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Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook- Northern Armenia

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Northern Armenia consists of the green canyons and mountains of Lori and Tavush, as well as the high and dry plains and hills of Shirak.

The Debed River Canyon of Lori is a treasure trove monuments. Other parts of lushly forested Lori and Tavush are generously sprinkled with their own rich history and monuments. Shamshadin, tucked away in a remote corner of Tuvush and the carvings in the canyon beyond Yenokavan Canyon are off-the-track gems that few make the effort to discover.

Shirak presents a starker landscape with cooler climes. Gyumri, Armenia's second largest city will give you a taste of what cities in imperial Russia looked like in the late 1800s.

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



Lori is located on Armenia's northern border, the largest in area of Armenia's eleven regions. Bounded on all sides by rugged mountains and cut by sheer gorges, Lori is a dramatically beautiful region, sparsely settled except for the valleys of the Pambak, Debed and Dzoraget rivers. Apart from richly furnished tombs, the early history of the region is little documented, but its medieval monuments are an interesting fusion of Georgian and Armenian, Georgian dominant politically, Armenian culturally. Bone of contention between the King (in Persian eyes a vassal Vali) of Georgia and the Khan of Yerevan during the 18th century, this region was incorporated into the Russian Empire in September 1801 as part of Russia's annexation of Georgia. Until 1918, Lori N of the Pushkin pass was part of the Borchalu region of Tbilisi Gubernia, considered part of Georgia despite its mixed Armenian, Azeri, Russian, Greek, and Georgian population. In a short, sharp war over New Years 1919, a war both Georgians and Armenians deprecated, Armenian troops under their famous war leader Dro pushed N up the Debed river along the railroad, capturing Sadakhlo and beyond. The British military mission in Batumi intervened to broker a cease-fire and partial troop withdrawal, with the modern Georgia-Armenia border one consequence.

Lori's more modern history is shaped by the terrible earthquake of December 7, 1988, centered on the eastern Lori village of Shirakamut. This disaster (best known for the havoc it wrought in Gyumri) destroyed the city of Spitak, damaged Vanadzor (Kirovakan) and Stepanavan, and left scars it will take generations to heal.

Lori is home to Haghpat and Kober monasteries -- two of Armenia's loveliest -- and a host of other important medieval monuments, to the spectacularly sited Lori Castle (Lori Berd), to a pleasing Arboretum in Gyulagarak, and to a range of stunning landscapes. Though lacking a major resort destination, Lori's importance as a transport corridor to Georgia has contributed to the development of a growing number of small hotels and restaurants on the main routes N.

Spitak and Eastward (Section 1; Map I)

Approaching Spitak from the South from Aparan via the 2153 m Pambak Pass, you pass on your right hand Saramej (83 p, till 1946 Chotur, church of 1906), with Jrashen (1119 p, till 1940 Vordnav, 19th c. church) on the left and, further W, Lernavan (1109 p, till 1946 Ghachaghan). This latter has the ruined settlement of Kharabak 2 km W, and a 19th c. church in the village.

Tin church of Spitak cemetary
On the outskirts of Spitak (388 p, till 1949 Hamamlu) you see various housing projects built by the international community to shelter the thousands made homeless by the December 1988 earthquake. On the hill where most of the earthquake victims were buried, often with an etching of the victim on his tombstone, is a tin church, built as a monument to the estimated 4000 killed in Spitak. There is a new, ornate church just off the road and a semi-adequate hotel reached by turning left after the new Cultural Center and before the descent to the railroad tracks.

From Spitak, a road leads S up the mountain to Lernantsk (870 p, till 1950 Spitak, with S. Minas Church of 1910), whence a disused road climbs to the 2378m Spitak pass. North of Spitak is Arevashogh (241 p, till 1978 Zigdamal, 19th c. church, ruined fortress nearby). The map shows a bad dirt road continuing N from Arevashogh 33 km to Urasar and Stepanavan, but locals are highly skeptical that it is passible. East on the main road to Vanadzor, following the Pambak river and the railroad, you pass the turnoffs for Karadzor (4757 p, founded 1836); Ghursal (639 p) with a ruined 7th c. church of S. Gevorg, and Nor Khachakap (438 p, formerly Saral); and Lernapat (415 p, Hajighara till 1946, then Makarashen till 1959), situated in a beautiful mountain valley. It preserves a neglected basilica of 1868 and has an Early Iron Age fortress on a nearby hill. The right/lower fork continues to Halavar (0 p), once occupied by Azeris but now home to a small population of refugees from Azerbaijan. N of the main road, Arjut (2453 p) has a ruined mosque; Darpas (1162 p).

North to Stepanavan (Section 2; Map I, J)

Just before entering Vanadzor, near a cluster of high-rise apartments, a side road takes off north, signposted for Stepanavan. Passing a military base, you reach the village of Bazum (226 p, till 1978 Bezobdal), with Berdatagh ruined fort on a hill 1.5 km NE. W is Aznvadzor (587 p, till 1940 Khanjughaz, then Gyuzeldara, Azeri until 1988). Passing through a long, dark tunnel (which avoids the once deadly 2037 m Pushkin pass), you emerge into a part of Armenia incorporated in Russian imperial times into the Georgian district of Borchalu. There is an excellent roadside khorovats stand among pretty woods. Beyond, Gargar (1096 p, formerly Gerger Hay -- "Armenian Gerger") has a ruined church and S. Amenaprkich shrine.

Off to the W is Pushkino (207 p, till 1937 Gerger Rus, a Russian village); the main road passes Gyulagarak (see below), and Amrakits (127 p, formerly Kirov), this latter with a little Russian Church of the 19th c., and a motel ($20/night, hot water) on the Stepanavan side. Just after the motel, look right across the gorge to see the ruins of Lori Berd, which can be reached by traveling about 4km past the Stepanavan bridge, keeping to the right at all intersections. The city and former regional capital of Stepanavan (1287 p, till 1923 Jalaloghlu) is located on a dramatic green plateau beside the remarkable gorge of the Dzoraget river. There are two pensionats SW of town on the edge of the forest, the Vahagn and the Anahit, which accept overnight visitors (No hot water but the price is right). About 150 m SW of the main traffic circle (with huge statue of the town's namesake, the famous Baku revolutionary martyr Stepan Shahumian) is a modern bright orange tuff cultural center housing a museum to Shahumian. A ruined 5-6th c. church has disappeared, but there is an 11th c restored functioning basilica church E of the main Vanadzor-Tashir road about 0.5 km S of the circle.

Turning right at the back corner of the cultural center, a bumpy road leads W up hill to (3 km) an attractive shrine/picnic site overlooking the city, and then to the villages of Armenis and Urasar (0 p, formerly Kuybishev, renamed for the 2992 m Mt. Urasar). The road continues up and over to Katnaghbyur (526 p, till 1935 Ghotughbulagh), which has a cold spring considered a sacred spot since antiquity.

Along the Gargar River -- Hnevank (Section 3; Map J)

Dendro Park

Turning E in the village of Gyulagarak (210 p) (about 10km prior to Stepanavan), the road passes a ruined church of 1874. Shortly after, the main road turns left while a poor paved road leaning to the right passes South toward the hills, passing the much rebuilt ruined 6th c. Tormak church and a khorovats restaurant to end at a sanatorium and the gates of the "DendroPark"* =45= (40 56.17n x 044 28.85e). This splendid botanical garden, covering 35 hectares, was founded in 1931 to collect, study and acclimatize to Armenian conditions useful trees and other plants. Kept in excellent condition by its director, the son of the founder (buried on the site), Dendropark is a cool and beautiful sanctuary unlike anywhere else in Armenia.

Continuing E from Gyularak parallel to the Gargar River, Hobardzi (287 p) is reported to have a ruined 6th c. single-aisle church. Toward the E end of Vardablur (363 p), a muddy road leads N across the fields to the impressive gorge of the Dzoraget River and to the ruined 6/7th c. Jgrashen church on the edge.

H'nevank Monastery

Entering Kurtan (107 p) from the West, you pass a small ruined single-aisle church. The main road then angles right to cross the stream. Keeping straight on toward the village, you pass a number of large official buildings and then, on the left, after a large schoolyard and fountain, reach the ethnographic museum, open 11-5. A bit beyond is a partially restored S. Astvatsatsin single-aisle basilica, allegedly of the 5th c. Back on the main road, a right turn on a dirt road leads to Antaramut (309 p, till 1948 Kolageran), with a ruined church and various unobtrusive bore holes dug by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1998 for a joint U.S.-Armenian coal exploration project. The paved road from Kurtan gradually descends E along the side of the gorge, heading toward the Debed river. At 6.3 km from the Kurtan intersection, after a series of switchbacks, you reach a spring, monument and picnic table, from which spot a rough track descends to Hnevank* =75= (40 57.17n x 044 35.18e) on a hill inside the dramatically beautiful gorge, near where the Dzoraget and Gargar rivers join. This splendid monastery, decorated with fine stone carving, was built originally in the 7th c., but totally rebuilt by lord Smbat of the then Georgian but later Armenian Orbeli/Orbelian family, ancestor of the Armenian princes of Syunik, in 1144, as a Georgian inscription around the drum attests. There is a gavit of 1186-1206, and several impressive service buildings rise out of the tall grass.

It is likely that this was the monastery known by 13th century historians and scribes as Pghndzahank ("Coppermine"), presumably from some miracle worked at the mines nearby, though other sources believe that Pghndzahank/Phghndzavank was Akhtala. According to Kirakos Gandzaketsi, Atabek Ivane Zakarian took this monastery from the Armenian church and made it a Georgian/Chalcedonian monastery. The remains of both Ivane and his son Avag were brought here to be buried. Stepanos Orbelian recounts how a precious relic of the True Cross, appropriated by Atabek Ivane and stashed in Pghndzahank, was ransomed back for 1000 gold dahekans by Libarit Orbelian and brought back to Noravank after it had miraculously caused the surrender of the fortress of Charek (now in Azerbaijan). Hnevank's Georgian name reportedly translates to "True Cross," perhaps an echo of the story. The 13th c. priest and scribe Simeon, two of whose manuscripts survive, copied in the Pghndzahank scriptorium a work of Gregory of Nyssa and translated from Georgian to Armenian a theological tract of the Neoplatonist Proclus. His colophons confirm that Pghndzahank was a Georgian monastery near Lori (indeed only a few km W).

About 1.5 km beyond Hnevank, a deteriorated dirt road cuts back toward the monastery, crossing the river on a modern bridge and switchbacking up the far side to emerge at Arevatsag (1122 p, till 1978 Nerkin Uzunlar). However, just before leaving the gorge the road passes two steep hills facing one another across the gorge, each garnished with a small fortress/monastery. The right fork in Arevatsag leads to Tsater (928 p), which boasts a church.

Along the Dzoraget -- Lori Berd (Section 4; Map J)

Crossing the bridge over the aptly named Dzoraget ("Gorgeriver") at Stepanavan and turning right at the traffic circle, bump along the road about 1.5 km until just before a cluster of pipe-shaped "temporary" shelters for earthquake victims. The field on both sides of the road is full of huge (10x2x3m) Bronze Age chamber tombs* formed from massive boulders. In some of them, rich bronze grave goods and horse burials were found. Continue to the village of Lori Berd (408 p). There a road angles right through the village, ending at the spectacular fortress of Lori** ("Lori Berd") =40= (41 00.17n x 044 25.85e). This was the capital of David Anhoghin (989-1049) of the Tashir-Dzoraget Kingdom, and was a feudal center of the Kyurikian family. It was taken over by the Orbelian lords of Georgia in the early 12th c, then came under the sway of the Zakarian brothers Ivane and Zakare. When the Mongols arrived, Lori Berd was the capital of Shahnshah, Zakare's son. Kirakos Gandzaketsi described its fall (Tr. R. Bedrosian:)

Chaghatai, the commander of all the detachments of the pagans, heard about the fortification of the city of Lorhe and about the abundance of treasures in it, for located there were the home of prince Shahnshah and his treasury. [Chaghatai] took with him select weapons and many siege machines, and in full readiness he went and settled in around [Lorhe], besieging the city.
Prince Shahnshah took his wife and children, secretly went into the valley there and secured them in a cave. He gave superintendence of the city to his father-in-law['s sons] but because they were weaklings, they spent their time eating and drinking and getting drunk, trusting in the strength of the city walls, and not in God.
The enemy arrived. They dug at the base of the walls and made them collapse, then settled around them and kept watch so that no one would flee. Now once the inhabitants of the city saw that [the Mongols] had taken the city, they began to crowd with fear and filled up the valley. When the enemy saw that, they started to enter the city and indiscriminately cut down men, women, and children taking their goods and belongings as booty. They discovered the treasures of prince Shahnshah which he had extorted and robbed from those he subdued. [He had] constructed there a sturdy treasury which no one could see, since the mouth of the pit was so narrow that treasures could be cast in, but nothing could be removed. They killed Shahnshah's father-in-law['s sons] and they did reconnaissance around all the fortresses in the district taking many both by threats and by treachery. For the Lord gave them into their hands.

Surrounded E, S, and W by the sheer gorges of the Dzoraget and Urut rivers, the N side of the promontory is protected by a massive stone wall with multiple towers. Preserved inside the fortress are two baths, the one on the W edge with complex clay piping inside the masonry. A rectangular roofed structure incorporating various medieval tombstones and Christianized by a couple of flanking khachkars, has no E apse but rather a shallow niche in the S wall facing Mecca, a reminder of Muslim occupation of the fortress till the 18th c. Lori Berd is attested as being inhabited under the Russians, but few traces are left of its recent history. A medieval bridge over the Urut is reached by a steep and winding boulder-cobbled path from the gate, but only one pier base is left of a second bridge over the Dzoraget.

Backtracking through Lori Berd, the NE fork leads to Lejan (1722 p) with a 19th c. church on 5th c. foundations. Lejan hosted in 1907 the 3rd Conference of Borchalu Bolsheviks. Agarak (344 p) is an ancient village, with a ruined 5-6th c. S. Astvatsatsin church, a 17-18th c. church, and a fountain monument of the 10-11th c. Near Yaghdan (1996 p) is a medieval bridge and Karmir Khach ("Red Cross") church of the 13-14th c. N up the gorge is Hovnanadzor (421 p, till 1950 Tazagyugh, founded in 1867), with a medieval cemetery in the gorge housing the tomb of Prince Tute (1241). Koghes (107 p) reportedly has a 13th c. church. Karmir ("Red") Agheg (513 p) has traces of an old fort and Aghek church. On the flank of Mt. Shekaghbyur, Mghart (167 p) has a 14th c. shrine. The village and its produce belonged to Odzun monastery in the 18th c. Beyond Mghart, the road joins up with the once-paved, now deplorable N-S road from Odzun to Arevatsagh (one small church in village; W of village on a hill on the L bank of the Dzoraget are ruins of a medieval guard post; Late Bronze/Early Iron tomb field nearby.

North from Stepanavan (Section 5; Map J)

Khuchapi Monastery

Just N of Stepanavan, a road angles NE toward Bovadzor (702 p, formerly Maksim Gorki), Urut (363 p) and Sverdlov (1306 p, till 1940 Haydarbek, renamed for the Bolshevik leader). This last has a 6-7th c. S. Gevorg or Grigor church. This road leads to Privolnoye (3100 p), then Khuchapi Vank** =90= (41 11.99n x 044 33.84e) of the 13th c., and then crosses the "Wolf's Gates" pass into Georgia at Aghkyrpi.

Khutchapi Vank is situated in a thick forest at the foot of Lalvar Mountain. There used to be a village near the temple with the same name. The massive main church (XIII c) is situated on the S side of the complex, and is fully preserved. From the room to the right of the altar there is a passage which will take you through a narrow stairway in the walls straight up to the roof of the church. The church had 3-m wide vaulted halls on the N & S sides, from which only the half-destroyed walls of the southern one remain. The vestibule took the entire space on the west, and only traces of it remain. Not far from it, lower below, there are half-trimmed stone walls remaining from tower-like two-storied constructions. 25m N of the main church are remainders of the vaulted, one-nave hall. Another small one-nave hall used to stand not too far from the latter one and is considered to be the oldest construction of the complex.

The main road follows the Tashir river N, passing Saratovka (969 p mixed Russian, Armenian); a left turn leads to Novoseltsovo (1856 p) with a Russian school and peat bogs.

The former regional capital of Tashir (380 p) was founded in 1844 and named Vorontsovka after the Russian viceroy, then renamed Kalinino in 1935 after Soviet functionary Mikhail I. Kalinin, who rose to be Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet 1938-46. The Tashir cheese factory used to produced 33% of the USSR's Swiss cheese. Turning E in Tashir, the road leads to Medovka (594 p, old fort nearby) and Lernahovit (1528 p, till 1978 Gharakilisa), with a 12-13th c. church.

Turning West in Tashir, a sadly deteriorated asphalt road leads past the villages of Blagodarnoye (1408 p, a Russian settlement once known as Kirilovka); Meghvahovit (496 p, formerly Karaisa); Noramut (till 1991 Gharaghala, with tomb field, an old bridge, caves, and a ruined medieval fort; Katnarat (S of Blagodarnoye) (392 p, founded in 1923 as a horse-breeding Sovkhoz). It then rises into the mountains, crossing a majestic empty upland (closed in winter) of grass and eagles, and eventually descends into Shirak Marz.

Back on the main road, you pass Mikhaylovka (295 p, originally Imirhasan, population mostly Russian), and Dzoramut (1753 p, formerly Evli) to reach the Georgian border. A right fork leads to Petrovka (220 p, founded 1920), and Norashen (343 p, formerly Bogdanovka), which boasts a museum. 5 km S is a 6-5th c. BC fort, excavation of which produced weapons and figurines. Beyond Norashen in the hills S of the border are Apaven (832 p, formerly Sarkar), Artsni (54 p, formerly Kizildash), and Sarchapet (1193 p), with a ruined church and fort nearby. On Mt. Lok to the N is an 18th c. pilgrimage site.

By-roads NW from Tashir or W from before Dzoramut lead to Metsavan (101 p, originally Ghoshakilisa --"double church", then Shahnazar till 1978), with a 5-6th church and another of the 10th c. There is a ruined fort nearby and a "Tevavor Khach" (meaning: cross with freestanding arms) shrine. W of the village are outcrops of red agate and Acheulian open air workshops. Further W are Dzyunashogh (354 p, till recently Kizilshafak), and Paghaghbyur (369 p, formerly Sovukbulagh -- "Cold Spring"). South from Dzyunashogh or W from Tashir is Dashtadem (2502 p, formerly the Azeri village of Ilmazlu).

Vanadzor and Eastward (Section 6; Map I)

Vanadzor's Russian Church

Vanadzor (93823 p, till 1935 Gharakilisa or "Black Church," till 1992 Kirovakan after Bolshevik Caucasus specialist Sergei M. Kirov/Kostrikov, murdered in 1934 and buried in the Kremlin Wall) is the capital of Lori Marz, Armenia's third largest city, laid out ambitiously in a once-lovely valley now hideously blighted by a huge chemical plant. The plant, privatized in 1999, produced a wide range of chemicals, and also specialized in growing industrial crystals. In 1998, the remaining workers of the plant were using the gas-fired crystal growing boxes to bake potatoes. Vanadzor lost 564 residents in the 1988 earthquake, but preserved most of its grand main street. There is a high-rise hotel with intermittent running water and other amenities in the main square, as well as a number of brand new hotels providing very comfortable and clean accomodations.

Vanadzor's history dates back to the Bronze Age, with interesting tombs and other material finds now, in principle, housed in the local museum. The town received its name possibly as early as the 13th c, from a black stone church on a nearby hill. Totally destroyed in 1826 by Hasan Khan during the Russo-Persian war, the city enjoyed considerable uplift from the opening of the railroad to Tbilisi in 1899. In May 1918, General Nazarbekian's outnumbered troops fought the Turkish Army to a creditable tie, pushing them back a few days later at the crucial battle of Sardarapat. On the N side of the Spitak-Vanadzor highway, about 2 km W of the city, there is a little shrine in the ruins of a church, site of a planned monument to that battle.

Driving E from Vanadzor on the road to Dilijan, one passes the suburb of Shahumyan (2023 p), the turn-off S for Antarashen (157 v.), the Russian village of Lermontovo (992 p, till 1941 Voskresenovka), Margahovit (367 p, till 1978 Hamzachiman, with 3rd millennium BC antiquities on Sarisop), and the village of Fioletovo (841 v.), founded in the late 1820s by Russian schismatics exiled from Tambov District. The village was renamed in 1936 in honor of Ivan T. Fioletov, an old Socialist activist shot with the other Baku Commissars in 1918. From Margahovit a bad jeep track leads S over the mountain to the gold-mining town of Meghradzor in the Marmarik river valley. An impressively underutilized 11 km (?) rail tunnel cuts through the same mountain.

North from Vanadzor on the Debed -- Dsegh, Kober (Section 7; Map I, J)

Interior view of ruins

Taking the main road to Alaverdi (most easily reached by staying on the N bank of the Pambak, taking an inconspicuous left at a traffic light rather than crossing the bridge to reach Vanadzor) you bypass the village of Gugark (899 p, Yeghaplu till 1945, then Meghrut till 1983) with a 19th c. S. Sargis church, and then enter the scenic gorge of the Debed River*. Past the turnoff W for Karaberd (372 p), Pambak (395 p) has castle ruins. Vahagnadzor (1110 p, formerly Shagali), has Sisi ruined fortress. A bridge crosses the river to reach Yeghegnut (1413 p, founded 1857, till 1935 Ghamishkut), with S. Kiraki shrine 2-3 km S. Continuing N past Yeghegnut, the road continues to Debed (721 p, founded 1857, till 1935 Khachigegh), Chkalov (972 p, named after the Soviet test pilot, till 1936 Saghibagdi) with 13-15th c. khachkars, and Dsegh, where is joins another E-W road. Dsegh (825 p) was called Tumanyan from 1938-1969, after its famous son, the writer Hovhannes Tumanyan (1869-1923), and maintains the Tumanian house museum. In the village there is a basilica of 654 housing an ethnographic museum, and nearby a 7th c. church built by the Mamikonians, and on the canyon wall almost due N of the village is the evocative, overgrown, semi-collapsed Bardzrakashi S. Grigori Vank* =75= (40 58.66n x 044 39.54e) of 12-13th c, above the confluence of the Debed and Marts Rivers - it may be easier to reach by direct hike up from the spot where the rivers meet at the bottom of the canyon, I have not tested this route but it appears promising. W of the village is Karasun Mankots Vank of 12th c. In a field near Dsegh is the "Sirun Khach" ("beautiful cross") khachkar.

By Hovhannes Tumanyan

   One evening in 1898, shortly before the opening of the railway from Tiflis to Kars, we were sitting about on logs before the house of Master Ohanes in a village in the Lori district, having a chat. Master Ohanes was telling us how the construction of the railway had begun.
   "One day our Simon and I were out cutting wood in the lower valley by the river," he began. "Suddenly we saw several men wearing white caps making their way up the bank."
   "Well, well, Simon," says I.
   "What is it?"
   "Something's afoot," I says.
   "Why so? They're just strangers going their way. Perhaps they're lost."
   "No," said I. "Something's afoot. You mark my words."
   "When we got back to the village we noticed a white pole on the roof of Tersan's flourmill."
   "Well, well, Simon!" says I.
   "What is it?"
   "Now do you see?" I says.
   "See what?"
   "You wait." I says. "You'll see."
   Not long after that we saw it announced in the newspaper that the railway was coming our way.
   "Well, well, Simon!" says I.
   "What is it?"
   "Now do you see?" I says. "I was right, wasn't I?"
   "So you were, confound it!" cried the hunter Osep, interrupting Master Ohanes' story.
   "Why, now, what harm is there in a railway?" put in some of the villagers.
   "Harm, and nothing else! Why, it came hooting into the valleys and frightened away the deer. It's as if they never were," complained Osep.
   "It's more than the deer, begad," said a shepherd, leaning on his stick. "When I look down into the valley from the mountainside and see them blasting the rocks, my heart bleeds as if my own child were being disembowelled by the enemy and I were standing by helpless...."
   "There'll be plenty of destruction alright!" some sighed in agreement.
   And an argument flared up about the benefit and the harm of the railway.
   During the argument one of the workers on the railway came up from the valley and approached us.
   "Good evening," he said.
   "Good evening, Master!"
   "I need some flour. Will anyone sell me some?" the stranger asked, addressing us all.
   "Where are you from?" asked Master Ohanes.
   "I am from the land of the Ottomans."
   "Master Ohanes, ask him what town he's from, said a curious villager. - "What town are you from, my friend?" Master Ohanes asked again.
   "From Sivaz."
   "From Sivaz!" Master Ohancs repeated wisely, lingering over the last syllable.
   "What did he say, Master Ohanes?"
   "May your house stand firm in Sivaz!" cried some of the villagers clapping their hands and laughing.
   "How many months' journey is it from there to here?" Master Ohanes continued his questioning.
   "Three months."
   "Phew!" they all explained in amazement.
   "Welcome, stranger! Sit down and do us the honour of eating with us!"
   "Thank you, kindly but I'm in a hurry. If someone'll sell me some flour I'll be going."
   "Hey there! Bring out a pot of flour," Master Ohanes called out front the door. "And fill it full!"
   One of the women brought out a pot of flour and went to pour it into the stranger's bag but he would not let her.
   "How much do I owe you?" he asked.
   "Come. Pour it into your bag first!" urged Master Ohanes.
   "No. First tell me the price."
   "Go on pour it in, and then we'll tell you. If it's too dear, you can always pour some back."
   The stranger opened his bag, and the woman poured the flour in and returned to the house.
   "Right.... Now, how much do I owe you?" asked the stranger pulling out his purse from under his belt.
   "Nothing, stranger. You owe us nothing. It's all yours for free. In our land we are not in the habit of charging strangers for food. We have no such custom...." said Master Ohanes, puffing at his pipe.
   The stranger was somewhat embarrassed, protested weakly and left.
   There followed a short silence then someone said:
   "A few days ago one of them came for yoghurt. The women offered him some. When he'd eaten it, he stood up and wanted to know the price. 'The price of what?' I ask him. 'Of the yoghurt,' he says. 'My good man, enough of that,' I says. 'Stop such talk or the sheep's milk may dry up.'" Well lads, what is to he done about it then? Are we to let them come and eat and take food away with them as long as they like? How many of them have been coming these last few days? Not so long ago I myself poured out a potful of flour for one of them. How long can this go on?" put in the younger brother of Master Ohanes.
   "If he comes again, give him another pot...." said Master Ohanes quietly raising his head.
   "May there always be plenty in your home!" exclaimed some of the old men.
   "Whoever comes, by thunder, from Sivaz or where have you, should we serve them with food free of charge, as if we work for them! I say welcome! Welcome to all! But if you want food, pay for it then take it!" said the younger brother.
   And they began to argue. Master Ohanes got all worked up and the din increased.
   "Toot, toot..." whistled the train down below.
   The railway had just entered our valleys.

From the main road, a turnoff L leads to Vahagni (393 p), with S. Sargis church, Verin Vahagni church nearby. Thence one road leads W to Antaramut, and another N to Dzoragyugh (75 p, formerly Darakend), with fort remains. There it joins up with a road leading W past Hnevank to Kurtan and beyond (see "Along the Dzoraget", above). Just before Dzoraget (279 p, till 1978 Kolageran), with a luxury Tufenkian Hotel (, another bridge crosses the Debed to Dsegh and Marts (110 p), which has a khachkar of 1285 above the village. 5 km SE of the village is Igatak, with Igataki Vank of 1255 on the SW edge. A road angles back NW to Karinj (4557 p) and then Tumanian. From Marts, a road follows the Marts River about 12 km to Lorut (482 p, formerly Babajan), with Bronze Age tumuli, two medieval bridges on the Lorut river, a small S. Sargis church, and a medieval settlement with khachkars. Next village E is Shamut (2893 p), which has a 17th c. church and 18th c. fort. Atan (343 p) and Ahnidzor (385 p) at the end of their respective stream valleys were founded in the mid 19th c. by villagers who abandoned the monastic estates of Haghpat. Atan has a church in the village and SW has ruined medieval secular buildings.

Kobayr Monastery - detail

Just N of the modern industrial town of Tumanian (1705 p), on the W side of the main Alaverdi road, almost invisible in the trees, is the tiny hamlet of Kober, consisting of 45 p About 80m before the elevated little train station, a little paved spur leads up to the right beside the railroad tracks (do not drive under the bridge). Crossing the tracks on foot, a flight of steps leads up and back, finally climbing up steeply up the side of the gorge. The reward for the strenuous (and sometimes muddy) 10-minute scramble is one of the most beautiful places in Armenia, Kobayr Monastery** =95= (41 00.30n x 044 38.10e). The name means cave-cave (Kob meaning cave in Georgian and Ayr meaning cave in Armenian). Perched on a shelf of the gorge, in an ancient and sacred place where springs seep out of the rock, trees and vines twine among the intricately carved blocks of the monastery. There are some difficult to access caves and shelters among the rocks surrounding the territory of the cloister, the most notable of which is the sanctuary of Sghnakh. The Katoghike church at the S end, partly fallen into the gorge, was built in 1171 by two Kyurikian princesses (see Sanahin, below), but became a property of the Georgian Orthodox Zakarian family soon after. Shahnshah Zakarian is buried here. Most of the beautifully carved inscriptions are in Georgian, as is the manner of the splendid (albeit restored) fresco decoration in the churches. The most impressive frescoes were preserved in the apse and on the northern wall altar. The apse paintings consist of 3 rows. The top row depicts the Virgin Mary with archangels, the middle row shows the sin of Eucharist, while the bottom has figures of saints. On the altar walls the figures of prophets are pictured, the best preserved being the prophet Elijah on the northern altar. The side chapel frescos have the same 3-row scheme as in the big church, but instead of the Virgin Mary, the sin of Deisus is pictured. The bell-tower/mausoleum in the middle of the complex was built in 1279 to house the tombs of Mkhargryel and his wife Vaneni. Note the little sacred spring flowing within. On the ledge above is the refectory building. The complex was surrounded with a serf (fortress) wall, the 4-5 m high remainders are preserved on the N & NE. The main entrance was a tunnel-like vaulted opening with half-cylindrical towers.

Horomayri Monastery

Approximately 3.2km N of Kober train station is a fantastic 45 minute hike (starting at GPS 41 02'01" x 044 38'00", 847m elevation) straight up the canyon wall to your left, ending at the very nice (and very well camoflauged) lower portion of Horomayri Monastery* =85= (41 02.07n x 044 37.66e). There are two main buildings abutting the sheer canyon wall which forms one of the four walls of the structures. Caves, carvings, khachkars, fantastic panoramic views. The remainder of the monastery is a small three chamber structure above the cliff walls, with no access from this section that I could locate, but rumored to be possible to access from a few meters north of the lower section, straight up the cliff.

West of the Debed Gorge -- Odzun (Section 8; Map J)

Odzun Church

Just S of the built up area of Alaverdi, a paved road switchbacks up the gorge wall to a sizable plateau. Going straight W, one reaches the village of Hagvi (0 p), with a ruined 12-13th c. church. The main fork S leads to Odzun (1273 p), with its famous church* =80= (41 04.38n x 044 36.85e) about 100 m W on the main paved village road. Dated stylistically to the first half of the 7th c., according to medieval historical tradition the church was built by Katholikos Yovhan of Odzun (717-728), about whom Kirakos Gandzaketsi (tr. Bedrosian) offers the following anecdote:

Lord Yovhannes was a learned and holy man, attractive physically and even more so spiritually. [The Caliph] Hisham [724-43] summoned him to court, and honored him greatly for the comeliness of his appearance. Now [Yovhannes] had sprinkled gold dust in his beard [before] he went into [the Caliph's presence]. Seeing Yovhannes, Hisham was amazed at his handsomeness and mildly said to him: "They say about your Christ that he was very meek and humble and greatly loved poverty, The Christian order professes that those who are their leaders honor poverty and plainness more than luxury and riches. Then why are you bedecked so"? The blessed one replied: "You have nothing more than your servant except a crown and royal dress, yet it is for these things that people fear and honor you. Our first Fathers were miracle-workers and undertook wondrous disciplines. For that reason, people who fell into their hands feared them and obeyed their commands with trepidation. But we are not like them; therefore we adorn ourselves in clothes and fashion, so that they will not ignore our commands. Then, baring his breast, [Yovhannes) showed [Hisham] a hairshirt which was worn underneath his clothing. And he said: "This is my dress." The king marvelled and praised the beliefs of the Christians. He said to the blessed one: "Ask of me what you will and I will grant it to you". The patriarch responded: "I ask of you three things which are easy for you to grant. Do not force Christians to abandon their faith, but leave each to his wishes. Second do not make the liberty of the Church subject to you through taxation, take nothing from the priests or deacons. Third, wherever there are Christians in your realm, let them perform their rites fearlessly. Give this to us in writing, and my entire people will serve you" At once [Hisham] ordered that a document be written as requested, stamped it with his own ring, and gave Yovhannes many gifts. He mustered many troops to accompany him, and sent him to Armenia with great honor. When Yovhannes arrived he persecuted all the Greeks in Armenia, both overseers and soldiers. The Greeks fled so quickly that they did not have time to take their treasures with them. So they buried them in the ground, wrote a description of the hiding place, and took the information with them.
The blessed patriarch, placing our country under Ishmaelite rule, then convened a meeting in Manazkert ... (to weed out the Chalcedonians) Thus providing the land with all virtuousness, he occupied himself with doctrine and prayers. [Yovhannes] also constructed a large church in his village of Odzun (which is close to the city Lorhi) and he settled in a spot he had chosen for his residence, a short distance from the village. One day, when the blessed one was at prayer, two frightful dragons fell upon the residence of this virtuous man. When lord Yovhannes' deacon saw this, he was terrified, and clamored for the holy man's help. Lord Yovhannes made the sign of the Cross before them and the two dragons instantly turned into stone. They exist today. Water spurts from the belly of the dragons, and it is an antidote for all snake-biten folk who turn to the saint with prayers. After being patriarch for eleven years, and having lived a virtuous life, lord Yovhannes reposed in Christ. (Note: Odz means "Serpent", and presumably the name of the town the legend are connected.)
Ardvi Monastery

Beside the church is an unusual 7th c. funerary monument with two sculpted pillars depicting biblical scenes and the Christianization of Armenia. On the NE edge of town is a ruined 7th c. "Tsiranavor" basilica. About 2km S of the village is the black and yellow three chambered chapel on the edge of the canyon wall which is the top structure of Horomayri Monastery mentioned earlier. From the edge of the cliff here to your right can be seen the remainder of the well camoflauged complex abutting the cliff. Just steps to the left (north) of the chapels, there is a spot from which you can descend the face of the cliff. Further S from Odzun is Aygehat (215 p, renamed Danushavan from 1963 till 1992, in honor of its native son, revolutionary and diplomat Danush Shahverdian, who served as Armenian trade representative in Turkey from 1924-28, and then representative to the Red Cross on refugee resettlement), from which a dirt road leads W to Ardvi (778 p). Above this village is a sacred spring with legendary dragon, and beyond that a humble and somewhat cartoony village monastery of S. Hovhannes, allegedly founded by Yovhan of Odzun, with church of the 17th c. The cemetary above has interesting khachkars.

Just beyond the Odzun turnoff, a track leads W to Kachachkut (2020 p, formerly Sevdi), which has ruins of a 13-14th c. Sedvu fortress with a well preserved imposing tower, and Sedvu Monastery (aka Sedui Senastan), with a mostly intact S. Nshan church. Further N, in Alaverdi near the Sanahin turnoff, another road winds back W up to Akori (261 p), an estate belonging in the 19th c. to Count Loris-Melikov, successful general and briefly Prime Minister to Czar Alexander, one of the few Armenian members of the Russian nobility. In the gorge SE is S. Gevorg church, and there is the so-called Bgavor shrine somewhere nearby.

Sanahin and Haghpat (Section 9; Map J)

The city of Alaverdi (14835 p, "Allah gave" in Turkish) owes its existence to the rich copper mines nearby. Systematic exploitation began around 1780, with Greek miners brought in to supplement the conscripted labor of local villagers. The mines benefited the Argutinskii-Dolgoruki noble family, which claimed descent from the Zakarian princes. Members of this family, serving the Czar as military officers or Armenian archbishops, were central to the annexation of the Transcaucasus. At one point, Alaverdi was allegedly the source of one quarter of the Russian Empire's output of refined copper. In the 1880s, the concession was sold to a French company, but the skilled miners remained primarily Greek. The collapse of the Soviet economy has contributed substantially to cutting the once terrible pollution the works generated. FromAlaverdi there are three ways to get up to the village of Sanahin (see below). You can either take the cable car from the Alaverdi post office up the canyon to Sanahin, walk across the 12th century "cat" bridge (by Alaverdi's new church) and take the ancient path, or you can take the road as explained below.

Sanahin Monastery

At the S end of town, a modern double bridge crosses the Debed river and winds up to the E district of Sanahin, with the drafty, very delapidated but survivable Debed Hotel on the main square. Beyond the hotel, the road goes straight and then right to the important and richly decorated monastic complex of Sanahin* =95= {41 05.22n x 044 40.00e}, an important literary and educational center in medieval times. It was the seat of an archbishop up into the 19th c. Queen Khosrovanush, wife of King Ashot III Bagratuni, founded the monastery in 966, building an Amenaprkich (All-Savior) church beside a pre-existing 10th c. S. Astvatsatsin church (left/N). The Kyurikian family, a junior branch of the Ani-based Bagratunis, ruled the Tashir-Dzoraget region from their stronghold at Lori Berd quasi-independently from the 10th c. till 1113, when the breakdown of their relationship with the invading Seljuk Turks forced them to move E into Tavush. Between the two churches is a gallery, the so-called Academy of Grigor Magistros, considered to have been the school. You will be shown a place where the famous 18th c. multilingual Caucasian bard Sayat Nova is supposed to have sat. The gavit of S. Astvatsatsin was built by Prince Vache Vachutian (a more southerly dynast) in 1211, that of Amenaprkich in 1181 under the sponsorship of the Kyurikian family. The bell tower, built between 1211 and the Mongol invasion of 1236, is thought to be the earliest in Armenia. On the outside E wall of the Amenaprkich is a dedicatory relief showing Princes Gurgen, first of the Kyurikians, and his brother Smbat Bagratuni, the sons of the founder, presenting a model of the church. N and E of S. Astvatsatsin is the relic depository or library, built in 1063 by Queen Hranush. Usually locked, it is well worth pursuing the holder of the key. Adjacent is a S. Grigor chapel. The cemetery beyond is full of notable graves, including a funerary chapel of the Zakarian family and tombs of some of the 19th c Argutinsky (Arghutian) princes, their descendants. The great Georgian/Armenian amirspasalar Zakare (d. 1212) was buried in the main church, according to Kirakos Gandzaketsi (tr. R. Bedrosian):

After many feats of bravery and triumphs accomplished by the great princes Zak'are and Ivane, they went to the city of Marand, took it, and destroyed the districts around it. Then they went on to Ardabil (Artawil) and similarly took it. Many of the inhabitants together with their prayer-callers (who are called mughri) took refuge in their prayer houses. Zakare ordered that grass and stalks be brought. He had oil and naptha poured on this kindling until [the mosques] were blazing with flames; and he burned [the Muslims] to death saying: "Here are princes and laymen in return for the Armenian princes whom the Tachiks immolated in the churches of Naxchawan, Koran-readers (kurhayk'n) in return for the priests of Baguan who were slaughtered and whose blood was splattered on the gates of the church--a place which is darkened to this day". And Zakare went to his own land. On the way he became ill, for incurable sores appeared on his limbs. As soon as one would heal, another would flare up. He died after a few days of such torments. All the Christians mourned. They took his body and buried it at Sanahin, in the great church beneath the altar on the right side. Great mourning was undertaken by the king of Georgia.

Sanahin was the birthplace of Artashes Mikoyants, better known to history as Anastas Mikoyan (1895-1978). His father was a capable but illiterate carpenter at the mines. According to Mikoyan's memoirs, the village of Sanahin had only two literate men, the priest and the (sole) monk of Sanahin monastery. The village itself was impoverished, a holding of the Argutinskii family. Mikoyan was educated at the seminary in Tbilisi at the behest of the visiting Armenian bishop, joined up with Stepan Shahumian, whom he deeply admired, and was the sole survivor of the Baku Commissars, his name somehow left off the list of those to be executed. Uniquely among Bolsheviks of his generation, Anastas survived every purge and change of leadership to become Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, perhaps the most successful Armenian ever to settle in Soviet Moscow. His brother Artyom (1905-1970) was the famous aeronautical engineer, designer of the MIG fighter series. A third brother was killed in WWII. The Mikoyan Brothers House-Museum is downhill from the monastery.


Kayan Berd

Beyond Sanahin, the road continues N to Akner, from which you may be able to reach Kayan Berd, a brooding black fortress built in 1233. Kirakos Gandzaketsi (tr. R. Bedrosian) reports that "Yovhannes, the sister's son of princes Zak'are and Ivane, and the previous Yovhannes' brother's son [was bishop of Haghbat]. This Yovhannes built a fortress with sturdy walls between Haghbat and Sanahin. On account of this fortress, discord arose between the two great monasteries, to the effect that it was on land belonging to Sanahin. Prince Shahnshah, Zakare's son avenged Sanahin, since his father was buried there and he considered it their property, for Haghbat was under the Georgian kings' control at that time. As soon as bishop Yovhannes died, they pulled down the walls of the fortress on orders from the Tatars." The fortress, which sits on a pinnacle above the Debed between Sanahin and Haghpat, preserves the small Dsevanki S. Astvatsatsin church. In the village is an Early Iron Age tomb field. Note that there is another Kayan Berd W of Ijevan in Tavush.

Haghpat Monastery

Retracing steps across the Debed river, take the main road N, passing the Sanahin bridge, built in 1192. The bridge is elegantly decorated with stone cats. About one km after crossing back to the E side of the Debed on leaving Alaverdi, a cluster of large modern buildings, the transport terminal (?), marks the turn-off right to Haghpat and Tsaghkashat (956 p, till 1935 Khachidur). Take the left fork which winds up to Haghpat (106 p), with one of Armenia's most beautiful monasteries** =100=(40 54.81n x 045 06.30e) perched atop the rim of the gorge. This fortified monastery was founded, like Sanahin, by Queen Khosrovanush around 976. It has a S. Nshan church finished in 991 by Smbat Bagratuni and his brother Gurgen, and served as the religious headquarters of the Kyurikians. The gavit was built in 1185, with the following inscription on the N facade: "In the year 634/AD 1185, I Mariam, daughter of King Kyurike, built with great hope this house of prayer over our tombs -- those of my paternal aunt Rousoudan, my mother Tamara, and myself, Mariam, under the superior Ter Barsegh, archbishop, who finished the construction. You who enter through its door and prostrate yourself before the cross, in your prayers remember us and our royal ancestors, who rest at the door of the holy cathedral, in Jesus Christ." A smaller S. Grigor church was built in 1025 and rebuilt in 1211. There is a huge, self-standing gavit of the Abbot Hamazasp built in 1257, a "grand and marvelous bell tower" of 1245, and a library built in 1262. There is a large dining hall incorporated in the defensive wall, and several other picturesque chapels and mausoleums. Haghpat was a major literary center in the Middle Ages. It controlled the income and inhabitants of numerous villages and lands, gradually usurped by the Russian state and influential Armenian bureaucrat/princes during the course of the 19th c.

In the late 18th century, the Archbishop of Haghpat claimed responsibility for the clergy and church revenues of all the Armenians of Georgia. This Armenian community grew rapidly with the Russian expansion into the Caucasus, particularly refugees who followed the Russians in retreat from Karabakh in ? and Yerevan in 1804. The Russian governor Tsitsianov, an imperious and somewhat anti-Armenian Georgian prince, unilaterally transferred this authority in 1805 to the Armenian archbishop in Tbilisi, a pro-Russian ecclesiastic it was easier to keep an eye on. The Archbishop of Haghpat, Sargis Hasan-Jalalean, scion of an ancient family of meliks of Karabakh and brother of the late Katholikos of Aghvank, protested in vain, noting that his brother had been killed and he himself imprisoned by the Khan of Karabakh as a result of their friendly correspondence with the Russians. Archbishop Sargis eventually moved back to Karabakh to become in 1810 the last Katholikos of Aghvank. This Katholikosate, founded (Armenians say) by the grandson of S. Gregory the Illuminator, controlled the religious affairs of the Caucasian Albanians, the pre-Turkic population of what is now Azerbaijan. During the Middle Ages its geographic basis shrank and it became culturally assimilated to the Armenian church. In the 18th century it was a near-exclusive family holding of the Hasan-Jalanean family, operating out of the monasteries of Gandzasar and Amaras in Karabakh. The Russian Empire abolished the Katholikosate of Aghvank in 1815.

Akhtala Monastery - fresco

Neghuts (536 p, formerly Gomahand) has khachkars and, in the cemetery, 3rd-2nd millennium BC cliff carvings. To reach the impressive 13th c. monastery* and fortress* at Akhtala =95= (41 09.13n x 044 45.83e), proceed left over the Debed on an unsignposted bridge to an industrial appendage of Akhtala (14322 p). Turn right at the end of the bridge, then after 0.4km the road takes a hard left, crosses the train tracks, and splits - take the right fork over a small tributary stream. Proceed 0.3km ahead to a crossroads; turn sharply (almost a U-turn) to the left. Proceed 2.2km up this road, passing a soviet-era apartment building on your right at 0.5km and passing a bridge to the left (stay on the road to the right) at 1.6km. As you approach the end of these 2.2km you will see the fortress on the left; proceed past it until the road turns sharply right and a small dirt road continues straight and then to the left. Take this small road 0.3km to reach the fortress gates.

The Akhtala fortress contains an Arakelots or S. Gevorg church and two more W of it. Also, a 13th c. spring monument. It is surrounded with rocky deep canyons on three sides, and the north side joins the plain. The fortress is protected by tall pyramid gates and by man-made extensions to the three canyon walls. Although the inside of the fortress appears to be flat earth, much of the edge is built up and contains subterranean rooms. Use caution, specially with small children, as there are a few holes than can be as much as 12 feet deep into these rooms. The main entrance opens on the northern side, which has a roomy hall with vaulted roof and a three-storied pyramidal tower. The fortress was built in the X c by the Bagratuni dynasty's Kyurikid branch. Being one of the outstanding defensive spots of medieval Armenia, together with Lori, Kayan, Kaytzon, Gag and other fortresses, Akhtala played a great role in protecting the northern regions and the main road taking from Armenia to Georgia (through Gugark).

The Holy Virgin's church is famous for its first-rate and highly artistic frescos, with which are covered the inside walls, the partitions, and the bearings. They are characterized with perfect iconography, richness of theme and variety of different colors (where blue rules). Especially outstanding are the Virgin on a throne, the sacred communion, Hovanes Karapet frescoes, as well as pictures of saints till the waist or standing in whole length, on the pillars and the bearings. Find a villager to help unlock the church door in case nobody is around.

On the northwestern side of the Holy Virgin Church there is a one-nave vaulted church and its half-rounded apse going out from the eastern wall's borders. The only entrance is from western side, surrounded with a trench. There used to be a vestibule with a gable roof, which has not survived. Parallel to the north of the Holy Virgin's church the two-storied building of the friary stood, whose walls are preserved. It was a roomy hall with wooden roof, for which the exterior fortress wall served also as its eastern wall. The northern wall is half-rounded, and an entrance to the underground tunnel opens here. Beyond the territory of the temple in Akhtala village, there are many churches, chapels, and defensive erections standing or destroyed (X-XIII cc). Among them are temple of the Holy Trinity (consisting of two connected churches, a chapel, outside hall, and underground constructions), St. George church, the pair of churches in the western part of the temple the chapel of Barsegh, etc., which in their turn evidence Pshndzahank-Akhtala's medieval eventful (rich) past.

The monastery complex's main entrance and the pillars were repaired; the ramshackle wooden belfry built in XIV was taken away from the yard. In 1975-1978 the top parts of the walls on the church were repaired, the tin of the roof was replaced with basalt slabs. By the village was a large Early Iron Age cemetery. In 1763, King Herakli II brought Greek miners to work the ore deposits nearby. Upper Akhtala has a Greek church.

A road W from Akhtala leads to the copper mining town of Shamlugh, (13592 p) whose deposits have been worked since ancient times (Late Bronze/Iron Age cemetery, one 13th c. cross monument). From Akhtala, another road runs N on the W side of the Debed to reach Mets Ayrum (1948 p), with a Nahatak (martyr) shrine of 1612 4-5 km NW. Chochkan (477 p), the next town NE, was an estate of the Loris-Melikov family, and has a church built by the Count's mother. There is a Shportavank of the 17th c.; W of the village is a cliff called Timurlenk's stone. Last village before entering Tavush and Georgia is Karkop (200 p, founded 1936).

Back on the E bank of the Debed, Shnogh (234 p) has on its territory various traces of metal-working sites from ancient times. In the village is an ethnographic museum. On a triangular promontory above the Debed is Kaytson Castle, probably founded in the 9th c on the remains of a cyclopean fort. There is a ruined single-aisle church, S. Gevorg church of 1893, the Terunakan shrine of 1222 E of the fort. From Shnogh, a road goes 4 km S to Teghut (1201 p) and its 13th c. Manastefi hermitage, 10-17th c. churches, and a 13-14th c. Vardan Zoravar monument.


Khorakert Monastery

Tucked into an inaccessible corner of N Armenia, reachable (the map says) only from the Georgian town of Opreti, the village of Jiliza (1374 p) has on its territory a 13th c. ruined fort and shrine and, in deep forest at 1300 m elevation somewhere on the W slopes of Mt. Lalvar, the architecturally unique Khorakert Monastery* =90= (41 12.53n x 044 36.00e). The 11th or 12th c. domed church has a 12-faceted, columnar drum. The gavit was built in 1252 in the days of King David of Georgia by Hovhannes Varnetsi's son Stepanos. There is a ruined fortification wall, dining hall and, south of two little shrines, (near the wall, amidst trees) remains of a covered passage leading into the gorge. The monastery was restored in 1661 and 1710, but was already in ruins at the beginning of this century.

The artistic and structural shape of the cupola is unique not only in Armenian but in world architecture. The drum of the cupola has a decahedral shape, rare in Armenia. which cannot but draw special attention to it. The facets are made not of the usual walls, but composed in the lower half out of hexahedral columns, three per each facet. Identical capitals and bases, having beads and hexahedral plates, are original. Spanned with trefoil and quatrefoil conchs, the spaces between columns serve as light openings. This extremely bold treatment of the drum as a colonnade is not to be found in other monuments. The cupola of Khorakert temple is an intermediate link between ordinary cupola and multi-column rotundas used in bell-towers. The inside of the cupola is also most original. The constructive basis of its hemi-sphere is made up of three pairs of intersecting arches which form a six-pointed star. The central hexagonal section is filled with stalactite-shaped ornaments differing in their delineation, size, and height as if forming another, more graceful and more richly ornamented hemisphere. This is the only such design among church buildings. The vestry attached to the temple in 1257 is a rare example of a building rectangular in the plan and roofed with a system of intersecting arches spanning the entire hall.

West from Spitak (Section 10; Map I)

A major E-W road and rail route, mostly in good shape, leads from Spitak to Gyumri, following the Pambak river. North of the road are Shenavan (213 p, till 1946 Kiziloran, Azeris), with a cave and a ruined 6-7th c. single-aisle basilica nearby; Sarahart (412 p, till 1950 Gyullija), with two churches, and ruined hamlets 6 km N.; and Gogaran (1798 p, till 1946 Gyogarchin or perhaps Gyoran), which had ruins of a 17th c. church, and the Sangyot fort nearby. Beneath the ruins of the 17th century church were found the foundations of a 5th century church according to Land and Culture Organization which was completely rebuilt during the 1990's by a team of villagers as well as volunteers from the diaspora. The church was reopened in 1996. The villagers can direct you to a large, beautiful waterfall a few hours hike (or quick drive) from the village. Before Geghasar (4739 p, till 1978 Tapanli), you pass early cave dwellings near the road (5,000 years old according to Patrick). There is a 19th c. S. Sargis church in the village. Astvatsatsin shrine is 2 km distant. On August 25, 1807, Karapapakh nomads who used to live there descended on the Armenian settlers and decapitated several, according to a report to General Gudovich. Shirakamut (131 p, Nalband till 1978) was the epicenter of the 1988 earthquake, with 313 killed. The 7th c. Chichkhanavank N of the village is now a pile of stones. Some 3rd millennium BC graves have been explored nearby. Other villages, from East to West, are: Katnajur (212 p, till 1946 Gharal); Mets Parni (66 p, in 1807 site of a Russian military post called Bekant, then Beykend, then Parni Gegh), with a 19th c. S. Sargis church; Tsaghkaber (1689 p, till 1939 Avdibek); Saralanj (495 p, till 1946 Gyogoghush); Hartagyugh (258 p, till 1946 Ghaltakhji) with a 19th c. church and, 1 km S, a S. Hovhannes shrine and pilgrimage site; Lusaghbyur (1216 p, till 1946 Aghbulagh, ruined church); and Khnkoyan (270 p, till 1946 Gharaboya), birthplace of children's writer Khnko Aper, site of his house museum. The road then crosses the watershed into Shirak Marz.

The Zakarian Lords Zakare and Ivane
By Brady Kiesling
A huge number of Armenia's monasteries were built or rebuilt under the auspices of two brothers, the generals and protectors of Queen Tamar of Georgia, Zakare the Amirspasalar (roughly "commander in chief" in Arabic/Persian) and Ivane the Atabek ("prince's tutor" in Turkish). The origin of the family are obscure -- Kurds by one medieval account, mid-level Armenian lords by another -- but their successful generalship was indisputable. In a series of campaigns from the 1190s to 1220s, they freed Georgia and most of historical Armenia from the Seljuk Turks and reestablished Christian control of the region. Zakare was Armenian Gregorian by religion, his brother Ivane Georgian Orthodox. They were pious, and made sure to record their numerous benefactions in inscriptions on stone.
The almost permanently victorious Ivane was ultimately defeated near Garni by Jalal ad Din Mingburnu, the last Khwarezm-Shah, in 1224 (allegedly the Lord of Battles caused his troops to hear the order "Flee!" instead of "Attack!) and died shortly afterwards. The Khwarezm-Shah was himself on the run from forces beyond his control. When the Mongols arrived in 1236, both Zakare's son and heir Shahnshah ("King of Kings" in Persian, a lovely example of the common Armenian use of titles as personal names) and Ivane's son Avag ("Senior") reached fragile and unsatisfactory accommodations with the new world rulers, but they and their descendants held on to substantial fiefdoms until the onslaught of Timur and his hordes.
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

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


Sharambeyan Street in Dilijan.

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)

Dilijan Street Map

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)

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.

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, Haghpat, 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 Haghpat, 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.

Ijevan Town
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 Shamshadin District -- Khoranashat, Varagavank (Section 4; Map O)

A remote and beautiful part of Armenia along the NE border with Azerbaijan, the former Shamshadin 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, Shamshadin 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 Shamshadin 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.

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 </I>gavit</I> 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.

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.

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.

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)

Pre-Christian carvings in Anapat Cave
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.

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 the basic monastery 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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


Shirak CIMG6021.jpg
Shirak Marz, the Northwest corner of Armenia, is defined by the upper flow of the Akhurian river, the NW corner of Mt. Aragats, the Georgian border, and a series of mountains dominated by the 3000 m Mt. Urasar in the East. In spring the rolling treeless hills and rocky outcrops are quietly beautiful. The capital city of Gyumri/Leninakan, since the 1988 the focus of international humanitarian assistance, has undergone massive post-quakerebuilding, still having further to go, but is rich in archaeological interest for the specialist. There are many architecturally important churches, such as in Artik, Ani-Pemza, Maralik, and Harich. Marmashen, NW of Gyumri, is a particularly interesting monastic complex. The Urartian citadel at Horom is perhaps the most impressive of its kind in Armenia. The hilly grasslands of the northern part of the marz, once dotted with Azeri villages, have their own bleak charm, and important migratory bird life around the Arpi Reservoir.

Shirak was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1804, before the rest of Armenia. Alexandropol/Gyumri was a strategically vital garrison town and rail depot in the Czar's frequent wars against Turkey. The closure of the Turkish border, the terrible condition of the road across the Georgian border, and in particular the earthquake which leveled much of the region, have depressed the region economically and contributed to a major exodus to Yerevan, Moscow, and Glendale.

North to Gyumri -- Horom (Section 1; Map B)

Taking the main highway from Ashtarak to Gyumri, you enter Shirak Marz on a ridge between Mastara and Lanjik (737 p, till 1947 Muslughlu). Just SW of the village is an Early Bronze Age cyclopean fort/cemetery. A road leads W to Dzithankov (1170 p, till 1966 Bagirhana, 19th c. church) and Karaberd (991 p, founded 1829, church, fortress nearby). Shortly before Dzorakap (942 p, till 1935 Boghazkyasan, S. Astvatsatsin church of 1783), a side road angles back SE toward Sarnaghbyur. About 1 km on the right is the Hogevank monastery complex, primarily of the 13th c. Beyond a dam and reservoir rises the village of Sarnaghbyur* (2560 p, "Cold Spring", till 1940 Sogutlu or Ghzlkilisa). This venerable village derives its name and antiquity from a cave at the back of the village from which flows an ample spring believed to have mystical healing powers. Now walled up (key in house on right), the cave houses a shrine of Gregory the Illuminator. The cave is reached by proceeding through the village (note ornate carved fireplace in ruined house on left) to the substantial S. Tadevos church of 1883, before which one turns left, then the first paved right turn. There is reportedly also a ruined 5-6th c. church of S. Hakob and a S. Karapet Church of 1205. On a hill 6 km E is S. Ghazar ruined church of the 5-6th c.

The E side of Maralik has caves, 11-12th c. khachkars, and a church of 1903. Continuing N, the villages of Haykasar (207 p, till 1947 Sivribash), Hayrenyats (643 p, till 1946 Sangyarlu), with 5th c. Karmir Vank church, and Tuffshen ("tuff-built", 479 p, with 13th c. Tukh Manuk shrine, traces of a cyclopean fort, ruined arch of 6th c.) are E of the road. An unmarked intersection leads W to Gusanagyugh (0 p, till 1977 Ghapulu), named after the famous bard ("Gusan") Nakhshikar Sargis born here. There is a ruined church of 11th c. in the village and one remaining wall of a medieval castle. W of the village are two Urartian cyclopean forts, at Ghak? and Shvaghtapa. Taking the opposite road E, about 1 km E of the village of Horom (1907 p, S. Hripsime Church of 1861) is a dam and reservoir. S of the road, opposite the dam, rise two substantial hills wreathed with impressive Bronze Age through Urartian citadel* =20= walls. Armenian and American archaeologists led by Ruben Badalian and Philip Kohl began excavations there recently, and have found well-preserved walls and a great depth of cultural materials. This is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Armenia, particularly in the spring when the massive volcanic stones of the fortress are set off by brilliant green grass. Potsherds and obsidian flakes are strewn everywhere.

The road then passes Saratak (1123 p, till 1940 Emirkhan, Hellenistic settlement and graveyard), with Lusakert (644 p, 2nd mill BC tombs, 18th c. Astvatsatsin church), Hovtashen (264 p, founded 1830 from Kars, just E), and Beniamin (201 p, till 1945 Jlovkhan, renamed in honor of home-town WWII hero, General-Major Beniamin Galstian). On hills near Beniamin, an 80-hectare 8th c. BC through 4th c. AC settlement site was found and excavated in 1989-94, including a 3-2nd c. BC palace, with 5-4th c. BC structures underneath. The excavator believes that this was the seat of the Kamsarakan noble family, which led an insurrection against Arshak II in the mid-4th c. and was almost exterminated in revenge. Azatan (4480 p, till 1945 Gharakilisa) has a Catholic church of 1890 and Armenian Apostolic church of 1860; it was site of an 1826 battle between Russian and Persian troops. East of Azatan are Arevik (1533 p, 19th c. church) and Aygabats (697 p, till 1946 Ilkhiabi). E of the Gyumri road outside Azatan are a cluster of megaliths. On the Ghej hill near Azatan is a 6th c. BC - 1st c. AC settlement.

Street Map of Gyumri
Gyumri view

The town of Gyumri* (officially 140318 p, briefly Kumayri, before than Leninakan, before that Alexandropol) is conspicuous for the large cemeteries, some full of the victims of the 1988 earthquake. Despite many well-intentioned efforts, the economy of the city remains a shambles ten years after the event, but the housing situation for the most part has been remedied. There is still a substantial international presence from various assistance projects. In 1926, League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Fridtjof Nansen, accompanied by his secretary, fellow Norwegian Vidkun Quisling of later dark repute, visited Gyumri and its huge complex of schools and orphanages sheltering 11,000 Armenian orphans under the auspices of the American Near East Relief.

The main square has a pair of churches, one standing, one a distinguished ruin awaiting reconstruction. There are two reputable European-style hotels (Guesthaus Berlin and the Isuz Hotel), a well-reputed regional museum plus a city museum, the Russian Alexandropol fortress of 1834 on the W side of town, and probably more for the curious urban explorer, though Gyumri was battered in 1926 by a previous earthquake as well. Inside the city limits are several important archaeological sites. By the fortress is the Sev Ghul Chalcolithic through Iron Age settlement. Near the meat factory (by the train tracks) was excavated an Early Iron Age settlement/cemetery. Near the stadium, another Iron Age site had stone molds and a smelter for metal casting. In the NE part of Gyumri, on a hill in the area known as Vardbach, excavations revealed a Roman-period cemetery lying over a Bronze Age settlement. There is a medieval settlement with ruined 7th c. church that has been excavated in the Botanical Gardens. The city was site of a major Russian Army garrison and fortress since its conquest in 1804, a role it continues to play even today. The few thousand Russian troops still based in Armenia serve as a reminder that Russia would intervene militarily were Turkey to invade Armenia. Pending the unlikely event of an invasion, the Russian troops grow potatoes and find other ways to stay alive.

East from Maralik -- Artik, Harich (Section 2; Map B)

Makaravank of Artik

Opposite a huge cotton spinning factory on the edge of Maralik, a decent paved road departs the main Gyumri highway W, bound for Artik. On the W approaches of Pemzashen (2454 p, "Pumice built") is the 11th c. Arakelots Vank (dirt road to right). Note at the road's closest approach to the church an interesting massive carved tomb shrine. Back on the main road, turning right and right again into the village, there is a decorated 7th c. ruined church* built abutting the foundations of a 5th c. basilica. Continuing past this church up the hill in the direction of Lernakert, you pass Makaravank* =30=, dating to the 10-13th c, with S. Sion church of 1001. In the gorge below the monastery, reached by a steep, rock-cut path is an 18th c. small church built on earlier foundations, and a hermit's cell (?) cut in the cliff.

The village of Lernakert (1315 p) is remarkable for its traditional stone houses, mostly now in disrepair. Bearing left at the little square and climbing, one eventually reaches a simple 5th c. basilica church with immensely thick walls, now used for storing hay and dried dung. There is a Poghos-Petros Khachkar shrine, and two cyclopean forts S of the village.

Coming into Artik (15985 p) on the road from Maralik/Pemzashen, turn left at the entrance of town, then right on the flyover across the railroad tracks. At the town square (WWII monument), continue straight up Tonakanian St. to where the two adjacent early churches appear on the left: Marine or Astvatsatsin Church, 5th c.; S. Gevorg church =30?=, 7th c.. Both are ruined, with restoration interrupted by the collapse of the USSR. There is also an 18th c. church in a cave in a gorge 1 km SE in direction of Harich. Catacomb type tombs of the 14th-9th c. BC have been excavated near Artik as well. The well-preserved Lmbatavank Church =40= church of the 7th c. stands on a hillside just SW of Artik (S. Stepanos church, important wall paintings). Some interesting 18-19th c. houses also survive in Artik.

Driving E from Artik along the main road toward the village of Harich (991 p), Harichavank* =90= (40 36.35n x 043 59.97e) is reached by turning right before the prison. The main church has on the N wall the following inscription: "By the grace and mercy of mankind-loving God, I Zakare Mandatorta Amirspasalar of the Armenians and Georgians, son of the great Sargis, made this donation to the famous holy monastery of Haricha, for the benefit of its natural tenants, for the long life of my master the pious Queen Tamar and for my safety and that of my brother Ivane and our children Shahnshah and Avag, and my parents. I built here a castle and cathedral at great expense and decorated it with plate and sacred objects of every kind. And my village Mokoris, which was near the holy monastery, I offered to the Holy Virgin, with all its lands and mountains and waters. And I gave a mill called Divaghats at Getik, a mill at Glidzor of Ani, and a garden at Tsaghkadzor, a garden at Yerevan and a garden at Talin, and I established the rule that the mass at the main altar always be celebrated in my name. Written in the year 750/AD1201." The brothers Zakare and Ivane are figured on the E facade of the church. The St. Gregory church abutting at an angle the gavit of the main church was built perhaps as early as the 7th c. over a rock-cut tomb (?) and may have been originally a martyr's shrine. The site became in 1850 the summer residence of the Katholikos, with substantial 19th c. monastic architecture. One of the modern buildings houses a small museum. Across the gorge from the monastery is a 3rd millennium BC fortress and tomb field.

North of Artik are Nor Kyank (1251 p, till 1940 Mejitli, with ruined 6-7th c. Grigor Lusavorich church) and Anushavan (1543 p, till 1969 Bekyand or Parni Sultan, with S. Gevorg church; named after Dr. Anushavan Galoyan, dead WWII hero). In 1988, a hill-top fortress was excavated near Anushavan, dating from the 2nd c. BC to the 2nd c. AC. West of Harich is Saralanj (1021 p), with a 5th c. ruined basilica. To the S, Nahapetavan (709 p, till 1935 Khachakilisa, till 1961 Paros, renamed in honor of its local hero, Nahapet Kurghinian, a participant in the May 1920 Bolshevik uprising) has a 6th c. S. Gevorg church. Mets Mantash (1987 p, till 1935 Mets Arkhvali, an old settlement with traces of early churches, and center for propagation of the medieval Tondrakian heresy). Pokr Mantash (1851 p, church of 1864) From Mets Mantash, a road leads WNW to Arevshat (1635 p, till 1948 Yekanlar). The 14-15th c. church, rebuilt in 1873, had in earlier times a fortress nearby. Spandarian (1235 p, till 1946 Gyullija, renamed for the Armenian revolutionary) has a ruined church, an Iron Age fort and, on a nearby cliff, an Urartian cuneiform inscription of King Argishti I. N of Spandarian is Geghanist (548 p, till 1948 Chanki Tapa or Ghovlughat, church of 1852). W of Spandarian are Getapi (702 p, till 1940 Ghasm-Ali), Panik (2290 p, till 1924 Kyavtarlu, named in honored of Bolshevik agitator A. Panian) with a 19th c. church; Vardakar (570 p, till 1946 Tomartash, Bronze Age and medieval ruins, including khachkar shrine, nearby) and Meghrashen (1115 p, "Built of Honey", till 1946 Ghazanchi), with church and khachkars.

Up the Akhuryan -- Yereruyk (Section 3; Map B)

Approaching Shirak via the border highway from Armavir, you enter the Marz just after the village of Tlik. A faded metal pillar commemorating a now-forgotten Party Congress marks the turnoff for the village of Ani-Pemza (324 p, till 1938 Kzkule) on the Akhurian river gorge. The village gets its name from the pumice mines nearby, which bury the town in fine dust. Approaching the village, you see on the right the imposing remains of the Yereruyk Basilica* =70= (40 26.43n x 043 36.66e) of the 5th c.; there is an early Iron Age cemetery in the valley just N of the basilica. Back on the main road, turn left on a narrow paved road just after the little village of Ani Kayaran (Ani Station, 377 p). The road winds to a military checkpoint manned by Russian border guards, half of them Armenians under contract. With prior permission from the Foreign Ministry (located in Republic Square), or a pleasant smile and good story or (supposedly pending) a policy change on access to the closed zone, you may be allowed to drive to an overlook point W of the settlement of Kharkov, from which the medieval Armenian capital city of Ani** is laid out on its promontory a few hundred meters and many centuries away across the Akhurian river gorge in Turkey. The sight is unforgettable, particularly in late afternoon.

Bagravan (631 p) is named for an ancient Armenian religious site on the far side of the river near Yervandashat. A road leads NW from Bagravan Station to Haykadzor (446 p. till 1950 Ghzlkilisa, "Red Church," named for Horomos Vank across the Akhurian river), which preserves in the village S. Grigor Lusavorich church of 985, restored in 13th c. Jrapi (784 p) is near the Akhurian reservoir built jointly with Turkey in late Soviet times. The water is split 50-50. Building of the dam meant the removal of Upper and Lower Jrapi, till 1947 Chirpli and Keghach. A ruined medieval bridge on the Akhurian is now under water, but an 11th c. caravansaray was rebuilt by new Jrapi. There is a church of 1874 and, 1 km S of Jrapi, a 1st millenium BC graveyard. E of the road is Sarakap (559 p, till 1935 Bozdoghan), which has a 6-7th c. S. Astvatsatsin church, rebuilt in 1885. 6 km SE is a ruined 7th c. church called Karmir Vank or Ghrichi Vank. Aghin (434 p) has a S. Hakob church of 1878.

Several km E is Bardzrashen (till 1947 Baburlu), with a 7th c. S. Astvatsatsin church and, nearby, a Poghos-Petros hermitage. Beyond the Bardzrashen turnoff is the new village of Isahakyan (860 p, till 1945 Ghazarabad -- Ghazar Aga led the village in a successful defense against the Persians in 1826-28; earlier name was Kharum), then Lusaghbyur (511 p, till 1945 Sufanverdi). Shirakavan (667 p, till 1950 Davshanlan) is the new town built to replace the old, flooded by the reservoir. South is the site of Sevakn on the confluence of the Akhurian river and Sevakn creek. The site was excavated in 1977, and revealed a substantial cult site of the 2nd c BC to 3rd c. AC, showing cultural links with both Rome and Persia. The site is now partly flooded by the reservoir, as is a Stone Age site with mammoth bones, but a cyclopean fort remains on a hill above. There is or was a large church nearby. Bayandur (67 p, the original site, ruined in the 1926 earthquake, had Armenian and Greek churches); Erazgavors (154 p, "Deer Hunter", till 1945 Aralikh, resuming the name of the medieval site nearby, formerly Bash-Shoragyal) has sparse medieval remains, including of two fortresses, one in the village and one W on the stream bank, and a 9th c. church. Getk (377 p, till 1945 Daharlu) had two churches destroyed in the 1926 earthquake. Gharibjanian (890 p, Gharakilisa, then Alexandrovka, renamed in 1935 in honor of Bagrat Gharibjanian, 1890-1920, a Bolshevik revolutionary imprisoned by the Dashnaks after the failed May uprising and later shot in reprisal for the execution of two Dashnaks -- house museum in Gyumri) has a ruined modern church. Between Gharibjanian and Akhurik, the Akhurik railroad station has a special facility, completed just before the collapse of the USSR and never used, for lifting train cars off their wheels and changing the undercarriage from Soviet to European gauge, to allow trains on the Gyumri-Kars rail line to make the transition between two incompatible rail systems.

Gyumri East toward Spitak (Section 4; Map M)

The main West-East road to Spitak, once and potentially in the future an important transportation route from Kars to Tbilisi or Baku, leaves Gyumri to the NE, passing first through the village of Shirak (1014 p, till 1940 Ghonaghkran, this earlier name in popular etymology meaning "guest-killer," after a legendary incident when the locals, warned of their guests' evil intentions, massacred a group of Persian soldiers quartered in their houses). There is a S. Hakob church and S. Minas shrine. Jajur (746 p) has the house-museum of the painter Minas Avetisian (1928-1975). Paleolithic tools have been found on the territory. The road continues over the Jajur Pass (1952 m) to Lori Marz. North of Jajur is what looks to be interesting country: Lernut (157 p, new church W, medieval remains 1 km W); Jajur Kayaran (RR station, 305 p); Krashen (2082 p, till 1945 Aghkilisa) has a church of 1859; Mets Sariar (351 p) has a 19th c. S. Nshan church which used to house several early manuscripts. From Mets Sariar, the map shows a bad road winding NE through difficult terrain to Pokr Sariar (262 p, 19th c. church) on the Chichkan river; thence Kakavasar (153 p, till 1978 Kefli) with ruined Karmravor Church of the 7th c. just W, and remains of cyclopean fort; then Sarapat (146 p, till 1946 Samrlu), and Dzorashen (250 p), which has a rebuilt church of 1863 and ruined S. Stepanos monastery of 12-13th c., and remnants of a 10th c. AC fortress. The road then connects to Saralanj, in Lori Marz.

The road leaving Gyumri heading East passes through Akhurian (7728 p till 1945 Duzkent, capital of the former Akhurian rayon) and Karnut (910 p, till 1946 Diraklar), this latter with Early Bronze Age ruins on a hill nearby and, to the NE, a ruined church probably built on the site of a pagan temple in the 4-5th c and rebuilt in the 10th. About 1 km N are remains of a 8-7th c. BC dam. The road N from Karnut leads to Kamo (1350 p, till 1935 Haji Nazar, Astvatsatsin church of 1878, named for a romantic but somewhat unsavory revolutionary bank robber). Two km NW is Chataljur medieval settlement and Khacher Hellenistic site.

Near the reservoir S of Karnut are Hovit (481 p, with khachkars 2 km E) and Musayelian, (392 p, till 1935 Mets Kyapanak, named in honor of Sargis G. Musayelian, a captain who committed his troops and armored train to the May 1920 Bolshevik uprising against the Dashnak government in Alexandropol/Gyumri. Sentenced to death when the May uprising collapsed, Musayelian was reprieved, but then shot by vengeful Dashnaks after the torture and execution of two Dashnak leaders by the Red Army in Zangezur); church rebuilt 1842. Beyond Musayelian, the road looks as if it peters out at Jrarat (977 p, till 1945 Chirakhlu). There is a small ruined 6th c. church of S. Minas, and remains of a cyclopean fort.

West of the Akhuryan River (Section 5; Map M)

A turn W in Gharibjanian leads to the village of Akhurik (962 p, till 1935 Gharakilisa Turki). From there, a muddy track leads to the border fence and what was once a road crossing point into Turkey, now closed. Northeast from Akhurik is Arapi (1751 p, till 1946 Ojakhghuli), which has on its N side a spot sacred to the Virgin Mary. SW is a site with cyclopean remains and mammoth bones. There is a Hellenistic cemetery 1 km S. The road N from Akhurik goes to Voskehask (1816 p, till 1947 Musakan, cyclopean fort 1 km NE), Haykavan (1193 p, formerly Bajoghlu), then Voghji (540 p, till 1991 the Azeri village of Oghjoghli), Meghrashat (355 p, Lots of Honey, till 1946 Gharamahmet, church of 1868), Gyulibulagh (376 p, ruined church 1 km S of village), Kamkhut (formerly Chakhmakh, 7th c. church in village), Gtashen (87 p, formerly Magharajugh), and Aregnadem (379 p, formerly Azizbekov, till 1939 Gharachanta), joining up with the road to Arpi Reservoir in the far NW corner of Armenia.

The Northwest Corner -- Marmashen Vank (Section 6; Map M)

Leaving Gyumri on the main N road, turn left at a restaurant just past a set of post-earthquake international housing projects. A bad paved road passes the village of Marmashen (1656 p, until 1946 Verin Ghanlija). At the far end of Vahramaberd (981 p, 12-13th c. church in village, (said by locals to have a castle below the village)), the next village, turn left, then follow the dirt road back along the gorge and then descend (right fork) to Marmashen Vank* =85= (40 50.60n x 043 45.35e). This impressive monastic complex sits on a picturesque shelf with fruit trees above the Akhurian River, beside a stream that ends in a waterfall. The Katoghike church of S. Stepanos was built by Vahram Pahlavuni, whose gravestone sits in the ruined gavit, between 988 and 1029. The gavit itself is 13th c. There is an Astvatsatsin church, and a S. Petros, and archaeologists found remnants of a fourth, nearly circular church, along with foundations of a pre-Christian temple and many service buildings. The complex was ruined by the Seljuks, and rebuilt by Vahram's grandsons. On the hill N is a cemetery with a ruined chapel. There is a bridge probably of the 10-11th c. on the Akhurian nearby. Across the river, near an abandoned medieval settlement, are Bronze Age graves.

Retracing steps up to the rim of the gorge and continuing S on the dirt road skirting the gorge, one sees a basalt knob and scarp WNW of Marmashen village. Descending a few feet into the gorge, one finds about 40 meters NW of the power lines a perfectly preserved Urartian inscription of Argishti I (730-714 BC) carved into the basalt. Above it are sparse ruins of an Urartian stronghold. The main road continues N (in doubt take the right fork) to Kaps (592 p) and then crosses the Akhurian to reach another road N, with Jradzor (259 p, "Water Canyon", rebuilt 19th c. church) on the right hand. 1.5 km SE is a cyclopean fort. A road goes E from Jradzor to Hoghmik (459 p), on whose territory, on a plateau on the left bank of the Akhurian river, a Hellenistic settlement was excavated. There are Bronze Age and medieval burials as well.

The road forks in Amasia (1687 p) district capital, NW is "Chatin Dara" ruined fortress. A road E leads to Bandivan (521 p, ancient fort remains E of village on plateau) and, N from Bandivan, Hovtun (184 p, till recently Baitar, before Alakilisa, originally Azeris, then Greeks, now Armenians). The road from Amasia to the NW passes through low, rolling pasture lands to reach near the villages of Berdashen (300 p, "Built of Fortress", till recently Tapakoy, ruins of old church, cyclopean fort) and Paghakn (once Shurabad), the Arpi Reservoir, created by a dam at the source of the Akhurian river. This reservoir is a major way station for migrating birds in season. All the little villages around it used to be occupied by Azeris until 1988. Zorakert (61 v., formerly Balikhli, ruined fort a little NE) Tsaghkut (207 p, once Gyullija, with medieval fortress 2 km E); Yernajur (699 p, Chivinli); Garnarich (991 p, Kuzeykend); Shaghik (78 p, till 1991 Karabulagh); Zarishat (137 p, Konjali); Yerizak (formerly Ibish, before that Aychinkil). Opposite the turnoff for Yerizak, a road leads NE to Alvar (117 p, till recently Duzkend, ruins of church); Aravet (formerly Chaibasar); Pokr Sepasar (166 p, cyclopean fort, 17-18th c. church); and Mets Sepasar (761 p, 10th c. church in village). A dirt road N of the Akhurian leads E from Berdashen to Ardenis (140 p, formerly Gyollu) and Aghvorik (75 p, till recently Yeni Yol "New Road", till 1935 Gharanamaz), then joins the main road N to the border near Tavshut. About 1.5 km from Aghvorik toward Tavshut is an obsidian outcropping with an assortment of stone tools.

North Toward Akhalkalakh (Section 7; Map M)

The main road N from Gyumri toward the Georgian border passes through Mayisyan (1532 p, till 1946 Ortakilisa), named for the failed May 1920 Bolshevik attempt to seize power. In the village is a 7th c. S. Astvatsatsin church of red and black tuff, with inscriptions. Off to the E is Hatsik (1047 p, till 1949 Taparlu) with old church, cemetery and, 1 km NE, unspecified holy place. N of Hatsik is Karmrakar (52 p, till 1946, Gharaband) with two ruined churches and pre-Christian fort remains nearby. Beside the road entering the village is a 2-4th c AC graveyard. A spur road N of Mayisyan leads to Hovuni (654 p, till 1945 Yasaghul). Keti (937 p) has Bronze Age settlements, one by the stream at the NE of the village, the other SE. There is a shrine and church. Some 2 km NW in a fold of the hills is another Bronze Age site. The road then passes Pokrashen (196 p), after which a turnoff right leads to Arpeni (336 p, till 1978 Palutlu, 19th c. church). Next turnoff left goes to Goghovit (839 p, till 1978 Taknalu, church of 1860) and Hoghmik (see below).

The road next reaches Torosgyugh (316 p, once Gyurjiyol, Astvatsatsin church of 1865), Tsoghamarg (538 p, medieval church and cyclopean fort nearby), and Vardaghbyur (91 p, once Gyullibulagh "Rose spring"). At Vardaghbyur, the road forks, the right branch leading to Musayelyan (1510 p, till 1946 Boz gyugh) with S. Trdat church of 1896. The road then switchbacks over the mountain (not passable until May) some 35 km to Tashir, through a beautiful, stark, treeless landscape. The first road right after Vardaghbyur leads S to Salut (94 p, once Skut) and Bashgyugh (638 p, church). NNW of Musayelian is Hartashen (193 p, till 1946 Dyuzkharaba, church).

The main road N from Vardaghbyur leads to (on left) Karmravan (212 p. till 1935 Ghzlkilisa, church) and (on right) Zuygaghbyur (401 p, till 1946 Chiftali, ruined 19th c. church). Beyond is the capital of the former Ghukasian Rayon, Ashotsk (2177 p, till 1938 Ghzlghoch, church). Ashotsk, renamed recently for the medieval name of the area, had been named in honor of young militant Ghukas Ghukasian, a Spartacist firebrand, head of the Kars Revkom in the May 1920 Bolshevik uprising, killed by "Mauserists" while attempting to flee the collapsed revolt). Krasar (484 p. till 1946 Kurdbulagh) is off to the SW.

Ghazanchi (516 p) has an two old settlement sites, Urmi gerezmanner and Karvasara, with remains of a 10-11th c. church, etc. Left of the road is Tavshut (356 p, till 1967 Tazakend), and Sizavet (313 p, till 1946 Korbulagh, then till 1967 Tasghkashen) is on the right. East of Sizavet is an obsidian outcropping with early stone tools, beside a Bronze Age settlement. Bavra (235 p, once Titoy Kharaba, ruined in a 1958 earthquake) has a cemetery SW; has old Arabic tombstones. The main road continues N into the poor, remote, largely Armenian-inhabited Georgian districts of Akhalkalaki and Akhaltsikhe, over a terrible road. A spur NE from Bavra leads to Saragyugh (203 p, till 1946 Darakoy).

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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