On June 13, 2009 we began our trip to the town of Erzurum, which would be our last stop before our return to Istanbul. We drove along the path of the Yeprad River (historic "Euphrates" River). The Yeprad River and the Kamakh Gorge was the site of the death of thousands of Armenians -- its waters ran RED with the blood of Armenians shot and thrown into its waters as they marched along its banks toward the Deir Zor desert. Film maker J. Michael Hagopian chronicals the story of the survivors of the Genocide in his film "The River Ran Red" about this river, which has its origins in the Kharpert area.
The River is guarded by the high peaks of the mountains which flank its banks -- including tunnels blasted out of stone for roads to pass within. Fortunately, we did not realize how primitive the first of these tunnels was, until after we had passed through. More bizarre was the fact that we passed through several more as we continued our journey toward Erzerum, thankful when we finally got out of that mountainous pass!
As we came out of the long, mountainous pass, we turned onto a highway leading away from Erzerum. Shortly after that, Vartan turned onto a small primitive road, passing through poor villages. We could not imagine where he was taking us. About 30 minutes later, as we drove toward the mountains, we pulled into a parking lot. Leaving the van, we walked up toward the mountains, where we found hundreds of people enjoying the spray of beautiful waterfalls tumbling down onto the ground under our feet. We rested there, had a delicious fish (Red Mullett) lunch, enjoyed CLEAN bathrooms, and then headed on our journey to Erzurum.
But, Vartan was not done with us yet! Once again, he turned off the main highway, taking a small paved road into another valley. Where were we going??
Driving for what seemed forever, he turned onto another dirt road -- truly, this road was nothing more than what we in the US would call a fire road -- dirt, narrow, winding, and undoubtedly not made for a car! Yet, as we drove our 15 passenger MBZ up this road, we all wondered if Vartan had lost his mind!
As we came around the bend, nearly 6000 feet high, there ahead of us stood what I can only describe as a miracle -- up at the top of the peak above us were two khachkars (stone crosses) looking out over the magnificent valley below us, as if to say "gotcha -- you didn't get all of us!".
The Khatchkars were two of four that were erected on on this mountain top near a small chapel, and above a fortress and remains of two churches just below. We drove up to Apranitz Sourp Grigor Monastery (now the shelter for cattle and completely inaccessible because of the smell), and from there the braver of our group hiked up to the top, taking pictures of the khatchkars and churches below -- bravo Brian, Harold, Debbie and Lisa (and Marina!).
Although one of the churches below the khachkars remains intact, along with its Armenian inscriptions, this monastery complex is crumbling, and littered with graffiti, like so many others throughout Western Armenia. For now, few people have the chance to visit this beautiful reminder of what was once a flourishing Armenian monastery.
After toasting this wonderful "find" with the last of our Armenian brandy, and as the sun began to set, we climbed back into our van ("home" for two weeks!), and bumped our way back down the dirt road, finishing our journey into Erzurum. We were weary after a long day, but all of us were very happy that Vartan had treated us to such a beautiful site.