We leave for Armenia. Crossing the border was an interesting several-step process, including saying goodbye to our Georgian guide and driver. Our guide and dear friend throughout our stay in Georgia was Sopho, whose patience, knowledge base, and good humor was a delight. Our dear driver was Giorgi.
After passing through Georgian and Armenian passport controls with a walk and bus ride in between, we boarded our bus for Armenia and met Lipo, our driver, and Anna, our guide. The scenery changed radically very soon after entering Armenia. The surrounding hills were covered with forest in autumn hues. While driving, we started learning about the Armenian economy, environment, and culture from Anna. Armenia’s only open borders by road are the northern border with Georgia and the southern border with Iran. The western border with Turkey and the eastern border with Azerbaijan are both closed. In 2008, Hilary Clinton was encouraging the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border; however, Turkey wanted Armenia to deny the genocide and give up their disputed territories. Armenia strongly declined on both counts so the border remains closed.
Our first stop in Armenia on our way to the capital, Yerevan, was the Haghbat Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site from the 10th century. Armenia was the first official Christian country. We saw our first example of a khachkar at the Haghbat Monastery.
A khachkar is the intricately carved stone cross for which Armenia is known, and the one at Haghbat Monastery is from the 13th century and is believed to having healing abilities. The color that was used to originally decorate the cross is now more expensive than gold. There were gravestones all over the monastery grounds, especially by the church entrances and in the narthex. There is the belief that the sins of the people who died would be forgiven by people walking on their gravestones. The Armenian Church is simpler in decoration than the Greek or Georgian churches. It is believed that this will allow for fewer distractions from prayer. It also provides less for invaders to steal.
After lunch and Armenian coffee (never ask for Turkish coffee in Armenia), we traveled to Lake Sevan. Lake Sevan is the second largest alpine lake, second only to Lake Titicaca in Peru. The water from the lake was used for massive irrigation and hydroelectric projects during the Soviet period until it became evident that the water level was decreasing too radically. On a positive note, the drop in water level allowed for the discovery of evidence of a highly developed Bronze Age culture.
We arrived in Yerevan in the late afternoon, checking into our hotel which sat majestically on Republic Square.
[Caroline Olstad, Recorder]