AYF Interns travel to Syunik

By Antranig Douglas, Emily Sardaryan and Sophia Tarpinian

SYUNIK, Armenia—On June 22 and 23, the 2024 AYF Internship group visited the Syunik region, which is located in the southern half of Armenia. We had not ventured outside of Yerevan, and we were excited to go on our first weekend of excursions! Exploring Syunik was amazing as it allowed us to see our homeland in a different way. Armenia has so much to offer, and we were excited to see and do things that most of us have never done before! From exploring churches and monasteries to seeing breathtaking views, we had a fun weekend while learning so much about the history of Syunik.

Our first stop on Saturday was Khor Virap, an ancient monastery at the foot of Mount Ararat, a historically significant monastery in the story of Armenia adopting Christianity in 301 AD. St. Gregory the Illuminator was held by King Drtad in a pit for 13 years as punishment for trying to spread Christianity. He was kept alive by Drtad’s sister, Princess Khosrovidukht, who believed in Christianity. Eventually, St. Gregory was released to cure King Drtad from a horrible illness, and Armenia became the first nation to formally adopt Christianity. We got to see the pit where he was held hostage all those years, as well as explore the rest of the monastery. We also got to see a beautiful view of Mount Ararat, since Khor Virap is very close to the border and the clouds had not settled yet. After leaving Khor Virap, we enjoyed some delicious homemade perashki and ponchiks before arriving at our next stop.

After Khor Virap came Noravank monastery, tucked between beautiful hills and valleys. This was a favorite among the group for its views and rich history. Legend says that the man who constructed Noravank, Momik, had to finish the project within a year so that he could marry Prince Orbelian’s daughter, who he was madly in love with. As the year-long deadline came to a close, Momik was nearly done with the construction and was about to fulfill his dreams. However, the prince sent his servant to prevent Momik from completing the monastery, and he was pushed off the top of the church as he was laying the final stone. The story was beautiful yet tragic, but above all, one that many of us will never forget.

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Next, we explored the Areni Cave, where the world’s oldest known winery and shoe were discovered. We learned about the people who used to live in the caves and their traditions and rituals. The artifacts in the caves were preserved for thousands of years due to the consistent humidity and temperature levels. Seeing all the artifacts put into perspective how much has changed and how different the world is now. We ended the day in Jermuk, known for its natural hot springs. We enjoyed the cool breeze from the beautiful waterfall before heading to Goris and spending the night at the Goris Hotel.

After a refreshing night in Goris, we began our Sunday travels with a visit to Khndzoresk, an ancient village with cave dwellings and a stunning suspension bridge that spanned the valley. After crossing the bridge, we explored the caves and learned that people lived in them until the 1960s! We also got to step into a church that was hidden among the caves.

Following Khndzoresk, we took the breathtaking Wings of Tatev tramway to Tatev Monastery. It is the longest cable car tramway in the world! After exiting the tramway we made a quick stop for shawarma and lahmajun before walking around the monastery. A lot of the monastery was ruined by an earthquake many years ago. This included the bell tower, which was one of the largest in the country and was used to communicate with other parts of Armenia during invasions to help find shelter. Tatev’s bell was capable of communicating within a 50 kilometer radius, serving as the central alert system for Syunik. While we were there, we got to step inside the room that used to be General Karekin Njdeh’s office! Being in that room was so meaningful for the AYF members in the group who grew up learning about him and knowing the impact that he had not only on our organization, but also on the province of Syunik.

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Our final stop on Sunday was at Shaki Waterfall, which is one of Armenia’s state natural monuments. Although a quick visit, the group loved taking in the nature surrounding the waterfall, and one intern even took a quick dip in the cold water! We then made our way back to Yerevan, ready for the work week ahead. 

For many, this was the first time being so close to the border. For others, they were on their way to Artsakh the last time they were in Syunik. Regardless of past experiences, everyone felt the pain of being so close to Artsakh yet so far at the same time.

The interns found this excursion significant, as we were in a region of Armenia that has come under serious pressure in recent years due to baseless territorial claims by Azerbaijan’s dictatorship. For many, this was the first time being so close to the border. For others, they were on their way to Artsakh the last time they were in Syunik. Regardless of past experiences, everyone felt the pain of being so close to Artsakh yet so far at the same time. As more of our land is handed over, or taken by force, it is imperative that we support these regions in need. Our trip to Syunik reminded us how important it is to fight for our homeland, rather than sitting and lamenting each time we suffer defeat. 

We as Armenians are in an active struggle to keep our nation alive, and we as Diasporans can no longer take a passive stance. The loss of Artsakh should have taught us this lesson, yet it seems like we are growing more complacent as time goes by. If we want future generations of Armenians to continue living on their ancestral lands, we must wake up and start fighting for our very existence.

AYF-YOARF
Founded in 1933, The Armenian Youth Federation is an international, non-profit, youth organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). The AYF-YOARF Eastern United States stands on five pillars that guide its central activities and initiatives: Educational, Hai Tahd, Social, Athletic and Cultural. The AYF also promotes a fraternal attitude of respect for ideas and individuals amongst its membership. Unity and cooperation are essential traits that allow members of the organization to work together to realize the AYF’s objectives.

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