Yerevan Journal – August 2004

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Khachaghbyur Today work took me to the village of Khachaghbyur, located in the region of Vardenis, not far from Lake Sevan. Khachaghbyur is a poor village, not close enough to the lake to live from fishing, etc., and also suffering from the effects of Soviet collapse, with the factories in nearby Vardenis closed down, many villagers having worked in those factories during the Soviet era. We visited a family who was operating a USDA-sponsored refrigeration tank, where milk is stored and later purchased by companies like Ashtarak Kat. Even though the elder woman of the family had more or less lost any hope in the village’s future, the younger family members are working diligently, and for long hours, to make a success of their new business. I was told that the village was given its name because of a khachkar which was constructed long ago near a spring, thus the name “Khachaghbyur.” While driving back towards Yerevan, we decided to stop at Noraduz, the famous cemetery with hundreds of ancient khachkars, and said to be adjoining a summer residence for royal families, possibly from the era of Ashot Yergat. As we walked amidst the khachkars, I thought of the similar khachkar cemetery in Nakhichevan, recently destroyed by Azeri Turks. A pity there was no uproar when the Azeris refused UNESCO’s request to give the cemetery protected status, as has Haghbat and Hripsime in Armenia and Gandzasar in Karabagh. Later, a brief spell of car trouble led to a humorous event, after pulling into a mechanic’s shop to have the carburetor fixed. Someone in our party asked a policeman if he could take his picture, and, after receiving a refusal, overheard the conversation when the policeman stopped a truck driver for an imagined infraction, and the driver, who didn’t have the 1,000 dram the officer was asking for, offered the policeman three beers, which he put in the policeman’s car trunk, after receiving a positve nod of acceptance from the policeman.

Today’s journey past Ashtarak and Talin had me arriving in Artik, a town of about 10,000 in the southern part of the province of Shirak. Artik had nearly double that population, but a large percentage of working-age men are now in Russia due to the lack of work plaguing Artik and the entire region. Arriving in the center of town, I went into a store to buy water and asked where I could make a phone call. An offer came from another customer, who showed me the way to the Post Office, where a call to Yerevan cost me a mere fifteen cents. Realizing there had been some confusion about my work that day, I decided that being this close to the famous Haridj monastery, I would take a taxi there, having almost three hours until the next transport would leave for Yerevan. The youth who had shown me the way to the Post arranged for a taxi, and we left for Haridj. Winding up the hill to the village by the same name, my guide told me he had just finished his military tour of duty, leading me to ask about the current condition of the army. He said he had seen no sign of any beatings or that sort of thing, which was good to hear, yet he said the food they were served barely kept them going. He described some sort of mashed or cooked wheat and cold tea, without sugar, as their basic diet. A pity that prisoners in Armenia’s prisons have a much better diet, this probably due to the presence of international human rights organizations operating here. In Haridj, we walked around the monastery grounds and through the churches, mostly renovated on the occasion of the 1700th anniversary of Armenian Christianity four years earlier. We walked through part of the monastery school that was open, remembering that Avetik Issahakyan had studied there in the early twentieth century. In spite of the damp spring and summer, it was already dry in Haridj, which is also suffering from the poor economic condition of the area. Driving back to Artik, my guide told me that he, also, was thinking of going to Russia to work, even though he would far rather stay in Artik. Back in Artik, I found a van leaving for Yerevan, paid my 1,000 dram, and relaxed for the hour and a half ride to the city. That night, as the winds howled in the city, we heard the news that no Armenians had been killed in the recent church bombings in Iraq. Time will tell if the Iraqi Armenians made the right decision when they refused the Armenian government’s offer, made as the war was just starting, to come to Armenia until hostilities ceased.

Armenia is a land of surprises. Yesterday evening while walking to visit friends, we stopped to buy a watermelon, and met a woman I had interviewed a few months earlier for an article about wheat farmers in Armenia. The woman lives in a border village of Armavir, close to the Arax River and Mt. Ararat. It happened that all the watermelons for sale along the “Shinararneri” street in the Ajapnyak district are from her farm in Armavir. We bought a large watermelon called “Clinton,” called that due to the fact that the variety was brought here when Bill Clinton was president. Arriving at our friends’ home, I was asked to sit at a table, and then, after being told that my resemblance to my cousin, William Saroyan, was becoming stronger, I was asked to talk about Saroyan, and to say anything I might remember about him. I told about a little girl in a village who I had seen for the first time, telling me of my resemblance to Saroyan, and a few other stories, when I suddenly realized that a small television camera had been placed behind some flowers and that everything I had been saying was being filmed, our friend saying that it had gone so well he might send it to television. While eating the watermelon, a neighbor arrived, and after declaring his being a Mshetsi, told a story of his relatives being promised by Turks, in 1915, to be spared if they told them where their money was buried, and then killed and dumped into the tonir oven where the money had been hidden. After this story, he began talking about Armenia and its monasteries and other cultural sites and those under UNESCO protection, including Haghbat, Gandzasar, and Hripsime. It should be said that this morning, while meeting with a UNESCO representative at the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan, it was learned that those sites officially included under UNESCO’s protection are Haghbat and Sanahin (listed together), all the churches of Echmiadzin, including Zvartnots, and Geghard, but that Gandzasar hadn’t been included due to the uncertain political status of Karabagh, where Gandzasar is located.

Yesterday evening we took a taxi to the Spendarian Opera House to see the Arka Ballet from Washington, D.C. Earlier, when we found out that the director was Rudolf Kharatyan, whom we had met after our Shoghaken Enesmble concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, we made arrangements to see the ballet. I was a little disappointed that the hall wasn’t sold out, and that Yerevantsis made up a small part of the crowd, yet the mostly-full auditorium roared with applause during and after the high quality performance. The ballet was in three parts, and ranged from modern dancing to the raucous singing of blues singer Etta James, to more classical ballet to the music of Mozart, Bach, and other classical pieces. A crowd favorite was when several of the female dancers performed to “Vardaguin Aghchikneri Par” from Gayane Ballet. The performers of Arka included several Armenians, including a male dancer and two female dancers from the director’s family circle. After the performace, we greeted Hovik Hoveyan, the new Culture Minister, before going back stage and congratulating the director and some of the dancers, whose professionality and poise surely rank them with the world’s finest. We then left the Opera and walked towards Mashtots Boulevard, somewhat amazed at the huge number of people strolling through Opera Square or sitting at the numerous outdoor coffee shops there. We took another cab, this time to see our friend from Australia and bid him farewell, his trip to Armenia coming to an end this weekend. He told us of his several-day trip to Karabagh, which included news of the Nairi Hotel, which was funded by him and several Armenians from Australia, and other projects now in the works. After saying goodbye, we departed for our home in Anastasavan.

After introducing my nephew to Yerevan’s city center and Zoravor church during his first day in Armenia, we decided not to wait to go to the churches of Ashtarak, including Karmravor, Hovhannavank, and Saghmosavank. Our first stop was the ancient Karmravor, where serious renovation is now underway. In the last ten days, since our last visit there, wooden scaffolding was in place, with about five workers busily laying cement blocks and future roofing materials. After investigating the church grounds and khachkars, we left for Hovhannavank, located in the village of Ohanavan just a few minutes on the road towards Aparan. Entering Ohanavan, we stopped to say hello to friends we had met there recently, and who are helping us in our search for a house there. The two daughters came with us to see the eleventh century monastery of Hovhannavank, whose renovation unfortunately has been in a stalled condition for years. We lit candles and entered each of the churches and chapels of the monastery, when an acquaintance who lives near the vank appeared at the front door and invited us to her house to eat madzoon. With time at a minimum, we instead bought the madzoon, made from sheep and cow milk, and took it with us. We then dropped off the girls at their home and continued to see Saghmosavank, from where my nephew was quite impressed with the spectacular view of the river canyon beneath the monastery. After traversing the grounds and churches of Saghmosavank, we walked to the home adjoing the monastery with a watermelon we had bought along the Ashtarak highway. Several people from Echmiadzin were there, including two nuns. We sat and ate watermelon and fresh lavash, eggs, tomatoes, and cucumbers, talking about life in Armenia and Canada, where my nephew is from. We poured a glass of wine and toasted the new visitor, and, as we were leaving, were gifted a bag of peaches picked in the village. Driving back to Yerevan, as we told the taxi driver about our meeting there, he stated, quite naturally, that he was a “grandson of a Mshetsi,” saying he would never leave Armenia, its water and soil, and its lifestyle. After telling my nephew he had to get married, stay in Armenia, where the Armenian blood flowing in his veins would reawaken, he told of family members who had tried to convince him to move to the U.S. or Russia to be with them but, after his refusal, call him almost daily, to hear news about the homeland. “They give me no peace,” he said. “I wish they would just come back here.”

Our first stop on the road to Echmiadzin was the classically beautiful church of St. Hripsime, whose style and large dome never ceases to amaze those who visit the church. After lighting candles and descending to the tomb of St. Hripsime, we walked outside and sat for a few minutes under the apricot trees near the entry to the monastery grounds. We decided it was time to visit the cathedral of Echmiadzin, hoping to show my nephew the residence of the Catholicos and the remains of the pagan temple beneath the altar. Unfortunately, at seven o’clock, a bishop told us and others inside the cathedral that he was locking the door and that we had to leave. About twenty of us stood by a side door waiting for the bishop to unlock it when someone asked the bishop to bless his young daughter, and, as we all waited by the door, one of those waiting told the bishop to open the door, that all he was doing was making a few extra dollars, that if we were all being forced to leave at a certain time, everyone should have been told to leave, even those offering him money. After a few more unpleasantries, we left the cathedral, and then were off to see the ruins of Zvartnots, a miracle of early Christian Armenian architecture. Some work had been done in reconstructing the walls, and on the grounds adjoining the church, various stones, archways, carvings, etc. from the original church had been placed together and numbered, raising our hopes that in fact plans were underway to reconstruct Zvartnots. Later that day, while at the Genocide Museum and memorial, we were told by museum director Lavrenti Barseghyan that Zvartnots would only be partly reconstructed, due to there only being ten to fifteen percent of the original stones, as opposed to the seventy percent at the temple of Garni, making its reconstruction, in the 1970s, possible. That evening, while driving through downtown Yerevan, my nephew, who has been in the country just three days, commented that, as nice as downtown Yerevan and certain other parts of the city are, that it seemed nothing in the city or its surroundings was complete, from the apartment buildings whose construction had been started before the Soviet collapse and then left in a half-constructed condition, with cranes left as they were on their last day of work, to the new construction in the city center, to the decaying condition of many of Yerevan’s apartment buildings, about which he asked isn’t anybody responsible for taking care of these buildings?

Ashot Yergat’s fortess I find it surprising that the tenth century St. Asdvadzadzin church and the village of Bdjni are not on the list of tourism agencies in Armenia, with the church resembling St. Hripsime and an even older church and fortress on the rocky hills overlooking the village. Walking past the stone walls and into the grounds of St. Asdvadzadzin, we saw that the church was under reconstruction, several workers laying or placing stone in marked areas on the church. Accompanied by an unusually strong wind, we walked around the monastery grounds, photographing the khachkars on the north side of the church and then climbing to where apricot trees were shedding the last of their crop. A successful shake of the tree resulted in possibly the sweetest apricots I have ever eaten. I asked the workers about the old priest, with whom we had met during several previous trips to Bdjni, and found out he had died several months earlier. Although there is now no full-time priest in Bdjni, preparations were underway for the grape blessing ceremony this Sunday. One of the workers pointed at the fortress on the rocky cliff overlooking Bdjni, saying that even though it was known to some as Ashot Yergat’s fortess, that the king had only spent a week there, and that the fortress was built in about the fifth century. Curiosity got the best of us, so we drove up the hill until the car stalled in the rocks, and from there we walked to the fortress. We walked around the collapsed walls, where goats and sheep were grazing. From the fortress, we could see the village, river, and the surrounding rocky mountains. Walking down the mountain, we passed villagers shoveling freshly harvested alfalfa with pitchforks and a large herd of sheep coming in for the night. Back at the monastery, we picked some string beans to take with us to Yerevan and were on our way.

Our mission to show my nephew the wonders of Armenia has taken on new momentum, going to the village of Garni and the following day traveling to see the northern Armenian monasteries of Haghbat and Sanahin. In Garni, we went to the first-century temple and enjoyed this unique example of pagan Armenian architecture and the famous view from the temple, the Azat River and canyon which pass below. From there we went to visit friends whose house also overlooks the canyon. We heard stories of the area, including Havouts Tar, a church on a nearby mountain peak, and of the poor economic condition of Garni, some 300-400 of the young men of the village having left to work in Russia or Europe. I was also told about the great academician Grigor Gyurzadyan, who worked in a small branch of the Physics Institute near Garni. According to our host, and others in the academic world, astronomer Victor Hambartsumyan, who worked mainly in the Byurakan observatories, was so jealous of Gyurzadyan that he had the institute near Garni built especially for Gyurzadyan, who was even confined to his new workplace, and prohibited from living or working in Byurakan. . . . The next day, our travels took us on the road past Aparan and Vanadzor to Haghbat Monastery, fifteen of us making the trip in a rented yertooghayin van. Arriving at Haghbat, we were surprised to see what at first appeared to be renovation taking place in front of the monastery walls. Later, after walking through the churches and chapels of Haghbat, a friend told us that the mayor of Haghbat decided to build a coffee shop directly at the base of the front walls, resulting in a lawuit by Echmiadzin. Luckily, it appears the coffee shop won’t be built, and that the stones and other building materials will soon be cleared away. We all then walked up the hill to see the Gusanats chapel and khachkars, all the while enjoying the spectacular view of the entire plateau, the monastery, and the several villages dotted in the distance. After having coffee, watermelon, and plums at our friend’s home just above the monastery, we left for Sanahin, about a twenty-minute drive from Haghbat. At Sanahin, a famous music school in the Middle Ages and, like Haghbat, under the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Ani, we learned from an Armenian nun working there that Sayat Nova was born in Sanahin, and educated at the monastery. After investigating the church interiors, including the gavit and famous jemaran, where three khachkars stand at an opening to the courtyard, we walked through the extensive monastery grounds and saw the remnants of various chapels and burial places of the royal families and religious dignitaries from the past. In the midst of khachkars and burial stones, we enjoyed a small feast which included string beans from Bdjni, cheese from Ohanavan, and, with khaghoghi oghi (grape vodka) from Garni, we toasted our ancestors and the miracles they created in this mountainous part of the Armenian homeland.

A whirlwind journey to southern Armenia and Karabagh began at the bus station in the Kilikia region of Yerevan, where we negotiated with the several taxi drivers waiting to make the six-hour trip to Stepanakert. After all was decided, my wife, nephew, myself, and a Stepanakert Armenian left for Karabagh, driving through the Ararat Valley and past legendary Massis and Khor Virab monastery. Reaching Vaik, we decided to veer off the main road and see Noravank, whose two-story church is unique in Armenian architecture. Several groups of tourists also enjoyed the work of the great architect Momik, which also included a second church and its many khachkars located in the gavit. We sat under walnut trees and ate lunch before continuing on the long road to Stepanakert, by way of Lachin and Shushi. Reaching Stepanakert, we drove to the Foreign Ministry on Azatamartikneri Street in the center of town, close to where I had stayed back in 1999. We arrived just as the doors were closing, near six o’clock, my nephew needing a visa for traveling in Karabagh. The person dealing with visas, as we were apparently disturbing the beginning of his weekend, told us, “This isn’t a potato shop, where you can come whenever you want,” but after telling him we just got into town and were leaving the next day, he decided to honor us by reopening the door and filling out the visa form. We were surprised when he asked for the fee in dollars, and he again became agitated when we said that the official money of Karabah is the dram, but he nonetheless made us go to a nearby exchange to change some money into dollars. After finishing our visa business, we went to the hotel and later walked the streets of Stepanakert, where traces of the war that ended some ten years earlier have become almost nil. The next morning, after the driver arrived at the hotel, we left for the famous Gandzasar monastery, located in a mountainout region of the province of Mardakert. Passing Kachaghaghabert, a fortress I had somehow climbed to see in 1999, we reached the monastery, perched on a mountaintop overlooking the forested mountains of ancient Khachen and the Khachen River down below. Inside the monastery compound a seminary was being built, no doubt to supply the Karabagh diocese with enough clergy for the many churches now being renovated across the region. We walked through the church and gavit and the cemetery below before continuing our journey, stopping in the village of Vank for a purchase of plum vodka and then back to Stepanakert, where we bade farewell to our friends at the hotel and Stepanakert. While there, we had been told that the population of Karabagh had reached some 170,000, yet general opinion holds that no more than 100,000 people live in all of Karabagh. After visiting Shushi, which still has the appearance of being in a war zone, we left Karabagh, the final words from a hotel worker being that in spite of “all the good ones” in Karabagh being in jail, which I assumed to be Samuel Babayan and others, hope was high for a good future in what he called by its ancient name, Artsakh. We drove off towards Lachin and eventually Armenia, although the entire region now seemed as one. Passing Goris, we made the turn to Tatev Monastery, which turned out to be the highlight of our fast trip to Zangezur and Karabagh. Unfortunately, the road to Tatev remains in a state of disrepair, with what should be a thirty-minute jaunt turning into an hour of bouncing and avoiding the endless holes in the road. Yet, as one nears Tatev, the majestic rocky mountains make one forget the roads and most everything else. We wound up and down the mountain road, past the ancient university where Tatevatsi lived and worked, and up the mountain until reaching the monastery. There, we entered the grounds through a passageway which is under a church built on a sort of platform, something unseen in Armenian architecture. We walked through the seemingly endless monastery buildings still intact, from libraries to living quarters and even a stable for horses. We also discovered a giant wheel, which was at an angle and pulled by oxen, used to make oil. We studied the sundial and khachkars outside the church before entering and visiting the burial place of Tatevatsi. We were again drawn to the myriad buildings on the grounds, many of which open directly to rocky cliffs and a straight drop to the canyon below, where many had met their deaths in times of war and upheaval. Darkness finally falling, we drove off, passing villagers on their way home, their donkeys loaded with wood or other items needed for their lives in this historic part of the mountains of Zangezur, the land of Davit Bek, Mkhitar Sparabet, and, more recently, Garegin Nzhdeh, the general who saved the region from both Turks and Bolsheviks in the early twentieth century.

The day began with Shoghaken Ensemble members arriving to rehearse for their concert at Geghard Monastery for the One Nation, One Culture festival now taking place in cities and regions of Armenia. Again, the ensemble played Shatakhi Tsernapar, Lelum Lele, Mokats Mirza, and other songs and dances performed on their recent U.S. tour. Two cameramen from UNESCO filmed parts of the rehearsal, especially dudukist Gevorg Dabaghyan, for the UNESCO-sponsored film about the Armenian duduk. After rehearsal, we visited the Modern Art museum and the museum dedicated to Yervant Kochar, considered a must by my nephew after his declaring Kochar’s Sassuntsi Davit statue by far the best statue in Yerevan. Later in the day, meeting with tourists new in Yerevan, and discussing their less-than-favorable opinion of the style of the new church in central Yerevan, the talk turned to the construction of new apartment buildings in central Yerevan and Iranians (often not Persian-Armenians, but Iranians with Azeri roots) purchasing many of the new buildings. Walking down Hakop Paronyan Street, at the end of Proshyan, more construction was underway, with basements of tall apartment buildings being converted into various clubs and restaurants. Asking a worker about the basements, we were told that they had been private residences, people being given a nominal sum and forced to leave their homes to make way for the businesses which would occupy their former residences. This, along with the protests of former residents of their now destroyed homes in central Yerevan (where upscale apartments are being built), led the new tourists to less-than-favorable comments about the way the common man is treated in current Armenia.

A busy weekend began with the Shoghaken Ensemble’s first concert in Armenia, part of the One Nation, One Culture festival which brought hundreds of musicians, actors, and others to Armenia to perform in concerts and theater halls throughout Armenia and Karabagh. After walking through the rock monastery and its many chapels and hermit cells, Shoghaken members made their way to the stage and prepared for their concert, following “Dagharan” and a group of musicians organized by Angela Atabekyan, kanon professor at the Komitas Conservatory. As during their recent U.S. tour, the group performed the traditional folk music of Armenia, including Mokats Mirza, a lullaby from Taron, dance music to the duduk, and concluded with Lelum Lele, songs and dances from Moush and Sassoun. During the final number, several cars from a wedding party in nearby Garni drove into the parking lot, and, hearing the sounds of the Mayroke, everyone started dancing, the parking lot becoming a festive scene of dancing and even singing along with the lively music from Taron. . . . The next morning, fifteen family members left our apartment for Haghardzin Monastery, a final sendoff for my nephew, who would be leaving Armenia the next morning. After walking through the church grounds and nearby khachkars and chapels, we found a shaded spot below by the river, built a fire, and prepared khozi khorovadz along with peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant, while drinking a toast of plum vodka from Karabagh to our soon-to-depart nephew, who had become quite accustomed to life in Armenia. Deciding to eat later, we gathered the khorovadz and drove on to the village of Gosh and its famous monastery, Goshavank. Arriving, we said hello to friends from Yerevan, then walking up a hill to the chapel where Mkhitar Gosh, writer of the first Armenian code of laws, is buried. We then walked back to the monastery and to the well-known khachkar which is near the entrance of one of the monastery churches, where we photographed our entourage alongside the khachkar before making our way through the various churches and chapels, then relaxing by an ancient oak tree on the edge of the grounds. Leaving this masterpiece of Armenian architecture behind, we went to Lake Sevan, where we relaxed by the lake and ate dinner, as the setting sun and wind made some hurry into the van and the trip back to Yerevan. Our good mood was suddenly changed on the road close to Yerevan when, after a long traffic jam had cleared up, a large gathering of cars and people looking over a cliff and some broken railing made it apparent that a tragic accident had ended the lives of one or more of those who had been visiting Sevan on this hot August day.

Before leaving Armenia, my nephew commented that it was a pity that Armenia had become a third world country, used by first world countries for its resources, from people to forests and others, and purposely kept poor to continue this cycle — an interesting observation from a first-time visitor who without reservation loved the country and its people. Later in the morning, I left with individuals from the Armenian Technology Group for Dilijan, to catch up with a Fresno Armenian who is riding his bicycle some 700 kilometers all over Armenia to raise money for refrigerated milk containers for remote villages scattered throughout the Armenian countryside. Reaching Dilijan, we found out that the cyclist had already made it to Vanadzor, so we began driving on a road not usually used, the highway from Yerevan past Aparan being the usual means of reaching Vanadzor. We passed spectacular green mountains with villages and fields dotted in sloping areas, with newly harvested wheat and alfalfa stacked in rows, the only sound breaking the silence being a horse-drawn cart with wooden wheels passing along a village road. In Vanadzor, we met with agricultural officials and members of the press, before attending a reception by Homenetmen scouts, several of whom rode their bicycles a few kilometers out of town as the Fresno cyclist headed towards Alaverdi. In Alaverdi, we visited Haghbat Monastery, where an old woman and her granddaughter told us about the twenty years Sayat Nova spent there as Der Stepanos. Later, we took a break at a restaurant located idyllically along the Debet River. We sat under a giant mulberry tree and enjoyed a dinner of Ishkhan fish and khozi khorovadz, with the rushing sounds of the river which passed directly below our table. While still daylight, we left for Yerevan, stopping along the way to buy a bucket each of blackberries and raspberries, a great snack on the long road back to the city. With a guest from Beirut, we talked about a trip she planned to the region of Kelbajar (Karavajar) where a new town is to be dedicated in this area liberated during the war in Karabagh. I learned that Armenians lived in the region until the 1940s, until they were forced to leave by the Azeris. We lamented the death of Monte Melkonian and talked about the speculation that he was killed by Armenians because he had gone against orders to take Kelbajar. After mentioning the recent invitation by Turks for Armenians to return and live in Turkey (possibly due to their desire to become EU members), our visitor then told that there were now some 2,000-3,000 Armenians still living in Moush, and that there was a functioning church there. Reaching Yerevan, we divided up the remaining berries and made arrangements for our next meeting.

An amazing bicycle journey of 700 kilometers has ended, the biker and Armenian Technology Group staff traveling on the last day to Saghmosavank, Oshakan, and the Holy See of Echmiadzin. In Oshakan, we visited the grave of Mesrob Mashtots, the Moush-born Armenian who invented the Armenian alphabet and became one of the most revered saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church. While there, a worker told us that a small chapel had been built over the spot where Mashtots was buried, and that the church itself wasn’t built until the late 1800s. When someone in our group commented about the theory that Mashtots may not have invented the alphabet but merely brought back old Armenian books from Greece (that hadn’t been destroyed when early Armenian Christians were destroying Armenian pagan culture), the worker said that was impossible, that if this was proven true, it would disrupt the entire Armenian Christian faith, that if Mesrob Mashtots wasn’t a saint, who was? This aside, we went on to Echmiadzin, where we lit candles in the cathedral, viewed the graves of Khrimian Hayrig, Vazken I, and Garegin I, and met briefly with the current Catholicos Garegin II. Back in Yerevan, in front of Armenia Marriot Hotel, Homenetmen scouts were waiting to greet their fellow scout after the completion of his six-day trip through central and northern Armenia. At night, a festive reception, attended by Armenian Technology Group staff and guests, including Shoghaken dudukist Gevorg Dabaghyan and Vahakn Hovhnanian, was held. Everyone joined restaurant musicans in the singing of “Sardarabat” and Soghomon Tehlirian’s song, about his assassination of Talaat Pasha on the streets of Berlin. These songs were specially sung for the memory of Aram Manukian, Tashnak leader of the first Armenian Republic, whose birthday was today. Wishing everybody well, we left for home, where television had soccer matches from Europe, a Russian movie, and a Led Zepplin concert from the 1970s, the latter a definite sign the Soviet Union was no more.

The day started with a call from “Abo,” our driver a couple of weeks ago, who drove us from Goris to Tatev Monastery and then to Yerevan. Abo was in Yerevan. He was calling from a small restaurant near the state circus building, to let us know that he had brought the tti arak from Karahoonj I had wanted, and that he was leaving it at “Arturi putka.” Putka, in Russian, means something like small store. Finding “Arturi putka,” I took the arak, which seemed to interest the several taxi drivers sitting there, who began asking who I was and where I was from. One of the drivers said he’d check to see if the arak was pure, then proceeded to pour a few drops on his hands and, after rubbing them together and smelling them, declared the arak to be pure. Another driver asked how I liked living in Armenia, then, after telling me the severity of Armenia’s problems, told me that he was from Echmiadzin, and would never leave Armenia, no matter how good or bad life was here, saying, “How can I leave my friends here, my ancestors’ graves, our lifestyle, our land?” After taking my merchandise and heading home on a Number 46 yertooghayin van, I worked several hours at the computer, while my wife and a niece and nephew were in the kitchen making chocolate chip cookies, which I must say turned out quite well. A phone call turned out to be the mother of one of my wife’s children’s ensemble members, who invited us to dinner at their home in the Nork neighborhood of Yerevan. Being public transport doesn’t go to that part of Yerevan, near National Television and the Arma Restaurant, we took a cab and somehow found their home, after winding our way through the somewhat upscale neighborhood. Arriving, our friends rushed to greet us, the girl’s father in the background near the barbecue fire. Gravitating to the fire, where khozi khorovadz was almost ready, I noticed the walnut and mulberry trees in a dry condition, with dried-up weeds everywhere. I was told that this summer their water problems were unusually bad, and that they had had to save water in old bathtubs, etc., just to have water to shower and wash clothes. “It wasn’t like this in Soviet times,” he explained, going on to say that back then, nobody would have dared leaving people this dry, but that now the rich were so busy filling and emptying their swimming pools, water had become scarce “for the rest of us.” Finishing his work at the barbecue pit, we all sat under a 100-year-old walnut tree and enjoyed dinner, with a view of most of Yerevan changing as night fell and a full moon lit the sky. On Mt. Ararat, I noticed lights on both peaks, which our hosts said were there during Soviet days, that it was America, possibly NATO, keeping their eyes on this area, part of the former Soviet Union. Our friends then told of an excellent job offer in Russia, which was turned down, at least for now, as the parents struggled with the thought of their young daughter being eventually pulled from Armenia and what it would mean for their future. “My grandfather’s father bought this house and land from the Tashnak government in 1919,” he said, and continued saying that they and other Armenians had chased away the Turks who had been living there before. He then told us about a massacre in 1919 where, when Armenians got wind of a plan by Turks lviing in Yerevan to massacre Armenians in a certain neighborhood, that Armenians waited outside a mosque and killed the Turks as they came out to complete their horrible plan. He then told of about an as yet unexplained event in northern Armenia, during the Karabagh war when Turks were leaving Armenia, that took place in Tashir, near the border with Georgia. Turks had loaded all their belongings in cars and trucks and were leaving for Azerbaijan, but later they all somehow disappeared, and there was still no trace of them and no one telling what may have happened. Hearing all this, I wondered if the two peoples could ever live in peace. . . . With the night passing, my wife took her Armenian Lullabies CD from her purse and gave it to our hosts, who played it on their stereo, located under the walnut tree near the entrance to their house. For the next hour, we talked and listened to the lullabies, those from Van and Kessab resulting in a kind of wistful silence, our hosts’ ancestors having roots in those areas of historic Armenia.
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