Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook- Vayots Dzor Marz

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Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook
Intro, Yerevan, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Syunik, Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Karabakh (Askeran, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Shushi), Nakhichevan, Western Armenia, Cilicia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Maps, Index

Contents

EXPLORING VAYOTS DZOR

Vayots Dzor is one of the most scenic and historically interesting regions of Armenia, centered on the watershed of the Arpa River and its tributaries before they flow SW into Nakhichevan to join the Arax river. Mountainous and sparsely populated, Vayots Dzor (by popular etymology "the Gorge of Woes") is crowded with medieval monasteries, forts, caves, and camping spots. The uplands have potential hiking/horseback/mountain bike tracks. There are trout in the streams, and wild sheep, bear (protected) and smaller game in the mountains. The marz capital is Yeghegnadzor, a 90 minute drive from Yerevan over the main N-S route.

Day trips from Yerevan are easy and rewarding. For a fuller exploration, however, it is necessary either to camp or exploit one of the region's hotels or B&Bs. There are a series of very nice newly remodeled sanatoria and hotels in Jermuk.

The earliest historically recorded settlement in Vayots Dzor was at Moz, near Malishka, and there are scattered remains of Bronze and early Iron Age graveyards and "cyclopean" forts (built of large, unworked boulders, as if by Cyclopes) elsewhere. The region flourished most mightily in the 13th-14th centuries, when a series of gifted and pious local rulers managed to coexist with the Mongols and other passing empires. In 1604, the region was depopulated when Shah Abbas of Persia, fighting a series of fierce campaigns against the Ottomans in and over Armenia, forcibly relocated much of the Armenian community to Persia, both to strengthen his own domain economically and to leave scorched earth for the Turks. In 1828, with the Russian conquest, thousands of Armenians emigrated from Persia or Eastern Turkey to resettle the region. Still, there are scattered remains of deserted hamlets. In 1988, the population of the combined Yeghegnadzor and Vaik (Azizbekov) regions was perhaps 60,000, including 10,000 Azeri Muslims.

East from Ararat -- Areni, Noravank (Section 1;Map P)

After descending the Arax valley on the main S road from Yerevan, turn left at the Yeraskh traffic circle (straight will take you to the Nakhichevan border and possible disaster), and wind up through increasingly scenic hills until the watershed that marks the border between Ararat and Vayots Dzor.

The first village one reaches once over the pass is Yelpin (1314 p, population came from Salmast in 1830) N of the road. Climbing the mountain NNW of the village are traces of a medieval fort; in the village is a 14th c. Tukh Manuk shrine/pilgrimage site. One km N are fine khachkars. There are prehistoric caves nearby. A dirt road leads about 12 km NW to a mineral spring, on a hill above which is a medieval church. A dirt road N from Yelpin leads in about 10 km to Khndzorut (Elmalu) village with a ruined gavit/narthex and cemetery with inscriptions. The old road E toward Aghavnadzor passes a left turn at the ruined hamlet of Geshin, which leads in turn to a substantial fortified cave on the mountain slope.

Chiva, turnoff left, (809 p) has a 10th c. church. Just W of the village on the S side of the road is an early Christian cemetery with fine carved tombstones. Rind (1378 p) E of Chiva, founded in 1967 to replace the old village of the same name abandoned due to slides. There is a cave-shrine 3 km NE of the 10-15th c.; Verin Ulgyugh, 1 km, 11-14th c., with S. Stepanos church, 13-14th c.

The village of Areni (1730 p, formerly called Arpa) is famous for its wine, much of which is produced in Getap further down the road. Visible to the right of the main road is the Astvatsatsin =40= (Mother of God) church of 1321, built during the tenure of Abbot Hovhannes. The architecture as well as the carvings are the work of Momik, and there are interesting tombstones outside. To reach the church, turn S into the village, cross the bridge, and turn left on a clear road up to the church. There are ruins of the medieval mansion of Tarsayich Orbelian in the valley and, reportedly, remains of a cyclopean fort SE of the village on the edge of gorge and a 13th c. bridge on the Arpa r. built by Bishop Sargis (1265-1287); further along the gorge toward Arpi, on a hill on the S rim of the gorge, is the ruined 13th c. fort of Ertij. In Areni was found in 1981 an altar with a Greek inscription of AD 163 dedicating it to the Olympian Goddess on behalf of a Roman officer, Aemilius Ovalis, of the 15th Legion Apollinaris.

Turning south through the village of Areni, a paved road climbs up to spectacular views of the Noravank gorge, passing the hamlet of Amaghu. Near Amaghu on a hill by the gorge are remains of a medieval fortress. On the right can be seen in the distance the recent fortifications along the border with Nakhichevan. About 1 km before the village of Khachik, (938 p) visible on the right are the sadly ruined remains of the 9th c. Karkopi or Khotakerats ("grass-eaters") Vank. The site owes its name to the vegetarian ascetics who used to live in the gorge, assembling only for Sunday prayers. They were reined in and monasticized by Bishop Hovhannes III, who built them a church of 911 (several times rebuilt after earthquakes) with the support of Shushan, widow of Ashot I. The gavit is 13th c. In the village itself is the Astvatsatsin basilica dated 1681. Some 1.5 km E of the village are remains of Berdatagh ruined medieval castle. There is supposed a Hngazard ruined medieval church 2 km NE.

Magil Cave - bats

A kilometer past Areni on the main road to Yeghegnadzor is the turnoff right for Noravank, across the bridge and through a narrow gorge, whose stream has sadly disappeared into a large iron pipe. At the entrance to the gorge on the right is a cluster of high but shallow and unornamented caves, called Trchuneri Karayr (Bird Cave), in with Bronze Age child burials were found. Further inside the gorge on the left is the Magil Cave =40=, going a considerable distance into the hillside. Magil cave has a bat colony. The entrance is a small hole with a metal cable coming out of it to the left of a large vertical jagged opening in the hillside, but it is very easy to get lost inside, so take a guide unless you're a pro. Further on note a huge boulder right of the road outfitted as a picnic site. Beyond the caves, the gorge opens out and the monastery comes into view. The paved road continues up and to the left, ending in a parking lot below the monastery.

A gravel road continuing up the canyon ends after a few meters amid a welter of khorovats detritus. Continuing on foot, at the iron gates for the water project one can continue straight along the left bank of the stream toward a concealed picnic site with table and fire circle (about 200 meters) or else follow a path that slopes up to the left. This latter passes below the little chapel of St. Pokas (Phokas), in which is the basin of a sacred spring and, according to a tradition that was already "old" when Bishop Stepanos Orbelian wrote about him in the late 13th century, the site of a seep of miraculous healing oil from Pokas's buried relics. The learned bishop wrote, "Here surprising miracles used to occur. All kinds of pains, whose cure by men was impossible, such as leprosy and long-infected and gangrenous wounds, were cured when people came here, bathed in the water and were anointed with the oil. But in cases where these were fatal, they expired immediately." Modest votive crosses show that the shrine remains venerated. Past St. Pokas, the narrow, occasionally steep, but clear path climbs along the canyon side to a series of broad ledges with beautiful views of the cliffs.

Noravank Monastery and red cliffs

Noravank** ("New monastery") =90= (39 41.08n x 045 13.97e) was founded by Bishop Hovhannes, Abbot of Vahanavank (in Syunik W of Kapan), who moved there in 1105 and built the original S. Karapet church. According to Stepanos Orbelian, Hovhannes went to the Persian (actually Seljuk) Sultan Mahmud and came back with a firman giving him possession. He gathered religious folk, and established a rule barring women and lewd persons. Unfortunately, the evil amira (lord) of the nearby castle of Hraskaberd (scanty ruins of which, not firmly identified, are somewhere in the hills SE) plotted to kill him and destroy the monastery. Hovhannes, who was gifted in languages, went to Isfahan, cured the Sultan's sick son, and came back with the title deeds to Hraskaberd and 12 nearby estates, and a trusty band of heavily armed men who pushed the amira and his family off a cliff. A century later, Stepanos says, a group of "Persians" rebuilt Hraskaberd, but two lieutenants of the Zakarian brothers kicked them out in favor of Liparit Orbelian (see end of chapter) and reestablished the monastery's claim to the estates surrounding. Bishop Hovhannes led a holy life and worked numerous miracles, such as catching in his hands unharmed a woman and infant who fell off the cliff.

During the 13th and 14th centuries a series of princes of the Orbelian clan built churches which served as the burial site for the family. The monastery became the center of the Syunik bishopric. The nearest and grandest church is the Astvatsatsin ("Mother of God"), also called Burtelashen ("Burtel-built") in honor of Prince Burtel Orbelian, its donor. The church, completed in 1339, is said to be the masterpiece of the talented sculptor and miniaturist Momik. In modern times the church has had a plain hipped roof, but in 1997 the drum and conical roof were rebuilt to reflect the original glory still attested by battered fragments. The ground floor contained elaborate tombs of Burtel and his family. Narrow steps projecting from the west fa├žade lead up to the entrance to the church/oratory. Note the fine relief sculpture over the doors, Christ flanked by Peter and Paul.

The earlier church is the S. Karapet, a cross-in square design with restored drum and dome built in 1216-1227, just N of the ruins of the original S. Karapet, destroyed in an earthquake. Forming the western antechamber is an impressive gavit of 1261, decorated with splendid khachkars and with a series of inscribed gravestones in the floor. That of the historian/bishop Stepanos dated 1303 is toward the western door. Note the famous carvings over the outside lintel. The side chapel of S. Grigor, built in 1275, contains more Orbelian family tombs, including a splendidly strange carved lion/human tombstone dated 1300, covering the grave of Elikum son of Prince Tarsayich and brother of Bishop Stepanos. Alas, nothing is preserved of the rich church ornaments and miraculous relics Stepanos and his predecessors assembled for the glory of God. In its heyday, Noravank housed a piece of the True Cross stained with Christ's blood. This wondrous relic, acquired forcibly by a notable family of Artsakh from a mysterious stranger after it raised a villager's dead child, was purchased by the Orbelians for cash when the family became refugees.

Noravank was hot in July/August, even in the 13th c. Bishop Stepanos reports that the bishops and monks moved to Arates monastery in the mountains E of Shatin to avoid the summer heat. Summer tourists should arrive early morning or late afternoon for a more pleasant visit. The warm light on the red cliffs is spectacular as the sun sets.

Mozrov formations

Arpi (1061 p) founded in 1965. About 6.4 km after Areni, just before the Arpi sign, the first road turning right to cross the Arpa r, leads in 7.6 km to an old guardhouse on the left and, immediately beyond on the right beside the road, the tin-covered entrance to the Mozrovi cave =80=. Discovered in the 1970s during road building, the easy to navigate first 400m is deep and full of spectacular colored stalagmite and stalactite formations. Entrance is perilous, through a hole in the cover and down a steep slope, and should not be attempted without an experienced caver. The deep Arjeri cave system =75?= and several others are in the same general area. Another mile further up is the village of Mozrov, (90 p), and, on an increasingly poor dirt road, Gnishik, (40 p) almost abandoned in 1975 due to landslides. Some 2 km NE is Dali Khach ruined shrine. In the village are khachkars of 9-17th c. and a church of 1463. There are 1st millennium BC graves 2 km N of village; by bad road SE about 10 km is Hraseka berd of the 9-12th c. Four km E of Gnishik are the remains of old Boloraberd village with a 13-14th c. Tukh Manuk chapel. S of Boloraberd are remains of Vardablur village with a ruined church and cemetery. There is a medieval Vardablur fortress E. Some 4 km NE of Gnishik is the former Gandzak village with a medieval cemetery and church.

Selim Caravansaray and the Yeghegis Monasteries (Section 2;Map P)

At 34.3 m is the Yeghegis River, with roads leading N to Getap on both sides of the stream. Take the far (E) road, bypassing Getap, ("River bank", known until 1935 as Ghoytur, 1855 p), home of some of the Areni vintages. Two km NE of Getap atop a hill are ruins of Aghli Vank church, with inscriptions. Continuing N along the Yeghegis R, note at 5.8 km the spur of a medieval bridge.

At 9.1 km is the first turnoff to the right for Shatin (see below). Continuing straight (N), now along the Selim river, you seen on the left at Hors (305 p), with the Chibukh Kyorpi bridge of the 14th c.; the tomb of Chesar Orbelian, and a 14th c. church with khachkars. On the right is Salli (226 p); then on the left Taratumb, (543 p), with a khachkar of 1251 and a church of 1880; again on the right is Karaglukh, (801 p). Some 3 km S on a high plateau are the ruined 13th c. walls of Mamasi Vank, built according to medieval legend to house the relicts of St. Mamas, carried back to Armenia by the princes of Syunik from Caesaria in Asia Minor in the 4th c. The 13th c. church is called S. Poghos (St. Paul). On a hill 3 km E of Karaglukh is a simple Tukh Manuk shrine built by the ruins of a substantial earlier church. There are numerous khachkars.

Aghnjadzor (431 p) (formerly Aghkend, a mixed Armenian/Azeri village, with church/cemetery), is the site of Lernantsk Caravansaray, located about a kilometer N of the village, appearing east of the road like a half-buried Quonset hut. Take the dirt road just past the bridge, crossing the early bridge and heading up the stream valley. A smaller and cruder structure than the Selim Caravansaray, it was built in roughly the same period. A one-nave caravanserai built from basalt, the foundation date isn't known. A smaller hall is covered with a cylindrical vault supported by arches. There are stony troughs inside. The only entry is from the western side. This monument too is lit by means of the roofing, which together with some other data shows the influence of Armenian residential architecture on that of caravanserais. Four km N are the so-called Kapuyt Berd ("Blue Fort") ruins.

Shortly beyond, the new, Lincy funded road begins to switchback up the mountain toward the Selim Pass. It is a brand new smooth road all the way to Lake Sevan, but ask about passability in the winter months.

Selim Caravansaray** =80= (39 56.97n x 045 14.20e) lies below the road just before the summit on the south side of Selim Pass (2410 m), a splendid relic of the days when an international trade route connected Vayots Dzor to the Sevan basin and points North. According to the Armenian inscription on the right inside the door, Prince Chesar Orbelian and his brothers built this rest-house in 1332 in the reign of Abu Said Il Khan, "the ruler of the world," whose death in 1335 deprived the world of an enlightened Mongol despot and ushered in a new wave of invasions. The Persian inscription on the outside lintel (almost effaced by recent vandals, gives the date 1326-7. The Armenian inscription reads:

"In the name of the Almighty and powerful God, in the year 1332, in the world-rule of Busaid Khan, I Chesar son of Prince of Princes Liparit and my mother Ana, grandson of Ivane, and my brothers, handsome as lions, the princes Burtel, Smbat and Elikom of the Orbelian nation, and my wife Khorishah daughter of Vardan [and ...] of the Senikarimans, built this spiritual house with our own funds for the salvation of our souls and those of our parents and brothers reposing in Christ, and of my living brothers and sons Sargis, Hovhannes the priest, Kurd and Vardan. We beseech you, passers-by, remember us in Christ. The beginning of the house [took place] in the high-priesthood of Esai, and the end, thanks to his prayers, in the year 1332.

The best preserved caravansaray in Armenia, Selim saw reconstruction during the 1950s. It is built of basalt blocks, with a cavernous central hall for animals separated from the two vaulted side aisles by rows of stone mangers. A chapel which once abutted the E side of the caravanserai is now in parial ruins. Bring a flashlight (though the dim light through the smoke holes in the roof adds a proper medieval flavor). There is a little spring/fountain monument just uphill beyond the caravansaray. The bad road continues N over the pass and ultimately to Martuni.

Shatin and Eastward -- Tsakhatskar, Smbataberd (Section 3;Map P)

At 10.0 km from the Yeghegnadzor road is the second turn-off for Shatin, (1683 p, till 1935 Hasankend), where the Yeghegis river turns E. Main attraction is Shativank* =65= (39 50.50n x 045 19.61e), a fortified monastery 3km E up the gorge. Directions: Toward the far end of the village, take the right fort down to the bridge and cross. About 150 m further, take the right fork and then, about .5 further, the left fork steeply up to a tiny cemetery. From there, a jeep road winds up and around to the monastery. Preferable option, particularly for the jeepless, is to walk up the gorge, a rewarding 45-minute climb. The path can be found by taking the left fork above the bridge, going about 100 m until 15 meters before a white-painted garage gate. On the right, between a telephone pole and an iron rod, a faint trail ascends steeply. At the power pylon on the spine to the left, the path becomes wide and clear. Inside a substantial fortification wall, Shativank consists of the S. Sion Church rebuilt in 1665, two-story monks and guest quarters (SE corner is best preserved), a grain storage silo (NW), khachkars, and (outside the walls SE) a waterworks. Other antiquities in the vicinity reportedly include Berdakar fort (2 km S, 5th c.), Shatin bridge, a shrine S, and a 10th c. church in Hostun.

Going E from Shatin, one follows the Yeghegis river upstream. Note that many of the village names have changed since 1988, along with the population. At the first fork beyond Shatin, signposted "Tsakhatskar Vank 13 km", turning left (N) on a paved road brings one to Artabuynk (1054 p, until 1946 Erdapin, then Yeghegis until the recent transfer of populations, when Alayaz reclaimed the name.) Its inhabitants were brought in 1830 from Khoy region. Follow the lower road parallel to the stream until about 1 km past the village. An unmarked jeep track angles steeply down to the right, fords the stream, and climbs up. Just after passing a spring on your right. The left fork (and left again) leads (6 km NE of village) to the splendid ruined Tsakhatskar Monastery** =90= (39 53.42n x 045 21.25e), with S. Hovhannes church of 989, S. Karapet church of the 10th c, and a host of other ruined buildings set apart from the two churches, decorated with splendid khachkars, on the flank of the mountain. Retracing the track and taking the first right fork leads to the 9th century fortress of Smbatabert** =90= (39 52.35n x 045 20.34e). This spectacular castle sits on the crest of the ridge between Artabuynk and Yeghegis (or, as most people still call them, Yeghegis and Alayaz), and includes an upper citadel. The castle received water from a buried clay pipe leading from the monastery. According to legend, the Turks compelled the fort's surrender by employing a thirsty horse to sniff out the pipeline.

Beyond Artabuynk on the main dirt road is Horbategh (283 p), with S. Hreshtakapetats (Holy Archangels) Church, rebuilt in 1692, and khachkars.

Returning through Artabuynk to the main E-W paved road, one soon reaches the village of Yeghegis* (488 p, until 1994 Alayaz), historically Armenian, as attested by the rich sprinkling of antiquities. When its Azeri inhabitants departed, the houses were occupied by Armenians, half refugees from Sumgait in Azerbaijan and half locals seeking a house and land of their own. Entering the village, one sees on the left a stone enclosure with khachkars commemorating the Orbelian family. Left on a narrow village road takes one first to the Astvatsatsin basilica, rebuilt in 1703, then to a small domed 13th c. church of S. Karapet with cemetery and then, on a green hill E of town a few meters past S. Karapet, where the road turns left, S. Zorats cathedral* =65= (39 33.06n x 046 01.74e) or S. Stepanos, built in 1303 by a grandson of Prince Tarsayich Orbelian. This is a pretty unique church design, not only for Armenia, but in general. The congregation is meant to stand outside facing the open-air altar. The church has been extensively restored. Its name comes allegedly from the custom of consecrating arms and horses there before battle. In the NW part of the village, incorporated into house and garden walls, are substantial remains of cyclopean walls and caves/cellars. Right of the road inside the village is a small ruined basilica. In 2000, a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under Professor Michael Stone excavated on the S side of the Yeghegis river opposite the village (take the road that winds under the damaged Azeri cemetary and cross the footbridge) a Jewish cemetery with some 40 gravestones with Hebrew inscriptions, attesting to the existence of a literate and prosperous Jewish community in Yeghegis in the 1200's. Somewhere on the mountain a few km NE are ruins of 13th c. Gyulum Bulaghi Vank (probably Upper Noravank, attested in manuscripts).

A few km E on the main road is Hermon, (214 p), until recently Ghavushugh. Guney Vank, plausibly identified with the anciently attested monastic center Hermoni Vank, of the 9-17th c, is somewhere nearby up a difficult road, with S. Grigor Lusavorich church and a 12-13th c. cemetery. N of Hermon is the former village of Kalasar, with scant remains of a church and cemetery. Taking the left fork in Hermon, and then the next left (signposted for Arates Vank), an asphalt road winds N to a small military checkpoint, beyond which is the village of Arates (formerly the Azeri village of Ghzlgyul, 0 p). Arates Vank* =50= has the 7th c. S. Sion church; Astvatsatsin of 10th c. church; and S. Karapet of 13th c. church; a ruined gavit built in 1265/70, by order of Prince Smbat Orbelian, architect Siranes under Abbot Hayrapet. Dirt roads lead beyond into the mountains.

Keeping right at the turnoff for Arates, one climbs to the village of Vardahovit (179 p, formerly the three Azeri hamlets of Gyulliduz (with huge khachkar), Gharaghaya, Gyadikvank). The current population (130 families in summer, 30 in winter) is half refugees from Azerbaijan, half locals. When the weather holds, they scratch out a bare existence with wheat and potatoes. Continuing straight through the village, a deteriorating dirt road leads to the large, totally ruined hamlet of Gyadikvank, which has, left of the road, a few khachkars and worked blocks from a disappeared monastery. According to the mayor, the inhabitants of Gyadikvank were removed, with compensation, before the Karabakh crisis, with the aim of building a reservoir. Somewhere a few km NE is supposedly a monastery of the 10th c, Kotur Vank/Ghoturvan, with a church of 1271. Beyond Gyadikvank, the jeep track leads on through the mountains to Vardenis and Kelbajar.

Returning to Hermon, the other (S) fork leads in 3.2 km up to Goghtanik (236 p, formerly Ghabakhlu), with an artificial cave, a 13th c. bridge, and 13th c. church. Climbing out of the Yeghegis R. valley, the road becomes a mud track, impassible in winter (summit of pass 8.6 km from Hermon). On the far side of the pass (15.7 km), on the Herher river, is Karmrashen, (317 p, 65 families, originally Kyotanli), from 1963 a construction site for the Arpa-Sevan tunnel, which was completed in 2000(?). On a hill E are ruins of a small church, and 1.5 km SW are ruins of two more. There is a carved votive to Saints Peter and Paul, set up by Prince Elikum Orbelian in 1291, one km S of town.

The road improves markedly at Herher, (719 p) with its Surp Sion Monastery one km NE on a hilltop, first attested in the 8th c. There are S. Sion and Astvatsatsin churches. On the interior S wall of the latter, an inscription reads: "By the will of Almighty God, this is the memorial inscription and the indelible monument of the glorious Baron Varham, son of Vasak, grandson of the great Magistros, and of his pious wife Sandoukht and of their handsome offspring Ukan, and of the powerful and great general Varham, and of his Christ-loving mother Mamkan, and the well-born lady wife of Gontza, who built this church with much toil and ornamented it with rich plate for my long life and that of my wife and our children Ukan ... An offering to the Holy Monastery in 732/AD 1283."

In the village itself is a 19th c. S. Gevorg church and, just S, Grigor Lusavorich shrine (1296), with S. Gevorg or Chiki Vank of 1297; SE 1 km is the small Kapuyt Berd ("Blue Castle") on a summit; various other ruins nearby, including a ruined village with 14th c. khachkars. In the 13th c, Herher was fief of the Orbelian vassals, the Shahurnetsi family. The Herher road rejoins the main Yeghegnadzor-Goris road about 6.5 km E of Vaik.

Yeghegnadzor and Environs -- Tanahat, Boloraberd (Section 4;Map P)

Aghavnadzor, (1939 p) has 13th c. Aghjkaberd fort 1 km E; S. Astvatsatsin Church of 12th c. 4km NE, with funerary monument of 1009; ruined caravansaray 4 km NW; and 4 km N the Ul Gyughi 13-14th c. church.

Yeghegnadzor, (7724 p), historically Yeghegik, an ancient seat of the Orbelian family, until 1935 Keshishkend, from 1935-57 called Mikoyan. Turning left up the main road into town, bear left to pass the hotel (60 rooms, bleak), then bear right. 100 m beyond on the left is a white building with round doorway destined to be the Museum, once funds are found to set up the exhibits. A small display room in the basement shows interesting medieval pottery, while the storerooms contain everything from fossils to spinning wheels. At the west side of town is a 17th c. church of S. Sargis, still in use. Immediately beyond it is a fortified mound surrounded by a cyclopean wall. Yeghegnadzor's cannery, cheese factory, rug factory are moribund.

Continuing N up the road past the Museum, one reaches the village of Gladzor (2095 p) until 1946 Ortakend; inhabitants came from Soma, Iran in 1830. There is the so-called Vardani berd of the 9th c. on SW edge, with khachkars; also 1692 S. Hreshtakapet (Archangel) church. Continuing, the road reaches Vernashen, (1170 p, historical name Srkoghovk, known till 1946 as Bashkend) site of the Masis shoe factory. Inhabitants came from Salmast in 1829. In village, S. Hakob church of 17th c. built with earlier carved blocks, has been converted into a museum for the Gladzor university. There are photographs and maps charting the existence of educational institutions in Armenia, and the influence of Gladzor and its pupils. Outside the door are seven modern khachkars representing the trivium and quadrivium, the 7 branches of medieval learning. Tanahati Vank* (or Tanade) =75= (40 44.37n x 044 52.09e), the actual site of the university is 7 km SE continuing along the same narrow paved road. The S. Stepanos church was built 1273-79 by the Proshian family (family crest of eagle with lamb in its claws carved in S wall, with the Orbelian crest of lion and bull near it). Here is the story of S. Stepanos, as told by Kirakos Gandzaketsi (tr. R. Bedrosian):

At this time, in the year 222 A.E. [= 773], Step'annos, the court priest, who was recognized as an eloquent man, attained mastery of all scholarly and grammatical knowledge, with spiritual virtue. In Armenia there were select, enlightening vardapets then, [among them] lords Ep'rem, Anastas, Xach'ik and Dawit' Horhomayets'i, and the great scholar Step'annos Siwnets'i, a pupil of Movses, whom we recalled above. Step'annos was a translator from the Greek to the Armenian language who, beyond his translations, wrote spiritual songs of sweet melody, sharakans, kts'urds (anthems), and other songs. He also wrote brief commentaries on the Gospels, on grammar, on the Book of Job and [the hymn] "Lord, that the edge of night..." (Ter et'e shrt'ants'n gisheroy). It is said that from childhood, the blessed Step'annos was versed in the writings of holy men. Aspet Smbat, a Diophysite, was antagonistic toward Step'annos. So Step'annos left him in disagreement and went to Rome where he found a certain orthodox hermit with whom he stayed and learned from. Now when Smbat heard about this, he wrote to the Byzantine emperor [informing him] that Step'annos was a heretic who anathematized the emperor's confession, and that he was [66] staying with a certain hermit named such-and-such. The emperor became furious and ordered Step'annos to court. But the hermit first advised him to say about himself: "I am a beggar and a wanderer". When the emperor heard this, his angry rage subsided. Becoming bold, Step'annos entreated the emperor to open the trunks of sacred writings for him. Finding there a book with golden letters containing an account of the faith, he showed it to the emperor. [The latter] upon reading it, sent Step'annos to the city of Rome to bring thence three similar books about the true faith, so that the country be converted to that religion.
Now Step'annos, heedless of the autocrat's order, took the books from Rome and went to the city of Dwin in order to enlighten his country with them. And lord Dawit' ordained Step'annos bishop of Siwnik', at the request of K'urd and Babgen, princes of Siwnik'. After occupying the episcopacy for only a year, [Step'annos] was slain by a whore from Moz district. His body was taken to a chamber in Arkaz; from there they laid it to rest in the monastery of T'anahat. The venerable Step'annos brought the writings to the bishopric of Siwnik'; three ranks for the bishops of Armenia were established. Now a certain cenobite named Noah (Noy), saw a vision in which Step'annos' breast was covered with blood as he stood before the Savior, saying: "Behold this, Lord,for Your judgements are righteous". Notifying the cenobites in the district about the coming wrath, he admonished them to pray. Then behold, from On High an impenetrable darkness enveloped the borders of Moz, and the place shook for forty days. Ten thousand people were buried [in the earthquake], for which reason the place was named Vayots' Dzor [Valley of Sighs], as it still is today. For those in pain, and those who are ill, there is much healing in Step'annos' relics, for those who seek the intercession of the blessed man. In this world God glorifies those who glorify Him, while in the next world, He gives them good things He has prepared, [things] "which eye has not seen, which ear has not heard, and which the heart of mankind has not experienced" [I Corinthians 2, 9].

Varaga S. Nshan shrine of 13th c adjoins S. Stepanos Church. South of it, among the ruins of the educational buildings, are foundations of a small 5th c. basilica. The site was excavated in 1970 by I. Gharibian. Gladzor University flourished from 1291 till the 1340s and was a bastion of Armenia's theological resistance to Uniate Catholicism. About 3 km E of Tanahati Vank is Arkazi S. Khach (Holy Cross) Vank =30= (39 46.80n x 045 25.30e), a church completely rebuilt in 1870-71, still a significant pilgrimage site particularly on October 8 or 11. According to legend, a piece of the true Cross, given by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius to the wife of Burtegh, ruler of Syunik, was buried in the walls.

Boloraberd* or Proshaberd =40= 39 49.83n x 045 22.53e), is 6-7 km N of Vernashen on a poor jeep track (L just beyond Gladzor U. Museum, then left at dead end upon another dirt road. Right just before the first house you reach, and go a long way until a small black and white sign where you take your final right. Soon, Spitakavor Monastery will appear on your left, then the fortress atop the huge rock outcrop on your right. Don't try this in wet or muddy conditions.) The fortress was built in 13th c. by Prince Prosh, namesake of the Proshian family; shrine to E. About one km distant is the Spitakavor S. Astvatsatsin church* =70= (39 49.75n x 045 21.87e), built in 1321 by the Proshians, with a bell tower of 1330 and rich sculptural decoration similar to that of Noravank and perhaps by the same artists. There are traces of a ruined 5th c. basilica. {Along a short path below the picnic area is a spring} In the yard of the monastery are buried the earthly remains of the famous Turk-fighter Garegin Nzhdeh, brought secretly to Armenia in 1983. Nzhdeh, born Garegin Ter-Harutyunian in 1886, the son of a village priest in Nakhichevan, led an Armenian band fighting alongside the Bulgarians in the 1912 First Balkan War. He then led a combined Armenian-Yezidi volunteer detachment against the Turks in WWI. In the 1919-21 battles for Armenian independence, Nzhdeh led the Armenian irregular forces in Zangezur (now S. Syunik Marz). Forced into exile with the Sovietization of Armenia, Nzhdeh pursued fruitless negotiations with Nazi Germany in hopes of redeeming the lost Armenian lands of Eastern Turkey. He died in a Soviet prison in 1955.

Some 150 meters E past the main turnoff into downtown Yeghegnazdor, a paved road goes S toward Agarakadzor, (1204 p), just across the Arpa. Immediately after crossing the bridge, turn right and follow the dirt road downstream about 2 km to the well-preserved 13th c. bridge* which served once the road to Julfa. There is a 13-15th c. graveyard 2km E of town. On the N bank of the Arpa somewhere nearby is the abandoned site of Erdes with a ruined medieval castle and a small church.

Moving East to Vayk (Section 5;Map P)

Some 3 km E beyond the large and active village of Malishka (4204 p with brand new church), a dirt road right leads to the sparse remains of Moz, the original city of Vayots Dzor, ruined by earthquake in the 8th c. There is a Bronze Age burial ground, an early fort and church of the 7th c. Other smaller sites in the Malishka region reportedly include Ghaluchay fort 2 km SE, 13-15th c.; Solyani fort in Doshalti. A once-paved road about 4 km E of Malishka crosses the Arpa and ends at Zedea (160 p) formerly Zeita, a small mountain village with a few khachkars amid bleak but interesting scenery.

Vayk (5458 p) (originally Soylan, from 1956-1994 Azizbekov, named for one of the few ethnic Azeris among the famous 26 Baku commissars, vanguard of Azerbaijan's largely ethnic Armenian proletariat, whose short-lived Bolshevik government of Baku was deposed as the Turkish army approached. Fleeing to Turkmenistan, the 26 were detained and finally executed in September 1918 by jittery local authorities after the British refused to take them), on the Arpa r.; Tigran Hotel, restaurants. One km E is a bridge rebuilt by General Paskevich in 1827.

Somewhere N above Vaik is Arin (240 p) formerly Daylakhlu, founded in the mid-19th c. on an older site. South from Vaik is Azatek (565 p), with a 17-18th c. church and ruins of a castle locally called Smbataberd; residents came from Salmast in 1828. Two km S is S. Hakop shrine of 1072, with S. Marinos shrine nearby. The disused village of Por has a 19th c. church and a medieval cemetery.

Southern Vayots Dzor (Section 6;Map P)

Crossing the second bridge after leaving Vaik puts one on the paved road to Zaritap (1333 p), (until 1935 Pashaghu, then until 1957 Azizbekov), with 13th c. khachkars, a modern church, and traces of an old fort. A regional tobacco center. Continuing straight past Zaritap, one takes the unmarked left fork to reach the newer section of Martiros village (656 p). At the military barracks, turn left and bear left again to reach in 2 km the older part of Martiros, founded, as a huge khachkar still attests, in 1283 at the command of Prince Prosh and his son Paron Hasan. Opposite the khachkar is a basilica built in 1866 and extensively rebuilt in the 1980s, including half-finished buildings for a future theological academy. A local woman named Taguhi Zeldian saw a vision here, and inspired the All-Holy Trinity Second Jerusalem church.

Just before entering this part of Martiros, a dirt road forks right, around the hill and across a flat field. Stop at the far edge, and follow the slope around to the left (E) toward a lone khachkar with several tumbled monument bases. A rough track SE follows a water channel around to a small dam in the gorge. Cross it, and climb about 100 m to a little door in the rock leading to the rock-cut S. Astvatsatsin church =30= (39 35.17n x 045 31.28e) and side chapel, founded by Matevos vardapet in 1286 at the behest of the Proshians (who also built the rock-cut Geghard). There is an underground passage, now blocked, to the stream, and caves below left of the church.

The right fork in new Martiros leads to Sers (221 p). The right fork closer to Zaritap on the Zaritap-Martiros road leads to Khndzorut (515 p, 19th c. church), until 1946 Almalu (Turkish name also means "apple-ish"). Somewhere NW of Khndzorut is the abandoned site of Horadis, with a church of 1668. Gulistan village near Khndzorut has a ruined fortress S. Bardzruni village further E has a small church used as a shop.

Turning E through Zaritap, a left fork leads to Akhta, populated by Azeris until 1990, now with a single occupant. The cemetery has ram and other animal-shaped tombstones. The right fork leads to Gomk, (260 p) formerly Gomur, with a 17th c. church and an important shrine/khachkar of 1263. The inscription reads, "In 712 of the Armenian era, under the pious Prince Prosh, Mkhitar, Arevik, son of Khoidan, set up this cross and chapel. In the village there was not even a church; we have built this church with our own means with much trouble, for us and our parents. You who read, remember us in your prayers." Kapuyt has various khachkars and inscriptions of the 10-15th c.

Jermuk and Eastward -- Gndevank (Section 7;Map P)

Continuing on toward Jermuk, in the gorge of the Arpa river, below the village of Gndevaz, (960 p, Astvatsatsin church of 1686, water channel of 11th c.), is Gndevank* =65= (39 45.53n 045 36.69e) This monastery was founded in 936 by Princess Sofia of Syunik, who reportedly boasted that "Vayots Dzor was a jewelless ring, but I built this as the jewel on it." Inside the S. Stepanos church of 936 is a wall-painting of Mary and the Christ child, thought to be contemporary with the church. The gavit, built during the time of Abbot Kristapor, dates to 999, but the monastery circuit wall is late medieval. The monastery is surrounded with high walls. in the southern and western parts of the precincts are rows of domestic buildings for the use of the monks. The restoration works on the church and the jhamatun, damaged by earthquakes, were undertaken between 1965 and 1969 thanks to financial aid from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, in Lisbon. Gndevank can be reached by taking the narrow road on the W side of the river (this "old Jermuk road", though in disrepair and narrow, is a very scenic route and unless you don't mind a serious hike, much easier as you can drive right up to the monastery which is across a little bridge on the right. The whole old road has nice natural surroundings and a stream and is perfect for camping, hiking, and dirt biking), or by taking the main Jermuk road, turning left till the far lower edge of Gndevaz, and walking about 2 km (?). The village of Kechut has three ruined churches of the 7th, 13th and 17th c. Khachkars from there were used to build a later bridge over the Arpa.

Jermuk =70= (39 50.38n 045 40.25e), (5146 p) on the Arpa r., 2080 m elevation. Named for the hot springs (up to 65 C), source of the famous fizzy water. There is a picturesque waterfall, interesting walks, a rock formation in the shape of Vardan Mamikonian, and the possibility of a cure of most human ailments at one of the many sanatoriums, where, for about $10, you can soak in a bathtub of piping hot mineral water for exactly 15 minutes before the Soviet nurses begin frantically warning you that you are going to "overdose" on the medicinal water if you do not get out right away. There is a nice tiny roadside pool across the river from the waterfall if you prefer to relax uninterrupted for free. The entire resort area has undergone massive renewal and is once again a popular destination. A rich village in medieval times, its remains are under the modern buildings.

A right turn (S) at or just after the main turnoff for Gndevaz and Jermuk leads to Artavan (425 p), with 18th c. bridge, cemetery, probably a fief of Tatev. Continuing on takes one to Saravan (317 p, till 1956 Darb, Azeri until 1988), with a 17th c. church and some medieval gravestones, and Ughedzor, formerly Kochbek, on the Darb river. At the summit of the pass, one enters the Marz of Syunik (Map K).

The Orbelian Princes
By Brady Keisling

The Orbelian lords of Syunik were a fascinating family, documented in inscriptions throughout Vayots Dzor and Syunik, and recorded by the family bishop Stepanos in his 1297 History of Syunik. They traced their legendary origin back to China (or at any rate somewhere east and exotic), but from the 4th through 12th century were a major feudal family in Georgia, with their home base the fortress of Orbet in or near Abkhazia. In the late 12th century, their leader Ivane led his whole extended clan on the losing side in a power struggle between the deceased king's young heir, Ivane's protege Demetre, and the king's brother Georgi. Ivane sent his brother Liparit and nephews Elikum and Ivane to the Persians in Tabriz for help, but this new army came too late, after Ivane had been blinded, his family strangled, and young Demetre blinded and castrated.

Liparit died in exile. One son, Ivane, returned to Georgia when the situation cooled down; his descendants, on their dwindled estates, stayed prominent in Georgia and even the USSR. Honored by the Persian atabek, other son Elikum stayed and became an important official, converting (half-heartedly and maybe not at all) to Islam and dying in one of the atabek's wars. He left behind a widow, sister of an Armenian bishop of Syunik, and a young son Liparit. These quickly became, involuntarily, the wife and step-son of a Muslim notable in Nakhichevan.

In the year 1211 a combined Georgian and Armenian army under Ivane Zakarian wrested control of Syunik from the Turks. Remembering the Orbelians -- whose dominant role in Georgia the Zakarians had since filled -- Ivane made a search, located Liparit thanks to the bishop brother-in-law, and established him as feudal lord of Vayots Dzor. Bolstered by marriage alliances with its feudal relations the Khaghbakians or Proshians and others, the Orbelians flourished, building or supporting a network of fine monasteries, historically important manuscripts, and inscribed khachkars. Every medieval monastery in Vayots Dzor bears inscriptions recording their patronage.

The Mongol arrival imposed the need for fast footwork. In 1251 and 1256, the prudent and multi-lingual Orbelian prince Smbat made arduous pilgrimages to Karakorum, armed with a splendid jewel and divine blessing, and persuaded Mangu Khan, son of Genghis, the Mongol ruler, to make Syunik and its churches a tax-exempt fiefdom under Mangu's (or at least his Christian mother's) direct patronage. The family expanded its influence, helped by an apparently genuine and reciprocated liking and respect for the Mongols, at least until the Mongols converted to Islam. In 1286, the scholar of the family, the historian Stepanos, made the pilgrimage to the Western Armenian kingdom in Cilicia and was made Metropolitan -- presiding archbishop --of the newly amplified See of Syunik.

The fiefdom was divided in three from 1290-1300, then reunited by Burtel, who ruled a flourishing principality and was ultimately named Mayor/Amir of the Mongol capitals Sultania and Tabriz. This close cooperation with the Mongol rulers had its price. Several Orbelians died on the Khan's campaigns far from home, and one spent 12 years a captive in Egypt before being ransomed. The Orbelians survived the arrival of Timur Lenk and his Turkmen hordes in the 1380s, but in the collapse of Timur's empire into warring factions, Smbat, the last firm Orbelian ruler of Syunik, chose the wrong side and, on the capture of his stronghold of Vorotnaberd (S of Sisian) in 1410, decamped for Georgia where he died. Orbelians managed to retain property in Vayots Dzor throughout the 15th c, though many of them emigrated to their relatives in Georgia.

Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook
Intro, Yerevan, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Syunik, Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Karabakh (Askeran, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Shushi), Nakhichevan, Western Armenia, Cilicia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Maps, Index




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