Yerevan, Noratus and Lake Sevan

Yerevan is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on Earth but it may be hard to believe it at first sight.
In some ways it has the appearance of another former soviet city, the standard gloomy poorly built constructions blocks or apartments exist here too. The soviet cultural genocide – namely the destruction of ancient, historical and architecturally beautiful churches for the like of cinemas, and denial of history all took place.

However Yerevan is among the more attractive cities that have survived the USSR’s occupation.
There is plenty to like about the city.. More aesthetically pleasing are Yerevan’s red brick building buildings, and the beautiful Mt Ararat (the symbol of Armenia) in the distance overhanging the city.
The centre – Republic Square is beautiful and designed by Armenian architect Alexander Tamanian. Every night there the fountain is lit up with colourful lights and in the day it is an interesting focal point for the city. The excellent history museum of Armenia is a place worth seeing.

The cascade has a nice panoramic view of both Arafat and of the National Opera House. Just don’t stop to sit on those steps on a hot summer day. It lacks shade outside.
What really sets Yerevan apart is it ambiance. A city one could comfortably spend lots of time. It is not fully eared up to tourism but that is a place still welcoming to the individual traveller. Friendly people, plenty of history, historical churches and interesting museums.

My favourite of which is definitely the manuscript museum Matenadaran – one of the world’s richest depositories of medieval manuscripts and books to quote Wikipedia.
Armenia has an abundance of old manuscripts. Many of them old bibles as a result of its long history and Christian heritage.

The museum also includes Persian scripts. What is amazing is that so many precious and beautifully illustrated manuscripts still exist. For example the Seljuk Turks destroyed over 10,000 manuscripts alone in 1170. Armenia has suffered great but it has also retained a lot. And to appreciate Armenian history and today both the Matenadaran, and Tsitsernakaberd (The Armenian genocide memorial) are strongly advised.
When visiting the Matenadaran it is worth utilising the English language guided tours offered. The guide I had highlighted many aspects and important aspects of the manuscripts that I would not have noticed on the displays a;one.
Outside the Matenadaran is a statue of St Mesop Mashtots. The Armenian monk and theologian who not only invented the Armenian alphabet but the old Georgian one too.
His work was important for allowing Armenians to read scriptures in their own native language and help retain unity in the faith.In almost if not every city you will find a museum dedicated to Mesrop which highlights the esteem he is held in Armenia.

Outside the Matenadaran I met many parents who wanted me to take pictures with their children
I was an item of curiosity in the good sense of the word. I accepted and in a few cases requested the favour be returned.

After the Matenadaran, I took a taxi to Victory park. The taxi driver couldn’t speak English and of old age. He was also very friendly and honest. One of the few honest taxi drivers I met He had charged me as I expected and not the 3x going rate for a foreigner that some taxi drivers seem to think is justified
Victory Park is pleasant enough although I wouldn’t call it special if it were not for for two things.
One is the Mother Armenia statue. I guess the construction is as Soviet ideals (I have seen similar statues in Ukraine’s Kiev and in Eastern Berlin). What is interesting is the insight of designer Rafayel Israyelian. He designed the pedestal to resemble a three-nave basilic Armenian church (in the aggressive atheistic Soviet days, and according to Wikipedia later confessed “Knowing that the glory of dictators is temporary, I have built a simple three-nave Armenian basilic”
The other special thing about the park is the nice view you have from near the statue of part of Yerevan.

My trip to Yerevan was during Easter on Easter Sunday morning I passed by St Sarkis church,
the music was beautiful as the congregation lit up candles outside. I have a clip of music but just a few seconds unfortunately. With my Armenian language at that time being close to non-existent I didn’t attend the liturgy by explored the area nearby as the beautiful sound resonated around.
My trip to Yerevan was made all the more special by the kindness of Arpin?, and the friends I met through her Tata, Inna and Sophie (not in this picture). I am indebted to their kindness and the time they spent to meet me and show me places.

No visit to Yerevan, indeed Armenia should miss the Armenian Genocide memorial.
Commemorating the tragic events which have formed part of the Armenian psyche ever since.
In the monument 12 slabs arrange in a circle, representing the 12 lost provinces now administered in present day Turkey. In the centre of the circle there is an eternal flame. To understand Armenia, the politics, the current situation an d the feature one needs to understand what took place when on April 24th 1915 between 1-1.5 million Armenians were massacred in one of the great (in scale) crimes against humanity in history.

The Genocide – A defining event of Armenia
“Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians”? – Adolf Hitler and his justification for invading Poland in 1939.

Armenia has suffered greatly in what can only be described as a despicable crime against humanity, on April 24th 1915, The Ottoman Empire (Turkey) made an attempt to exterminate the Armenian people. A policy of mass murder, including forced starvation and rapes caused around 1.5 million Armenians to perish in the first genocide of the 20th Century.

Only that the crime committed is still repeated today in the incredulous denial of my own country the UK and several others in order not to offend Turkey. Despite The UK and US government ambassadors well documenting and condemning the crimes as they took place then, and the fact that the evidence of the genocide is overwhelming.
The United States ambassador at the time wrote “The Turkish policy was that of extermination under the guise of deportation.”

A German military attaché General Otto von Lossow, “The Turks have embarked upon the “total extermination of the Armenians in Transcaucasia… The aim of Turkish policy is, as I have reiterated, the taking of possession of Armenian districts and the extermination of the Armenians. “

The denial by not officially recognising the crimes is one of the clearest examples that economics, and not human rights is the driver of foreign policy.
It is easy for some not to offend or overlook ,after all many countries have a tainted record, mine also but to do is the biggest betrayal of those who died and if the lessons are not learnt then we are condemned to repeat it.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Genocide
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Genocide#Hamidian_Massacres.2C_1894.E2.80.9396

Today another genocide is taking place that of cultural genocide.
The history of western Armenia is being systematically wiped from thr map of the boundaries of eastern Turkey. Thousands of years history destroyed to remove trace of the Armenian heritage.

I am not anti-Turkey but I can not deny the genocide in order not to offend, to do so is anti-human.
http://www.genocide-museum.am/eng/index.php

On my last day of my first trip to Armenia I hired a taxi to take me to Lake Sevan and then to Noratus or it could have been the other way around.

Noratus is the location of the stunning Field of Khachkars. I would never have thought a trip to a graveyard would be something in my itinerary let alone a highlight. But the decision to go there was easy. Khachkars are an Armenian speciality. They have a tradition inexpert stone carvings and many Khachkars act as grave stones. The field of Khachkars is the largest collection surviving after the awful destruction of Old Julfa. When I left Yerevan, it was winter and not so cold but when I reached Noratus, the weather took on a harsh climate. The weather was freezing and thick with snow. It snowed among the field. Beautiful but my hands froze making pictures difficult. Many of the tombs and Khachkars were from Medieval times. Close by were more modern ones.
Moving on from Noratus (or indeed before) I visited Lake Sevan and in particular
Sevanavank (a monastery by the lake). Churches a thousand years old grace here although unfortunately the door was locked. One could still appreciate the heritage of Armenia. I would recommend making the trip in summer so the beautiful lake and monastery views can be appreciated in full glory.
Any time of year will be worthwhile nonetheless.
I left Servanavank for the airport ready to face the first drama of my trip (see cash points in Yerevan)

At the airport I made another good friend Hasmik.

Cash Machines

Don’t ever arrive to Yerevan without some cash, and until recently that advice would have included don’t leave without some dram.

On the plane to Yerevan I met a kind American. He informed me not to change money at the airport with its dreadful rates. His wife was Armenian and they kindly drove me to to where I was staying. The wife informed me that have been problems recently with ATMs not working for a while and had caused her considerably difficulty. Apparently she had heard VISA should be OK, MasterCard was still not functioning. Fortunately my card was a visa. Not all cash points in Armenia except foreign cards. What I find particularly puzzling is HSBC are one of those that doesn’t. A British bank that will not accept British cards. HSBC is strange indeed.

After tracking down a cash machine that worked I was able to go around as normal. The real drama came when I was leaving the airport. As I took paid my taxi driver for taking me to Noratus, Lake Seven and then the airport I had no more cash available. Unbeknown to me there was an airport departure tax that unlike many others was not included in the ticket price.”OK” I said as I  put down my luggage at the check-in counter”are there any cash machines?”.

I was directed to one in the airport. I tried my card in the machine but it was out of order I went back,  “Do you take cards? The cash machine isn’t working”

No they don’t. “Perhaps you have no credit?”.

“No. I have plenty of money available. I know that.”

I made an expensive call to my back in the UK and they confirmed what I already suspected they had not denied any transaction, in fact they had not received any request for money from my card”.

The problem was with the ATM. Armed with this I told them ” I called my bank in England and they said the problem is with your side. Not with them. The ATM is not working, do you have the phone number of the bank?”

The guy (one of several I was speaking to at the desk) responded “It’s a public holiday I don’t think anyone will answer”.

“Can you try?”. Well he did.. and after a few times of trying he just shrugged no answer.”

“You can take a taxi into Yerevan, get cash and come back and pay the fee”.

“Well if I do that I will miss my flight”.

Its not that I would actually have minded being stranded in Armenia, just that would be a problem work-wise.

“Do you have Euros or Dollars?”

“No just pounds and in coins”.

“OK you can pay buy that.” However they had no idea what each coin was worth! As they took each coin they asked me “How much is this?”!

Well I was honest but I guess some people could have made the whole thing up. I had plenty of UK cash and with the weak Dram currency I had more than enough to pay and I could depart. But that is just where the drama began. See my experience Aeroflop allegedly called Aeroflot.