Orbelian Tomb in Yeghegis, Armenia

Orbelian Tomb in Yeghegis, Armenia

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Yeghegis (Armenian: Եղեգիս Azerbaijani: Ələyəz, anglicized: Alayaz) is a village in the Yeghegis Municipality of the Vayots Dzor Province in Armenia. The village was populated by Azerbaijanis before the exodus of Azerbaijanis from Armenia after the outbreak of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In 1988-1989 Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan settled in the village. [2] It has a rich historical past, with the medieval Zorats Church, the Tsakhats Kar Monastery and the Smbataberd fortress being located in the vicinity of Yeghegis, as well as a Jewish cemetery from the 13th century. [3]


Noravank was founded in 1105 by Bishop Hovhannes, a former abbot of Vahanavank near the present-day city of Kapan in Syunik. The monastic complex includes the church of S. Karapet, S. Grigor chapel with a vaulted hall, and the church of S. Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God). Ruins of various civil buildings and khachkars are found both inside and outside of the compound walls. Noravank was the residence of the Orbelian princes. The architect Siranes and the miniature painter and sculptor Momik worked here in the latter part of the thirteenth and early fourteenth century.

The fortress walls surrounding the complex were built in the 17th–18th centuries.

Surb Astvatsatsin Church Edit

The grandest structure is Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God), also called Burtelashen (Burtel's construction) in the honour of Prince Burtel Orbelian, its financier. It is situated to the south-east of the Surb Karapet church. Surb Astvatsatsin was completed in 1339, a masterpiece of the talented sculptor and miniaturist Momik, who designed it, and was also his last work. Near the church there is his tomb khachkar, small and modestly decorated, dated the same year. In recent times the fallen roof had been covered with a plain hipped roof. In 1997 the drum and its conical roof was rebuilt, with the form based on existing fragments. However, it has been criticized as being a "fantasy reconstruction". [1] The ground floor contained elaborate tombs of Burtel and his family. Narrow steps projecting from the west façade lead to the entrance into the church/oratory. There is fine relief sculpture over the entrance, depicting Christ flanked by Peter and Paul.

Burtelashen is a highly artistic monument reminiscent of the tower-like burial structures of the first years of Christianity in Armenia. It is a memorial church. Its ground floor, rectangular in plan, was a family burial vault the floor above, cross-shaped in plan, was a memorial temple crowned with a multi-columned rotunda.

Burtelashen is the dominant structure in Noravank. The original three-tier composition of the building is based on the increasing height of the tiers and the combination of the heavy bottom with the divided middle and the semi-open top. Accordingly, decoration is more modest at the bottom and richer at the top. Employed as decorative elements are columns, small arches, profiled braces forming crosses of various shapes, medallions, interlaced banding around windows and doors.

The western portal is decorated with special splendour. An important role in its decoration is played by the cantilevered stairs that lead to the upper level, with profiled butts to the steps. The doorways are framed with broad rectangular plaitbands, with ledges in the upper part, with columns, fillets and strips of various, mostly geometrical, fine and intricate patterns. Between the outer plathand and the arched framing of the openings there are representations of doves and sirens with women's crowned heads. Such reliefs were widely used in fourteenth-century Armenian art and in earlier times in architecture, miniatures and works of applied art, on various vessels and bowls. The entrance tympanums are decorated with bas-reliefs showing, on the lower tympanium, the Holy Virgin with the Child and Archangels Gabriel and Michael at her sides, and, on the upper tympanium, a half-length representation of Christ and figures of the Apostles Peter and Paul. As distinct from the reliefs of Noravank's vestry, these ones are carved on a plain surface, which gives them greater independence. The figures are distinguished by their plasticity of form, softness of modeling, and accentuation of certain details of clothing.

A group of the founders of Burtelashen is depicted on three columns of the western part of its rotunda. The picture consisted of relief figures of the Holy Virgin with the Child, sitting on a throne, and two standing men in rich attire, one of them holding a model of the temple.

Surb Karapet Church Edit

The second church is the Surb Karapet, a cross within square design with restored drum and dome built in 1216–1227, just north of the ruins of the original Surb Karapet, destroyed in an earthquake. The church was built by the decree of Prince Liparit Orbelian.

In 1340 an earthquake destroyed the dome of the church which in 1361 was reconstructed by the architect Siranes. In 1931 the dome was damaged during another earthquake. In 1949, the roof and the walls of the church were repaired. In 1998 the roof and drum was rebuilt with the aid of an Armenian-Canadian family.

Forming the western antechamber is an impressive gavit of 1261, decorated with splendid khachkars and with a series of inscribed gravestones in the floor. Note the famous carvings over the outside lintel. The church houses Prince Smbat Orbelian's mausoleum. The gavit was probably a four-pillar one. In 1321 the building, probably destroyed by an earthquake, was covered with a new roof in the shape of an enormous stone tent with horizontal divisions, imitating the wooden roof of the hazarashen—type peasant home. This made the structure quite different from other Armenian monuments of the same kind. The ceiling has four rows of brackets forming stalactite vaulting with a square lighting aperture at the top. A broad protruding girth over the half-columns, the deep niches with khachkars and the low tent-like ceiling almost devoid of decoration give the dimly lit interior a gloomy look.

The exterior decoration focus' mainly on the western facade where the entrance to the building is. Framed in two rows of trefoils and an inscription, the semi-circular tympanum of the door is filled with an ornament and with a representation of the Holy Virgin seated on a rug with the Child and flanked by two saints. The ornament also has large letters interlaced by shoots with leaves and flowers. The Holy Virgin is sitting in the Oriental way with Child. The pattern of the rug is visible with drooping tassels. In Syunik temples of the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries the cult of the Holy Virgin was widely spread. She was depicted in relief, and many churches were dedicated to her.

The pointed tympanum of the twin window over the door is decorated with a unique relief representation of the large-headed and bearded God the Father with large almond shaped eyes blessing the Crucifix with his right hand and holding in his left hand the head of John the Baptist, with a dove — the Holy Spirit — above it. In the right corner of the tympanum there is a seraph dove the space between it and the figure of the Father is filled with an inscription.

Surb Grigor Chapel Edit

The side chapel of Surb (Saint) Grigor was added by the architect Siranes to the northern wall of Surb Karapet church in 1275. The chapel contains more Orbelian family tombs, including a splendid carved lion/human tombstone dated 1300, covering the grave of Elikum son of Prince Tarsayich Orbelian. The modest structure has a rectangular plan, with a semi-circular altar and a vaulted ceiling on a wall arch. The entrance with an arched tympanum is decorated with columns, and the altar apse is flanked with khachkars and representations of doves in relief.

Khachkars Edit

The complex has several surviving khachkars. The most intricate of them all is a 1308 khachkar by Momik. Standing out against the carved background are a large cross over a shield-shaped rosette and salient eight-pointed stars vertically arranged on its sides. The top of the khachkar shows a Deesis scene framed in cinquefoil arches symbolizing a pergola as suggested by the background ornament of flowers, fruit and vine leaves.

Nature Edit

The area is a part of Gnisheek Prime Butterfly Area [2] and Noravank Important Bird Area. [3] A wide variety of animals and plants can be found here, such as the Bezoar Goat, Bearded Vulture, Alexanor butterfly, and others.

Brief Chronological History Edit

Before the 9th century - According to historian Stepanos Orbelian a church dedicated to St. Pokas stands on the monastery site.

800-900 - A church was built: sources call it St. Karapet's or Church of Svag Khoradzor. The name will later be transformed into Noravank (nor = new, vank = monastery), in 1221.

989 - Hovhannes the Scribe copies a Gospel for the priest Stepanos. It is so called Gospel of Etchmiadzin that contains some miniated pages of an earlier date which are some of the oldest and most famous examples of Armenian miniature art.

1105 - According to historian Stepanos Orbelian Bishop Hovhannes, abbot of the monastery of Vahanavank, moves to Noravank and helps to found the first nucleus of monks at the monastery. His brother, Prince Hamtum, then comes to the monastery and helps to develop it. The monastery is to become rich: it will own the two fortresses of Anapat and Hraseka, along with twelve farms.

1154 - Bishop Hovhannes dies and is buried in the monastery. According to the historian Stepanos Orbelian, this bishop had founded a church and connected buildings there is not trace of this complex left today.

1168 - Bishop Grigoris of Syunik dies and is buried in the monastery.

1170 - Bishop Stepanos, son of Bishop Grigoris, settles in Noravank, choosing it as the seat of the bishopric. Hs is to obtain the Valley of Agarak and fortress of Anapat as donation to the monastery from Mongol Sultan Yelkduz, along with exception from taxes on church property.

1201 - This date is found on a khachkar at the southern entrance of the Church of St. Karapet.

1216 - Bishop Stepanos dies and is buried in the monastery. Father Sargis, his successor, shares the monastery's property with Tatev.

1216-1221 - Prince Liparit Orbelian and Bishop Sargis build a church in the monastery: sources refer to it as the Church of St. Stepanos Noravank (the protomartyr).

1221 - Bishop Sargis, grandson of Archbishop Stepanos, builds the Church of St. Karapet as the burial chapel for the family. According to the historian Stepanos Orbelian, the church was built by the will of Liparit Orbelian, founder of the dynasty, and building work lasted seven years, ending in 1228. A khachkar in the west wall of the gavit is dedicated Nazar and Nazlu.

1222 - A memorial to Vasak, who died of a premature death, is inscribed on a khachkar on the south wall of the gavit.

1223 - A Church of St. Stepanos is consecrated and Prince Bupak donates the village of Aghberis to the monastery to commemorate the occasion.

1223-1261 - A gavit is built in the monastery.

13th century - Khatun, daughter of Khalkhashah, donates 300 pieces of silver and an orchard to the monastery.

1232 - A certain Gorg makes various donations to the monastery.

1240 - This date in on a khachkar inside the gavit.

1256 - A certain Shatluys donates an orchard to the monastery.

1260 - Bishop Ter-Stepan of Syunik dies and is buried in the monasteries gavit.

1261 - Prince Smbat Orbelian restores the monasteries gavit, perhaps with the aid of Bishop Sargis and architect Siranes. There are two inscriptions on the gavit walls bearing the dates 1232 and 1256: this indicates that there was previously another building on the site, and its stones were used for the gavit. In this same year, Prince Smbat donates various goods to the monastery for the salvation of the soul of his brother, Prince Burtel. Near the khachkar in the gavit there is another, erected in memory of Burtel, son of Elikum, grandson of Liparit. Another kachkar recalls Burtel, son of "prince of princes" Smbat.

1270-1290 - This is the date on a kachkar inside the refectory-hospice that has now partially collapsed.

1271 - A Noravank inscription mentions the name "hovatun" as being a building of unknown purpose.

Before 1273 - An inscription reveals that the "prince of princes" Smbat has donated lands and orchards to the monastery.

1273 - King Smbat dies: he was the elder brother of Prince Tarsaich and is buried in the monastery.

1273-1290 - Bishop Sargis builds a hospice close to the monastery and donates various goods to it: the proceeds are used to provide pilgrims with food and drink.

1275 - Prince Tarsaich builds a burial chapel for his brother Smbat and building, the work of architect Siranes, will subsequently house all family tombs.

1277 - A kachkar is erected on the tomb of Prince Mahevan, son of Senekerim, King of Syunik.

1285 - Kukor erects kachkar on the tombs of his brother Palka and his mother Aspi.

1287 - Stepanos Orbelian becomes metropolitan of Syunk. He is one of the most prestigious men of culture and politics in medieval Armenia. He is to leave numerous works of poetry and essays on history. He finally succeeds in uniting the monasteries of Tatev and Noravank.

2nd half of 13th century - A bridge is built to connect the monastery with the region.

1290 - An inscription mentioning the death of the "prince of princes" Tarsaich can be seen at the east entrance of the chapel.

1291 - Amira, grandson of Djurdj, buys an orchard for 4000 pieces of silver and donates it to the monastery.

1292 - The architect-scribe Momik transcribes a beautiful Gospel for the brothers Hovhannes and Tadeos Princess Mina Khatun, daughter of King Djala of the Aghuank and wife of Tarsaich, donates many goods to the monastery.

1298 - Ter Sargis, bishop of Syunik, dies and is buried in the monastery. Stepanos, bishop of Syunik and son of "prince of princes" Tarsaich, makes an important donation to the monastery. Princess Mina Khatun is buried in the monastery.

1299 - In the monastery of Noravank, metropolitan and historian Stepanos Orbelian finishes his great work entitled History of the Province of Syunik (Patmut'yun Nahangin Sisakan).

1300 - Prince Elikum Orbelian dies and is buried in the monastery, in the Chapel of St Grigor the tomb of the prince, son of Tarsaich, bears a human representation with a lion's tail and paws: these characteristics were attributed to him for his courage in war. Stepanos Orbelian finishes his poem "Lament on Behalf of the Cathedral" (" Voghb i dimats surb Katoghikeyin ").

1302 - The architect-scribe Momik writes and miniates a Gospel for Stepanos Orbelian.

1303 - Metropolitan Stepanos Orbelian dies and is buried in the monastery. Sandjar, son of Tankarghul, donates an orchard to the monastery on the birth of his son.

1303-1324 - The abbot of monastery is Hovhannes-Orbel, nephew of Prince Liparit. By his will, the architect Momik is to build the Church of St. Astvatsatsin at Areni. Also by his will, numerous codices are written in manuscript.

1304 - Momik erects a khachkar to the memory of metropolitan Stepanos Orbelian.

1305 - An inscription on his tomb mentions the death of Bishop Grigor of Syunik.

1307 - Momik and Poghos "vardapet" write and miniate a Gospel.

1308 - Tamta Khatun, mother of Prince Burtel, erects a beautiful kachkar made by the architect Momik.

1312 - Tamta Khatun, mother of Prince Burtel, is buried in the chapel of King Smbat. Grigor, nephew of Prince Dop, donates various orchards to the monastery.

1318 - Bughta, brother of Burtel, is buried in the chapel of King Smbat and a kachkar is erected in his memory.

1320-1322 - The priest Sargis, nephew of Archbishop Stepanos of Syunik, builds the church of Noravank.

1321 - St. Karapet's building is probably damaged by an earthquake.

1324 - Hovhannes-Orbel, metropolitan of Syunik, dies and is buried in the monastery.

1324-1331 - Stepanos Tarsaich Orbelian becomes abbot of the monastery. A student of chief vardapet Esayi Nshetsi of University of Gladzor, he is to build the Zorats church in the region of Yeghegis.

1331-1339 - Prince Burtel, as is mentioned in the inscription on the west entrance, builds the Church of St. Astvatsatsin, the so-called "Burtelashen", in the monastery.

1333 - The architect-sculpture-painter Momik dies and is buried in the monastery. The scribe Kiuron re-copies a manuscript by order of Grigoris.

1345 - Gontse, daughter of Paron Khosrovik, donates Khangah orchard to the monastery for salvation of the soul of Amad.

15th century - The architectural model of the two-story funerary chapel spreads throughout Syunik and all monasteries build chapel of the same type.

1476 - The scribe Poghos re-copies a Gospel.

1486 - Davit Darbin erects a kachkar in the monastery to the memory of Tukhik.

1569 - Bishop Eghishe erects a kachkar to the memory of his uncle Bishop Arakel.

1628 - Tuma Abegha writes Gospel in the monastery.

1600-1700 - Fortified walls, a hospice and various other buildings are constructed in the monastery.

1755 - A battle is fought between Hadji Pasha, who has taken over the monastery, and the armies of Isa Ashag.

1813 - The Persian King, Shah Fatail, hands the monastery to Petros Bek Orbelian and orders the proceeds from the village of Amaghu be given to the monastery for its running and maintenance.

1840 - An earthquake damages the monastery.

1948-1949 - The Committee for the Conservation of Monuments in Soviet Armenia begins restoration works on the monastery. A. Balasanyan draws up the projects.

1982-1983 - Renewed consolidation, restoration and excavation works at the monastery begin. [ need quotation to verify ]

1995 - Because of its over restoration, Noravank is denied entry to UNESCO's World Heritage List. [4]

1997 - The drum and conical dome of the Surb Astvatsatsin church is rebuilt. [5]

Jewish Cemetery

Medieval Jewish Community in Eghegiz (Yeghegis), Armenia
By Michael Nosonovsky

Recent findings indicate that a Jewish community existed in Eghegis, Armenia for several centuries. In a publication in the Russian Journal "Christian Orient" for 1912 a picture appeared of Jewish tombstones in Eghegis, Armenia, dated 1497 CE. A Persian word in the inscription indicates that the Jews probably came to Armenia from Persia and this community may be related to Persian-speaking (Judeo-Tat) communities of Mountain Jews in North Caucasus and Azerbaijan. A short comment on the matter will appear in a Russian language Internet-Journal "Zametki po evrejskoj istorii" [1]. This is the English translation of the paper, along with a picture of the monument which was scanned from the Russian Journal "Christian Orient", V 1, No 3 (1912).

Armenia is one of only few countries where no Jewish settlement of any significant importance is known, although all neighboring countries (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Kurdistan, Persia) had big Jewish communities. According to some legends, the king Tigran in the 1st century CE brought from Judea to Armenia several thousands Jews. There are also legends about a Jewish origin of Armenian royal dynasty of Bagratids (ruled from 7th century CE), but there are no material evidences for this kind of legends. A Byzantine chronicler tells that many Jews were brought to captivity from different Armenian cities by Persian king Sapor the 2nd (310-380 CE). The Talmud mentions “Jacob from Armenia” (Git 48a) and Jewish captives from Armenia (Ieb 45a). The country is mentioned sporadically in medieval Hebrew texts¹, but it should be kept in mind that historical Armenia includes besides Armenia proper territory of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkish Kurdistan.

It was reported recently², that in 1996 several Jewish tombstones were found in Armenian town of Eghegis by local bishop Abraham Mkrtchyan. A team of Israeli archeologists including Professors Michael Stone and David Amit studied the monuments. According to reports, one inscription in Hebrew with Aramaic formulas says: “Niftar Baba bar David be-khodesh Tammuz shenat aleph-taf-resh” (“Passed away Baba, son of David in the month of Tammuz year 1600”). The Seleucid era was widely used in the Middle East, the year 1600 corresponds to the year 1289 CE. Another inscription is dated with 1255 CE.

We must note that this finding is not unique. A letter was published yet in 1912 in a little-known Russian Journal “Khristianskij Vostok” (“Christian Orient”) by a leading Russian orientalist Prof. N. Marr about a similar monument found in 1910³ . The stone (size 1.6 x 0.4 m) was found in the Muslim-Turkish village of Alagaz near historical Eghegiz in Voyotz-Tzora province of Armenia. The inscription has four lines, two lines on one side of the stone include a name of the deceased and two lines on the opposite side include a blessing, in a similar manner to the inscriptions found recently. Russian Hebraist Prof. P. Kokovtsov translated it from Hebrew:

Niftar ha-bakhur ha-kasher he-‘anaw mar khawaga Sharaf ’aldin ben ha-zaqen khawaga Sabay S[ofo]”T[ov] melekh ha-kavod yanikhehu ‘im ’ Abraham Yickhaq we-Ya‘aqov We-Yeqayyem ‘al qavrato yikhyu metekha navlati yaqumun we-g[amre] shenat ATTKh

Passed away young, pious, and modest Mr. khawaja Sheraf-ed-Din, son of old khawaja Sabay, let his end be in good. Let the King of Dignity lay him in peace with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And let fulfill over his grave “your deads will resurrect, my corps will stand up” etc. (Is. 26:19) Year 1808 (=1496/1497 CE).

Therefore the Jewish community existed in Eghegiz not only in the late 1200s, but also for more than 230 years after that. Muslim names and titles in the inscription are remarkable: Sharaf-ed-Din, Sabay, Baba, khawajah (Mister or Teacher). The word khawajah is of Persian origin and it probably indicates that the Jews who settled in Eghegiz came from Persia and kept Persian as their spoken language. Biblical quotations and Talmudic formulas is an evidence of high learning standard in the community. We may assume that Eghegiz community was related to the Persian-speaking (Tat) Mountain Jewish community in Azerbaijan and North Caucusus, an early history of which is obscure. It should be noted also that oldest inscriptions in Chufut-Qaleh in the Crimea, which can be reliably dated, also belong to the same post-Tartar period.

By considering two archeological findings: a little known inscription published in a Russian Journal 90 years ago and very recent discoveries of Israeli archeologists, we come to a conclusion that a Jewish community existed in Armenia for several hundred years and this country should be included into a list of medieval Jewish Diaspora countries.

1. Armenia Evrejskaja Enciklopedia. – St. Petersburg, [1910]. – v. 3. - Pp. 145-146.

2. Stones from the River Jerusalem Report, 24 Sept 2001, K. Brook. The Unexpected Discovery of Vestiges of the Medieval Armenian Jews Los Muestros: The Sephardic Voice. - No. 45 (December 2001), (http://kulanu.ubalt.edu/armenian_jews.html), Dafna Levy. The lost Jews of Armenia // Ha-Aretz (on the Internet accessed 1/30/2002

3. Evrejskaya nadgrobnaya nadpis’ 15 veka iz Erevanskoj gub. (Hebrew tombsone inscription of the 15th century from Erevan province) Khristianskij Vostok (Christian Orient). – Vol 1 (1912).. - No. 3. – Pp. 353-354 (ñ) M. Nosonovsky, Boston, Mass, Feb. 2002


As the locals say, Yeghegnadzor is the center of Armenia, really when you look at the map it is like that. Yeghegnadzor highway connecting Syunik region և Artsakh Republic.

The city spreads on the right and left banks of the Arpa River, in the north it merges with the villages of Gladzor և Vernashen.

Yeghegnadzor is one of the ancient settlements of the Armenian highlands. This is evidenced by the findings of the tomb excavated in the northeastern part of the city. According to historical sources, Yeghegnadzor was called Pondzatagh, Khotoralez in the Middle Ages, later it was called Yeghegik, Yeghegyats, Yeghegnadzor.

Modern Yeghegnadzor

The population of the city is about 8000 people. The city has 4 parks. Momik Park has a playground, carousels, amphitheater, with its comfortable stage, where events and concerts are organized. The population of the city, as a recreation area, uses the space along the Arpa River և not only ․․.

Sights of Yeghegnadzor


This medieval bridge is located in the southern part of the North-South highway, near the village of Agarakadzor. Local myths claim that Armenian prince built it to access his palace easily located on the river’s edge. From the top of the bridge there is a wonderful view of the beautiful panorama surrounding the river.


Approximately 12,000 specimens are on display in the four halls of the museum. Stone’s obsidian tools, red pottery from the 3rd-2nd centuries BC, bronze belts from the Urartian period, samples from the 13th century Jewish cemetery of Yeghegis. The khachkar of the 14th century architect Momik is a particularly impressive work of art. This khachkar is one of the three khachkars attributed to him.

Spitakavor Monastery

The church is built of felsic stone of volcanic origin, which is white or light gray. The construction of the church began by Prince Eachi (died in 1318) and completed in 1321 by his son Prince Amir Hasan II.

Tanahat Monastery

Tanahat Monastery is an 8th-century monastery located 7 km south-east of Vernashen village. It was built between the 8th and 13th centuries. Its main church, Surb Stepanos was built between the years 1273 to 1279 under the patronage of the Proshian family. Some scholars believe that the Monastery housed Gladzor University, the most prominent educational institution of its day in Medieval Armenia.

The university has been awarded the title of “Glorious Second Athens” and “Capital of Wisdom” by its contemporaries.

Arkazi Holy Cross monastery

Armenian spiritual historian Stepanos Orbelian mentioned the Arkaz monastery built in the 8th century in his writings. To the south-east side-chapel of the church a piece of cross belonging to Jesus is buried, that is the reason it is known as «Surb Khach» – «Holy Cross».

Of course, this list can continue but it will take at least 2-3 days or even less visit all the places mentioned in Vayots Dzor in the previous post, so you will need a comfortable overnight և delicious local food.

I will offer a good solution, visit Lada.

A bright, cheerful and positive woman, whose passion are tourism, kitchen, caring for guests and she has infected all family mambers with this enthusiasm.

We visited their guest house, or rather, their house.

Warm family atmosphere, delicious cuisine, tasting of unique author’s drinks, comfortable rooms.

Since 2014, the whole family has been involved in tourism.

Tourism is not just job, but their pleasure, it is the element to which they are given with complete devotion. This is evidenced by the admiring reactions of the guests և repeated visits.

This corner is really a wonderful please to get acquainted with Vayots Dzor in detail, to immerse yourself in the local color.

Here you can organize family, as well as friendly and corporate events and parties.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of their services:

  • Party Organization
  • Armenian Cooking-Master Class
  • Overnight
  • Organization of Excursions

When visiting Yeghegnadzor, do not miss the opportunity to meet these warm people.

Thanks, Lada and her family for the warm and friendly reception, with which they further colored and enriched our impressions of Yeghegnadzor.

Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook- Vayots Dzor Marz

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 1Map 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.

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** ("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.

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 2Map 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 3Map 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 4Map 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. 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 5Map 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 6Map 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 7Map 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.

Visit Vayots Dzor | History, Scenery & Winemaking

Bordering the famed Ararat valley, Gegharkunik and Syunik Marzes, Vayots Dzor is surrounded by the Vardenis as well as Arpa and Vayk mountain ranges.

It is home to spectacular waterfall ridges. The borders of the province are separated by adjacent regions by natural meadows and mysterious canyons.

Large and small passes, gorges and flower fields give Vayots Dzor its charm and natural wonder. Most villages in the region end with the name Dzor which means Valley in Armenian: Agarakadzor, Aghavnadzor, Gladzor.

Yeghegnadzor city is the regional capital, has been home to various Noble houses and has historically accommodated Armenian families migrating from Persia. Another very popular retreat is the resort-spa town of Jermuk, a well-known tourist destination, because of its natural hot springs, clean air, waterfalls, walking trails and mineral water pools.

Vayots Dzor is the land bridge connecting the south of Armenia to the central and northern provinces.

Astonishingly, the world’s oldest 6100-year-old winery was discovered during the archaeological excavations conducted between 2007 and 2011 in the region. According to National Geographic Magazine and the study published in the Journal of Archeological Science , the earliest known winery was found in Vayots Dzor in the village of Areni . Quoting National Geographic News , article published on January 12, 2011, by James Owen:

“As if making the oldest known leather shoe wasn’t enough, a prehistoric people in what’s now Armenia also built the world’s oldest known winery, a new study says.”

Furthermore, with a mystical past and preserved national legacy, the history of Vayots Dzor dates back to the Paleolithic Era and the Stone Age. Carvings on cliffs depicting scenes of hunting and animals have been discovered.

Attracting settlements and inhabitants since prehistoric times, mainly because of its rugged terrain and relatively inaccessible geological structure, providing security to its inhabitants and evading frequent invasions.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, the noble Houses of Proshian and Orbelian families have held the leadership of the area.

Home to many ancient landmarks and tourist attractions in Armenia, including that of the the 8th century Tanahat Monastery, the 10th century Smbataberd Fortress, Yeghegis sites of 5-13th A.D. Mogh 2nd Millennium B.C., Proshaberd fortress 13th A.D., Smbataberd Fortress 10-13th century A.D., the Fortress Berdakar 5th century A.D., the Fortress Ketchout 10-14th century A.D., as well as Gladzor, home of the 13th and 14th century University of Gladzor.

Adventure trips, explorations and eco-visits to Vayots Dzor landmarks from Yerevan are exciting and gratifying. It is recommended to spend a few days and make arrangement for local accommodations to have ample time to travel and discover the eco-diversity, history and experience the enthralling sights and resonances of Vayots Dzor.

For local contact in Armenia readers may refer to Mrs. Anahit Zalyan Bales, an expat Armenian – Thai community member, formerly a resident of Chiang Mai and currently a Travel Agent in Armenia: Komitas 7, Yerevan, Armenia Facebook: @armtour.am – Call +37410248222, +37497 36-02-22, +37498 36-22-22.

The above article is published by the Consulate of the Republic of Armenia to the Kingdom of Thailand, with the objective to promote the history, culture and eco-tourism of Vayots Dzor in Armenia.

Department of Consular Affairs
Consulate of the Republic of Armenia
Kingdom of Thailand

There are historical records that attest the presence of Jews in pagan Armenia, before the spread of Christianity in the region by St. Gregory the Illuminator in 301 AD. Early medieval Armenian historians, such as Moses Khorenatsi, held that during the conquest of Armenian King Tigranes the Great (95–55 BC) he brought with him 10,000 Jewish captives to the ancient Kingdom of Armenia (which encompassed what is commonly known as Greater Armenia) when he retreated from Judea, because of the Roman attack on Armenia (69 BC). Tigranes II invaded Syria, and probably northern Israel as well. [2] [3] A large Jewish population was settled in Armenia from the 1st century BC. One city in particular, Vartkesavan became an important commercial center. [4] Thus, Armenia's Jewish community was established. Like the rest of Armenia's population, they suffered the consequences of regional powers trying to divide and conquer the country. [5] By 360–370 AD, there was a massive increase in Jewish Hellenistic immigration into Armenia many Armenian towns became predominately Jewish. During this period (4th century AD), after the conquest of Armenia by the Sassanid King Shapur II he deported thousands of Jewish families from Persian Armenia and resettled them at Isfahan (modern Iran). [3] [6]

In 1912 the archaeologist Nikolai Marr announced the discovery in 1910 of a tombstone in the village of Yeghegis that carried a Hebrew inscription. [7] In 1996 investigations at Yeghegis, in Armenia's province of Vayotz Dzor, discovered the remains of a medieval Jewish cemetery from a previously unknown Jewish community. In 2000, a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem excavated on the southern side of the Yeghegis river, opposite the village, a Jewish cemetery with 40 gravestones with Hebrew inscriptions dating between 1266 and 1497. One non-Hebrew word in the inscriptions may indicate the origin of the community. Michael Nosonovsky has stated that "The word khawajah is of Persian origin and it probably indicates that the Jews who settled in Yeghegis came from Persia and kept Persian as their spoken language. Biblical quotations and Talmudic formulas are evidence of a high learning standard in the community." [8] A group of Armenian and Israeli archaeologists and historians excavated the site in 2001 and 2002 and found 64 more tombstones. Some are decorated with motifs of the Orbelian kingdom. The archaeological team also found three mills, which the bishop says show that the community had a business because one mill could feed several families. Twenty of these tombstones had inscriptions, all in Hebrew except for two, which were in Aramaic. The oldest dated stone was from 1266 and the latest date was 1336/7. [9]

  • [10]
  • [11]
  • [12]
  • The Jewish population data includes Mountain Jews, Georgian Jews, Bukharan Jews (or Central Asian Jews), Krymchaks (all per the 1959 Soviet census), and Tats. [13]

In 1828, the Russo-Persian War came to an end and Eastern Armenia (currently the Republic of Armenia) was annexed to the Russian Empire with the Treaty of Turkmenchai. Polish and Iranian Jews began arriving, as well as Sabbatarians (Subbotniki, Russian peasants who were banished to the outskirts of Imperial Russia during the reign of Catherine II. They were Judaizing Christians and mostly converted to mainstream Judaism or assimilated). Since 1840 they started creating Ashkenazi and Mizrahi communities respectively in Yerevan. [6] Up to 1924, the Sephardic synagogue, Shiek Mordechai, was a leading institution among the Jewish community. [3]

According to the 1897 Russian Empire Census, there were some 415 people in Alexandropol (Gyumri) [14] and 204 in Erivan (Yerevan) [15] whose native language was "Jewish" and significantly smaller numbers elsewhere 6 in Vagharshapat, [16] 15 in Novo-Bayazet. [17] The number of self-reported Jewish-speakers was the following in other Armenian-populated areas of the Russian Empire that now lie outside Armenia: 4 in Shushi (Artsakh), [18] 93 in Elizavetpol (Ganja, Azerbaijan), [19] 4 in Igdir (now Turkey), [20] 424 in Kars (Turkey), [21] 111 in Ardahan (Turkey), [22] 189 in Akhalkalaki (Georgia), [23] 438 in Akhaltsikhe (Georgia), [24] 72 in Shulaveri (Georgia). [25]

As for Western Armenia (Turkish Armenia), according to official Ottoman figures from 1914, 3,822 Jews lived in the "Six vilayets" that had significant Armenian population: 2,085 in Diyarbekir Vilayet, 1,383 in Van Vilayet, 344 in Sivas Vilayet, 10 in Erzurum Vilayet, and none in Bitlis and Mamuret-ul-Aziz (Harput). There were further 317 Jews in historical Cilicia: 66 in Adana Vilayet and 251 in Maraş Sanjak. [26]

The Russian Jewish communities moved to Armenia on a larger scale during the Soviet period, looking for an atmosphere of tolerance in the area that was absent in the Russian SSR or Ukrainian SSR.

Following World War II, the Jewish population rose to approximately 5,000. In 1959, the Jewish population peaked in Soviet Armenia at approximately 10,000 people. Another wave of Jewish immigrants arrived in the country between 1965 and 1972, mainly intelligentsia, military, and engineers. These Jews arrived from Russia and Ukraine, attracted to the more liberal society. [3] However, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union many of them left due to the First Nagorno-Karabakh War. Between 1992 and 1994, more than 6,000 Jews immigrated to Israel because of Armenia's political isolation and economic depression. [3] Today the country's Jewish population has shrunk to around 750. [5] In 1995, the Chabad House was established in Yerevan.

There are about 300–500 [1] Jews presently living in Armenia, mainly in the capital Yerevan. [1] They are mostly of Ashkenazi origin, while some are Mizrahi and Georgian Jews.

There is a tiny community of Subbotniks (believed to be a Judaizing community that evolved from the Molokan Spiritual Christians) whose ancestors converted to Judaism, and who are quickly dwindling. [27]

The Jewish Community in Yerevan is currently headed by Chief Rabbi Gershon Burshtein from the Chabad Lubavitch, and the sociopolitical matters are run by the Jewish Council of Armenia.

The President of the Jewish Community in Armenia, Rima Varzhapetyan-Feller, has stated on January 23, 2015, that "The Jewish community feels itself protected in Armenia, and the authorities respect their rights, culture, and traditions. There is no anti-Semitism in Armenia, and we enjoy good relations with the Armenians. Of course, the community has certain problems that originate from the general situation of the country." [28]

In 2005, Armen Avetisian, the openly anti-Semitic leader of the Armenian Aryan Union, a small ultranationalist party, alleged that there are as many as 50,000 "disguised" Jews in Armenia. He promised that he would work to have them expelled from the country. He was arrested in January 2005 on charges of inciting ethnic hatred. [29]

There have been two recorded incidents, in 2007 and in 2010, of vandalism by unknown individuals on the Jewish side of the Joint Tragedies Memorial in Aragast Park, Yerevan that commemorates both the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust. This monument had replaced a smaller monument that had been defaced and toppled several times. [30] [1] [31]

Study of Medieval Armenian History in Global Context Boosted by Prestigious Five-Year European Grant

FLORENCE, Italy – Armenian studies generally is an individual scholarly pursuit in the West, with specialists coming together periodically for conferences and workshops. In Europe, this is suddenly about to change due to a major grant from the European Research Council (ERC), one of the most important funding bodies in the world, particularly vital for the humanities. Dr. Zara Pogossian has won support for a five-year collaborative project under her leadership focusing on medieval Armenian history in a global perspective. This appears to be the first time that a research project with a strong Armenological component has received such a prestigious grant from an internationally recognized body, as opposed to funding from Armenian institutions and sources. This will increase the overall visibility of Armenian studies in academia.

The ERC’s scale is very large. Its budget for 2019 was over 2 billion Euros. ERC grants are allocated through open competitions, and only approximately 12% of applicants are successful, with this percentage even lower for women. In Pogossian’s category of consolidator grants (for people who received their doctorate a maximum of 12 years prior to the application) in the social sciences and humanities, in 2019 out of 674 submitted proposals, only 78 were selected.

Pogossian’s grant is for two million Euros and she will be able to hire up to 9 researchers to work together. The project is entitled Armenia Entangled: Connectivity and Cultural Encounters in Medieval Eurasia, 9th – 14th Centuries (ArmEn), and will begin on October 1, 2020. ArmEn will be based at the University of Florence, Italy, where Pogossian is about to take up a tenured position as Associate Professor. Dr. Zara Pogossian, left, with her Italian colleague, archeologist Dr. Elisa Pruno, at the Caravanserai of Selim, in 2018 on a field trip to Vayots Dzor in the Republic of Armenia in 2018

This position in essence, Pogossian said, would be an addition to the centers of Armenian studies in Europe. Even after the project’s end Dr. Pogossian will pursue her research and training of students at the University of Florence, continuing her already important contributions to Armenology in a most propitious academic environment.

To indicate the scale of Armenian studies in general, she noted that when you have a conference of Byzantine studies, you can expect more than 1,000 participants, and when you have a conference in Islamic medieval studies, you can easily go beyond 2,000. Yet in the whole world there are only at the most several hundred specialists of Armenian studies in all time periods. Nonetheless, she stressed that this is a very important and strong field, even if it is a small one, with Armenian sources vital for topics in her period like the history of the Crusades, the Byzantine Empire, the history of Georgia, the Mongols, the Seljuks, and the Ottoman Empire.

The importance of the grant is multiplied when recent difficulties in academia are taken into consideration. Pogossian said that in the last 10-20 years it has been very hard to pursue small, sophisticated but highly specialized fields, find students, and then find funding for these students. Entire departments are scaled down by universities who say there are not enough students. This is true, she said, not only for Armenian studies but also for other Oriental Christian studies.

Pogossian expressed the hope that the recognition by ERC of the importance of Armenology may inspire more Armenians to support the existing chairs in Europe and donate to create new ones to allow Armenian studies to continue to grow in the future.

Project Goals

ArmEn will examine the geographical area of the Armenian Plateau and the surrounding regions as an area rarely subject to centralized political, cultural and religious control during the period studied. This perhaps facilitated the great cultural exchange there between various ethnic, linguistic and religious groups. Pogossian stated, “The project intends to tackle precisely this polycentrism and test whether it enhanced, or on the contrary, prevented fluidity, and boundary-crossings, cross-pollination between multiple and shifting elite cultures, including agents and locations of these interactions or conflicts. Articulated in texts, depicted on artifacts, and minted on coins, the intensive circulation of ideas, goods, images, and mental constructs south of the Caucasus mountains, east of Anatolia and north of Mesopotamia (CAM) has thus far not been studied systematically for this period of time. The goal of ArmEn is to fill this gap and position CAM in a wider scholarly debate on entanglements in Eurasian history.”

Pogossian thinks that Armenian sources are important for two interrelated reasons: “1) The Armenians constituted the group most widely dispersed and integrated in the space of CAM, and engaged intellectually, politically (including via mixed marriages), militarily, religiously, and commercially with Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, subjects of the Byzantine Empire (Greek-speaking or not), Syriac Christians, Georgians, Caucasian Albanians, a number of Turko-Muslim dynasties, Kurds, Iranians, Western Europeans, and Mongols and 2) Armenian sources reflect the dynamic connections between all these cultures synoptically and diachronically, covering regions for which no other evidence exists.” An example of medieval cultural interaction: trilingual 14th century gravestone inscription from Yeghegis, Vayots Dzor, Armenia (Photo and photographic reconstruction: Dr. Lapo Somigli, University of Florence)

The project will integrate the information from Armenian sources with Arabic, Syriac, Greek, Georgian, Turkish, and Persian material. Furthermore, it will, Pogossian stated, create tools for research such as an online source base and interactive map. It will apply interdisciplinary methods combining analysis of textual and material evidence with a digital humanities approach.

Based on the aforementioned, it will, Pogossian said, “develop a theoretical framework for the study of cultural entanglements under conditions where there was no overarching hegemonic power, single elite culture, or one unifying religious message/tradition.”

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Pogossian added as an aside that she chose the project to focus on Armenia’s connections with the East rather than with Western Europe for various reasons. Among them, she mentioned that Armenian-European relations have been much more extensively explored. One reason for this is that 19th century scholarship tended to be Eurocentric, as Dr. Nina Garsoïan had pointed out many years ago when she started her ground-breaking studies on the Iranian factor and connections in Armenian culture. Dr. Pogossian’s project will continue this type of research for the medieval period.

Project Participants, Advisors and Products

Although as a European grant, all participants in the ERC project must spend at least 50 percent of their time in Florence, they can originate from anywhere in the world. Pogossian said that there will be two colleagues in Germany, two or three American collaborators, and two to four participants from Armenia who will be working with manuscripts and artifacts there. All will be selected competitively through an open search by a university committee. There are no limitations on nationality, but those who work in Armenia most likely will be Armenians, as they are the ones who know the Mashtots Matenadaran (Institute of Ancient Armenian Manuscripts) in Yerevan inside and out, Pogossian said.

In all, there will be nine to ten people, but not all will participate for the full five years. Some may work for two and others for three years.

While Armenian is one of the primary languages of the project, naturally, there must also be specialists in Georgian, Turkish, Arabic and Syriac. Furthermore, most scholars know Greek and Latin as working languages.

Though most research will be carried out on textual sources, the project specialists will not only deal with manuscripts and written materials. Pogossian said that material artifacts will also be studied. There is an important archaeological component in the project. The University of Florence has already been working with archaeologist Prof. Hamlet Petrosyan of Yerevan State University for almost a decade, and this relationship may allow participation in excavations of Dvin led by Prof. Petrosyan.

When asked how potential difficulties of access to sites due to political obstacles might affect research, Pogossian replied that there are no archaeological surveys planned in such areas but that fortunately, when in situ surveys are not possible, publications and prior descriptions can be used. The focus will be more on written sources for Turkey, Syria and northern Mesopotamia. An advantage is that many manuscript sources have been digitized.

An art historian will participate in the project, and aside from the art historical component numismatics will be included. There is also a small side project involving collaboration with Arthur H. Dadian and Ara Oztemel Professor of Armenian Art and Architecture Christina Maranci at Tufts University in Massachusetts. It involves tracing medieval Armenian travellers’ stories as part of research on the mobility of Armenians between Asia, Africa and Europe during the Middle Ages.

Some of the project members already on board include Dr. Barbara Roggema, a leading specialist in Early Islam, as well as Christian Arabic literature and Syriac, and Prof. Alexandra Cuffel, specialist in medieval Judaism, as well as Jewish-Christian-Muslim interactions in the Middle Ages. They will be both based at Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, while Prof. Michele Nucciotti at the University of Florence is the archaeologist working with Hamlet Petrosyan.

In addition to the actual participants, the project has a board of advisors, including Professor Stephen Rapp, Jr. of Sam Houston State University, a Georgian specialist, Michael Pifer of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Edda Vardanyan of the Matenadaran (Yerevan) and the Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance (Paris), and István Perczel, professor of Byzantine and Syriac Studies, from the Central European University (Budapest/Vienna). Pogossian explained that these are senior scholars who volunteer to take part in the project due to its overall scholarly interest and expected new and exciting research. As Pogossian is not a specialist in all the fields covered in the project, for example Georgian or Arabic, she will collaborate with the members of the advisory board for work connected with these languages and cultures, among others.

Pogossian already had to propose a plan for work for each year on the project, and she said that while she will not dictate the exact topic or direction of individual researchers involved in the project, she will provide a set of themes and ideas that should guide the research of all the participants. While the exact form of interaction and collaboration will depend on the situation with COVID-19, she said that if there could not be personal meetings, there certainly would be Zoom or mixed meetings every two or three months to see where people stand on their topics and what they have discovered. Junior scholars may need more guidance.

Various conferences and publications are planned that will disseminate the results of the project to the wider scholarly world. A website will make sure that interested non-academic audiences receive information on the project, and its results and discoveries are made available to the general public as the project moves on.

Pogossian’s Academic Work

Pogossian’s educational background is impressively wide ranging. Born in Armenia, she received her undergraduate education at Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, a master’s degree in international development from American University in Washington, D.C. (1994), a second master’s degree in medieval studies from Central European University in Budapest, Hungary and finally her Ph.D. from the latter institution in 2005. She said that she would call herself a philologist-historian, since in order to do research on medieval Armenian history, philological skills are indispensable, not least for reading numerous unpublished manuscript sources.

She has taught as adjunct professor at the American University of Rome (2006-8) and John Cabot University at Rome (2006-15) and at the Rome Center of Loyola University (2014-17). Meanwhile, from 2015 to the present she has been serving as a research fellow and project coordinator of an ERC-funded project, JewsEast, at Ruhr University of Bochum in Germany.

Aside from many articles, she is the author of two books: The Letter of Love and Concord: A Revised Diplomatic Edition with Historical and Textual Comments and English Translation (Medieval Mediterranean vol. 88 Leiden: Brill, 2010) and The Church of the Holy Cross on Ałt‘amar: Politics, Art, Spirituality in the Kingdom of Vaspurakan (Leiden: Brill, 2019), co-edited with Edda Vardanyan.

Pogossian said that her approach in the current project has its roots in her past research and Armenian history itself. Her first book, she related, was about a source from the Cillician period of Armenia that claimed that the Armenians and Romans have been allied for centuries and St. Gregory the Illuminator was an equal colleague of the pope. She tried to read it between the lines to understand to whom the author was appealing, what he knew about Armenian history and how he presented it. This text has numerous words in Latin, Greek, Persian, Mongolian and Turkish, so she had to deal with all these cultures to understand the specifics of the Cilician Armenian culture and the sources it produced. This type of approach was dictated by the medieval texts that were the result of the particularly entangled circumstances of Armenian history.

At present, she has various ongoing research projects that will merge into the larger project she is running. She is interested in the cult of saints, and in particular that of Saint Sergius or Sargis. She wants to see not who he was but how and where he was venerated, and what beliefs were associated with that veneration. There is evidence of shared practices when it comes to the veneration of St. Sergius among the Armenians and that of al-Khidr among Muslims of medieval Anatolia, with similar types of fasts and rituals. Exploring the background of such exchanges will be one of her research tasks.

Another topic she is interested in is to explore the role of women as intercultural brokers. What happens, she wonders, in mixed marriages? How do women represent themselves and appear as cultural in-betweens? When an Armenian woman married a Muslim potentate, and sponsored the building of a mosque or a monumental structure, can the inscriptions she left tell us anything about shared practices? Are they comparable to inscriptions on Armenian churches left by other contemporary female founders? Such topics go to the heart of questions on cultural exchanges and need further exploration.

Aside from all her own academic work, Pogossian intends to continue to call attention to the importance of Armenian studies for medieval history in general and the crucial information that Armenian sources can provide for Eurasian history. This is a task she intends to pursue will beyond this ERC project. She exclaimed, “This is my bigger goal for the rest of my career: to get Armenian studies out of its bubble and become an integral part of studies on Eurasian history more than it has been thus far.”

Items of Interest in Orbelian’s Caravanserai

Although Orbelian’s Caravanserai is not richly decorated, it has some ornaments of interest. At the entrance, decorations are seen around the semi-circular lintel. Above the lintel are two high reliefs, a winged animal on the left and a bull on the right. In addition, the openings in the roof are also decorated. Each of these openings has a unique design around it.

Winged animal to the left of the entrance of Orbelian’s Caravanserai. ( CC BY 2.0 )

When the flow of trade dried up following the decline of the Silk Route , Orbelian’s Caravanserai no longer served its purpose and fell out of use. Restoration work was only carried out during the 20 th century, between 1956 and 1959. Since then, the site has become a tourist destination.

Top image: Interior of Orbelian’s Caravanserai. Source: Lockalbot / CC BY-SA 3.0

Watch the video: Jewish 4th century cemetery in Armenia in Vayots Dzor province