If you read my first installment of my first-time impressions of Armenia in 2019, you will recall that I was in tears. A part of me felt like I had gone home. From Vanadzor, I connected with organizers of the Musical Armenia Project to do some pre-project travel. I was fortunate to do some things I never could have planned or imagined.
This grandma had some challenges since travel internationally was something I had not done for over a decade. The world post 9/11 changed drastically. What used to be carry-on luggage now had to be checked. And even overhead bin space had to be paid for at times. Traveling with a bus-full of 20-somethings was also an eye-opening experience. I felt I was learning about not only the country of Armenia, but the world of young professionals!
I used to speak, read and write Armenian more fluently since my grandparents lived with us for many years. I spent Saturday mornings going to Armenian school in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin to learn history, reading, writing and dance. But since leaving Wisconsin, I had no one to keep up my language skills. Nevertheless, I am proud to say that much of it came back to me as I navigated the city of Yerevan and beyond.
On the way to Khor Virap, I pondered. My journal entry for July 5: “This countryside is so grand! It is so over the top shocking and unbelievable. The people are so unique. Passing through small villages that have large areas of land untapped I wonder what the future holds for the people of Armenia. Who will pay attention to this little country?
This little countryside with abandoned, half-built buildings, refuse, lack of materials to support its infrastructure? The trash all around. The clogged-up sewers. What about water? I see labor in the field and it’s hard work. Manual, often without machinery. Makes me wonder. Why wasn’t I born here? And what if I was? What would I be today? I do not know.”
I find myself caught off guard at times in my new reality. I find myself inhaling sharply. Sometimes I had to will myself to breathe. I was surrounded by magnificence and devastation, all at once, especially when I got to Khor Virap.
I felt like I was on sacred ground
To realize that I was so close to the border of Turkey made me think. I felt a sense of hostility over the fact that Mount Ararat was no longer ours. It should be, in my opinion. To be so close to the border and to fight the urge to run across it, as tempting as it was, I had to check myself and chill out. I even wanted to tell everyone who wasn’t Armenian to leave. I felt like I was on sacred ground and the tourists who were there were not holy and certainly not “Hai” enough to be granted the privilege to treat the site as nothing less.
At Khor Virap, I looked up often. This was an ongoing theme to my journey. Because depending on the time of day a site was visited, the light streaming in and the beauty of the artwork all around took on an other-worldly aura. I descended into the pit where Saint Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for about 14 years. And I wished the stone walls could talk to me about what happened there.
From there, my travels took me to Noravank, Tatev and Vayots Dzor Province. I took some stunning photos there. I felt I experienced many holy moments in these historic sites. The Tatev aerial tram, the world’s longest tram, took me over a gorge that made the Grand Canyon look like a veritable hole in the ground. I am fearful of heights, but I swallowed it all in the name of experiencing everything I could without regret. I decided to just soak in the entire ride instead of take pictures since they would never do what I was seeing justice. “Astounding. Breathtaking. Indescribable. God’s creation speaks to the soul if it will listen long enough!”
As I traveled, you can be sure I kept my eye out for Hartunians! I must be related to ALL of them. As you will soon see, I was not disappointed.