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Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook- Southern Armenia

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The dramatic rise and fall of mountains in Vayots Dzor keep the ever-changing landscape interesting and the drive sometimes windy.

Vayots Dzor and Syunik have important centers of learning and manuscripts. Tatev and Gladzor were important centers of scholarship in their heyday. The wine country of Areni has provided a recent windfall for archaeologists with the oldest shoe and oldest winery ever found in the caves in Areni wine country.

The cave cities around Goris are fun to explore, the architectures of Goris and Meghri stand out, and the city of Kapan, nestled in the mountains is a tribute to Soviet planning and architecture (for better or for worse).

If you visit between July to September, seriously consider the schlepp up to Ughtasar. The mountaintop is littered with petroglyphs. If you can't make it, you can wander the Armenian "Stonehenge" called Karahunj, a couple of minutes off of the highway.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magil Cave - bats

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

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

Noravank Monastery and red cliffs

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

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

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

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

Mozrov formations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving East to Vayk (Section 5;Map P)

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

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

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

Southern Vayots Dzor (Section 6;Map P)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Orbelian Princes
By Brady Keisling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Gates of Zangezur - welcoming you to Syunik Marz

Syunik Marz contains some of the most dramatic scenery in Armenia, and is home to some of the most important historical and cultural remains. Little explored archaeologically, the region is a wilderness of high mountains cut by huge, deep river gorges. The southern tip of the country, around Meghri, can be reached now only over a high and often foggy or snowy pass, its normal, easy access through Nakhichevan along the Arax River now cut off by politics. The roads are being steadily improved, but you should count on a full day to reach Meghri from Yerevan. Unquestionably, however, the trip is worth it, in terms of natural beauty and cultural riches.

Important destinations in Syunik include Tatev Monastery, the spectacularly sited religious capital of S. Armenia, Vorotnavank, Vahanavank, the standing stones near Sisian, the medieval cave-dwellings of Khndzoresk, the petroglyphs of Ughtasar and nature preserves such as Sev Lich and Shikahogh. The both Sisian and Kapan have decent hotels, while a number of excellent B&Bs are popping up all over the region, including in Goris and Meghri. Every road offers beautiful streams or sacred spring sites, often with covered picnic tables, by which to pitch a tent.

Due to its rough terrain and isolation, Syunik stayed relatively autonomous under the control of local Armenian notables (see the Orbelians in Vayots Dzor below) long after the rest of the country had been incorporated in Mongol, Turkish or Persian fiefdoms. It was a hotbed of insurrection under Davit Bek (see below), and the last redoubt of independent Armenia in 1921 under Garegin Nzhde.

A note on safety: A cease fire has held since 1994, and the area along the eastern border of Syunik - now nowhere near the contact line - is quiet and safe. Though rare, there have been incidents in the mountains that separate Syunik from the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhichevan; hikers should thus steer away from that particular watershed.

Entering Syunik -- Angeghakot (Section 1; Map L)

Until further notice there is only one way to reach Syunik Marz (short of chartering a helicopter -- $2500 from Erebuni airport), and that is the road S through Ararat and Vayots Dzor marzes. Figure three hours to reach Sisian, unless you stop at one of the many tempting places in route. Crossing the pass from Vayots Dzor you see a major modern monument, the gates of Zangezur, from which you can still see the tip of Mt. Ararat on a crystal clear day. There are some metal sheds and dirt piles marking access to the Vorotan tunnel, which will one day divert water from the Vorotan river, the dominant feature of North Syunik, into Lake Sevan. The village of Gorayk (600 p, formerly Bazarchai) stands just before the Spandarian reservoir. A dirt road leads N into the mountains of Mets Karakhach, with obsidian outcroppings and paleolithic sites. Somewhere at about 3000 m near the headwaters of the Vorotan River and toward Davagyoz Mt. are interesting petroglyphs. On the main road is Tsghuk (405 p, formerly Borisovka, Murkuz). Sarnakunk (540 p) has somewhere on its territory to the N a rock face decorated with 8-7th c. BC petroglyphs. In 1945 about 1 km N of the village a clay pot was found with a coin hoard including coins from Alexander the Great to Mark Antony. Spandarian (445 p, till 1939 Meliklu or Kalachik, renamed for the famous Armenian revolutionary) has a 5-6th c. church on the S slope of the Vorotan river valley.

Angeghakot (1739 p) has Neolithic dolmens and Bronze Age/Iron Age tumuli. Three medieval churches: S. Astvatsatsin, S. Stepanos, S. Hazaraprkich ("Savior of Thousands"), unusual 17th c. khachkar, and sparse remains of an early Christian church. There is a S. Vardan church of 1298, still a pilgrimage site, one km from the village, where, according to tradition, the defeated Armenian army stopped to rest after the battle of Avarayr in AD 451.. In 1699 Israel Ori convoked a meeting of eleven Armenian meliks to draft a petition to Czar Peter the Great, the Pope, and other potentates asking their intervention against Armenia's Persian overlords. From Angeghakot a road leads SW to Shaghat (1018 p), with a S. Stepanos Protomartyr church and ruins of a medieval castle, Balak (225 p, one newish church), and Mutsk (376 p, formerly Bardzravan, with Astvatsatsin church of 1870)

A stone-built military checkpoint/bus stop (not active) marks the right turn from the main Goris road toward Sisian. From the Sisian road, turn right into Shaki (1237 p), then left at the village center, jog right, and left again, to follow a dirt road that leads to a small tributary of the Vorotan which joins the main stream via a small (because diverted to a hydroelectric plant) but attractive waterfall. For a fee the operators will often stop the water from being diverted so you can enjoy the full waterfall. Near the village are the ruins of Shaki Vank, and a shrine with khachkars. According to legend, the site was named for Shake, one of 93 maidens saved from flood by a miracle.

Sisian and Tanahat Vank (Section 2; Map L)

Sisian (15019 p) is a pleasant town at the confluence of the Vorotan and Sisian rivers. Its hotel is austere but clean, with 24-hour running water and hot showers in the evening. Of Armenia's Soviet-era regional hotels, this is probably the most welcoming for a foreign visitor. There are also the Bassen Hotel and Zorats Karer B&B (above Sisavan Church) to choose from. There are a couple of adequate khorovats restaurants, one on the river heading back to Shaki. The history museum has on display 2nd millennium BC pottery and other finds from the Bronze Age cemetery/"observatory" of Karahunj (Zorats Karer) N of town. In the museum garden are a series of medieval sheep-shaped tombstones, some with Persian inscriptions perhaps a testament to the presence of Turkmen tribes in the region in the 15th through 18th centuries. The road uphill from the prominent Soviet monument to those who fell in 1921 during the Sovietization of Zangezur (i.e., fighting the Dashnaks) leads to a cemetery to Sisian's Karabakh martyrs, and from there to the Sisavan church =70= (39 31.79n x 046 01.20e), also known as S. Hovhannes or Syuni Vank. The church was built by Prince Kohazat and Bishop Yovsep I between 670 and 689, and restored in the 19th and 20th centuries. There are sculpted reliefs of the builders somewhere on the church. Inside the church are some examples of rare microscopic art by a local artist. On the E side of Sisian, a princely tomb of the 2-1st c. BC contained rich grave goods. On the plateau east of town is a large Middle Bronze through Early Iron Age cemetery.

The westerly of the two roads leading SW from Sisian takes one to Brnakot (1926 p), which supposedly boasts three churches: S. Grigor of 1704 (right of the road beyond the war memorial), S. Astvatsatsin, and a third nameless. Tacked onto the S side of the 1704 basilica of S. Grigor is a gavit/cupola built in 1848 to house the tombs of the family of Melik T'angi, "hazarapet" (Armenian equivalent of his Turkic/Persian title Min-bashi, "lord of a thousand") and major notable in Syunik till the last years of Russian imperial rule. The Melik-T'angian family claimed descent from the Orbelian (see Vayots Dzor Marz) rulers of Syunik in the 13-15th c. When the Orbelians were finally dispossessed by Jehan Shah of the Karakoyunlu Turkmen confederation in 1437, the Melik-T'angians kept their rights to the villages in the NW corner of modern Syunik Marz, from Angeghakot to Vorotan. As was common in these noble families, a late member Nerses Melik-T'angian (1866-1948), served as Archbishop of Atrpatakan (Persian Azerbaijan). The church is locked, and the donkey guarding it bites. Residents of Sisian say that Brnakot is famous for its crazy people. From the E edge of Brnakot a dirt road leads to Ashotavan. Another road SW to Salvard seems to disappear on the mountain slope.

The second SW road from Sisian leads past the Tolors reservoir to Ashotavan (561 p) There is a church of 1903 in the village. Following the course of the Sisian river, the road passes Hatsavan (224 p, medieval bridge, ruined medieval castle). Note that the paved right fork just before Hatsavan leads up a pretty stream valley to the village of Salvard (406 p). From Salvard, a rough dirt track leads back to Tasik (293 p, with Ditkash sacred site, castle ruins). Beyond Hatsavan and Tasik, the road passes the turnoff (W) to the hamlet of Tanahat (31 p, formerly the Azeri village of Jomardlu). The road ends at Arevis (77 p), now inhabited by refugees from Azerbaijan.

At about 7 km from the Hatsavan fork, you see on a bluff left across the river the low red remains of Tanahat Monastery* =20?= or (as it is known to the locals) Karmir Vank - and not to be confused with the much nicer Tanahati Monastery near Yeghegnadzor. It may be possible to ford the river by car below the monastery, while one km upstream of it is a deeper ford or, 80 m further upstream, a precarious footbridge made of an old truck chassis, with a pleasant foot track leading up (20 minutes) to the monastery. Preserved are remains of a single-aisle basilica, perhaps of the fifth c., with a small columned hall adjoining it S. W of the church is a little cemetery, which includes the well-preserved cist grave of a notable at its highest point. According to Stepanos Orbelian, the Bishop of Syunik and family historian writing in the late 13th century:

"At that time flourished the superb and marvelous refuge of Tanahati Vank, situated at the bottom of Upper Syunik, on a wooded plateau. Except the servers, no one passed the gates of the convent. Despite the repeated injunctions of the princes and bishops of Syunik, they would not consent to fortify themselves on Sundays with soup, cheese and oil -- fruits and vegetables sufficed. Thence their name of Tanahat, 'deprived of soup.' ... We have found in their inscriptions that their church was built 400 years before the Armenian era (ed. note: AD 151, not possible) by the princes of Syunik, under the name of S. Stepanos the Protomartyr.
They had as superior a certain Mkhitar, who by his austerities had taken his place in the ranks of those most virtuous, who tamed wild beasts such as bears and wolves into service to the church, and forced them to make themselves useful to the convent or, as an inscription attests, to be the vassals of the convent. ... having presided for many years over the convent, he joined the angels. His holy remains were placed in a wooden coffin on a hill near the church, where a grave had been dug and lined with masonry. This tomb has survived to the present day and works great miracles on those afflicted with illness."

To Dastakert (Section 3; Map L)

A road SE from Sisian leads past Uyts (424 p, cyclopean castle nearby) and the reservoir to the modern site of Tolors (378 p), with Late Bronze Age and early Iron Age tombs found nearby. Uphill from the village is an interesting medieval cemetery. The old village of Akhlatyan (551 p), destroyed by earthquake in 1931, has a ruined S. Sargis church, Bronze Age megalithic monuments, and a monumental tumulus to the N.

Bnunis (187 p) Prince Ashot of Syunik gave this village to Tatev Monastery in 906. In the NW part is an Orbelian prince's tombstone of 1321. There are two churches, one ruined, the other with 14th c. khachkars built into the walls. Till the earthquake of 1931 there was funerary monument of the late 13th c. standing in the graveyard, built for Prince Manik. The village was reinhabited in 1866. S of the village is a water channel built by a local priest and called Keshish Arkh. Further S are Torunik (157 p, formerly Kizilshafak, church and cemetery), Soflu (93 p), and Dastakert (264 p), with a non-functioning molybdenum mine. Some 2 km N is an inscription called Vardapeti Kar, dated 1320, for a gentleman named Baghtar who had no son and was obliged to look after his own soul rather than leave it to his descendants.

To Vorotnavank and Beyond (Section 4; Map L)

A highly recommended route leaves Sisian to the SE following the main road through the village on the E side of the river. The road turns left uphill, and ends at a T junction just past a stop sign. Turn right at the T, and follow the road SE. Just before the village of Aghitu (365 p), you see on the left the remains of a substantial Muslim cemetery. The village, better known as Aghudi, has a large restored 7th c. funerary monument =35= (39 31.00n x 046 05.00e) W of the road. S of the village on a hill are remains of Berdategh ruined castle. There is also a Middle Bronze Age tomb field. From Aghitu, a fork left allegedly climbs to Noravan (505 p, founded 1928), and thence to the main Sisian-Goris highway. Staying on the main road through Aghitu, a few km beyond, take the right fork (left goes to Vaghatin, (589 p, till 1991 Azeri village of Vagudi)), which soon provides a splendid view of the Vorotan gorge and Vorotnavank* =65=. This fortified monastery sits, right of the road via a paved driveway about 8.5 km from the stop sign, on a promontory overlooking the Vorotan. The main S. Stepanos church was built in AD 1000 by Queen Shahandukht, and the adjoining S. Karapet church was built in 1007 by her son Sevada. The dome of S. Karapet collapsed in the earthquake of 1931. There are interesting carved gravestones in the cemetery. One of the churches is allegedly good for snakebite. From the monastery, the road winds down to a bridge. Staying on the N side of the river, a road goes to Vorotan (280 p), with 9-14th c. khachkars and a bridge of 1855 built by Melik Tangi, the Brnakot notable, and thence to Shamb Hotsprings, with more like warm springs that local Peace Corps volunteers have successfully bathed in during the winter.

Crossing the automobile bridge, the road reaches (1.1 km) a bend in the river, with a steep, rocky hill left of the road. Crowning the summit are the sparse remains of Vorotnaberd*, a key site in Armenian history since AD 450, when it was a stronghold of the rebels under Vardan Mamikonian. Border fortress of the kingdom of Kapan, it was captured by the Seljuk Turks in 1104, then recaptured by Ivane Zakarian in 1219 and given to Liparit Orbelian. It was captured by the troops of Timur Lenk in 1386, but the Orbelian brothers managed to persuade the Mongols to give it back. Karayusuf took it from Smbat in 1407, but in 1724 Davit Bek took it back from Melik Baghr. There are interesting pottery fragments of all periods on the slope, perhaps crockery dropped on the heads of successive invaders.

Beyond, a left fork goes to Ltsen (161 p), with a church and a shrine of 1347. There is a S. Khach pilgrimage site SE. Name of the village comes, according to legend, from a local holy man named Nerses, who urged the villagers to drop (ltsnel) boulders down on the invading Mongols. The right fork joins the Loradzor river at Darbas (689 p.). This village has a ruined S. Astvatsatsin church build in the 13th c. by Tarsayich Orbelian and his wife Mamakhatun. There is a small, ruined S. Stepanos church and, below the village, the "Arzumani Bridge" of 1680, with inscription: "In the year of the Armenians 1129 (1680), in the reign of Shah Suleiman, and of local prince Maghsot Bek, who was controller of the royal house, was built the bridge of Haji Arzuman Agha for his remembrance, who was administrator of this place and many villages of this region, a man of good repute ... by the hand of master Hayrapet." Next is Getatagh (202 p), with S. Astvatsatsin Church of 1702. Lor (358 p) has at the entrance to town the so-called Spitak Khach (white cross) khachkar monument of 1271. The basilica church of S. Gevorg in the village (non-functioning, locked) dates to 1666, built according to legend by Khoja Poghos in gratitude for the safe return of his beautiful wife from the clutches of Shah Abbas. On the slope above town is a chapel called Sargsi Khacher with an inscription of 1345 saying this S. Astvatsatsin church was built by Sargis and Amir Hasan for the salvation of their souls. Tsaru S. Hovhannes church of 1686 is half a km SW. The reverends Smith and Dwight spent two days snow-bound in Lor in 1830, staying with the son of the local priest. "He welcomed us hospitably to his own family room. It was under ground, like all the houses of these mountains, and lighted only by an open sky-light in the centre, through which the snow was continually falling. In different parts, piles of grain were heaped upon the ground, which formed the floor. Here a deep wicker basket plastered with mud and cow-dung, answered the purpose of a flour-barrel; there was a large chest of bread, the principal food of the family. In a dark corner was a pile of carpets, mattresses, cushions and coverlets for their accommodation at night; and in another direction stood a cradle with its crying contents." Warmed by the tonir oven sunk into the floor, the two Americans were warmed even more to find a man who owned and even read the Bible. From Lor, which they said had been depopulated under Nadir Shah and had only 12 houses, they rode on to Sisian, Shaghat (where they found the locals to be working or travelling on the Sabbath), and over the mountains to Nakhichevan.

More or less at the end of the road, Shenatagh (299 p, from 1940 till recently Lernashen) has a S. Martiros church of 1860, with inscribed tombstones, and various cave hiding places and ruined hamlets nearby. There is a ruined castle in the gorge somewhere.

East to Goris -- Kotrats Caravansaray, Khndzoresk (Section 5; Map L)

Leaving Sisian on the road NNE from the center of town, climb up the hill, then turn hard left where you see the rusting steel umbrellas. This road will lead you in a couple of km to Zorakarer* =75= (39 33.17n x 046 01.75e), a Bronze Age settlement/cemetery site left of the road, around whose large chamber tombs are a series of standing stones, some with holes pierced in them. It is universally assumed that this is an early observatory, though the alignment is not ideal for the purpose. In any case, the site is beautiful and ancient, well worth the visit.

Across the main Goris highway is the village of Ishkanasar (204 p, till recently Ghzljugh). From the Sisian-Goris highway, a signposted road turns S to Harzhis (781 p), which is perched above the Vorotan Gorge among rolling volcanic uplands. About half way to Harzhis, where the power pylons cross the road, a dirt road leads back NNW to the substantial remains of the "Kotrats Caravansaray,"* =50= built in 1319 by the Orbelian family as a way point on the Silk Road. The Armenian inscription over the door is badly weathered, but a Persian inscription survives above it. There are also standing stones of an early Iron Age cemetery nearby. An Aramaic inscription was found nearby. Beyond Harzhis, a rough dirt road continues SE to Shinuhayr, passing remains of a medieval hamlet on the edge of the gorge. There are castle remains somewhere nearby. Deep inside the gorge below Harzhis is a 13th c. bridge over the Vorotan.

From the Goris highway, a least two dirt roads (ask) lead N to Mt. Mets Ishkhanasar, a 3550 m volcano on the border with Azerbaijan. In the crater 3 km E of the main summit is Sev Lich, Black Lake at 2657 m, a unique lake ecosystem, since 1987 a State Reserve.

On the top of Ughtasar mountain are countless important petroglyphs** =90= (39 41.20n x 046 03.25e). The site is beautiful, with a small mountain lake, (not Sev Lich) nestled in a rim of mountain peaks, and scattered with boulders and patches of snow surviving year round. Many of the boulders have at least one petroglyph, with some having over a dozen. The petroglyphs are dated using comparative dating, leading researchers to believe they are from V-II millennium B.C. (between 4,000 to 7,000 years). To reach this location is almost impossible without a local guide, and although a Niva can probably make it, a WAZ is much more suitable. Have enough gas for 3 hours of driving round trip, and only go from mid-July to late September, for snow covers the mountaintops most of the year. Ask for a guide in the village or better yet in Sisian. Trips up to Ughtasar are not common, so your request may cause some commotion before a suitable guide is found. Tracks leading up fade in and out during the 1.5 hour drive from Ishkhanasar Village (very close to the town of Sisian) to the top of Ughtasar. Rock-carvings have been know as "Itsagir", i.e. goat-letters, and though they have attracted the attention of certain investigators at the beginning of the 20-th century they were not studied at that time. The petroglyphs span several dozen kilometers along the mountains near Tsghouk, on the slopes of Ughtasar, to the foot of Vartenis mountain-chain and the sources of the Yeghegis, Arpa and Vorotan rivers. More than 2000 decorated rocks were discovered at Ughtasar, in the region of Sisian. The big centers of rock-carving, Ughtasar and Jer'majur (Istisu), are in the region of Sisian about 3300m above sea level. Ughtasar was named such due to the resemblance it has to a camel ("ught" in Armenian means camel, while sar means mountain). In the rock-carvings of Ughtasar and Jer'majur, the entire wealth of the Armenian fauna is designed. There, we can see most animals of that time, both wild and tamed, such as goats, mouflons, gazelles, deer, aurochs, horses, boars, dogs, wolves, jackals, panthers, bears and lions. Aurochs and bison however are met very seldom. At the same time scenes which represent hunters with bows and arrows, pikes, spears, and shields are numerous. Among them we can see hunting objects, lassos, traps, and also aurochs that lead the cart, covered carts and sledge-like ones, too, ploughs and carvings which represent the universe. Birds, in general, do not occupy a significant place. The importance of cattle-breeding is shown by the abundance of rock-carvings representing cattle and small-cattle. The Cyclopean fortress and the lodgings situated over 3 km high at Ughtasar have apparently served as temporary dwelling sites for cattle-breeding tribes. The "graves" and their carvings prove that they were in use for many hundred years. Scenes of ceremonial dances, i.e. dances in pairs and collective dances, have been reproduced too. The rock-carvings of Syunik represent subject scenes, where single episodes of primitive people's social life are depicted with the surrounding nature. These decorated rock-fragments of Syunik are mainly "tombstones" and they are made by cattle-breeding tribes who settled in those pastures at a certain period of the year. It is difficult for the investigators to determine the accurate date of these rock-carvings.

Goris Church

Coming from the West, turn right just before the bridge to enter the town of Goris =75= (40 44.37n x 044 52.09e) (20840 p), which sprawls out along the gorge of the Goris River. Its hotel, partly occupied by refugees, has a poor reputation, though there is a B&B of good repute. Goris is home to the Axel Bakunts house museum, commemorating one of Armenia's great prose writers, who died in prison in 1937, one of many who paid the price for "nationalist deviationism." There is a regional museum as well. At the beginning of the road to Khndzoresk is an 18th c. local melik's house. Goris is famous for its home-made fruit vodkas, and for the medieval cave-dwellings carved out of the soft rock in the southern part of town. There is a modern church.

Crossing the bridge at the entrance to town, the road continues toward Lachin and Stepanakert, first passing the turnoff right to Hartashen (653 p, founded 1965-70 from the three small villages of Azatashen/Alighuli, Dzorashen and Aigedzor, with a S. Hripsime Church in one of them, and then the metal archway marking the right turn for Khndzoresk (1954 p). At the far end of Khndzoresk village, turn right {and almost fully around} (straight goes to Nerkin Khndzoresk --184 p) and wind down past a cemetery. A deteriorating dirt track descends into the gorge and the interesting remains of Old Khndzoresk* =70= (39 30.33n x 046 26.00e), a medieval and early modern village largely hewn into the soft rock. Park your car at the top of the gorge and walk down. You pass a number of artificial caves now used as stables, and other building remains. At the bottom of the gorge, turn downstream to reach a S. Hripsime Church of 1663, sadly defiled by graffiti and cow droppings. On a spur beyond on the right side of the gorge is a 17th c. Anapat (hermitage), with the tomb of Mkhitar Sparapet, who was Davit Bek's chief aide and successor in his war to drive out the infidel Muslims. Mkhitar was murdered in 1730 by the nervous Armenian villagers of Khndzoresk, who had vainly beseeched him to hole up in his own stronghold rather than their village. The Ottoman Pasha in Tabriz, to whom they presented his head, found this treachery distasteful, and decapitated the murderers. The site is green and memorable. There is a 17th c. cave church of S. Tadevos somewhere about, and a couple of 17th c. spring monuments.

Back on the main road E, Karashen (544 p) has a 16-17th c. church, and tombs with 13-15th c. khachkars; it was home to a 1920 Communist Party cell. Tegh (2135 p) has a S. Gevorg church of the 4-5th c., rebuilt in medieval times, Iron Age tombs, and old houses in the village, including the 18th c. mansion of the Melik-Barkhudarian family (where the reverends Smith and Dwight probably spent a night around the fire in 1830), and Arneghtsi church 4 km SE. N of the village are some fine khachkars. Aravus (160 p) has an 18th c. church. Kornidzor (1047 p) has cave dwellings nearby.

Tsitsernavank Interior

From Goris, the road N from the bridge on the E side of the Goris river leads up to Verishen (2129 p), which has a large S. Hripsime Church built in 1621 on 5th c. foundations. There is also a rock-cut inscription of 1294, with an early Persian inscription above, marking a rebuilding of an aqueduct that carried the water from Verishen's famous Vararaki springs to the estates of Tatev. Brun (1035 p) has cyclopean structures and remains of a medieval fortress. Near the village are remains of a 10th c. water channel. Beyond Brun are Vaghatur (467 p), Khoznavar (463 p, ruined S. Minas church of 1675) and Khnatsakh (980 p), the latter with a church of 1610, khachkars of 13-17th c. on hilltops surrounding, and shrines. Perhaps two km NE of Khnatsakh, on a hillside just inside the Lachin district of Azerbaijan, are the ruins of Tsitsernavank Church*, (directions & additional information are under the Karabakh section) named either for the nearby swallows or else for a piece of the little finger of the Apostle Peter supposed to have been kept here. The long, narrow basilica is thought to date from as early as the 5th c., with a small bell-tower added in late medieval times.

The Road to Tatev (Section 6; Map L)

Two roads lead to the village of Shinuhayr (2222 p, 17th c. S. Stepanos church, cave dwellings near old village, and a fine, tall 16th c. khachkar) (take the SW fork, not the SE toward Khot) from both West and South of Goris. The latter road turns W from Karahunj (1172 p), which has a S. Hripsime shrine of 1675, cave dwellings, khachkars, and a fort of some description. Khot (863 p), boasted a ruined 5-8th c. church, Khotavank, now gone, an insignificant Meghradzori Khach church of 1700, ruins of Karmir Khach church in the cemetery, Iron Age tombs and, near the gorge, the ruined medieval castle of Khanapa and other remains. Halidzor village (563 p) was donated to Tatev Monastery in the 10th c. It has an early 17th c. church and, 1 km E, Vanasar, a site with khachkars, which Prince Tarsayich Orbelian gave to the architect Siranes as payment for building Amaghu Noravank.

From Halidzor, the road winds down into the gorge of the Vorotan. Just before the winding begins, there is a small stone gazebo like monument to a girl who threw herself into the gorge at that picturesque spot, rather than be forced into marriage with a Muslim ruler. From here you can see Tatev Monastery across the gorge at the top. You cross the river at the so-called Satan's Bridge =70= (39 23.72n x 046 15.53e) where the Vorotan goes briefly underground through a cave. Above the bridge is a warm spring and picnic area, worth a brief halt, which also makes a good camping spot. On the roadside just a few meters past the steps, which lead to the pools, is a little spring coming out of a small pipe in the mountainside. It is a naturally carbonated mineral spring, and if you catch some water, you’ll slowly see bubbles form in the water. There is an isolated 11-13th c. church in the valley below the Devil's bridge. The road then switchbacks steeply up to the village of Tatev (985 p) and the nearby monastery.

The fortified Tatev Monastery** =100= (39 22.81n x 046 15.01e) stands overlooking the Vorotan gorge from a very strong setting. It was for centuries the seat of the Bishops of Syunik, a center of learning, and storehouse of wealth from taxing all the villages in the region. According to legend it was named for St. Eustathius, one of 70 disciples who accompanied the Apostle Thaddeus into Armenia. Stepanos Orbelian, the medieval bishop/historian of Syunik, recounts that Tatev housed 600 monks, philosophers "deep as the sea," able musicians, painters, calligraphers, and all the other accoutrements of a center of culture and learning. The monastery produced teachers and manuscripts for the whole Armenian world.

Stepanos Orbelian knew no date for the original insignificant church on the site. However, Bishop Davit gathered the princes of Syunik in 844 and persuaded them to grant the monastery villages and lands worthy of the relics -- including bits of S. John the Baptist, S. Stephen, S. Hripsime, S. Gregory the Illuminator, and a piece of the True Cross -- that had found their way to the designated seat of the Bishops of Syunik. It was Bishop Ter-Hovhannes, however, who built the main church dedicated to Saints Poghos and Petros (Paul and Peter) in 895-906. Ter-Hovhannes was the son of a poor villager. According to Stepanos Orbelian, the young Hovhannes, sent off by his cruel step-mother to watch the mayor's chickens, lost them, and took refuge at the monastery. There his intellectual gifts brought him a rapid ascent. Elected bishop by acclamation, he resolved to build a church worthy of the See, and did so. The N facade has carved portraits of the donors, Prince Ashot, his wife Shusan, Grigor Supan of Gegharkunik, and Prince Dzagik. There are remains of the original 10th c. frescos within. The S. Grigor church of 1295 adjoins. In the courtyard is an octagonal pillar 8 m high which allegedly pivots on a hinge.

In 1830, Smith and Dwight found two bishops, ten vartapets, and two deacons, supervising a diocese of 74 villages and 62 priests. In the Russo-Persian war, the monastery had been pillaged, the bishop tortured and carried off to Tabriz. Tatev remained an active monastery in the 19th c, but fell on hard times in the Soviet period. The earthquake of 1931 did considerable damage, some of which has recently been repaired.

N of the village is Tatevi Mets Anapat Monastery (also known as Harants Anapat), of the 17th c. There is also a site near Tatev village called Tsuravank, a monastery of the 10-17th c. In the middle of the villages lies the simple village church, which was restored by the Land and Culture Organization during the 1990's. A difficult dirt road, requiring good ground clearance, continues S from Tatev through beautiful wooded country. The first fork right leads to Svarants (336 p). Staying left, the road then passes turns for Tandzatap (102 p 11-13th c. monastery), Kashuni (30 p, formerly Maldash), and Aghvani (102 p), with Iron Age burials and a 17th c. church. Tandzaver (225 p) has a 17th c. church and a ruined medieval fort, and Bronze Age tomb fields. Then follow a cluster of villages on the Achanan river and its tributaries: Verev Khotanan (294 p) has W of it the 10-14th c. Ghazarants hamlet with a S. Astvatsatsin church; Tavros (93 p) used to be the Azeri village of Dovrus; Nerkin Khotanan (100 p S. Astvatsatsin church of 17-19th c.); Gharatgha (0 p) 17th c. Horomants church nearby; Okhtar (100 p) 10th c church; Dzorastan (117 p) medieval fort, 17th c. church; Shrvenants (72 p) 10-11th c. church; Norashenik (161 p) 17th c. church; Antarashat (129 p) has S. Hripsime church of 10th c. in the village, which was known to Stepanos Orbelian as Torini; Arajadzor (197 p) has Melik-Stepanian family tomb in village; 2 km SE is ancient cemetery. Achanan (150 p, formerly Khalaj) has a church. The road joins up with the main Kapan-Goris road just E of Kapan.

South to Kapan (Section 7; Map L)

Going S. on the main road from Goris to Kapan, the road rises from the village and hydroelectric station of Vorotan (264 p) in the gorge (restaurant). A kilometer or two beyond the summit, a signposted road leads W to Bardzravan (171 p, till 1926 Mazra). At 3.1 km from the turnoff, a paved road (faded white sign) leads right to a little wooded promontory on which stand the remains of Bgheno Noravank* =55= (39 23.29n x 046 21.62e?), with a small reconstructed church of 1062. The ruins of this church were rediscovered in the 1920s by Axel Bakunts, the famous prose writer, during one of his wanderings as agronomist. In the village of Bardzravan is a S. Astvatsatsin church of 1870. Two km S on the slope toward the Vorotan river is Karkopi S. Minas church of the 17th c.

The main S. road follows the border to Shurnukh (142 p, founded 1930). S of Shurnukh a road runs W to Katar, formerly Aghbulagh, with ruined Kalandat castle. Further S is Davit-Bek (811 p, till 1949 Zeyva). This village on the Kashunik river has an old bridge, a 10th c. ruined grave monument E and the Takh church 3 km E. Zeyva was a Muslim stronghold besieged by the forces of David Bek in 1722. After two days of vain attacks, the redoubtable warrior priest Ter Avetis infiltrated and opened the path for the fort to be stormed and its garrison slaughtered. (When the war ended, Ter-Avetis made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was ultimately forgiven his sinful combativeness.) East of the road, Kaghnut (118 p, till 1949 Moghes) has a modern hermitage. Artsvanik (704 p) dates to the 6th c. 3 km NE is Yeritsavank =50= (39 16.83n x 046 29.08?), a 6th c. church and pilgrimage site with sweeping views named after Yeritsuk, a mid-6th c. bishop of Syunik; 1 km W is a small 9th c. church, with 11th c. khachkars. Further W are ruins of a medieval structure, the so-called Aghravi Tapan ("Crow's Ark"), the Chknavori shrine, and ruins of a 4th-1st c. BC fortress. There is a village tree thought to be 500 years old. The melik (chieftain) of the village, Melik-Frangyul, is fabled for betraying his kinsmen to the Turks during the wars of Davit Bek. From Artsvanik a road goes NW to Chapni (126 p), a former mining site, Sevakar (137 p), with 10-17th c. churches, and Yegheg (194 p, formerly Shabadin, ruins of 10-13th c. churches nearby). East of the road is Vardavank (114 p, formerly Verin Gyodaklu)

Kapan (34656 p, till 1991 Ghapan, originally Madan) is the marz capital, a once bustling mining town built originally with French capital in the late 19th c. It boasts a high-rise hotel on the main square (S bank of the river), and a museum. The western suburb village of Bekh is a good starting point to hike to the 10-11th c. Bekhi Anapat Monastery =45?=. On the W edge of Kapan, on a hill S of the Voghji river, sit the ruins of Halidzor fortress =30= (39 13.09n x 046 21.12e), with church remains within. Built in the 17th c. as a nunnery, it became the headquarters of Davit Bek, the famous early 18th c. freedom fighter. He died there of illness in 1728, and is by repute buried in the cemetery outside the castle. On NE edge of town is a 17th c. church in the district called Kavard. Somewhere about 5 km NW of Kapan is the former village of Achakhlu with the 10-13th c. Ashaghui Vank. Apparently in the same area is the former village of Bashkend, with a Greek church and ruins of the Achanan castle.

The Wars of Davit Bek: Preserved in Armenian (with French translation by M. Brosset) is "The Excellent History of Davit Bek," allegedly written by or at the behest of Stepanos Shahumian, scion of a local noble family and instigator of Davit Bek's insurrection (and possibly an ancestor of Stepan Shahumian, chief of the Baku Commissars). In 1722, when the Persian khans were distracted by dynastic and other troubles (i.e., Afghans on the move), Stepanos Shahumian applied to King Vakhtang of Georgia (aka Hussein Qoli-Khan, a Persian vassal but fairly autonomous) for a war-leader to defend "Yotnaberd" ("Seven Castles"), the Kapan region, against the ongoing depredations. Davit Bek, descendant of an ancient Syunik princely family, answered the call, descending on the region with 400 colleagues. After quick early success in routing the Karachorlu and Jevanshir nomads and pillaging the Muslim village of Kurtlar, they persuaded various influential local leaders, such as Melik Pharsadan of Bekh (now a suburb of Kapan) to join the cause. The local sultan Bathali and increasingly large Muslim armies marched against Davit Bek, but suffered horrific defeats at the hands of their outnumbered foe. Davit Bek and his allies systematically destroyed the Turkic villages of Kapan and Meghri districts, slaughtering the Muslim population and loading the plunder on camels.

In 1727, however, the Ottoman army invaded Syunik after wresting Erivan from the Persians the previous year. Most of David Bek's supporters prudently slipped away, but, besieged with 12 priests, three bishops, and 300 men in Halidzor castle, he manfully resisted an army said to be 70,000 men strong. When the end seemed near, the assembled clergy evoked St. Minas and the defenders launched a suicidal attack. The Ottoman forces panicked and fled, leaving (according to legend) 12,000 dead on the field. This miracle persuaded Davit Bek that God intended him to expel the Ottomans from Kapan. He made an alliance with the Persian armies across the Arax. Unfortunately, the alliance was short-lived. With new Ottoman armies on the warpath, David Bek died in his castle of disease. His chief lieutenant and successor, Mkhitar Sparapet, was murdered by local villagers. The rebellion faded away.

East of Kapan (Section 8; Map M)

Going E past the airport from Kapan, take the right fork in Syunik (796 p). The straight road leads through a little Azerbaijani projection, the village of Seyidlar, to reach Agarak (4741 p, Ohana Church of 19th c., khachkars). A newer road N bypasses the salient to reach Khdrants (70 p, formerly Sirkatas), with a church of 1892 and, 2 km E, Chorekdrni Vank. The one standing church has a Greek inscription over the door. (this church, if I do not have the village wrong, is an interesting brown and white stone little onion domed roof church with either Greek or Cyrillic on it. The view of the valley and Kapan is fantastic.) Ujhanis (138 p) has 2 km NE in the hamlet of Old Ujhanis a church built in 1629 by Grigor Ustan, and a 12-13th c. funerary monument. Yeghvard (274 p) has an Astvatsatsin church of 1700. Nine km E in "Shushan's field" in 1725 took place a battle between Davit Bek and Fathali Khan, won by the former. Near the village is the White Spring Cross (Spitak Aghbyuri Khach) church with 10-19th c. khachkars and remains of a medieval market.

The Shikahogh State Preserve (Section 9; Map M)

Mdnadzor Canyon in Shikahogh. (c) Arlen Dilsizian and Raffi Kojian.
A beautiful drive from Kapan is S toward Shikahogh State Preserve and the gorge of the Tsav river. Driving E from downtown Kapan, turn right after the short road tunnel. Cross under the tracks, then up along the brand new highway (set for completion in late 2006). One fork branches off to Geghanush, 267 p, with two churches, one of the 15-16th c. The main road runs along the state border with Azerbaijan, perhaps occasionally crossing it. First village is Chakaten (177 p), with a 10th c. church, a shrine, and a 16/17th c. bridge. Shikahogh (274 p) has 17-18th c. churches, Chalcolithic through Iron Age tombs, and a 19th c. bridge. Srashen (105 p) has 2 km W a 17th c. S. Hripsime church. A few km after Srashen the road forks, the left branch descending into the floodplain of the Tsav river at Nerkin Hand (110 p). Here along the river is a grove of plane trees* (Platanus orientalis), sacred to the ancient Armenians, since 1958 the "Platan" State Reservation. Just before reaching Tsav you pass the canyon of Mdnadzor (Dark Canyon), made famous by the prose of Aksel Bakunts. Mdnadzor Canyon's days consist of perpetual twilight (the sun doesn't shine due to the N-S orientation of the tall canyon sides, and the thick virgin forest). Tsav (148 p) is located on a picturesque part of the Tsav river. It has a church and, S of the river on a crag upstream from the village, a modest medieval Aghjkaberd, "Maiden Castle." Somewhere nearby is another fortress, Ghazaghan. The mountains on either side of the Tsav and Shikahogh river, with forests of oak and hornbeam, are included in the 100 sq. km. Shikahogh State Reserve. At the end of the road, Shishkert has 17-18th c. churches.

West toward Kajaran -- Vahanavank (Section 10; Map L, M)

Vahanavank Monastery - side church

The main road W from Kapan runs along a pleasant gorge. After about 6 km, near the village of Shharjik, a paved road on the left angles down across the Voghji river, then runs back SE to the monastery of Vahanavank* =80= (39 13.09n x 046 21.12e). This was founded in 911 by Vahan, son of Prince Gagik of Kapan, who (as Stepanos Orbelian reports) took on a monk's robe and lifestyle to cure himself of demonic possession. Gathering 100 like-minded clerics, he built the original S. Grigor Lusavorich church, and was buried near the door. His equally royal nephew, also Vahan, was educated at Vahanavank and rose to be Bishop of Syunik and then Katholikos. The monastery became the religious center of the kings of Syunik in the 11th c. Queen Shahandukht built the Astvatsatsin church as a burial site for her and her relatives. The site is lovely, the ruins evocative, and a small team led by Academician Grigor Grigorian is attempting to restore as much as possible. SE of Vahanavank is a large tomb field of the end of the 2nd millennium BC. The next turnoff leads to a summer camp and a rather snazzy guesthouse belonging to the Marzpet's office. There is allegedly excellent rock-climbing nearby. The former village of Musallam has a 13th c. bridge on the Geghi river and an 11-13th c. church.

Beyond the turnoff, a road goes N to the hamlet of Verin Giratagh (0 p). On a hill above the confluence of the Voghji and Geghi rivers (N of the road) stands the castle of Baghaberd* =60= (39 12.84n x 046 16.68e), with double walls and strong towers. It became the capital of the Syunik kingdom in the 12th c, but was finally sacked in 1170 by the Seljuk Turks. A road goes up the Geghi river to Kavshut, Pirlu (0 p) and Geghi (196 p), the latter with scant remains of Geghi fortress and a 10th c. church. Kahurt (formerly Kyurut, 8 v) has castle remains S. There are several other small hamlets up the river valleys, such as Bakavank, formerly Payahan (20 p) and Ajibaj and Kard with 17th c. churches. Under the altar of the Kard church is supposed to flow a spring of mineral water. A dirt road leading S follows a stream to Avsarlu, which has on the opposite bank a 14th c. settlement and church.

Lernadzor (430 p, till 1920s Kyurdikend) has an 18th c. S. Astvatsatsin church. Across the river is a katoghike church of the 5-6th c. The mining town of Kajaran (7976 p) and (just beyond) village of Kajarants (172 p) are famous for the massive copper-molybdenum mine, which is still in operation. It is impressive to drive up to the mine and see the trucks, tiny in comparison to the pit, dumping ore into an elaborate system of conveyers. The ore receives initial processing in Kajaran but must be exported for final conversion to metal. The waste rock is piped a discreet distance away, filling various stream valleys with dirt on which only the most impervious weeds grow. Pollution of the Voghji river is an unsolved problem.

South to Meghri (Section 11; Map L)

Turning left and crossing the bridge in Kajaran, the road winds up to the Tashtun Pass at 2483 m. Note that even in August the fog can settle in, making the pass hazardous to the lines of Iranian trucks and those in their way. The road descends to follow the Meghri River. The first turnoff right, some 19 km after Kajaran, leads to Tashtun (166 p) on the right, with a 17th c. domed basilica of S. Stepanos; and Lichk (209 p), with two 17th c. bridges on the Meghri river, a 17th c. S. Karapet church, and 17th c. Dzvaravank by the village. On the Arevik river S of Lichk is a 17th c. bridge. Four km S, a road NE leads to Vank (67 p), with a 17th c. church and bridge, and Kaler, with a 17th c. Astvatsatsin church. From there a jeep track leads over the mountain to Shishkert and Tsav.

The main road descends through the hamlets of Tkhkut, (formerly Maralzami), with 17th c. church, Aygedzor, and Vardanidzor (194 p). At Lehvaz (537 p, tomb field nearby), a road angles NW to Vahravar (68 p, formerly Azeri) with a S. Gevorg church in the village and 17th c. Karmravank church just E. Under the altar platform is a secret storage area. Gudemnis (64 p) has a 17th c. Astvatsatsin church, and Kakavaberd ruins nearby; Kuris (109 p, small 17th c. S. Sargis church N) and Karchevan (340 p, 12th c. S. Astvatsatsin church, cemetery, castle traces nearby). Karchevan is famous for the impenetrable dialect of its inhabitants. It was bought and given to Tatev monastery by King Smbat Bagratuni (890-914). Somewhere in this general area in the mountains W of the Meghri river is a ruined mosque once a significant Muslim pilgrimage site.

Between Karchevan and Agarak Village (176 p, founded 1949) the dirt road passes along the edge of a huge open-pit copper-molybdenum mine (probably operating again after a long closure). From Agarak, the road descends to the Iranian border. The border-crossing bridge and new customs point is nearby, with long lines of trucks generally waiting for some mysterious paperwork to arrive from somewhere. In the former village of Agarak close by are two 17th c. churches, Aknakhach and S. Amenaprkich Vank. The scenery along the Arax river is striking, jagged, arid gorges juxtaposed with verdant river valleys. The road runs along the border fence east, passing the Meghri turnoff and then (12 km) the turn for Alvank (291 p, formerly the Azeri village of Aldara). A dirt road seems to run NNW from Alvank toward the abandoned villages of Malyev, Upper Malyev, and Apges in the Malev river gorge S of 3024 m. Mt. Cknavor,with five churches of the 14-17th centuries in the area: "Sevadan Kujert", Amenaprkich in Malyev, S. Hakop (Upper Malyev), Apkes, and Tos. The road E deteriorates badly as one goes E to the turn for Shvanidzor (338 p), with a 17th or 18th c. aqueduct, builder unknown, of considerable engineering interest. Last village before the road enters Azerbaijani territory is Nurnadzor (150 p), better known as Nyuvadi.) The Azeris have been pushed back about 60km from this official border, which is occupied by Armenian forces. The roads are precarious and there are military posts. Taking pictures of Iran from the Armenian side of the border is for some reason frowned upon as a "security" issue, and if spotted you will probably be questions and get your film confiscated.

Meghri Town - general view
Alley in Meghri Town

The town of Meghri (4514 p) boasts a dilapidated hotel, lots of places for thirsty truckers to buy vodka for the road, and amazing lush fruits and vegetables. The figs are particularly famous, while the yellow pomegranates, if in season, are not to be missed. The setting is striking, with green gardens in the rocky desert. There is a fortress on the hills on the N and E of town, known from the 10th century but rebuilt in the early 18th c. by Davit Bek. It had four 2-story circular towers and two rectangular, but no circuit wall between them. This was the only Armenian fortress specifically designed for firearms. In 1727, 400 of Davit Bek's men held off many times their number of Turkish troops for 5 days, till relief troops arrived. In the Mets Tagh district below the fortress is a 17th c. Astvatsatsin church with interesting 19th c. wall paintings. In the Pokr Tagh district SW is a 17th c. S. Sargis basilica church, with battered 17th c. frescoes. Also in the SW part of town up the slope is Meghru Vank with a S. Hovhannes church (15-17th c.), also covered in wall paintings. From the roof there is an excellent view of the entire district. This area has crumbling remains of 18-19th c. houses, giving a taste of the much more beautiful pre-Soviet architecture.

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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