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Armenia — A holy and historic highland

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Armenia. We don’t know much about this coun­try, which is about as big as Branden­burg. So the first thing we do is to read the web­site of the Fed­er­al For­eign Office. We check this site also due to the fact that our health insur­ance does not cov­er treat­ment if we are in a “con­flict region”. So we make sure we stay on „safe“ ground.
Closed Bor­ders
We read, among oth­er things, that the over­land bor­ders with Azerbaijan and Tur­key are closed. The polit­ic­al ten­sions with these coun­tries are great. How­ever, the situ­ation with Geor­gia and Iran is ok.
In addi­tion, there are some areas that tour­ists should best avoid. We read on the web­site: “Trav­el­ing to the region of Nagorno-Kara­bakh and the Armeni­an occu­pied dis­tricts of Agdam, Füsuli, Dschab­ray­il, Sangil­an, Kubadli, Lad­schin and Kal­bad­schar in the south­w­est is strongly dis­cour­aged”. Azerbaijan in par­tic­u­lar has prob­lems with trav­el­ling to Nagorno-Kara­bakh: Entry to Azerbaijan is denied after­wards and you can even get fines and face imprisonment!
Trip from Geor­gia to Armenia
We take a Mashrutka from Geor­gia over a very little fre­quen­ted, partly very pot-holed road. We start early in the morn­ing. As on each oth­er morn­ing the minibus leaves at 7 o’c­lock from the bus sta­tion in Akhalt­sikhe in Geor­gia to Gyumri. 16 Lari (about 5€) costs us the approx. 5 hours trip. The bor­der cross­ing at Bav­ra was very uncom­plic­ated. Arriv­ing in Gyumri the Mashrutka to Yerevan is already wait­ing. But we don’t have Armeni­an Dram yet. We ask for a bank and a guy shows us the street. So Stef­fen hur­ries off. The Mashrutka driver gets a little impa­tient after about 20 minutes. He wants to start the trip. I’m already pre­par­ing to block the door. But then Stef­fen finally returns. He reports a bit pissed off that the bank is almost at the oth­er end of the town.
The driver can finally start driv­ing. We don’t notice a big dif­fer­ence to Geor­gia dur­ing the trip: it is cold, writ­ing and lan­guage on the place-name signs are just as extraordin­ary and the people are just as lovely and help­ful. The white land­scape passes by. But this coun­try is spe­cial in some ways. For example the geo­graphy: The aver­age alti­tude is 1800 meters and 90% of the area is at least 1000 meters above sea level. So to speak Armenia is the Nepal of West Asia. In con­trast to Geor­gia, where you always see moun­tains, in Armenia you are always on a moun­tain! On our right we see stone faces, images of the deceased.

Pub­lic trans­port in Yerevan is good and reli­able. We notice this when we take the metro from the bus stop to our apart­ment. For 100 Dram (approx. 0,20€) we get a small red plastic chip, which we throw into the turnstile.

Dur­ing the trip we talk about what we want to explore in Yerevan. Tri­pad­visor recom­men­ded a few things to us. At the top of our To Do list is the Gen­o­cide Museum. That’s where we go the next morning.
With the metro and the bus we go near the moun­tain Zizernakab­erd, on which the memori­al with the same name is placed. We are sur­prised because the gen­o­cide museum is for free. But it makes sense as Armenia wants to let every­one know about its bloody past as a vic­tim. The museum is extremely mod­ern and in black. This fits the mood, because the Armeni­ans have to cope with the murder of about 1.5 mil­lion of their fel­low human beings — a gen­o­cide of immense pro­por­tions! Super­fi­cially this cruel act is explained in such a way that the Otto­mans wanted to con­vert the Armeni­ans to Islam, but these did not want to change their reli­gion. And, of course, it was also about land, since Armenia used to stretch as far as the Medi­ter­ranean — the king­dom of Cilicia.
The high and low point of the gen­o­cide was in 1915 dur­ing the First World War. Wall sized, fright­en­ing pic­tures, detailed texts in 4 lan­guages (Armeni­an, Eng­lish, French and Rus­si­an) and for­eign news­pa­per art­icles testi­fy to the cruel murders. And to top it all off: The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment, so to speak the des­cend­ants of the Otto­man Empire, still does not admit this cata­strophe even after more than 100 years!
Above the museum there is a memori­al made of fir trees, which were donated by vari­ous inter­na­tion­al per­son­al­it­ies in memory of the ter­rible deed. After the way along a memori­al wall with the names of the loc­al­it­ies with vic­tims, and the name of her­oes, who res­isted against the events, one comes to the memori­al — a con­crete build­ing and an obelisk.
Not only the Otto­mans raged on Armeni­an ter­rit­ory, but also the Soviet Uni­on immor­tal­ized itself here. The many dif­fer­ent influ­ences we felt espe­cially in Yerevan. Dur­ing a Free Guided Tour our guide told and showed us a lot about the his­tory and archi­tec­ture of Yerevan. Yerevan is called “Pink City” because many build­ings were built with pink tuff. These are dec­or­ated with sym­bols typ­ic­al for Armenia: Vines, pomegranates and apricots. The apricot col­our also dec­or­ates the flag of Armenia and stands for cre­at­ive tal­ent and the hard work­ing nature of the Armeni­ans. The blue stands for the sky and the will to be free and the red for the ongo­ing struggle and the shed blood.
But not only pink dec­or­ated facades can be dis­covered, but also black ones. Beau­ti­ful and tra­di­tion­al court­yards have become rare. We could vis­it two of them. From the leg­acy of the Soviet Uni­on the stairs are left behind.

Mount Arar­at — the mighty 5000 meters high moun­tain is the sym­bol of Armenia! Here from a plat­form in the cap­it­al Yere­wan. But the para­dox: Mount Arar­at is not in Armenia, but in Tur­key! Of course this was not always the case. An Armeni­an told us that in a con­ver­sa­tion with a Turk he was made aware that the Armeni­ans had no right to have Arar­at as a sym­bol, because it did not belong to them. The Armeni­an replied that the Turks also had no right to use the moon and a star as a sym­bol. They do not belong to them either. Pretty quick-wit­ted! Arar­at is also the name of Armeni­a’s most fam­ous cigar­ette brand.

Yerevan radi­ates a very spe­cial charm for us. From a city plan­ning point of view, you can see that ped­es­tri­ans are more import­ant than for example in Tbil­isi. While walk­ing through the city, the few cars hardly both­er us and one could take a nap in the shop­ping street. Also, you always know where you are and what time it is, as signs and clocks are at stra­tegic loc­a­tions. One of our high­lights was the res­taur­ant Little Cili­cia with its won­der­ful ambi­ence, the tra­di­tion­al Armeni­an food and the super friendly own­er. We also recom­mend a vis­it to a tra­di­tion­al baker with his oven.

Anoth­er pecu­li­ar­ity of Yerevan are the extraordin­ary sculp­tures: a blue kiwi, a fat smoking woman, a horse made of horse­shoes, col­our­ful cir­cus ele­phants, etc. We could write blog post just about them. How­ever, we found the flower foun­tain (unfor­tu­nately not work­ing in winter) and the men dis­cuss­ing to be two of the most inter­est­ing. There are also many entrances with paint­ings of dif­fer­ent themes, from land­scapes to politi­cians to these tra­di­tion­al dancers.

Yerevan’s cute chil­dren’s train sta­tion is unfor­tu­nately closed, but you can ima­gine the past beauty of this place. On the way back to the centre, we had to go through a rather long tunnel.

When we come home in the even­ing, we get very bad news: our Iran visa was rejec­ted a second time. Reas­on: “You have to apply through a travel agency”. We now this is not the case, but ok, that’s the way it is and we decide to go back to Tur­key after a lot of think­ing back and forth. Thus our jour­ney to the east ends. We will travel again to the west.
Forests and mon­as­ter­ies in Dili­jan Nation­al Park
Through this great dis­ap­point­ment we want to enjoy some peace and nature. We were allowed to admire some nat­ur­al remains in the Dili­jan Nation­al Park. Here his­tory mixes with nature. Many mon­as­ter­ies from the 12th and 13th cen­tury testi­fy to former set­tle­ments. The nation­al park admin­is­tra­tion is very well equipped: Bicycles, styl­ish hik­ing maps and nice staff. What more could you ask for? Vari­ous hik­ing routes were recom­men­ded to us, but the rain allowed us to only do one hike.
As already in Geor­gia we could some­times only ima­gine the unique nature. White snow cov­ers endem­ic plant and anim­al spe­cies well from us. We did not see many forests like those in Dili­jan, because in the last 30 years many of the forests have been cut down.
Armenia inspired us with its friendly drivers. We nev­er had to wait long in the cold! And we had a good view most of the time.

Start-ups in Sevan Nation­al Park
In con­trast to hitch­hik­ing, couch­surf­ing in Armenia is really not easy. The only ones who have taken us in dur­ing our time are three lovely guys from Den­mark, Nor­way and India.

Kesava (top left), Jeppe (bot­tom left) and Sever­in (right). They are all about 19 years old and have gradu­ated from the elite high­school fran­chise UWC (in Armenia, Ger­many and India). Kesava taught me, by the way, how to solve col­or cubes. Learn­ing from the best, because he holds two world records in solv­ing the cubics! The three super smart boys have recently star­ted liv­ing at Lake Sevan in the Sevan Nation­al Park.

Only a small part of the lake can be seen in the pic­tures — it is really immense! The guys from Cilicia.Living are cur­rently build­ing a huge coliv­ing com­munity here. They are look­ing for digit­al nomads who want to settle in this beau­ti­ful area and become part of a com­munity. We are housed in energy self-suf­fi­cient eco-build­ings. One even­ing the design­ers of these houses and the pro­ject lead­ers come and we have a sump­tu­ous supper.

Oh, good, police!
Some things remained in our minds regard­ing Armenia. Pos­it­ive was for example the police. They don’t carry any weapons. That makes us feel save a lot. In gen­er­al, the crime rate here is not high — only the “nor­mal” pick­pock­ets. But we did­n’t notice that either.

Taxi, please!
The job of many Armeni­ans is prob­ably taxi driver. At every corner they stand or drive.

Dear God, … .  Amen.
By chance we get into a tra­di­tion­al cus­tom and a dance per­form­ance called Trndes. 40 days after the birth of Christ, this time the 13th of Feb­ru­ary, people lit candles at an open fire. This is sup­posed to be a bon­fire for the Lord’s rep­res­ent­a­tion. The Armeni­ans seem even more relig­ous to us than the Geor­gi­ans (per­haps also because of their his­tory). Churches and mon­as­ter­ies bear wit­ness to their strict Armeni­an apostol­ic faith.

Are you play­ing with me?
Chess, back­gam­mon and wrest­ling are very pop­u­lar activ­it­ies in Armenia.

Bar­be­cue in Armeni­an
Chorovats means “grilled” and is part of the long grilling tra­di­tion of the Armeni­ans. Wherever you look, there is always a chorovats or grill — even per­man­ently installed on bal­conies of apart­ment build­ings! Shash­lik made of all anim­als and their parts is a pop­u­lar bar­be­cue meal — veget­ables rather not. Once a year there is even a shash­lik fest­iv­al in the north of the coun­try. We have seen the Chorovats in action at Lake Sevan — fresh fish was pre­pared there.

Gyumri — second largest city in Armenia
On our way back to Geor­gia we spend the night in Gyumri. Now we finally have time to explore the 150,000 inhab­it­ant city. In the shop­ping street we find a super sweet artist café. The tea is excep­tion­ally good and our “raw food chocol­ate ball” proves to be a sweet del­ic­acy. Through the magic atmo­sphere, we totally for­get where we are…

As we stroll on, we find a few more obscur­it­ies. Rusty tin roofs, a very old car and a closed amuse­ment park. Art that writes life.

Armenia is no longer a blank page for us. We got to know many inter­est­ing people, could dive into the cul­ture and exper­i­ence the Armeni­en life­style. Since it was cold in Armenia, between 0 and 5 degrees, and we were already frozen through 2 months cold­ness (and it did not work with the Iran visa), we decided to go as fast as pos­sible back to the warm­er south of Tur­key. A tele­port­er would have been really wel­come at this point! With a cry­ing eye we left Armenia behind because we could­n’t explore the south. Hope­fully next time!

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