Armenia, which we don’t know: a journey to the place where the Russian love

The plane was flying to the Caucasus, and I was trying to solve “the mystery of the century”. Why Georgia — a country with which Russia was at war and with which we have still no diplomatic relations — is for citizens of Russia is very fashion and popular tourist destination? And why Armenia is not less beautiful country than its neighbour, but at the same time being a political ally of Moscow — only for our tourists largely uncharted territory? After a five-day trip to Armenia I had the feeling that I finally found the answer. The thing is that we know very well and thus don’t know the Republic of Armenia.

We know that in 1988, in Armenia there was a terrible devastating earthquake. We know that for almost 40 years, Armenia is in a permanent state of violent conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan. We know that Armenia experienced a severe economic crisis and is still in a state of partial transport blockade. But we don’t know the other Armenia. We don’t know Armenia as a country with breathtakingly beautiful nature and no less stunning ancient monuments. And we don’t know Armenia as a country in which a completely special attitude to the Russian.

photo: ru.wikipedia.org
Calling card Armenia: an ancient monastery and lake Sevan.

The plane in which I indulged in philosophical speculation, landed in Yerevan late at night. And as we drove into the city center through the dark and deserted streets, I began to fear: is there still live like in the most difficult moments of the crisis of the 1990s? But no wonder they say that tomorrow is another day. Waking up the next day, I very quickly realized: in Yerevan do not live in the “dark” 90s living In Yerevan, as in my bright and happy memories of my childhood in the 70s and 80s.

Yerevan is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is believed that it was founded in 782 BC by the mighty king of ancient Urartu Argishti I (for reference: Rome was founded in 753 BC, Paris in the third century BC Kyiv in 482 ad). But the antiquity of the founding of the city — this is not a guarantee for its rapid growth or the presence on its territory of a large number of historical monuments. In the early twentieth century, the provincial capital, the city of Erivan (Yerevan became official only in 1936), was a rather unimportant area of 30 thousand inhabitants.

In Yerevan today lives more than a third of three million population of Armenia. The city in its current form was formed mainly during the Soviet period. But do not disappointed shrug. Boring and featureless boxes of concrete and glass began to fill the streets of our cities in the late Khrushchev and early Brezhnev. But the ensemble of buildings of center of Yerevan, luckily for him, happened before — at a time when the norm was considered a classic architectural form. The center of Yerevan is the most a bonanza for those like me, who is a connoisseur and admirer of the style of “Stalin Empire style”.

At the architectural uniqueness of Yerevan there is another reason. Modern Armenia is a country with a land area slightly larger than that of Albania, but slightly less than Belgium or Moldova. However, according to some, this tiny territory is concentrated up to 90% of the world reserves of tuff — rocks, which is very durable and very beautiful building material. Armenian tuff, for example, faced with the building of the UN Secretariat in new York. And in the Yerevan buildings of tufa of different colors can be seen everywhere. And it gives the city more colorful.

However, the basis of the Yerevan flavor is certainly not tuff. It is something difficult to explain and trudnoperevarimoy. It is something whose closest equivalent is the concept of “atmosphere”. Late evening we left the hotel to walk and quickly found himself in the square near the Opera house. It turned out — and did not want to leave. Brightly lit a huge area was dotted with street cafés and a variety of entertainment for children. And all this was not empty. I thought a walk in the square with us went all over the Yerevan. I don’t usually like to be in the place of the big congestion of people. As for many other inhabitants of cities, the word “crowd” for me is an informal synonym for “danger”. But in the square at the Yerevan Opera theatre in the air was like spilled a feeling of tranquility and full security. And as it turned out later, this feeling was not subjective.

Most policy in Armenia is not for the faint of heart. In 1999, right in the courtroom shot him Parliament speaker and Prime Minister. Last year a group of armed men rammed a truck gate of one of the regiments of the Metropolitan police, took hostages and put forward political demands. Resulting from this political crisis lasted two weeks. But in terms of all household crime in Armenia is very safely (or dysfunctional for the crime). Absolute safety, as we know, never happens anywhere. However, as we were assured by the locals, and women, children and other potentially vulnerable category of the population can safely and without fear to go to Yerevan at any hour of the day or night. Is it any wonder that I loved the atmosphere of the capital of Armenia?

photo: ru.wikipedia.org
The pagan temple of Garni was built by the Armenian king Tiridates I in the days of the Roman Emperor Nero.

At once I admit that I enjoy this atmosphere was not to the extent I wanted. As soon as I had the opportunity, I immediately rushed to the main city is located on Republic square National gallery of Armenia. Remember what the pandemonium was going on in the Tretyakov gallery, where there was held a major exhibition of paintings by Ivan Aivazovsky? So, in the National gallery of Armenia Aivazovsky (Hovhannes Ayvazyan, as he was called at birth) is not just a lot, a lot. And spacious and I must say that loosely filled the halls of the gallery you can see Rubens, van Dyck, Nesterov, Brullov, Repin, Serov and others.

In addition to the visit to the National gallery in my “list of Yerevan of dreams” was listed several institutions of similar profile like House-Museum of the great painter of the twentieth century Martiros Saryan. But, alas, our time came. The time has come to explore Armenia itself, because if Moscow is not really Russia, Yerevan; it is not Armenia. Or rather, in spite of the huge role of capital in the Republic and in Yerevan is concentrated only a very modest part of the main sites in Armenia. Please forgive me, my beloved Yerevan atmosphere! But to feel the true spirit of Armenia, it is necessary to go to the capital. Have to go to the Outback — even if the province located an hour drive from Yerevan.

Armenia is the first country in the world which adopted Christianity as a state religion. It happened around 300 ad (remember that the official date of the baptism of Rus — 988). According to legend, a group of Roman Christian girls fled to Armenia to escape the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian. But the Armenian king Trdat III to negotiate they also failed. Amazed by the beauty of the refugee-Christians Hripsime, the king wished to marry her, but met with a resolute refusal. The king’s anger was so strong that all thirty girls were stoned. But unpunished this crime left. Tiridates III became seriously ill. And no one was able to cure him as long as the sister of the Armenian ruler started to constantly dream the same dream: to heal her brother can Christian Gregory, abandoned thirteen years ago at the king’s order into prison.

Armenian prison in the time of king Trdat III was simply a deep pit in the ground, with a wide set of poisonous snakes and Scorpions. Chances to stay alive, having under these conditions, even one year, tends to zero. But, to the amazement of the king and his retinue, Gregory was released from prison quite well. And soon health returned to Tiridates III. Further on you can guess. Believing in the truth of Christian ideas, the king himself was baptized and commanded to baptize all of his subjects.

Today, of course, no one can say what is described in this beautiful legend, was the place actually, and what is not. But to visit the resting place of St Hripsime everyone can. Her remains are buried in a very beautiful temple located at the entrance to the main spiritual center of Armenia — Echmiadzin city. However, the phrase “amazingly beautiful” is absolutely appropriate in relation to any other ancient Armenian Christian Church. Armenian Church architecture is something completely amazing, something immediately stirs the heart. All the ancient Armenian churches built in a very harsh and a very simple style with minimal jewelry. But in that severity and simplicity so much dignity, so much inner strength, so much energy that it felt even I — person who do not consider themselves particularly religious.

As I said above, the main spiritual center of the Armenian Apostolic Church is located near Yerevan Etchmiadzin. Here is the built in IV–V centuries, the main Cathedral of the Armenian Church. Here you can find the residence of the current head of the Church, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians Karekin II and the graves of many of his predecessors, including martyred under Stalin Catholicos Khoren I. According to the official Soviet version, Khoren I died in the spring of 1938 of natural causes. But, according to most historians, he was strangled by the NKVD. Especially in the tragic fate of the Catholicos, I was struck by the fact that he died very close to the place of peace also martyred St. Hripsime. Century change, and the bloodthirsty habits of the rulers remain?..

Echmiadzin — a place which it is necessary to visit during a trip to Armenia. However, I’ll be honest: I imagined Echmiadzin quite different. In my imagination Echmiadzin monastery was bound to be in the fairy-tale beauty of the mountains. But on arrival I discovered the residence of the leadership of the Armenian Church located on a completely flat plain, surrounded by quite a average Soviet city. But if I experienced some disappointment, it was very short-lived. Very quickly I found in Armenia what I have been looking at, and what has long dreamed of me last night.

Imagine the scene: the majestic tops of the mountains, long and deep gorge with the current at its bottom a rapid stream. Imagine the so — called “Symphony of stones” – a unique natural monument in the form of huge hexagonal basalt rocks. Imagine a medieval Christian monastery with caves, monastic cells, carved into the mountains. Imagine standing right on the edge of the gorge preserved since pagan times a temple of the deity Mithras. Imagine — and don’t think that in your imagination there is a compiled the “ideal Armenian landscape”. I described a very specific area — the area is the Garni-Geghard, where all these miracles are within walking distance from each other.

photo: ru.wikipedia.org
Khachkar is a special kind of Armenian architectural monuments and shrines.

A visit to the area of the Garni-Geghard is connected and the main fiasco of my trip in Armenia — my humiliating inability to enjoy fully all the delights of the local cuisine. From the moment of arrival in Yerevan, I was obsessed with the desire to try the famous crayfish of Alpine lake Sevan. But even when I found myself on the shore of Sevan, the fulfillment of this desire was far from the easiest thing: crawfish was out of season. But my Armenian is welcome, the hosts have not forgotten about my obsession. When after visits to the monastery of Geghard and the temple of Mithras we sat down to dinner, I put the whole pot of crabs. Deciding that crayfish lunch will be, I quickly grind the entire pan, and then fell into a state of torpor: we were invited on a tour of the premises where the underground tendernoj furnace reached the saddle of lamb and kebab.

To try both I could not. “Head” in my stomach was relentless: there is no place. Did not help even a two-hour walk along the bottom of the gorge. I got a lot of experience, saw the snake crawled by, glad at the sight of a still-functioning construction trailer with nostalgic inscription “Gosagroprom of the USSR.” But the feeling of satiety stubbornly refused to leave my body. I’ll have to visit Armenia one more time. Five days for this country were just too little.

Armenia is not yet a place where you should go expecting a high level of service. Decent hotels and fine restaurants in the country, of course. But if Georgia has long been understood that it is necessary to rely on tourism, Armenia is only starting to come to the realization of this fact. My Armenian is welcome the owners could not understand why I so stubbornly want to spend the maximum possible time on the largest lake in Armenia — Sevan: “What are you going to do?! There the water is freezing!” Swimming in this “ice” and is actually quite a comfortable water, I’m delighted to pass through itself all the beauty of local nature, but I had noticed sticking out here and there the skeletons of abandoned the huge Soviet-era sanatoria.

However, the lack of development of the local tourism industry more than compensated many others. The fact, for example, that the nature of Armenia is not just beautiful, but extremely diverse. Length is built in the mountainside of the Dilijan tunnel — 2257 meter. But, traveling in either direction, those more than two kilometers, you find yourself in a completely different world. At the exit of the tunnel from the lake Sevan mountains can be called bald. On the road from Dilijan mountains affect your rough vegetation. Unites the two sides of the tunnel, perhaps, only one: and there the landscape is inscribed with ancient monasteries.

But apart from nature and the ancient ecclesiastical monuments, the charm of Armenia there is a third critical component — people. People who are amazingly good attitude to the Russians. Before flying to Yerevan, I read in the guide book: “the Armenians often joke that I only know three of the nation’s Armenians, Russians and non-Russians”. The anecdote could not be better characterize the attitude of the people of Russia. More Armenians we often hear that “of all the countries to Armenia come to the city, and from Russia — guests”.

As a journalist, and therefore by definition a cynic, I honestly did not believe, decided that this phrase referred to the category of ritual, those that must necessarily be present in the guide of any country. But having been in Armenia, I can now testify: if in the above passage, and contains some exaggeration, it is not very big. For example, the most impressive to me are small, but very revealing episode. When, having overcome quite a steep climb, I was near Sevanavank monastery (as the name of the monastery, it is located on the shore of lake Sevan), called out to me sitting here on the stone man.

On appeal in Armenian I for obvious reasons was unable to respond. And then the old man spoke to me in Russian. Learning that I was from Moscow, he came to the indescribable joy as he loves this city, how many times he had been there and as well what I got here. In virtue of the same cynical journalistic nature I expected: I’m about to offer to buy something, I have something to ask. But no suggestions, no requests never came. I was excited just because I’m from Russia.

And such an attitude to us has arisen in Armenia is not today and not yesterday. Visiting Armenia in 1932 by the famous British writer Arthur Koestler (the same one who later masterfully described Stalin’s great terror in his famous book “the Blinding darkness”) he described his impressions of Yerevan: “the city has many fun and well-informed intellectuals who, in contrast with Tbilisi, is very friendly to Russia.” Very nice that some things in Armenia do not change — especially that of those things part of the notorious Armenian humor.

Again forced to admit his profound ignorance. Like any other person born in Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, I knew the jokes about “the Armenian radio ask…” But I honestly felt an indescribable sense of humor of my Armenian friends their personal individual feature. What was my shock when, soon after arrival in Yerevan, I suddenly realized: this “personality trait” is present almost every person I meet! To live without humor in Armenia, apparently, impossible!

I would like to after reading this text, someone has the impression that Armenia is a Paradise without problems. Problems in Armenia. Trying (probably unsuccessfully) to imitate the humor, I would even said, the only thing Armenia has no shortage of is trouble. But, as said by the famous contemporary German artist Florian Thalhofer, “perfection is boring because we are all obsessed with the desire to solve problems.” Just do not understand these Germans or Russian, or Armenian soul. If we are obsessed with some desire, this desire to keep problems as low as possible. But Armenia is beautiful, despite all its numerous problems. Let it remains so — excellent country, which like Russian.

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