Tim's around the world trip travel blog

Shoushi gorge just outside of Stepakanert

On the way to Amaras monastery

A novice photographer takes a picture of Yegeesh, our lunch host and...

Amaras cathedral

Shoushi cathedral

Formerly a town now a reminder of the devastation of war

A ghostly scene of a war razed town in the fog- just...

April 27th and snowing!!!!!! Shoushi

my first sunny day in Armenia and Karabagh-what a beaut!



the misty morning view from Gandzazar

Gandzazar monastery

Dadi Vank monastery

the valley below Dadi Vank

Yegeesh washing his car-in the rain after a country-side picnic

Note: I am inputing all this information without double checking my facts-when I get a chance I will check for errors. First of all, for all of you scratching your heads and making funny faces, Nagorno-Karabagh is a tiny(about the size of Delaware) self proclaimed autonomous state bordering Armenia and Azerbaijain. Being caught between a Christian and muslim country, Nagorno-Karabagh has long been a subject of significant contention. Karabagh has always had an Armenian majority. Pre soviet era this republic enjoyed limited autonomy-quite similar to modern day Puerto Rico. When the Soviets took over they realized the Strategic importance of Karabagh as being a link to the Persian empire and so, in order to appease muslim interests in the region, gave the responsibility of governing Karabagh to the Soviet Azeri government. This angered the Armenians seeing as how they held about an 80-20 ethnic majority and tensions ran high in the region throughout the Soviet reign. Toward the end of the Soviet reighn tensions increased even more with the anticipation of the dissipation of the Soviet republic and the struggle for control of Karabagh that was sure to ensue. The Armenians began to devise clever ways to get rid of the Azeri minority while the Azeri's encouraged emigration from Azerbaijain to Karabagh. Karabaghs ethnic majority throughout the 80's and 90's repeatedly passed referendums declaring themselves a state under the governance of the Soviet Armenian government. When the USSR fell, Karabagh declared its independence, and was promptly invaded by Azerbaijain. The war was bloody and devestating to the tiny mountain republic. Supplies were cut off and entire cities were razed to the ground. Predictably, Azeri civilians were no longer welcome and almost all fled the country until, of the population that remained 96% were ethnic Armenians. Of course Armenians, ever wary of the international community's reluctance to acknowledge the Ottoman Genocide of Armenians in 1915, assured everyone that they were treating Azeri civilians with the utmost respect, which, was most likely a total fabrication. When the fighting was over, Karabagh, heavily fortified by Armenian(read: American) weapons and Armenian troops had driven the Azeri army out of Karabagh. The war which ended in 1994 left Karabagh a ghost of what it once was. Citizens have slowly been returning, Bombed out shells of apartment buildings are being cleaned up unit by unit. there are Apartment buildings where only two or three families live in a building that used to hold at least 100. The war also left a network of landmines that is slowly being cleared away by international organizations, but remains a spooky reminder of a catastophic war. On the upside, life is returning more and more to normal every year in Karabagh. The international community is extremely reluctant to recognize Karabaghs independence even though they maintain their own army which defends Karabagh borders, and have their own government entirely seperate of Armenia. The problem is that Azerbaijain, which still claims Karabagh as part of it's state is tough to ignore for two reasons: 1.it is a muslim country and allegiance to the Christian Armenian's would mean inciting anger in an already volatile region of the world and 2.Azerbaijain is thought to sit on large oil reserves and any proclamation of the sovereighnty of what the Azeri's consider an illegal state would certainly exclude any country from partaking in the black gold. Part of Karabagh's plans for prosperity include tourism and last year saw over 4,000 tourist visas issued. The US department of state no longer advises against travel to the area and among those who visit Armenia(more than one might suspect), Karabagh is well known as the most beautiful area in the region. Karabagh is an entirely mountainas republic, and enjoys relatively harsh winters. The best time to visit is June-August, I was coming in late April and spring had not yet sprung in Karabagh. The first day I arrived was cold and gray. I was staying in the top floor of a local woman's house, which she rents out as a b&b, I would be the only person staying in a space that could accomodate 11 for four days. The place had a kitchen, and after eating out for months I relished the oppurtunity to cook. The biggest supermarket in Stepanakert is quite limited. There is pasta, tomato paste, soup bases, vodka, candy lots of Salami, some cheese, bread, and basic dairy products. I decided instead to shop at the little markets that lined the main street near my house. I developed a nice little routine: Tomatos from the nice woman who seemed to laugh constantly, onions from the woman who kept looking at me and shrugging her shoulders, eggplant from the man who kept punching me on the arm, and finally, bad russian chocolate from the shop where they seem to prefer you simply take your goods and leave without bothering the staff to take your money. Nobody speaks English here, but not to worry, I have become very good at pantomine. I try to ask the woman in one shop what would be a good cheese to put on top of pasta since all the labels are in either Russian or Armenian. I pantomine the entire cooking proccess, then mimic sprinkling cheese over the top. She smiles and understands-reccommending some entirely innapropriate soft cheese which turns out to work just fine. My dinner, Pasta with tomato and veg. sauce is sublime and I fall asleep under a pile of blankets, very happy to be in Karabagh. The next day I track down a taxi driver willing to haul me around the country for the next few days. While it is easy to get from Yerevan to Stepanakert using public transportation, it is nearly impossible to get around in Nagorno-Karabagh without a car, and with the state of the roads in Karabagh and the tendency of drivers to drive with their knees while their hands are busy with vodka and a cigarrete, a taxi is an excellent idea. We agree on about $90 for the three days, but Yegeesh and I end up good friends. He is a portly man, with a gold toothed smile that is so common in Karabagh. I ask him in the beginning of the first day if I should bring lunch, he says no. We drive to the monastery at Amaras, only about 60K away but the roads are not in good shape. It's been raining here for almost three weeks straight and the mud on the road is almost a foot thick in some places. Yegeesh drives the taxi as if it were a speed boat, as we slide over the road. I look at him to see if I should be concerned, he just returns my look of apprehension with a smile and a shrug of his shoulders. About an hour in to the drive the car is covered in mud, we clean the windshield which had become almost impenetrable to light, and slip and slide our way through several small villages to the monastery at Amaras. This is, proportedly where the Armenian language was invented a long long time ago. The only part of the original structure that remains are some of the outer walls, and a modest newly built chapel stands in the center. Set among apricot orchards Amaras doesn't have the stunning placement of other monasteries in Karabagh, in fact it is decidedly underwhelming. As we leave the monastery, yegeesh asks if i'm hungry to which I say yes. He pulls the car over at the first house he sees, a large house on a large tract of farmland. He takes a bottle of vodka out of the glove box and slides down the mud driveway only to return moments later with the man of the house waving emphatically for me to come in. This was Yegeesh's way of procuring lunch:stop at the first house you see and show up at the front door with a bottle of vodka. The house was surprisingly nice. This being a rural home in a country devastated by war I was expecting something ramshackle and kind of thrown together, but here was a nice country home, real wood floors, nice furniture even television in the living room. I sat down with Yegeesh and Aran and we were brought dish after dish. Whole fried fish, salted pork, and all manner of other local specialties with each round seperated by a shot of gut-rot vodka. The kids were all beginning to learn english in school so I gave them an english lesson and they gave me an armenian lesson, they were by far the better students. As we left the rain was falling even harder, the fields surrounding the house were mud, something that the pigs didn't seem to mind at all. As we left the family and geese gave us a warm send off, and we drove north toward the ruined town of matakert and eventually back to Stepanakert-more to come

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