Special for the Armenian Weekly
I took in the stone and cement monolith—the Founders of the Bulgarian State Monument—in front of me. I had to admire this Soviet brutalist celebration of communism, socialism, and the history of Bulgaria. I stood on a peak at over 1,300 feet, overlooking the town of Shumen. This monument was constructed in 1981 marking the 1,300th year of the first Bulgarian Empire. As I walked back to my car, I noted a map of the 12th-century town highlighting the tourist sites in Shumen.
My eyes lit up. An Armenian church in this town of Shumen, a several-hour drive from the capital, Sofia. I tracked the GPS and found the modest church. The gate was closed, but I caught the eye of the Bulgarian caretaker. The gate swung open and I was provided with an impromptu tour of the grounds.
I admired a khatchkar placed against a wall escorted by bright flowers. And a large banner in Cyrillic depicting tatik-papik in commemoration of the 101st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The interior of the church was handsome with matching wood, arched ceiling, and hardwood floors. Elegant chandeliers dangled from the ceiling.
As the tour ended, the elderly man pointed to a tan stucco house on the road. I ambled down the white-bannistered stairs and entered the café at the Armenian People’s House. I was about to dine on an Armenian lunch hosted by a family from Vanadzor. Plates of basturma, soujouk, and string cheese were produced. I munched on fresh khinkali. I munched on a shopksa salad, a Bulgarian staple. I was only missing a cold Gyumri beer.
A father and son manned the grill. I noted the wall and spotted several clocks, one noted the time in Shumen and another in Yerevan. I was home. A framed photograph noted famous Armenians of the world. Cher smiled at me. I spoke with Malik, the burly father, and the owner of the café. He had visited Bulgaria over 20 years ago and grown enamored with the country. He eventually moved to Shumen with his wife from Javakhk, Georgia.
The Armenian community in Shumen dates back over 400 years but grew larger after the genocide. I also spoke with Krikor Panossian, a representative of the Shumen Armenian community. He was born here and his grandmother settled here after the genocide. He shared with me that Shumen is known for an Armenian dancing and singing ensemble, the Sirvart Chilingirian Dance Ensemble, which has performed throughout Bulgaria and the Balkans. The ensemble wowed the locals with a performance in Yerevan. He also noted that one of the most famous entertainers in Bulgaria is a magician named Astor (Arabadjian).
After a final sip of some local Bulgarian beer and a last bit of my khinkali, I bid a thanks and farewell to my new Armenian friends in Shumen, Bulgaria.
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