Monday, September 7, 2015

2014 - Visiting Khorvirab, Noravank, and Tatev Monastery


The monastery of Khorvirab (read more about it by clicking the link) is right on the border with Turkey.  It is a holy site where, in the 4th century, St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned in a pit for 13 years.  He survived, with the help of the king's sister Santoukht.  As a result, the pagan King Tiradates III freed St. Gregory, and the Armenian nation soon thereafter became the first to adopt Christianity as its national religion in 301 AD.

View of Khorvirab with Mt. Ararat in the background
The existing church, built over the pit, was built in the 17th Century.  One can climb down to the pit by a ladder - but this is not a feat for those with a fear of heights, darkness, or weak legs!

Climb down 32 steps, the first 16 of which are in a narrow space,
and then climb back up - the hardest part!
Bucket list - check


Almost all of our group was able to make it down, and back up - the smiles are those of us successfully making our way back up that steep ladder, in the dark!

With our guide, Marina - the best!

After our visit to Khorvirab, we stopped at the Areni Winery, where most of us tasted wine, and worked off the anxiety we had definitely developed from climbing down into the pit!


Our next stop was the Noravank Monastery.  Founded in 1205 AD, the grandest structure is Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God), also called Burtelashen (Burtel's construction) in the honour of Prince Burtel Orbelian, its financier. It is situated to the south-east of the Surb Karapet church. Surb Astvatsatsin was completed in 1339, a masterpiece of the talented sculptor and miniaturist Momik, who designed it, and was also his last work. Near the church there is his tomb khachkar, small and modestly decorated, dated the same year. In recent times the fallen roof had been covered with a plain hipped roof. In 1997 the drum and its conical roof was rebuilt, with the form based on existing fragments. The ground floor contained elaborate tombs of Burtel and his family. Narrow steps projecting from the west fa├žade lead to the entrance into the church/oratory. There is fine relief sculpture over the entrance, depicting Christ flanked by Peter and Paul.  The church was renovated by a family from the United States, who have a small burial site adjacent to the church.

The usual sustenance - at Noravank - after a tough morning!


Khundsoresk is only a few miles on the road toward Karabagh from the main city of Goris.  Khundsoresk, where the inhabitants once lived in caves in the deep canyon below, is where my paternal grandparents were from.  My paternal grandfather died in truck accident when my father was four years old, somewhere along the windy road between Karabagh and Baku, in Azerbajian.  

In 2014, we stayed in Goris for two nights on our way to Karabagh, and had the chance to briefly visit Khundsoresk and Datev Monastery.  I had the privilege to also visit Khundsoresk in June 2005 with my father (at the time 84 years old) and mother, so that he could see where his ancestors were from.  The remains of at least one church is still visible - in 2005 we walked down close to the bottom of the ravine.  This trip - I looked from the top - the ground was wet from a recent rain and it was not good for hiking.

Remains of old Armenian Church half way down the ravine
Remains of another church
Today, a suspension bridge extends from this point across the ravine


Tatev Monastery is a 9th Century Monastery. (Read more about it by clicking the link.)  It is one of the most beautiful, and well-preserved monasteries in Armenia, and still has a functioning church.  The monastery is on an isolated plateau above a deep canyon and is accessible today by either a road - which thankfully has been partially paved - or an aerial tramway recently completed by a European company.  Our group visited the monastery on a rainy foggy day.  We could not see the monastery at all until we got off the tram - but, for a few of us, that was good - because of our fear of heights!

Bob Derderian (on the left):  "Do I have to look down???"
In the 14th and 15th centuries Tatev Monastery hosted one of the most important Armenian medieval universities, the University of Tatev, which contributed to the advancement of science, religion and philosophy, reproduction of books and development of miniature painting. Scholars of the Tatev University contributed to the preservation of Armenian culture and creed during one of its most turbulent periods in its history.  The monastery is the "best-known site" in the Syunik region of Armenia. "Wings of Tatev", a cableway from Tatev to Halidzor village was opened in October 2010.  It was included in the Guinness World Records as world's "longest non-stop double track cable car."

Der Mesrop with the local priest of Tatev

Marian and Patti near the chapel entrance

2014 Sightseeing - Excavation of the Old Town of Dikranagert in Karabagh

A Long Drive but Worth the Trip

As part of our trip to Karabagh, we drove through the war-torn remnants of the area near the Azerbajani border where all signs of the large community that once lived there were gone - nothing was left but a massive area of bombed out buildings and residences.

But, at the end of the area, still close to the border, we visited the recently discovered but not fully excavated ruins of one of the four ancient cities built by King Tigran the Great - Dikranagert.  This excavation left us wondering why no one was interested enough to pursue what had to be a great city - just waiting to be found.  We wandered among what was left, including the footprint of a cathedral and chapel, the living area of the king, and, what appeared to be a graveyard.  We found bones extruding from the dirt, where excavations had ceased.  On our way back, we stopped at a memorial to those who had died, which consisted of an old army tank.

Our visit to Karabagh include a visit to Gandasar Monastery, where Der Mesrop conducted a small prayer service for us - as he did in each of our visits to the various churches and monasteries.  This beautiful monastery was damaged during the war with Azerbajan, and one can still see the remnants of bullet holes in the sides of the walls.

As was always the case, our group never starved.  We enjoyed a delicious meal in the capital of Stepanagert in a traditional restaurant.

2014 Celebrating Mer Hooys' Second Anniversary

As part of our pilgrimage, our pilgrims joined our staff, their families, and those families of our girls that were available to attend.  We were honored to have the Honorable John Heffern, then Ambassador from the United States to Armenia, join our celebration.  His Eminence Bishop Moushegh Babayan, Director of Administration and Operations of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, and friend of Mer Hooys, attended on behalf of His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians.  Guests from London, England, the United States, and from philanthropic organizations who support Mer Hooys in Armenia also joined the celebration.

Ambassador Heffern with two of our girls.

Sharing the jewelry made from the beads

Bishop Moushegh, with Executive Director Mihran and Father Ash

Our girls participated in entertainment, including Armenian folk dance

Our girls with board members and esteemed visitors
For me, this was a wonderful heartwarming evening - to see our girls who have matured and grown into young women with hope for a brighter future engage socially with the guests, and really enjoy themselves, brought me to tears.   Even when the electricity went off, the girls used sparklers to keep the party going.

 The highlight was when one of our girls presented me with a painting that she had made from a picture of my yellow labrador, Lexi.  That meant so much to me - thank you Ani!!

2014 Armenia, Karabagh and Georgia - Starting our journey


Patti, Adi and Marian
My trip to Armenia in the Fall of 2014 was memorable because two very close friends, one a colleague from work, and the other a friend from my teen years, joined me on this visit.  They had a chance to see Armenia (one of whom was not Armenian, but is now an "adopted" Armenian) and the other who was Armenian but had never seen her homeland.  We were joined by 13 other pilgrims, led by our dear friend Father Mesrop Ash and his lovely wife Annie.  Mer Hooys advisory board member, and great friend to me, Debbie Derderian returned to Armenia and brought along her husband Robert.  Debbie brought suitcases filled with beads and beading materials which gave our pilgrims a chance to spend the day with our girls and staff working on projects that they eventually sold at our 2nd Anniversary Party.

Patti with some of our older teens

Debbie Derderian and Margaret Lulejian