Aghjots Vank Monastery
XIII AD, Ararat Marz
A rough dirt 4x4 track continues down into the Reserve, running upstream along the Azat river. At 5 km from the entrance, where Milli Creek (vtak), runs into the Azat from the left, the road straight across the bridge is closed by a gate (key in house on hill back to left). Turning left before the gate along an even rougher track brings one in 200 m to Baiburt. A simple, single-aisle basilica probably of the 5th c. stands left of the road among ruins of old dwellings of an Armenian population deported to Persia by Shah Abbas in the 17th c, and more modern ruins of its more recently departed Azeri population. Baiburt now houses three families of Reserve employees. There are allegedly pagan period remains in the vicinity. Another few km uphill past Baiburt, on a poor jeep track, is the hamlet of Mets Gilanlar, with a few simple wooden huts. Turning left just before Gilanlar, where a less travelled track winds around the side of the hill (rather than the better dirt road to the village) the track continues to a valley across which (20 minutes on foot) are the evocative ruins of the Aghjots Vank/S. Stepanos Church =80= of the early 13th century (though founded, according to local legend, by Gregory the Illuminator on the site of the martyrdom of a certain Stepanos, companion of St. Hripsime). Added to the W end of the church of 1207, funded by Ivane Zakarian and the local prince Grigor Khaghbakian, is a gavit with many inscriptions and khachkars, now partly fallen down the hill, and N is a small chapel of 1270 with with a carved portal flanked by Saints Peter (left) and Paul (bearded, right). The monastery was sacked by the Persians in 1603, subsequently restored, despoiled again in the 18th century, and ruined permanently in Muslim-Christian clashes in 1905/6. S. Stepanos can also be reached on foot or horse (and, in good weather, maybe Jeep) from Goght, about 3 hours of stiff but highly rewarding climb. See below under Goght.