Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook- Tavush Marz

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Tavush Marz in the northeastern corner of Armenia offers a wonderful range of mountain and forest scenery sprinkled with beautifully sited historic monasteries. Dilijan, nearest point of entry to the Marz, is only 90 minutes from Yerevan by good car via Lake Sevan, and is probably the best place to stay for an extended exploration, though there are hotels in Ijevan, Berd and Noyemberian as well. The best-known destinations are Haghartsin, Goshavank, and Makaravank, but a series of other remote sites, particularly the cluster of monasteries in the forest near Kirants/Acharkut, repay with wild scenery, warm village hospitality, and adventure the difficulty of reaching them. The visit lends itself to a formidable driving circuit, following the border to Noyemberian in the N and returning via Akhtala, Haghpat, Sanahin, and the main Georgia-Vanadzor road. The mountain road from Chambarak to Berd is as starkly beautiful as any in the Mediterranean, and a splendid track traverses high summer pastures from Yenokavan to Noyemberian.

Historically, the Tavush region came sometimes under Georgian and sometimes Armenian rulers. Before Armenia's short-lived independence in 1918-20, Tavush was part of the Yelizavetpol (now Gance in Azerbaijan) district. Armenia and Georgia fought a short, sharp war in 1919 to establish what became the Soviet-era border, whereas the border with Azerbaijan was dictated by geography and ethnography -- Armenia inherited the hills, Azerbaijan the broad river valleys of the Kura and its tributaries. Where the rivers intruded into the hills, two Azerbaijani enclaves were captured in the 1988-94 hostilities.

Dilijan (Section 1)


Old Town Dilijan

Dilijan* =75= (40 44.37n x 044 52.09e) (14846 p), was a major summer resort in Soviet times, blessed with a cool, moist climate, even in summer, and pleasant evergreen forests protected, in principle, by a large nature reserve that wraps around the town and extends along the SW bank of the Getik river. There are hotels, pensionats, and bed & breakfasts of various descriptions, most notably the "Lernayin Hayastan" resort on the ridge S of town, formerly a spa for Soviet nomenklatura families, now controlled by the Defense Ministry but often available for tourists or seminars. An Old Town section of Sharambeyan Street has been restored and has an ethnographic museum plus a row of early 20th c. houses now serving a museum. If the wood makers shop is open, it is very worthy of a stop in. Dilijan is rich in prehistoric tombs, including the Golovino Early Iron Age site 3 km on the Sevan road, and Redkin Lager Iron Age site 3 km along the Ijevan road on the Aghstev river.

West of Dilijan -- Jukhtak Vank (Section 2; Map N)

Jukhtak Monastery

From the main Dilijan roundabout 3.2 km W of Dilijan on the Vanadzor (upper left) road, the N fork of a small roundabout leads under the orange railroad bridge about 2.7 km to the ornate iron gates of the Dilijan mineral water factory (less salty than Jermuk, this recently revived table water was in early 1999 trying to recapture a share of the Yerevan bottled water market). A dirt road (impassible to cars due to landslides) leads up to the right to (10 minutes on foot) Jukhtak Vank* (40 45.47n x 044 48.33e), nestled in an attractive forest grove with picnic tables. The near church, St. Grigor, was built probably in the 11th or 12th c. The dome disappeared long ago, and the foundation and walls have been brutally reinforced against the collapsing soft stone below. The W church, S. Astvatsatsin, has this inscription: "In the year 1201, in the Amirdom of Lasha and the Khanate of (missing), I Hayrapet, abbot of S. Petros Monastery, built S. Astvatsatsin with the hope that every sunrise in both vestibules one mass will be offered for me and one for my brother Shmavon, and in all the churches for my parents." Khachkars. On the wooded slope somewhere opposite is Matosavank monastery (40 45.00n x 044 48.33e). The small church, dedicated to S. Astvatsatsin of Pghndzahank and dated 1247, was built under Avag Zakarian, son of Ivane, after he had pledged submission to the Mongols and become Georgian/Armenian military leader for Mangu Khan, grandson of the great Genghis. The hard to follow "trail" to Matosavank begins at the nature reserve sign on the road, shortly before the mineral factory. From here, take the left steep fork down and across the river towards the monastery which is up above in the woods.

Continuing W on the potholed but adequate former traffic artery paralleling the Aghstev river and railroad line, one soon enters Lori Marz bound for Vanadzor and Gyumri.

East From Dilijan -- Haghartsin, Goshavank (Section 3; Map N)

Taking the road E from Dilijan, one reaches in 6.7 km the turn-off right (sign-posted in Armenian) for Parz Lich ("Clear Lake") =40= (40 45.18n x 044 57.71e). Cross the bridge over the Aghstev, bearing W, then take the left fork, which winds through about 8 km of forest to end at a modest green lake, banks slightly muddy (beware ringworm) but excellent for a picnic and forest hikes in a quiet, non-typical setting.

Haghartsin Monastery

Continuing E on the Ijevan road another 0.8 km, an unmarked paved road ascends steeply left under the railroad tracks near the village of Teghut (1207 p) and into a lovely wooded stream valley with picnic areas, culminating in Haghartsin Monastery** =100= (40 48.16n x 044 53.55e), one of Armenia's most evocative. After passing the decaying remains of an ill-advised cable car, note funerary shrines with khachkars. Reaching the monastery complex proper, first building on the left is the large vaulted dining room of 1248, one of only two such in Armenia (other at Haghpat), beyond which is a ruined service building with working oven. The gavit (end of 12th c) was built at the behest of Ivane Zakarian against the small domed 10th c. church of S. Grigor. The small S. Stepanos church of 1244 is behind. S. Astvatatsin church on the right, built or rebuilt in 1281, has high on the outside of the E wall a donation relief sculture showing the Zakarian brothers. Though the churches are locked, a local caretaker has the keys. Near contemporary Kirakos Gandzaketsi (tr. R. Bedrosian) had warm praise for:

"the blessed vardapet Khachatur Taronatsi, director of the holy congregation of Haghartsin, a holy, virtuous man renowned for his learning, especially for his musical knowledge. He made the holy congregation which he directed sparkle; prior to his coming it was desolate and withered. The king of the Georgians, Giorgi, Tamar's father, especially esteemed Khachatur; and he gave to the church, under his own signature, two villages, Abasadzor and Tandzut, and a vineyard in Mijnashen. And by all the saints he placed a curse on anyone who dared to shore these properties from the monastery. ... [Khachatur] passed to Christ and is buried on the western side of the church."

There is an ancient nut tree just E of the Astvatsatsin, shading a fine view point, and various remains of graves, including "royal" graves of the Bagratuni family S of the S. Grigor church. Admire the fine families of pigs rooting on the surrounding hillside. Five km N of Teghut were found and taken to the museum two Aramaic inscriptions of Artashes I (189-160 BC).

Continuing E on the main road, first village is Haghartsin (3394 p, until recently called Kuybishev after the famous Bolshevik, till 1940 Zarkhej). In the mountains somewhere north, 15 km W of Ijevan, in the locality of Dzorapor on the side of Mt. Aghjanots, are substantial remains of Kayan Berd, a castle that presided in medieval times over a substantial district. It was probably build in the 10th century under King Ashot Yerkat, but was restored under various masters, including Atabek Ivane Zakarian. Besieged here by the Mongols in 1236, Avag the son of Ivane prudently surrendered and became a valued Mongol ally. The castle was destroyed at the end of the 14th century during Timur Lenk's invasions.


At 15.8 km is the turnoff right (S) toward Gosh and Chambarak/Krasnosyelsk. Take the first right up to Goshavank* =95= (40 43.79n x 044 59.82e) or Nor Getik Vank in the village of Gosh (1001 p). The monastery was founded in 1188 by famous Armenian cleric, scientist, author and law-giver Mkhitar Gosh (died 1213) with the help of Prince Ivane Zakarian as replacement for Old Getik Vank (SW near Martuni in Gegharkunik, on the Jivikhlu road), which was destroyed by earthquake in 1188. The monastic complex is large and well-endowed, and was for a brief period an important center of Armenian medieval culture. The architect Mkhitar the Carpenter and his disciple Hovhanes also took an active part in building the monastery. The rectangular room next to the reading room stands out from the rest of the complex by its walls of large unworked stones. In all probability, this room is a holdover from an early Iron Age fortress built on the site perhaps 2000 years before. The reading room of the monastery school itself is unusual, built in several stages, with a chapel/bell-tower built on top in 1291. Note the intricately carved khachkar, the famous "Aserghnagorts" ("embroidered"), standing beside the S. Grigory church doorway, the work of Master Poghos, dated 1291. Its mate was moved to the State History Museum in Yerevan. The Gregory the Illuminator chapel is richly carved. There is a museum in the village, along with alleged remnants of Mkhitar's house; his tomb church stands in the village W of the monastery.

St. Hripsime chapel (1254), situated south-west of the main group - a domed building, square in the plan, of an original composition. The church of Grigor Lusavorich was started in 1237 and finished by Prince Grigor-Tkha in 1241. The book depository with a bell-tower in Goshavank is a structure of a most unusual composition. Originally, before 1241. there had been in its place a small building with niches for keeping books in and with a wooden "glkhatun" type ceiling. Adjacent to it on the western side was a vast premise which probably served as a refectory and an auditorium. It also had wooden roofing. Then, a two-floor bell-tower was built over the book depository. The second stage, accomplished in 1291 by the patrons Dasapet and Karapet, where the top - a small church with two altar apses, crowned with a multicolumn rotund belfry - was completed. The entrance to the church was from the roof of the auditorium by a cantilever stone staircase.

Among the memorial khachkars of Goshavank there are unique and highly artistic ones. The khachkars created by the carver Pavgos in Goshavank stand out among the rest. The best of them is a 1291 khachkar with the maker's name carved in the bottom left star. This is a unique and highly artistic work. The finely carved lacy ornaments are arranged in layers in which the basic elements of the composition - a cross on a shield-shaped rosette and eight-pointed Starr filling the corners of the middle-cross section-show clearly. The intricate openwork ornaments vary - a clear-cut geometrical pattern constitutes the background, and the accentuating elements form a complicated combination of a floral and geometrical ornament which never repeats itself.

Kirakos Gandzaketsi, who studied here in the 13th c and was author of "The History of Armenia", described Nor Getik and its benefactors (tr. R. Bedrosian):

The marvellous vardapet and his monks then began work on the construction of a monastery and church in the above-mentioned Tandzut valley, by order of the great prince Ivane. They built a beautiful wooden church which was consecrated in the name of saint Gregory... At Nor Getik, at the head of the monastery, they also built a smaller church in the name of Saint John the Baptist, the ordainer of Christ, the greatest fruit of womankind. Then they began on the foundation of the glorious church built with dressed stones and [crowned] with a heavenly dome, a marvel to the beholder. [Construction] was begun in 640 A.E. [=1191], four years after Salahadin took Jerusalem, and it was completed in five years ... It was built by vardapet Mkhitar with his religious community with the aid of Vakhtang Khachenatsi, lord of Haterk and his brothers Grigor, Grigoris, Khoydan, and Vasak and other pious princes, Dawit and Sadun (the sons of Kurd) as well as their sister named Arzu khatun (Vakhtang Haterketsi's wife). This woman did much to help. She and her daughters made a beautiful curtain of the softest goats' hair as a covering for the holy altar; it was a marvel to behold. It was dyed with variegated colors like a piece of carving with pictures accurately drawn on it showing the Incarnation of the Savior and other saints. It astonished those who saw it. Beholders would bless God for giving women the knowledge of tapestry-making and the genius of embroidery, as is said in Job, for it was no less than the altar ornaments Beseliel and Eghiab fashioned [Exodus 36.1]; nor is it bold to say so, for the same spirit moved them both. Not only did the woman make a curtain for this church at Getik, but for other churches as well, Haghbat, Makaravank and Dadivank; for she was a great lover of the Church, and very pious.
The pre-consecration festival at Getik was conducted with great throngs of people attending. Among those present was Yovhannes, the bishop of Haghbat, a virtuous and blessed man as well as a multitude of priests and servitors. And they consecrated the church in the name of the blessed Mother of God.
They also constructed a beautiful parvis of dressed stones for the church. The great general Zakare and his brother Ivane provided much support, for they held the princeship of the district and they so loved the holy vardapet (for in confession, Zakare was his spiritual son). They gave the church [extensive] land bounded by streams [extending] from mountain to mountain, as well as a mine in Abasadzor, and Zoradzor in the district of Bjni, and Ashawan above the monastery. They themselves also built a village close to a small lake of immense depth, naming the village after the lake Tzrkatsov (for in it swam many marsh-loving, mud-loving reptiles), as well as another smaller village below the monastery which they named Urhelanj. They also built many other chapels in the name of the blessed Apostles and the holy Hripsime.
Because Mkhitar loved deserts and uninhabited places, he made his home distant from the monastery. There he built a small wooden church in the name of the Holy Spirit. In his old age he built a church as a mausoleum for himself above the monastery on the right. It was made with dressed stones and lime and named for the Resurrection of Christ.This venerable man of whom we spoke above, reached great old age, having kept his faith. But when he saw that his bodily strength was failing and that he was close to joining his fathers, he called the residents of the congregation of Nor Getik who had shared with him in all the labors of the church and monastery, and he blessed them and his students in the name of the Lord.
Selecting one of them, named Martiros, who had studied with him and was his intimate, Mkhitar appointed him as their director. Martiros was a youth but perfected in learning, a man mellifluous in the songs of worship, a great reader and a speedy writer. Mkhitar commanded him to direct them. And he wrote a will to the great hazarapet Ivane, Zakare's brother, and entrusted to him the monastery and its director. Then he himself, white-haired and ripe in age, passed from this world to Christ.
The director of the monastery, Martiros, together with the congregation handsomely saw to the proper requirements for the spiritual and physical burial of Mkhitar. They laid him to rest before the door of the smaller church which stands above the monastery on the west side. And to this day Mkhitar's grave aids those in pain who take refuge in his prayers, in faith; and people always take soil from that place to cure sick people and animals, for God glorifies those that glorify Him, in life and in death.

Continuing S of Gosh toward Chambarak/Krasnosyelsk on a worsening road, one reaches Khachardzan (373 p, formerly the Azeri village of Polad), with a church W of the village, and then Aghavnavank (379 p), until recently the Azeri village of Salah, with Anapat-Astvatsatsin church of the 11-13th c. and an early bridge on the Getik river. From Khachardzan, a rough road goes W to Chermakavan (formerly Azeri Aghkilisa) and Geghatap (formerly Chichakbulagh) There is a ruined 11-13th c. church nearby.

Just W of the Ijevan road N of the Gosh turn-off is Hovk (489 p), originally Aghkikhlu?, until recently Samed Vurghun (named after the Lenin Prize-winning Azeri poet/dramatist, 1906-1956, author of some fine works but also patriotic tracts such as "Partisans of the Ukraine" and "On Reading Lenin", famed for his laconic style). Nearby are ruins of a church and cemetery. On the summit of a hill E of the Aghstev 12 km SW of Ijevan is the 7-9th c. fortress of Mantash or Karakala, one of several candidates to be the historical Kayan Berd. Another 4 km SW of Mantash is an Aghjkaberd (Maiden Castle) on a wooded hill. There is a church and some cisterns in the fort.

The name "Ijevan" (15370 p) means "Inn," reflecting the Tavush capital's previous name of Karvansara, aka Istibulagh, stopping place on an important E-W road and also, since 1870, of the railroad. In the place called Hamam-Jala on the bank of the Aghstev are remains of a medieval caravansaray. The entrance to the town is marked by the massive wine factory saying Ijevan on top of it's tower. On the N side of the main road at the W end of town (cannon outside) is a small historical/ethnographic museum reopened in 1999, with a diorama commemorating the entry of the Red Army in 1920. Ijevan has a large rug factory, and wood product factories. There is a 200-bed high-rise hotel built in 1969 on the N side of the main road. Across from the shuka you can cross the bridge over the river and quickly reach the new church financed by a Boston Armenian. In the SW part of town is a S. Hovhannes church. Chamber tombs near the city hospital and a late bronze age cemetery on the left bank of river attest early occupation of the site. Crossing the Aghstev river by the bridge on the W end of town, a right turn leads to Gandzakar (3244 p, till 1978 Aghdan) with S. Gevorg church, a S. Kiraki chapel of 1286, Budur cyclopean fort E atop Budur mountain, with two 12-13th c. churches with khachkars in the forest nearby. To the W of upper Gandzakar is the ruined medieval Tanik fort. There is supposed to be a ruined "Ashot Yerkat" fort 6 km SW. However, another source says the Ashot Yerkat fort is 7 km W of Ijevan. From Gandzakar the road winds up a narrow set of unpaved switchbacks toward Berd and the Shamsadin region.

The Shamsadin District -- Khoranashat, Varagavank (Section 4; Map O)

A remote and beautiful part of Armenia along the NE border with Azerbaijan, the former Shamsadin district is comprised of three deep river valleys, the Hakhum, Tavush, and Khndzorut, all running N to the Kura in Azerbaijan from the Miapor mountain range, with high ridges in between. The region took its name (Arabic "sun of the faith") from the Turkic Shamsh-od-Dinlu tribe, once its predominant occupants. At the end of the 18th c., this region was claimed both by the Kingdom of Georgia and by Javad Khan of Ganja. Russia cheerfully espoused the Georgian claim and occupied the district (which they called Shamshadil) in 1801, despite occasional raids by Javad Khan's forces. A few decades later, having meanwhile on January 2, 1804 stormed the Ganja fortress and killed the Khan, the Russians conceded to geography and transferred the district back to Ganja/Yelizavetpol gubernia. Though part of Kazakh uezd, Shamsadin ended up in Armenia in 1919. The predominant population in the early 19th century was nomadic, though a Russian survey of 1804 listed 42 Muslim villages (some now in Azerbaijan) and two Armenian (Choratan and Krzen, with 227 people), paying taxes to the chief of the Ayrumlu tribe. Locals say Shamsadin has been entirely Armenian since the 1950s or before. The region has a collection of interesting Armenian monasteries, mostly remote and difficult of access. Care should be exercised in areas near the Azerbaijan border, since occasional firing incidents occur.

There are three access roads into the region. First is a spectacular mountain road that leaves from the NW edge of Ttujur, just beyond Chambarak/Krasnosyelsk, and follows the ridge between the Hayrum and Tavush rivers to Navur. Second is a road that goes E from the N extremity of the Ijevan-Kazakh road, following the Azerbaijani border. Third, shortest looking on the map but the most difficult, is a poor dirt road that switchbacks up from the S edge of Ijevan, through Ganzakar and thence to Itsakar and Berd.

From Krasnosyelsk/Chambarak E of Lake Sevan, the road NW along the Getik river passes Ttujur and (8.4 km from the Krasnosyelsk junction) turns back to the right on a smooth, partly asphalted road. From this turn-off, the road reaches the marz boundary/watershed at 5.8 km, and then a series of hamlets for pasturing animals during the summer. At 28.5 km is a modern monument from 1988, with picnic tables made from old millstones and an ornamental fortress inscribed "Eternal is my paternal earth." At 41.3 km is an impressive equestrian statue (1993?) of General Andranik facing fiercely toward Azerbaijan, with a small child? clutched to his chest. Beside this is the well-tended grave of Mushegh "Papo" Asrian, commander of the Navur self-defense forces, killed in 1990 in an auto accident near Hrazdan (or else, by a more poetic narrative, sacrificed in Karabakh). At 42 km is the intersection with the Itsakar-Berd road. Turning left one soon reaches the little village of Itsakar (378 p) on the road back to Ijevan. Turning right, one enters Navur, (1236 p), with a series of ruined 3rd-1st millennium forts: Tandzut fort, 1st millennium BC (5 km S); Berdi Glukh fort, early 1st mill. BC (S edge of town); Kari Glukh cyclopean fort; Srtner fort, 6-4th c. BC (small hill 6 km W); Dashti Berd cyclopean fort (3km SW) has substantial wall remains.


Turning N in Navur, just before reaching the town of Berd, an adequate dirt road leads to Chinchin, (702 p). The 13th c. (or maybe 1151) Kaptavank Monastery (Blue Monastery) =50= (40 53.00n x 045 18.75e) lies W of the road, only about 1 km N of Navur but a stiff hike over the ridge. Alternately, there is a dirt track from Itsakar, towards the end of the long village, that rises up and again gets you pretty close to the monastery before the mud stops you (4x4 needed) with only a 15 minute walk to go. In the environs of the church well up very cold springs. The monastery, sited in a glade, is surrounded by picturesque ravines and wooded mountains. Only one church remains of the former cloister complex. Ruins of the vestibule and other buildings join the S & E wall. The church, built in the mid-XII c (according to the inscription on the western wall was illuminated in 1151) is almost square outside, and has a rectangular hall inside. In the inscriptions it is referred to as the Church of the Holy Virgin. The church is primarily built of roughly trimmed and broken limestone of a bluish tint, most likely the source of the name. The cloister was at one time surrounded with fortification walls, outside of which there were dwellings which have not survived.

50m from the church to the SE a historical cemetery is situated, with three holes found to its N. Lime was obtained by burning limestone in these holes. Some meters distant to the SW on the slopes of deep and rocky inaccessible ravines there are walls, built of rough stone and lime mortar, which were small sanctuaries.

Three km W of Chinchin, looking down on the Hakhum river valley, is the 6-4th c. cyclopean fortress of Berdakar.

Berd Town

The road from Navur to Berd passes a modest chapel on the right of the road. Berd(40 52.80n x 045 23.59e) (8435 p), formerly Tovuzghala on the Tavush river has a rundown hotel (no running water) and a school founded in 1871. To reach the sketchy but picturesque walls of Tavush Fort (9-10th c. or 10-13th), for which the city is named, take the right fork at the entrance to town, cross the river and head up and left; there are also traces of cyclopean walls in the central park, a cemetery of the 5-4th c. BC, and a small museum. Some 3-4 km E are S. Sargis and S. Nshan shrines.

Beyond Berd's castle, the road continues to Verin Karmiraghbyur (1879 p), founded in 1860, but with S. Hovhannes church of 1701. Below the village, the right fork leads to the large village of Artsvaberd (3216 p, formerly Ghighi or Gharaghaya -- restaurant but no hotel, khachkars in village. On the NW edge of the village is a Late Bronze Age tomb field. Reportedly, S. Zoravar church is 3 km W on the edge of a gorge. Three km NW are remains of Mamaslu cyclopean fortress. One km S is an important Late Bronze/Early Iron Age tomb field of Horjin Horer. W are Sprikghalacha fortress remains.


From Artsvaberd, the road descends to the Khndzorut River. Turning right on the bumpy dirt road leads up the river to a military post at a reservoir. Reportedly, a bad jeep track continues SW beyond the roadblock through walnut groves, ultimately to join the Krasnosyelsk road. Turning left toward Aigezdor, after 2.5 km a rough dirt track drops right across the Khndzorut to follow the Akhinja (or Hakhinja) tributary upstream to a little picnic area with a 1986 monument to General Andranik and the Fedayi. The track presumably continues to Azerbaijan, not recommended at this time. Continuing NE along the Khndzorut, one reaches Aigedzor, (2553 p, until 1939 Ghulali) has S. Hripsime Church of the 5-6th c. in the village below the school. NE of the village atop the mountain named for Salkari Vank is a 6-4th c. fortress. There are also remains of Yereg Vank Berd medieval fortress, also called Kzkalasi, a refuge during various medieval invasions. Continuing N, one reaches the village of Chinari (1165 p), visible from which to the NE is Khoranashat Vank* =90= (40 51.66n x 045 35.96e) of 1211-20, with a gavit of 1222. Khoranashat is built of bluish basalt. Because of occasional sniping incidents, it is advisable to check with villagers before visiting the monastery (bear right through the village, then follow the dirt road left and up). Per Dr. Robert Bedrosian, the 13th century Kirakos Gandaketsi studied here under one of Mkhitar Gosh's students, the historian Yovhannes Vanakan (d. 1251). "When the Khwarazmian sultan Jalal al-Din ravaged Khoranashat in 1225, Vanakan fled with his students to a nearby cave, near the village of Lorut, south of Tawush. He continued teaching there until 1236 when a Mongol army under Molar-noyin occupied Tawush. Both Vanakan and Kirakos were taken captive by the Mongols and kept as secretaries for several months. Eventually, Vanakan was ransomed by the Christians of Gag for eighty dahekans, and Kirakos escaped secretly the same night.". In the vicinity of Chinari there are reportedly shrines of the 13-17th c., and 1st millenium BC graves. At one time there was a large settlement around Khoranashat, which was surrounded with large fortification walls, with gates decorated with columns. There were numerous residences situated on an enclosed territoryas well as pavilions housing mineral springs.

From Artsvaberd, a road leads N to Choratan (1042 p), with S. Hripsime church of 1683 and a 17th c. shrine. From there, a road NW leads to Norashen (1717 p), reportedly with a museum; Soviet biologist A. Avagian was born here; on the S end of Norashen is a cyclopean fort called Pilor Pat. 5 km SW on the left of road leading to mountains is a ruined fort of 5-4th c. BC, source of rich finds during excavation. North toward the border is Mosesgegh (1978 p), with unspecified churches, shrines, and caves nearby. The road NW to Aigepar (542 p, founded in 1937, until 1967 "the town connected to the fermentation factory") and Nerkin Karmiraghbyur (993 p, church of 16-19th c., ruins of Shenategh, khachkars of S. Sargis and S. Khach) passes dangerously close to the border.

Shkhmuradi Vank

Returning to the Berd roundabout, the main road N leads (left fork) to the attractive village of Zavenavan (1560 p. until recently -- or maybe still -- Tovuz), with an Astvatsatsin church by the road, a S. Gevorg sacred site, the Tavush and Katsaret forts and a rock-cut grotto (vimapor karayr) somewhere in the vicinity. Continuing, one passes on the left an unmarked dirt road to Chinchin and then descends steeply into the valley of the Hakhum river, and Tsaghkavan (985 p, until 1939 Veligegh) The important Shkhmuradi Vank =65= (40 54.87n x 045 18.14e) of the 12-13th c. with S. Astvatsatsin church built in 1181, is west of town about 6 km up the river valley. The "Khoranik" building was situated on the E part of the complex and its entry opened to the small vestibule. The one-nave vaulted church, built of unprocessed stone, is now destroyed. In partly preserved walls longitudinal canals can be seen, in which were put logs, that gave the construction seismic-protection. An inscription on the W wall, dated using the Hovanes Sarkavag system, says Khoranik was built in 1149 -- making it the oldest building of the ensemble. The construction got its name from the word "zkhoraniks" in the same inscription. 150 m up from the monastery is 6-5th c. fortress called Kalkar. Some 2 km N of Kalkar and 1.5 km N of the road to Shkhmuradi Vank is another similar fort called Sevkareri Blur. One km NE of this fort is a third, Sevkareri Takht on the left bank of the Hakhum River. In front of the cattle breeding farm of Tsaghkavan village on the right bank of the river is another cyclopean fort called Baghri Khach.

Nor Varagavank

Next village E is Varagavan (476 v). To reach the charmingly sited monastery of Nor Varagavank* =85= (40 57.70n x 045 19.68e), with S. Astvatsatsin church of 1237, Anapat 1198, David Ishkhan tomb/shrine 13th c, enter the village at the cemetery, then follow the main road through the village (when in doubt, always bear left), about 4.5 km through pleasant woods. Built of trimmed creme colored stone with greenish hues, the complex has a few attached churches and chapels which are in various states of collapse and frozen reconstruction. With some very nice, khachkars, the show-stopper is the portal to the main church, with a puzzle of salmon and green stones, each carved with incredible intricacy and each carving unique. The complex is the result of building activities of the owners of Nor Berd- the Kyurikids. The cloister was the center of episcopacy and played an important role in their lives. The religious and cultural figure Hovanes Tuetsi resided at Nor Varagavank during the XIII c. In XIX c the abbot of the cloister was Grigor Manucharyan, who in 1804-1828 together with his volunteer detachment took an active part in freeing Eastern Armenia.

In XII-XIII cc sources the ensemble is called Anapat. The newer name of Nor Varagavank is the evidence of one of the most horrible periods of history of Armenia. Running away from the original Varagavank (near Lake Van, in Anatolia) which was destroyed by the Mongol's invasion, Patriarch Luke, who had a "Surb Nshan" (cross) with him, wandered looking for a new place and finally stopped at Anapat Monastery, which in honor of Varagavank was renamed Nor (new) Varagavank.

Surb Nshan Church, the oldest of the complex is situated on the SE part of the complex. It was built by the son of Vasak I, grandson of Kyurike II - David Bagratuni in 1198. The two-storeyed burial vault joins the northern wall of the church Surb Nshan. The same David built it in 1200 as an ancestral script. The two-storeyed chapel joins the church Surb Nshan from south. It was built in the beginning of XIII c. It is supposed that the top tiers of either building served as side-chapels for the church. A removable ladder was used to access them.

Astvadzadzin Church is the most important building of the complex. According to the inscription and information, given by Kirakos Gandzaketsi, it was built in 1224-1237 by David's son Vasak II, and was illuminated in 1240. The architect was Gazan from Ani. A small vestibule joins the southern wall of the church and adjoins all three buildings of the Anapat complex (the original part of the ensemble). It was built in second quarter of the XIII c. The big vestibule is situated in the western part of the main church. By the northern and partly by the western walls it joins the rocks of the mountain. It was built after the small vestibule in the XIII c. The vestibule has two entries from southern and eastern facades (the latter is a rare example of cult architecture). To the southwest and northwest of the complex two chapels (XIII c) are situated, by which there is an old cemetery. The large khachkar with images of human figures in the big vestibule was created by master Vardan in 1620.

Srveghi Vank

N beyond Varagavan and E at the intersection, Paravakar (1649 p) has shrines, khachkars, and other minor ruins. Turning W instead, the village of Vazashen (757 p) has Karmir Kar ruined fort and churches. WNW toward the border is the ruined 10-13th c monastery of Honut in the abandoned village of the same name. Aigehovit (2909 p, until 1969 Uzuntala) has the red brick walled Srveghi Vank* =70= (40 57.92n x 045 14.65e) of the 12-13th c. on the skyline SW of the village, with an inscription: "In the year 1252 we Artavazd and Sargis built this church by the hand of master Hovhannes." There is also a S. Sargis shrine, Kotrats Yeghtsi ("Broken church"), and an 18th c. (Persian period) guard tower on the right bank of the Aghstev.


East of Ijevan (Section 5; Map N)

Getahovit (2020 p) and Yenokavan (568 p) lie N of the road, on either side of the Sarnajur (formerly Tala) river. West of Getahovit is the ruined Iritsi Aghbyur medieval settlement with church and cemetery. Until 1935 called Krdevan, Yenokavan was named after early Communist Yenok Mkrtumyan, who founded the first party cell in the region. On the S. edge of Yenokavan, perched on a rock overlooking the scenic gorge, is a small church with medieval tombstones. About a km S, down inside the gorge, reachable only on foot, is an Astvatsatsin church of the 13th c. Some 17 km W is the Okonakhach church. There are anciently inhabited caves in the river valley. At the NE end of the village overlooking the gorge is the 6-5th c. BC Astghi Blur with cyclopean walls and a huge tomb field. The main dirt road through Yenokavan bears right and up the ridge, traversing the starkly beautiful mountain pastures of the Ijevan Mt. Range*. This road, passible April-November (barely) by street car, serves various yaylas inhabited only in summer, and leads in some 66 km to the main Azatamut-Noyemberian road just S of Noyemberian. This may be the best road to Samsoni Vank. Eight km NW of Yenokavan on this road, atop a hill, is Berdategh Early Armenian cyclopean fortress. Somewhere toward the Noyemberian end of the road is a village called Gomshavar with, 2 km E in a spot called Dondar, remains of a Bronze Age settlement.

Lusadzor (598 p) is 7 km E of Ijevan; until 1935 it was called Khavaradzor; S and W are medieval remains with khachkars. On the W end is an Iron Age cemetery. There is a recent church. E of the main road is the village of Khashtarak (1741 p), with a recent church; W and SE are abandoned medieval settlements with khachkars. Beyond, a road continues S to Lusahovit (332 p, until 1978 Tsrviz), with the Moro-Dzoro or Tsrviz Vank of the 5-12th c.. Atabek Ivane Zakarian sponsored the rebuilding of the dome of the Astvatsatsin Church in 1213. Among the rich inscriptions is one by King Georgi of Georgia (1156-84) the father of Queen Tamar, freeing the monastery from taxes and endowing it with land. The Tsrviz medieval settlement nearby has khachkars. Continuing E toward the border, Aknaghbyur (476 p) -- until 1967 Nerkin Aghdan, from 1967-70 Morut -- is left of the road. East of the village near a spring is a huge oak tree, legendarily planted by sparapet Vardan Mamikonian in 450 AD, used as a pilgrimage site.

Ditavan (417 p) was founded in the beginning of the 19th c., and until 1967 was called Revazlu. It has a bentonite mine. Azatamut (1863 p, till 1978 the Bentonite Combinat) is the end of the road, travel into Azerbaijan blocked by an impromptu barricade and cautionary whistles from the locals. A road turns S up toward Aigehovit and the Shamsadin district.

North to Noyemberian -- Makaravank, Kirants (Section 6; Map N)

The Azatamut-Noyemberian road forks left (N) off the main Ijevan-Kazakh road a few km before the Azeri border. The road, paved and in reasonably good condition, parallels the border, and at Askipara/Voskepar cuts through occupied Azeri territory, but is normally safe for travel. However, the villages of Barekamavan and Shavarshavan, E of Baghanis, should probably be avoided, as the target of occasional heavy machinegun fire. Note that the most commonly available Armenian map fails to show the accurate border.

What makes this road worth the frisson of driving through a war zone is a cluster of medieval churches set in lovely stream valleys amid the wooded hills W of the road. Also, those of a philosophical bent can profitably contemplate the destroyed and looted remains of Yukari (upper) and Ashagi (lower) Askipara, an Azerbaijani enclave and salient reduced in fierce fighting in 1992. Cows and sheep graze among the roofless remains, a reminder of how quickly a prosperous village of the late 20th c. can become an archaeological site.


Almost immediately after taking the left fork toward Noyemberian, an unsignposted paved road turns W to the village of Achajur (3901 p). Continuing on the main road through the village, at the top a muddy but passable asphalt/dirt road bears left (generally SW), winding along about 6 km (taking the main fork each time, if in doubt go right) to the beautifully situated hillside monastery of Makaravank* =85= (40 58.45n x 045 07.65e). First is a picnic area next to an ancient spring. Passing through the gate in the circuit wall, the main church of 1205, built by Vardan son of Prince Bazaz, is on the right, and the gavit on the left. The facade of the gavit, which was built with a donation from Prince Vache Vachutian in 1224, bears sculptures of a sphinx and a lion attacking a bull. Inside the gavit, one reaches the earliest church, of the 10th or 11th c. Outside, E of these, is a small Astvatsatsin church built by Abbot Yovhannes in 1198 in memory of his parents and brothers, with sculpted portal. Beside it is a small ruined chapel.

At the NW edge of Achajur is the Tmbadir Early Armenian fortress. Also near Achajur, about 2 km NW on a flat hilltop near Sevkar, is a ruined Nahatak (martyr) church probably of the 17th c, with an 8-7th c. BC fort. Some 3km NW of the village on a wooded height is S. Hovhannes church. In the SW part of the village is an old settlement with khachkars; 3 km SW are remains of Old Achajur with remnants of a medieval fortress, identified as Kayan Berd, atop Paytatap Mountain. There is an old shrine on the S slope. A dirt road winds 25 km SW from the W end of Achajur to intersect with another from Yenokavan, near which intersection is the Early Iron Age fort of Bardzraberd.

Returning to the Noyemberian road, a by-road left leads to Sevkar (2104 p), with 14th c. church. An underground Communist Party cell was founded here in 1919. Next comes Sarigyugh (1104 p), birthplace of a whole herd of Heroes of Socialist Labor. On a little hill on the W edge of the village is a cyclopean fort of the 8-7th c. BC; cist graves 1 km W of village. Ruins of Tsakageghtsi church are located on summit of little hill 3 km W near another small Iron Age fortress. The village of Berkaber (454 p, formerly Joghaz) is on a small road right, near a small reservoir just inside the border. It has a wood-roofed church and khachkars. About 1 km W of Berkaber on the Joghaz river is the Gavarzin medieval fort (dangerously near the border). Even more dangerous would be the climb to medieval Gaga Berd on the border summit W of Berkaber. A spur road left from the main road leads to Tsaghkavan (542 p), with S. Hakob Church and 12-13th c. khachkars.

Arakelots Vank

Kirants (223 v, until 1967 Getashen, historically ?) lies above the N bank of the Askipara, Karkhan or Kunen river. A bit further W, straddling the river, is Acharkut (202 p, once Kunen), a formerly mixed village founded in 1930 as part of a forestry collective but occupying part of a once major 9-10th c. town site. On the N bank is an early church. On the slope S of Acharkut by the bridge, a dirt road winds uphill to a ramshackle cemetery church of S. Astvatsatsin (inscription reads: "In the year 1675 I Melikshahnazar son of Melikaslamaz of the Herume clan, and my wife Khanzate built S. Astvatsatsin by the hand of Master Hakop.") and a picnic area beyond. At the W edge of Acharkut, on the N side of the stream (medieval Sranots bridge somewhere nearby), the main village road ends at a locked gate, which a neighbor (on the right) will open. About 1 km W of the gate, overlooking the muddy, rutted but passable track (ideal for mountain bikes), are the ruined but interesting remains of a caravansaray below the 13th c. >Arakelots (Apostles') Monastery* =60= (41 02.00n x 045 04.28e) complex. About 80 m further, a jeep track branches uphill to the monastery proper, visible on the crest of the hill in dense forest. Though the church is unimpressive, the forest setting, the mossy tombstones and substantial remains of the defensive circuit make this a rewarding site. Note the interesting jhamatun roof, which is built using the hazarashen method. The Hazareshen method normally uses square timber, being stacked in smaller and smaller squares at 45 degree angles, somewhat like a pyramid. That same method is employed using stone at Arakelots. There is a ruined chapel on the next hill as well. Supposedly, 2 km NE of Arakelots Vank on a flat place on the mountain ridge is the little church and khachkar of Khndzorut.

To reach the remote but unique 13th-14th c. Kirants Monastery, continue upstream. After another 5 km or so, one branch of the road turns left, crossing the Zayghoshani bridge (with Persian inscription: in the year of the Hijra 1207, early 19th c.) and ascending S (a few dozen meters past the bridge - up to your right, then veering left) toward Deghdznuti Vank (40 59.84n x 045 01.80e) of the 13th c. (1 km or so) and Samsoni Vank (40 58.29n x 045 02.11e), another 6 km S of Deghdznuti (more reachable from Yenokavan). Deghdznuti has a domed 12-13th c. church, a shrine and another small church. The ruins are fantastic, with fine architecture and carvings. Inscriptions ask that we remember Atabek Sadun (1260-80??) as well as the financer of Haghpat, Ter Hovhannes IV (1257-80??). On the right bank of the Khndzorkut river, atop a mountain between Deghdznuti and Samsoni Vank is supposed to be the Berdakar medieval fort, with cisterns.

Kirants Vank

Back along the main river track, at about 8 km from the gate on the main W track is a splendid modern local monument, a monumental stone-built picnic site with open-air museum* above -- a rock overhang closed with an iron grating, with local agricultural and household implements from the 19th c. Continuing upstream, dodging rocks and deep ruts, one finally sees at about 10 km Kirants Monastery* =90= (41 00.68n x 044 59.50e), 13-14th c. The main church is unusual for its brick construction and colored tile decoration. {It is a very impressive and unusual monastery with burnt bricks, glazed tile accents, interior frescos, and a gorgeous setting in one of Armenia's lushest forests. It consists of three churches, two tunnel-vestibules, a refectory, and remainders of dwelling and auxiliary constructions, encircled in fortified walls with wide vaulted gates. Passages inside the church walls lead up to the dome. Most of the buildings are built of baked tuff (burnt brick) and from this point of view the ensemble presents one of the unique erections of medieval Armenian architecture (like Srveghi Monastery, situated in the same region). The main church and the refectory were plastered with lime mortar and covered with frescos inside, some of which remain. Georgian inscriptions in the frescoes show the complex belonged to the Chalcedonian religion. Remainders of dwelling and commercial constructions of the community are preserved on the southern side of the complex. It is hard to reach with most of the road being so rutted, but well worth it if you can make it. Drive along the dirt road with the river to your left without crossing until absolutely necessary. After crossing once, you will soon cross again, and the monastery will be in a clearing above the river, just a few minutes walk from the crossing. Somewhere around Deghdznuti Vank would have been Mahkanaberd, the fortress capital of the Artsruni family, who enjoyed quasi-autonomy in the area in the 11-12th c.

Bumping back to the main road, you cross imperceptibly into a projecting piece of Azerbaijan and the destroyed Azeri village of Lower Askipara. However, the de facto boundary in 1999 runs along a line of hills about 3 km further E. The spur road left takes one back into Armenia, the village of Voskepar (883 p) just W of the road, with a brand new little church by the highway. Still standing on the edge of the ruins of Askipara, intact/restored despite use in the fighting as a machine gun nest, is Astvatsatsin Church of the 7th c, visible from the road. Somewhere near are traces of a 10-11th c. castle. A deteriorating road W from Voskepar leads one to a lovely stream valley filled with the skeletal houses of Upper Askipara (Verin Aghsibara), a piece of Azerbaijani territory entirely surrounded by Armenia and separated from Lower Askipara by Voskepar. At the W end of the village is an 18th (?) c. tower fort with arrow slits. One km beyond is a medieval stone bridge. Taking the road further upstream, the right fork allegedly leads to a large ruined church beyond a former collective farm complex.

Astvatsatsin Church PHOTO ABOVE!!!!!!!!

Leaving Azerbaijan again, you follow the Baghanis river to reach Baghanis (708 p) with a ruined church perhaps of the 10th c. E of the road, and 12-13th c. funerary monument. The right (NE) fork from Baghanis leads to areas still under occasional artillery fire and should probably be avoided. It goes to Voskevan (1296 p), formerly Ghoshghotan, with a 19th c. church; birthplace of Soviet hero Ishkhan Saribekian, a sergeant in the Great Patriotic War. Next is Koti (2097 p), until 1964 Kotigegh, then renamed Shavarshavan in honor of Shavarsh Amirkhanian, 1894-1959, born in the village, an early communist who rose to become head of the Armenian KGB precursor. This road ends at Barekamavan (442 p, till 1978 Dostlu, Kurumsulu). Some 2 km NW is the Bardzryel pilgrimage site.

Continuing toward Noyemberian, Jujevan (559 p) was founded in 1874 and has the 19th c. Jujevank monastery and a 12-13th c. chapel. At the SE end of the village on the left side of the Ijevan road is the Early Bronze Age Jaghatsategh settlement. On the S side of Jujevan atop a hill on the Ijevan-Noyemberian road is an Early Iron Age cyclopean fort called Poploz-Gash

Noyemberian (5156 p) has a small, spartan hotel on the W side of the square/park, behind a cafe. Near the town are three Iron Age cyclopean forts, with traces of early metalworking: Berdagh, 2km NE; Mraghants Areguni; and Tpi-Gash, N of town. NE is Dovegh (572 p), formerly Balakend. About 3 km S of Dovegh is the shrine of S. Sargis, a pilgrimage site for the region.


The main road continues W to Koghb (4092 v). Mshkavank* or Mshakavank =50= (41 09.74n x 044 58.22e), with a restored Astvatsatsin church, gavit, 5-6th c. Tsghakhach church, 6th c. Tvarageghtsi church and cemetery of the 12-13th c., is on the mountain 3-4 km SW, accessible by jeep track from Koghb or Noyemberian. When driving towards Georgia from Ijevan you hit a traffic circle in the village of Koghb. Turn left (SW) into the village, and head into it. Head left at the WWII memorial, crossing the bridge just past it. Head up into the hill on the nice dirt road two "gorges" from the red and white TV tower, and at the top of this gorge head right along the ridge. The monastery is about 3km past the bridge. SE 1.5 km is Berdategh cyclopean fort, and also (maybe) in the same direction the Gharanots Gol fort. W of Koghb are two cyclopean forts, Zikurati and Kozmani (10 km), with Bronze Age tomb fields adjoining. 15 km W is Patashar cyclopean fort. NW of Koghb is a S. Arakel ruined shrine in the old Arakelots village. After Koghb, the main road reaches Archis (1244 p, S. Hakop church, shrine, old iron-working site; Early Iron Age cyclopean fort traces 1.5 km S from the village atop a hill parallel to the Debed) and Ayrum (2190 p), where the road joins the main Vanadzor-Tbilisi highway. S of Ayrum on the right bank of the Debed on the hill of the candy factory is an Early Bronze Age Shahlama fortress. Another Shahlama Bronze Age site is on the Debed at the intersection where the roads diverge to Tbilisi and Alaverdi. Ayrum also had an Early Iron Age site 3 km SW of the train station, where a group of 10-8th c. BC bronze figurines were found in 1962. To SE is Lchkadzor (435 p) with 3 km NE on Danieli Tala hill an unexcavated cyclopean fort.

Ghalinjakar Castle of Berdavan

From Koghb, a road leads NE to Berdavan (3173 p, once Kalacha). Turning right, an asphalt road winds down through the village. Where two dirt roads fork, take the left hand, cross the stream, and then bear left again at the next fork, leading (jeeps only) to a picturesque triangular 10-11th c. Ghalinjakar castle* (41 12.23n x 045 01.22e)on a hill near the Azerbaijan border, just past ruins of a church with a cross "with arms" (tevavor khach) in the yard. There used to be shelters, stores, etc. in the castle courtyard. On the outsides of the walls are 11 towers like half or 3/4 rolls. Due to the topography, the SW walls are 5.5m high and the NW ones 10.5m high. The only entry 1m wide is from W side with tuff pointed end. There are stairs towards south from the entry. The fortress used to have a secret passage taking to the canyon. Part of it with average man's height can be seen from the bottom part of E tower corner. The tower is empty and has a high door taking to the secret passage. Berdavan fortress is probably the Ghalinjakar temple remembered by an unnamed XIII c Georgian historian. It appears that Berdavan existed at least since XIII c. but the present structure probably belongs to late medieval times, probably to XVII c, with some additional reconstruction taking place in the 1980s. A medieval cemetery has an especially noteworthy big khachkar leaning on cube-shaped pedestal with cross images and pictures of standing people figures on its eastern side. There are large khachkars in the village. From Berdavan, a road goes W to Zorakan (1006 p, formerly the Azeri village of Verin Kerplu), Haghtanak ("Victory")(1125 p, formerly the Village Linked to Tumanian Sovkhoz), with a Shahlama 6-4th c. fortress on the right bank of the Debed, Ptghavan (906 p), Deghdzavan (283 p), and Bagratashen (3046 p) on the Georgian border. Originally Lambalu, from 1960-72 Debedashen, Bagratashen was renamed after Hero of Socialist Labor and founder of the Zeitun plant, Bagrat Vardanian (1894-1971). North along the border, Debedavan (513 v) was formerly the largely Azeri wine-producing center of Lalvar.