Diary of an Armenian Journalist (Part V)

Day 9

A good day all the way around in Armenia. The weather was perfect. There was a clear view of Ararat. And the photography complemented the mood.

After a week in Yerevan, off we went with a hired driver to explore a number of remote villages in the mountainous region. A typical driver earns $40 a day, plus food and fuel. For an overnight, they also get lodging. Not a bad deal when you consider that a university professor earns that amount in a week.

Our first stop found us at Etchmiadzin Village at a place called Agh-av-na-doon where residents were gathered in their modest settings. People enjoy being photographed in these places.

Next, the journey took us to Nor Armaveer that was so obscure even the driver needed directions. It’s about an hour’s drive from Yerevan over bumpy dirt roads traveled by sheep and cattle. While Joe was off shooting more ruins, I joined a group inside a small cemetery paying its respects to a loved one on a year’s anniversary (karesoonk).

They invited me—a total stranger—to join them for some liquid refreshment. I noticed what appeared to be bottled water and asked for a cup. They served me with a smile.

Little did I realize it was oghi or 100 proof liqueur. Down the hatch it went in the best interests of hospitality. I did refuse the refill.

On the way back to our car—all tanked up—on came that elusive sheepherder I had been searching with pictures taken against the mountainside.

I cannot fail to mention that we were pulled over by the police and fined $10 each for not wearing seatbelts.

At Yervant Tashd, another remote village, a family invited us for taan and we obliged. The dinner that evening at Mer Khough (Our Village) was even better than previously. The bill came to $20 each with drinks and dessert, including tip and cover charge for entertainment.

Professor Joe put me to the ultimate test after hauling a taxi home. He graded me on how well I handled the driver in Eastern Armenian. Only a C+ because the driver overcharged us a dollar and I didn’t complain. I looked upon it as a charitable contribution.

Day 10

A quick start to a rather uneventful day I’m afraid. While Joe buried himself into the ruins of Armenia, I went off searching for people pictures. It wasn’t all a meltdown, however.

At Soorp Mariam Church just outside of Yerevan, I caught a woman dressed in colorful clothes embracing her grandchild. If anything delineates universal life, it’s the love of family. In Armenia, this was recognized on all fronts, good or bad, poor or rich.

I ventured on my own to Agarak and found some children by an abandoned church. Each was rewarded with a modest coin. A woman selling sujukh by the side of the road found my lens as did some youngsters in a makeshift go-kart. Youngsters know how to create their own recreation.

Our driver happened to be the religious sort and often could be heard chanting sharagans in the mountain range. Not a bad voice, either.

We made two trips to the Embassy for my visa to Artskah. Couldn’t understand why it cost me $60 for a visa to Armenia and another $35 for the same to Karabagh when both share the same land. According to Joe, it’s a matter of economics because Karabagh needs the money. So Armenia doesn’t?

My book at the moment is “Three Apples Fell From Heaven,” by Micheline Aharonian Marcom, a novel of impact and style set in 1915-1917 during the genocide years. Much of my reading is done in the car while Joe loses himself in his churches and rock formations as a self-anointed archaeologist. He often burns the midnight oil plotting and mapping out excursions that would rival any travel consultant.

The weight each of us is supposed to lose through long walks remains a constant challenge. The food often negates the exercise.

A couple observations. Poverty is as prevalent in Armenia as it was in 2006 during my last visit though sanitation and conditions appeared a lot better.

One of my more enjoyable pleasures is reading store signs in Armenian as we pass. Much condo building is taking place in Yerevan which slowly revolutionizes the downtown sector, but at the cost of driving the populace into obscurity.

Tomorrow it’s off to Artskah … and another adventure.

(to be continued)


Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.

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1 Comment

  1. As usual, most interesting. Two points of order. “Karasoonk” does not commemorate a year after a death, but 40 days (as in 40= Karasoon). Also,  I am sure that the story about being fined in Armenia for not wearing seat belts was dreamed up after that full glass of pure oghi. If each person in that situation was fined in Armenia, it would wipe off the national budget deficit in a few weeks..

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