ample scattering of potsherds, some decorated, from the Iron Age to the Late Medieval period.

The Hellenistic city of Armavir, capital of the Orontid dynasty from the 4th-2nd c BC, was centered on the taller, steeper volcanic hill about 2 km further E. Easiest approach is, from modern Armavir, crossing the overpass and then jogging left and (after 100 m) right toward Haikavan (signposted "Margara"). About 300 m after the road bears left, a right turn will take you to the S side of the hill. Though Armavir was replaced as capital first by Yervandashat and then by Dvin, it maintained substantial habitation through the Medieval period, judging from the glazed pottery fragments still to be found. There is a substantial temple platform on the summit, and extensive house walls on the W side. Somewhere on the S slope outside the wall, 7 inscriptions in ancient Greek were carved into two rock faces about 12 meters apart, a reminder of Hellenistic influence on the Orontid kings. These inscriptions, probably carved around 200 BC, include a snatch of poetry regarding the Archaic Greek poet Hesiod, a pastiche of lines from Euripides, a list of Macedonian months, and some fragmentary letter texts. At the base of the hill is a small, modern cave-shrine marked by an iron cross.

In the vicinity are a thick cluster of farming villages. Bambakashat ("Lots of cotton") (3111 p) has S. Astvatsatsin church, on medieval foundations but according to the inscription over the door built in 1914 and restored in 1991. Others, in no particular order, are: Mrgashat (4997 p, with Bronze Age site of Gharatapa nearby); Armavir (2105 v) S. Astvatsatsin church, find spot of cuneiform inscriptions of Urartian King Sarduri; Nor Armavir (1609 p); Haykavan (1210 p, church); Nalbandian (4048 p, church); Nor Artagers (1398 p); Janfida (3008 p); Jrashen (699 p); Tandzut (1829 p, S. Sahak church built 1912); Sovetakan (1625 p); Pshatavan (2175 p) Aygeshat (1618 p, called Ghuzigidan till 1950) S. Gevorg church; Arevik (2473 p) has a hill with Early Bronze Age settlement on the road toward Armavir village.

[#section5]Southwestern Armavir (Section 5; advance permission required)

Turning R (NW) toward Bagaran, one passes the village of Vanand (823 p), then turnings for Shenik (815 p, founded 1971) and Koghbavan (83 p), before reaching another Russian border troop checkpoint which bars the way for foreigners to the villages of Yervandashat (702 p, 4-5th c. ruined basilica, S. Shushanik church of the 10-17th c) and Bagaran (609 p). Between the two villages, on the ridge overlooking the Akhurian river at its confluence with the Arax, is the 3nd c. BC city of Yervandashat, founded by King Orontes (Eruand) IV, last of the Orontid dynasty as a new capital to replace Armavir which, according to Armenia's "Father of History" Movses Khorenatsi, had been left dry by a shift of the Arax river. In addition to remains of fortifications, brief archaeological researches in the 1980s reportedly revealed traces of the ancient gardens and palaces attested by Movses. On the Akhurian river are traces of the ancient bridge connecting Yervandashat to the fortress of Yervandakert built by the same ruler on the opposite bank of river. The village of Bagaran was until 1935 called Haji Bairam, then until 1968 Bakhchalar, with a mixed Armenian/Turkish population. Many of its inhabitants stemmed from ancient Bagaran across the Akhurian river, also founded by Orontes IV as his religious center. In a grove of plane trees near ancient Bagaran, Armenia's pre-Christian priests foretold the future from the rustling of the leaves.

[#section6]Southeastern Armavir (Section 6; Map D)

A good paved road leads south from Ejmiatsin to the Turkish border crossing point at Margara, now closed. The road passes Mokhrablur (see above) and a series of farming villages. Griboyedov (1893 p) is named after the Russian writer/diplomat Alexander Sergeyich Griboyedov, who first visited Armenia in 1819, then returned as General Paskevich's chief diplomat to take part in the Russian conquest of Armenia and Treaty of Turkmanchay. Appointed Plenipotentiary Minister to Tehran, he was murdered along with the rest of the Russian Embassy staff in 1829. There is an inscription on the wall of the Yerevan Wine factory, former site of the Erevan fortress, commemorating the first staging of one of his plays in December 1827, in the defeated Persian Khan's palace. SW of the village is a Chalcolithic tell.

Next come Aknashen (1372 p, S. Bardughimeos church; SW of village is ruin of 8th c. building); Gay (3333 p, founded in the 1670s as Khatunarkh after the wife of Sefi Khan, renamed in 1978 with the nom de guerre of Russian Civil War hero Hayk Bjhshkyan), with S. Nshan church built 1888-92, and remains of a 6th-2nd millennium BC settlement just E; Haykashen (1148 p); Metsamor (not the ancient site or the power plant, with 1089 p, till 1946 Ghamarlu); Araks (1452 p, till 1946 Nerkin Gharkhun, some Kurds); and Jrarat (2627 p) founded 1918 from Surmalu; special reserve for Vordan Karmir ("Worm Red") beetles, Porphyrophora hamelii Brandt, females of which, properly boiled, produced the famous bright red Armenian cochineal dye, an important export and state secret in ancient times. The beetles depend on special vegetation, and their habitat has been threatened by the expansion of fish farming and intensive mechanized agriculture. Jrarat also has a poultry factory with 1088 registered population in 1998.

The road leads W to Lusagyugh (840 p, until 1935 Turkmanlu), birthplace of Soviet Hero N. A. Darbinian; thence Apaga ("Future", 1646 p, some Kurds, till 1935 Turkmenlu); and Yeraskhahun (1356 p, founded 1920, till 1950 Kuru Araz), which boasts a sand quarry. Running W along the border are Vardanashen (907 p); Margara (1370 p), with the customs point locked and desolate and the Turkish flag flying at the far end of the road bridge over the Arax; Arazap (1383 p, till 1947 Evjilar) S. Astvatsatsin church; and Argavand (2062 p).

[#section7]North of Armavir City (Section 7)

Counterclockwise from E of Armavir are the former state farms of Zhdanov (1523 p, until 1953 Sovkhoz #2), named after Andrei Alexandrovich Zhdanov, 1896-1948, Colonel-General, Politburo member, and Central Committee secretary for ideology; Noravan (930 p); Lukashin (2213 p), a Sovkhoz renamed in 1957 for Sargis Lukashin (Srapionian) 1883-1937, Russian-born President of the Armenian Council of People's Commissars and an all-Union economic figure; Khanjian (1796 p), a Sovkhoz founded in 1957, named in honor of Aghasi Khanjian, First Secretary of the Armenian Communist Party from 1930 until 1936 when, suffering symptoms of nationalist deviation, he experienced a fatal gunshot wound in the Tbilisi offices of Lavrenti Beria. Khanjian and most of his fellows were posthumously rehabilitated and credited with much of Armenia's Soviet-era economic progress.


West from Armavir (Section 8)

On the main road W from Armavir, first village is Hatsik (2372 p), then Myasnikian (3483 p, named after the first Prime Minister of Soviet Armenia), with an Amenaprkich (All-Savior) church built in 1997. Dalarik (3102 p, till 1965 Mastara), was founded in 1902 when the railroad was under construction. The village of Lernagog (1676 p, until 1978 "the community attached to the pig-farming Sovkhoz") is on a spur N. Karakert (3438 p) supposedly has an Iron Age fortress nearby. End of the road is the remote hamlet of Argina (518 p).

From Myasnikian, a road runs WSW to Baghramian (663 p), purpose-built capital of the Baghramian region in 1983, despite its lack of any history or characteristics. Somewhere before Baghramian, a road may run S to Artamet (133 p), Arevadasht (752 p), and Talvorik (190 p).