Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook- Yerevan
YEREVAN CITY (pop. 1,091,235)
The land of today's Armenia was for most of its history a rural society, with few cities of its own. The modern city of Yerevan was built on tragedy and dreams. Little more than a garrison town of mud-brick and gardens before its first brief experience as capital of an independent Armenia in 1918, the city burgeoned under Soviet rule. The flood of refugees from the 1915 holocaust and its aftermath fueled an uneasy but productive alliance between Armenian nationalism and Soviet hopes of spreading the Communist gospel through the Armenian Diaspora. Modern Yerevan was built, deliberately, to be the universal center and pole of attraction for the diaspora, with an educational and cultural infrastructure far out of proportion to the size or intrinsic wealth of Soviet Armenia. Only now, with independence has Yerevan truly become the center of both the Republic of Armenia and the far-flung Armenian Diaspora.
In 1988, when the collapse of the Soviet Union became visible, Yerevan was a full-fledged, booming Soviet city of 1 million people. A gracious street plan of parks, ring-roads, and tree-lined avenues had been laid out by the architect Alexander Tamanian and his successors in the 1920s and 1930s for a population they dreamed might reach 200,000. That goal long surpassed, the process of expansion to reach the magic million-person threshold that qualified Yerevan for a metro and the other perquisites of a city of all-Union importance involved Armenia's successive First Secretaries in sordid expedients and half-finished, earthquake-vulnerable construction projects in sprawled, depressing suburbs. Today the center is experiencing a construction boom, and Alexander Tamanyan's plans for a pedestrian blvd. stretching from the Opera to Republic Square is a massive project well on its way. Many of Yerevan's oldest and finest little buildings have been removed in this effort.
The success of the 1988 independence movement dealt the city a series of major shocks, first with the forced emigration of a centuries-old Muslim (mostly Azerbaijani Turkish) population, and its replacement by newly impoverished refugees from Baku. The disastrous collapse of the Soviet economic system (Armenia made high-tech pieces of everything, but produced all of practically nothing) triggered the economic migration of hundreds of thousands of impoverished Armenians bound for the bright lights of Moscow or Glendale. A reliable census took place in 2001, counting just over 3 million heads in the country.
The city of Yerevan preserves little of its early history in a form of interest to casual visitors. Behind the anonymous Soviet facades, however, a rich and complex life took place and still does, in the "bak" or courtyard or in private apartments far better furnished -- with books, musical instruments, art, and hospitality -- than 70 years of official culture or a decade of grim poverty would suggest. There are thousands of Yerevantsis who know, love, and can present their city far better than I, so this chapter is designed for those with no opportunity to seek one out, and with apologies for its sketchiness.
Archaeology (Section 1)
Yerevan is a very ancient place. Caves in the walls of the Hrazdan river gorge, particularly near the modern Yerevanian Lake, show traces of Stone Age habitation. The substantial Chalcolithic settlement of Shengavit, scientifically of great importance for the prehistory of the whole region, is perched on the slope on the far side of the lake (from the airport road, take the road SE across the dam, then turn left). There you will find the crumbling circular foundations of a number of rubble and mud-brick houses, once surrounded by a stone fortification wall and with an underground passage leading to the river. Four settlement phases have been identified, from the end of the 4th millennium B.C. to the beginning of the second millennium B.C.
The Urartian kingdom centered on Lake Van in Eastern Turkey gave Yerevan its first major impetus. The Urartians built the citadel of Erebuni' =40=, on the hill of that name in SE Yerevan. A substantial museum at the base of the hill formerly known as Arin Berd houses many of the finds, including a few examples of Urartu's splendid metalwork. The citadel itself was founded by Argishti I son of Menua, King of Urartu in the year 782, the first Urartian conquest on the East side of the Arax. We know this on the basis of a cuneiform inscription discovered built into the fortification wall by the gate, an inscription which reads roughly as follows: "By the greatness of the god Khaldi, Argishti son of Menua built this great fortress, named it Erebuni, to the power of Biainili and the terror of its enemies. Argishti says: the land was waste, I undertook here great works..." Armenian scientists argue that one can derive the name Yerevan from Erebuni by a series of simple phonological shifts, suggesting that modern Yerevan is the lineal descendant of this 8th c. B.C. citadel. In 1998, the Mayor of Yerevan arranged a festivity marking the 2780th birthday of Yerevan. A good time was had by all.
The site has been heavily restored, not always well, and those restorations badly need their own restoration, making it difficult to separate original Urartian walls from Achaemenid Persian remodeling. In any case, enough survives to convey that this was a large, complex center, with shrines, palatial rooms with elaborately frescoed walls, and major storage facilities. A number of smaller cuneiform inscriptions on basalt building stones attest to a "susi," apparently an Urartian temple.
About a century after Erebuni was built, in the first year of Urartian King Rusa II, the inhabitants of Erebuni seem to have relocated to a citadel they called Teishebai URU (City of the God Teisheba), the site now known as Karmir Blur ("Red Hill"). This site overlooks the Hrazdan river from a bluff downstream from Shengavit (from the airport road, cross the dam, turn right on Aragats Ave., then right again about 1 km down, and go to the end). The site takes its name from the huge pile of decomposed red mud-brick, some of which still sits atop the impressive stone foundations of the city wall.
Yerevan's history fades away after Karmir Blur in terms of things to look at, with the early Armenian kings and Roman and Persian conquerors preferring Artaxiasata to the south and Vagharshapat/Ejmiatsin to the north. The horrific earthquake of 1679 completed the destruction done by passing Arab, Mongol, Persian, and Ottoman armies over the centuries. Still, bits and pieces remain for the patient explorer.
The Erivan Fortress (Section 2)
Reconstituted in the 17th century as a Persian city-fortress guarding the marches with the Ottoman Empire, Yerevan was a key military/strategic point at the intersection of three empires. At the beginning of the 19th century, first the French and later the British sent military experts to prop up Persia against Russian aggression. Drawing on their expertise, the last Khan of Yerevan made his headquarters the strongest and most modern fortress in the Persian Empire, with a cannon factory and arsenal. The palace was large and gracious, with fountains, a hall of mirrors, painted ceilings depicting the Persian epic hero Rostom, and other trappings of civilized living.
In 1804 Prince Tsitsianov led a Russian army against Yerevan, but was forced to withdraw, a number of Armenian notables and their retainers retreating with him to Georgia. Displeased with the lack of local Armenian assistance to his cause, the haughty Georgian prince penned a scornful letter in 1805 to the leading Armenian notables of Yerevan, Melik Abraham and Yüzbashi Gabriel, when they begged him to try again:
- "Unreliable Armenians with Persian souls -- You may for now eat our bread, hoping that you may purchase it. But if by next fall your people have not planted enough grain to have a surplus for sale, then be warned that by spring I shall chase you not only to Erevan but to Persia. Georgia is not required to feed parasites. As to your request to save the Armenians of Erevan, who are dying in the hands of unbelievers: do traitors deserve protection? Let them die like dogs; they deserve it. Last year when I surrounded the Erevan fortress, the Armenians of Erevan, who do not deserve even a grain of pity, were in control of Narin-Kale (note: an outlying bastion). They could have surrendered it to me but did not, and you, Yüzbashi, being the main advisor of Mohammad Khan of Erevan, were in league with them and helped the khan in his intrigues and lies against me. Now you have fled, and God has punished you for betraying the favors of his Imperial Majesty. Do you think I am like other generals, who do not realize that Armenians and Tatars are willing to sacrifice thousands for their own benefit? ... Do you, therefore, think that I can rely on the word of two yüzbashis and Persians, who promise to surrender the fortress upon the appearance of Russian forces? ..." (quoted in Bournoutian 1998)
Tsitsianov was murdered in 1806 outside the walls of Baku, and his loss was little lamented. Future Russian leaders were more diplomatic, and found the Armenians of Yerevan better allies, though by no means in a position to liberate themselves from the 3000 troops of the Persian garrison. General Gudovich tried and failed in 1808, but General Paskevich succeeded, entering Yerevan on October 2, 1827, as recounted in a British War Office summary:
- "As soon as Paskiewitch assumed the command-in chief (note: in 1827) he had a siege train carried up to the neighborhood of Erivan, which fortress was still held by the Persians. Leaving the train in a redoubt near Erivan, he marched to Abasabad, a new and regular European fortress on the banks of the Arax near Nachitschevan. This place opened its gates to him. Sardarabad, a large fortified village on a canal fed by the Arax, was next taken, and the stock of provisions found in it placed Paskiewitch in a position to commence the siege of Erivan. Erivan had already been twice unsuccessfully besieged, and was considered almost impregnable. The fortifications consisted of two walls, an outer 25 feet and an inner 35 feet high round three sides; the steep cliff of the ravine of the Zangi formed a natural defense on the fourth side. Two weak detached bastions on European principles had been added since an attack by General Gudevich. Trenches were advanced under the natural cover of the ground almost up to the foot of the walls. The batteries effected a breach in a single day's firing; many of the garrison deserted during the night, and on the following day Erivan was taken by assault."
Paskevich continued S to Tabriz, and forced Persia to cede all the territory N of the Arax river to the Russian Empire in the Treaty of Torkmenchay. Paskevich was rewarded with the title Count of Yerevan, and went on to further glory as the brutal suppressor of a revolt in Poland. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Armenians flocked into the liberated territories from Persia and the Ottoman empire.
Yerevan itself remained a garrison town, but the fortress had lost its importance. When Berge visited Yerevan in January 1848, he reported that the thick, crenellated mud-brick walls of the Yerevan fortress were already deeply crevassed, dissolving in the rain as mud-brick does unless roofed and maintained. The Sardar's superficially splendid palace slowly melted as well, and had become an eyesore by mid-century. In Soviet times, the last traces of the fortress disappeared; the hulking basalt prison of the Yerevan Wine Factory marks the site, though the fortress walls once extended up and down the river as well as back toward town. An inscription in Armenian on the lower wall of the Wine Factory commemorates the staging in 1827 of a play by Griboyedov, a Russian diplomat/writer in Paskevich's entourage, who was murdered in 1829 with the rest of the Russian Embassy in Tehran.
The City (Section 3)
In 1827, Yerevan was a town of 1736 low mud-brick houses, 851 shops, 10 baths, seven caravansaries, and six public squares, set among gardens likewise walled with mud. Czar Nikolai I found no more endearing description for Yerevan during his one brief visit in 1837 than "a clay pot," and the Russian travel writer Mardovtsiev found little difference in the 1890s: "Clay houses with flat clay roofs, clay streets, clay squares, clay surroundings, in all directions clay and more clay." Yerevan remained a garrison town of 12,500 inhabitants, more than half Muslim, a place of low, flat-roofed houses and lush walled gardens, until the 20th century. Practically nothing of this earlier town remains, except in Kond, tucked between Saryan St. and the Dvin Hotel on Proshian ("Barbecue") and Paronian Streets. The hill of Kond was a predominantly Armenian neighborhood in Persian times, presided over by the Geghamian family of meliks, Kond is the neighborhood that preserves a taste of the city's oriental past. Set apart for preservation in Soviet times, Kond's winding alleyways and tumbledown houses are now being razed surreptitiously to build orange tuff palaces for Yerevan's post-Soviet gentry. But a careful search still reveals crumbling archways and courtyards of an older Armenia.
The easiest access to Kond is by parking in front of the large Post office on Saryan St, and then walking uphill on the road to the left of the post office. Take a short right at the top of the road (behind the post office now) and then the first left up an alley of sorts. A quick left again on the next alley will wind you along a road of clay-walled houses and past an arch with a keystone dated 1863. Continuing around the houses, bearing left at each interestion, will bring you back to your starting point.
The Medieval Bridge (Section 4)
The decayed remnants of a four-arched bridge of 1679 stand on the Hrazdan river just below the fortress, now the site of the Yerevan Wine Factory at the bottom of Mashtots Blvd. Built just after the great earthquake at the expense of the wealthy merchant Hoca P'ilavi, this bridge (also known as the Red Bridge from the tuff used) was extensively modified in 1830 by the Russians. There had been a bridge at this site since very early times, the only connection between the city-fortress of Yerevan and the rich farmlands and caravan routes of the Arax valley.
Churches (Section 5)
In 1828 there were seven Armenian Apostolic churches in Yerevan with a like number of clergy, serving an Armenian population of perhaps 4000. Four of those churches, two of them tiny, survived the Soviet period; before the grand cathedral church of S. Grigor Lusavorich was built in 2001 just E of Republic Square, only one-tenth of one percent of Yerevan's population could attend services at any given moment.
The oldest surviving church in Yerevan, the Katoghike, stands nestled in a courtyard on the W side of Abovian Street just above Sayat Nova Blvd. Its current form dates to 1936 , when the old cathedral church of Yerevan, a substantial but undistinguished basilica rebuilt in 1693/4, was slated for destruction in the name of urban renewal. The archaeologists won a modest concession from Stalin's architects, that they could oversee the dismantling and record the inscriptions and architectural fragments incorporated in the rubble walls. Lo and behold, as the walls came down it became clear that the central apse, the sanctuary, was in fact an almost intact small Astvatsatsin church with inscriptions from the 13th century. Public and scientific outcry won the newly discovered church a reprieve, and since independence it has resumed its religious function, albeit invisibly from the main streets. In front of the church is a small collection of khachkar and other sculpted fragments from the core of the destroyed basilica.
The 17th c. Poghos-Petros (Peter and Paul) church was not so fortunate, destroyed to build the Moscow Cinema. Likewise the S. Grigor Lusavorich church, begun in 1869 but not finished till 1900, gave way to the widening of Amiryan Blvd, and sits underneath the Eghishe Charents school.
The Zoravar Church survives concealed behind apartment fronts in the block bounded by Saryan, Pushkin, Ghazar Parpetsu, and Tumanyan streets, a hodgepodge of architecture dating from 1693 (funded by the wealthy Hoja Panos) and rebuilt at various times, including by local dignitary Gabriel Yuzbashi in the late 18th c. and French benefactor Sargis Petrossian in the 1990s. According to ecclesiastical history, it sits near the site of the tomb/shrine of S. Ananias the Apostle.
In 1684, at the request of King Louis XIV to the Shah of Persia, French Jesuits set up a mission in Yerevan, goal of which was to persuade the Catholicos in Ejmiatsin to bring himself and his church into the Catholic fold. Effectiveness of Jesuit diplomacy was reduced by their habit of dying after a few months, but the second of them, Father Roux, became friendly enough with the Catholicos that when he died in 1686 he was buried by the Catholicos in the "magnificent monastery of Yerevan" next to the Armenian bishops and archbishops. When the newly enthroned Shah Hussein banned wine throughout his dominions in 1694, the missionaries mourned the destruction of Yerevan's vintage, "the best wine in the Persian Empire." Local authorities respected the extraterritoriality of the Jesuits, putting seals on the door of the Mission wine cellar in such a way that the door could still be opened. Nothing remains of the Jesuit mission, nor of the "magnificent monastery of Yerevan" that housed their mortal remains. Yerevan now has a small scholarly outpost of their spiritual descendants, the Mekhitarist fathers, whose headquarters at the San Lazarro island monastery in Venice is full of great art treasures.
In September 2001, the massive St Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral was completed in celebration of the 1700th anniversary of Christianity in Armenia. The main cathedral seats the symbolic number of 1,700 worshippers, and there are two large chapels near the entrance which are primarily for weddings. The holy remains of St. Gregory were brought from Italy in time for the opening, and Pope John Paul II came to pay an official visit shortly after the consecration.
Mosques (Section 6)
At the time of the Russian conquest there were eight mosques in Yerevan. On the capture of the city in 1827, the grateful and prudent inhabitants (both Muslim and Christian) bestowed the fortress mosque on the conquerors to serve as a Russian Orthodox church until a more suitable structure could be built for the purpose a few years later. The largest mosque of Yerevan and only one still preserved, the Gyoy or Gök-Jami, (gök means "sky-blue" in Turkish - more commonly known as the Blue Mosque) was built in AH 1179 or AD 1765/6 by the command of local ruler Hussein Ali-Khan to be the main Friday mosque. The mosque portal and minaret were decorated with fine tile work. The central court had a fountain, with cells and other auxiliary building around it, and stately elm trees. There was an adjoining hamam and school. In Soviet times, the mosque housed the Museum of the City of Yerevan. In the mid-1990s, the powerful Iranian quasi-statal foundation for religious propagation agreed to fund a total restoration of the mosque with shiny new brick and tile. This restoration, structurally necessary but aesthetically ambiguous, was largely finished in 1999. However, Armenian authorities, torn between the need to placate a powerful neighbor and desire to minimize the practice of an unpopular religion, have been slow to bless the reconsecration of the complex as a mosque, suggesting it should serve as a cultural center instead. There is supposed to have been a working mosque somewhere in Yerevan; made superfluous by the 1988-91 population transfers, it burned down.
The Museums (Section 7)
There are dozens of museums in Yerevan, mostly house-museums to writers, painters, and musicians. The entry fee is minimal, and the staff are generally delighted to receive a foreign visitor. If the language barrier can be overcome, the hospitality and taste of a little-known culture will be memorable.
The best museum in Yerevan is small and idiosyncratic, the would-be final home of famed Soviet filmmaker Sergei Parajanov (1924-1990). Though an ethnic Armenian (Parajanian), he was born in Tbilisi and spent most of his professional career in Kiev or Tbilisi. He won international fame with "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" and "The Color of Pomegranates," but his career was crippled by imprisonment (for homosexual liaisons) and denial of resources. Under perestroika, Yerevan claimed him as its own, and built him a lovely house overlooking the Hrazdan gorge in an area of ersatz "ethnographic" buildings on the site of the former Dzoragyugh village (just behind and left of the upscale restaurant "Dzoragyugh," commonly but no longer accurately known as the "Mafia Restaurant" due to a leather-clad clientele, a mysteriously reliable electrical supply during the dark nights of 1993-95, and the occasional use of firearms). Alas, Parajanov died before the house was finished, but it became a lovely museum/memorial that also hosts dinners and receptions to raise funds. Parajanov's visual imagination and subversive humor are represented in a series of compositions from broken glass and found objects. His figurines from prison-issue toilet brushes are proof that a totalitarian, materialist bureaucracy need not prevail. Look for "The Childhood of Genghis Khan" and Fellini's letter thanking him for the pair of socks.
The Matenadaran (manuscript library) is the other world-class museum in Yerevan, not for its exhibitions per se, but rather for its status as the eternal (one hopes) repository for Armenia's medieval written culture. A vast gray basalt mass at the top of Mashtots Blvd. (built 1945-57, architect M. Grigorian), the Matenadaran is guarded by the statue of primordial alphabet-giver S. Mashtots (ca. 400) and those of the other main figures of Armenian literature: Movses Khorenatsi (5th -- or maybe 8th -- century "father of Armenian history"); T'oros Roslin (13th c. manuscript illuminator in Hromkla/Rum Qalat near Edessa); Grigor Tatevatsi (theologian of Tatev Monastery, died 1409); Anania Shirakatsi (7th c. mathematician, studied in Trebizond, fixed the Armenian calendar); Mkhitar Gosh (died 1213, cleric and law codifier); and Frik (ca. 1230-1310, poet). There are khachkars and other ancient carved stones in the side porticos. The entry hall has a mosaic of the Battle of Avarayr, and the central stair frescos of Armenian history, all by H. Khachatrian.
English-speaking guides are usually on deck. Beside the exhibit hall (and a small gift shop with excellent hand-painted reproductions of important manuscript miniatures), there are conservation rooms and shelf on shelf of storage (closed except to specialists with advance permission) for the 17000 manuscripts in a dozen languages. Cut deep in the hillside behind, and shielded by double steel blast doors, is a splendid marble tomb designed to preserve the collection against nuclear holocaust. Alas, the execution did not live up to the grandiosity of the conception -- water from a series of underground springs drips through the vaults, making them unusable until a few million dollars are found for a total reworking.
The State History Museum in Republic Square (formerly Lenin Square) is notable for the statues of Catherine the Great (returned to Russia?) and Lenin squirreled away in a back courtyard ready for any change in the political winds. The important archaeological collection from Stone Age through Medieval periods should not be missed. Note a Latin inscription from Ejmiatsin attesting to the presence of a Roman garrison. There are some interesting models of early modern Yerevan and other historical exhibits of interest to those comfortable in Armenian or Russian.
The floors above contain the National Picture Gallery. Start by taking the elevator to the top, then descend through the huge collection of Russian, Armenian, and European works, some of the latter copies or else spoils of WWII divided among the various Soviet republics.
Accessible from the street running behind the State History Museum is the Middle Eastern Museum and Museum of Literature. The former has an interesting collection, including a carpet-weaving display.
The Museum of the City of Yerevan is essentially defunct, its archaeological and ethnographic collections in storage while the staff sits in a small building at 33A Mashtots Blvd (left of and behind the school) hoping someone will build them a new building to replace the original quarters in the Gök Cami.
The Genocide Memorial and Museum at Tsitsernakaberd ("Swallow Castle") sits on the site of a Iron Age fortress, all above-ground trace of which seems to have disappeared. The Museum's testimony to the 1915 destruction of the Armenian communities of Eastern Anatolia is moving, and the monument itself is austere but powerful. The riven spire symbolizes the sundering of the Eastern and Western branches of the Armenian people. The view over the Ararat valley is striking. More Armenian Genocide information can be found online.
Turning away from the wall of recent martyrs and gazing south, a Western Christian might muse on the 10,000 Martyrs of Mt. Ararat, who are or were still in the Catholic liturgical calendar for June 22. According to a legend that somehow made its way westward to become popular in 14th and 15th century art, 9000 Roman soldiers sent out to the Euphrates frontier with a certain Acacius were led by angelic voices to convert to Christianity. The enraged Roman emperors sent troops against them, another 1000 of whom converted when the stones they threw rebounded vainly from the pious converts. Finally, the 10,000 were subdued and crucified atop Mt. Ararat. A painting of this scene by the late 15th c. Venetian artist Carpaccio shows the persecutors in Turkish garb. Though the legend is too hopelessly garbled to link to any known historical event, and the 10,000 are not part of the Armenian or Orthodox canons, it is tempting to view the cult as the echo of one of several early Armenian cries to the West for help, help that did not come. Purported relics of these martyrs can still be found in various churches of France, Italy and Spain.
Suburbs: Avan, Kanaker, Arindj (Section 8)
The village of Avan, lying in the angle between the Sevan and Garni roads, has been swallowed up by Yerevan. Heading N past the Zoo (on the right, larger than it looks, and not as depressing as it could be) and just before the Botanic Garden (on the left, spacious and nice for walks, with some plans for redemption), take the right off-ramp for Garni, but then go straight through the intersection and turn left at the stop sign. Turn immediately right, and head about 1 km up the main road of Avan. Where the main road turns right at a modern monument and cemetery, continue straight past the intersection a few meters, then take the first left down a narrow lane. The church is about 300 m along, on the left. Like many other early churches, this one is known locally as the Tsiranavor ("apricot-colored"). Avan Church =35= (40 12.85n x 044 34.27e) is the earliest surviving church inside the Yerevan city limits, dating to the late 6th c. At a time when Armenia enjoyed competing pro-Persian and pro-Byzantine katholikoi, the Avan church was built by the pro-Byzantine Katholikos Hovhannes Bagavanetsi (traditional dates 591-603) as his headquarters, while his pro-Persian rival sat in Dvin. Multi-apsed, built on a two-step podium, the church preserves a low arched doorway but is roofless. Historian of Armenian architecture T. Toramanyan believes the church had five peaks - one in the center and the other four in the corners, over the round side-chapels. A surviving inscription preserves the name Yohan in a plausibly early style, but with no title to confirm that this commemorates the founder. The church is built on the site of previous buildings. Some restoration has been done to it in 1940-1941 and in 1956-1966, 1968. There are ruins of monastic buildings N, perhaps the modest seat of one of the katholikosates.
On a slope south of the early village, now on the edge of town, are two chapels, of S. Hovhannes and S. Astvatsatsin, with interesting carvings. Restored several times over the ages, they are believed to originate from the 5-6th centuries. They underwent major reconstruction in the 13th c., but have spent three centuries in ruins since the 1679 earthquake. The Avan cemetery on the west edge of the town has khachkars of the 13-18th c and, across the road, the uninscribed stepped plinth and broken pillar of a 5-6th c. grave monument.
Kanaker was another important self-standing village in medieval times, now absorbed into modern Yerevan. An important khachkar of 1265 stands with pointed roof near the Sevan road, erected by Petevan and his wife Avag-tikin for the remembrance of their souls. The church of S. Hakob was dedicated to Hakob of Mtsbina (aka James of Nisibis), an early 4th c. Syrian bishop who was one of the founders of Armenian Christianity. In Armenian tradition (though not Syriac), S. Hakob attempted along with his followers to climb the mountain of Noah's Ark (which back then was located in Kurdistan south of Lake Van, rather than its currently popular location, Armenian "Masis" or Turkish "Agri Dag" just across the border from Armenia). Led by a vision, he found a piece of the Ark, which he brought down in triumph. He was famous also for the springs of water that burst forth where he laid his head, and also for leading the defense of Nisibis against the Persians in AD 338. Near S. Hakob is a large basilica dedicated to the Mother of God. Both churches have elaborate carved entrances. Ruined in the 1679 earthquake, both were rebuilt soon after, S. Hakob by a wealthy businessman based in Tbilisi, S. Astvatsatsin by local efforts. S. Hakob was the seat of the bishop, with a diocesan school founded in 1868. S. Astvatsatsin was a monastic church, originally walled and with cells. Used as a warehouse in Soviet times, S. Hakob resumed its churchly function in 1990. In the gorge below Kanaker may still remain traces of a ruined "Tivtivi Vank" and of a stone bridge.
Kanaker is famous also as the home of Khachatur Abovian, the school-inspector/novelist who elevated the modern dialect of Yerevan to its current literary eminence. Abovian was a nephew of the hereditary chief of Kanaker village, a descendant, in turn, of the Beglarian clan of meliks of Gyulistan. Abovian contributed to his fame by accompanying Professor Friedrich Parrot of Dorpat University on the first modern ascent of Mt. Ararat (the local one), in September 1829. Abovian disappeared mysteriously in April 1848, leaving a wife and two young children. The favorite theory, albeit with no firm evidence behind it, is that he was kidnapped by the Czar's agents to rid the Empire of a potentially dangerous Armenian nationalist in the year of the great European revolutions. The Abovian house-museum, at 5th Kanaker St (tel 28-16-87) is presumably functioning.
Arindj is a pretty suburb on the left just as you leave Yerevan. A recently paved road turns right from the main Sevan road 2.8km past the bridge/turnoff to Garni. Arindj contains Levons Divine Underground, a fantastic collection of rooms and halls carved from the rock of a local villager over the last 25 years. Extending to a depth of more than 20 meters from the surface, these passages are one of the most unique finds in the Yerevan area. To reach the house, continue into the village about 1.0km from the Sevan road. You will see a small post office on your left; turn immediately right into a dead-end alley & park at the end. A small footpath continues in the same direction as the alley and meets up with a dirt road; turn left and proceed to the fourth house on the right (it has carvings in the shape of a flower bell along the roof). There are no signs; knock (at a reasonable hour) for entry. Donations are expected but not required.
You can also read an old Soviet Guide to Yerevan Online.