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23.06.2011 15:15

On the Way to Karabakh

David Mchedlidze
Features

Ahead of leaving for Karabakh we (journalists) are going sightseeing around the capital city. Yerevan at night is like a seaside city with wide streets and open cafes bellowing chansons and offering delicious coffee boiled on hot sand.

Benches in the parks are painted in colors of the national flag. At every step you come across the monuments of an Armenian poet, writer or Communist activist. There is a line of people willing to take photos at the monument of prominent composer Arno Babajanyan erected near the Opera house.

Newly built business centers and blocks of flats in the city center are empty, due to high rent, according to locals and the residential property had been procured by immigrant Armenians in advance. Soviet cars prevail in the city, but white Mercedes ML cars do drive around as well. White color in general is very trendy in Yerevan. After wandering around the city for a few hours we all get to the hotel back exhausted.

On the morning of June 20 the car is picking us up from the hotel to visit the representation of Nagorno-Karabakh in Armenia. Armenia did not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh's independence therefore the representation is not titled as embassy. On the spot our Armenian colleague is joining the group of journalists. We are filling out application forms which is mandatory to visit Karabakh. While our passports are being checked by the consular department we are meeting the permanent representative of Nagorno-Karabakh republic to Armenia. We learn from Karlen Avetisyan Nagorno-Karabakh has got the offices of the kind registered in many countries including France, Argentina, USA and even in Australia. The status varies according to the country, in some locations the cultural centers assume diplomatic functions too.

The documents are ready and we get on the mini bus. We decided to visit Armenian historical monuments on the way. Nune Sarkisyan, Executive Director, Internews Georgia undertakes to be our tour guide. There is vast territory within two hours drive from Yerevan. In the 1970s the Soviet government of Armenia spontaneously decided to build a genuine European city with universities, gardens and all necessary facilities. A special council was set up to construct a model. The idea was not realized due to failure to raise funds. Getting closer to the border with Iran Azerbaijani and Armenian providers alternate one another on our mobile phones. First we are visiting local wine factory and then Armenian Saint Karapet church. The tuff-faced basilica in Noravank is dating back to the ninth century. But historians think its history starts from the fourth century when St Karapet and St Pokas were staying in the area.

After taking photos we drop in a roadside restaurant. We are planning to visit the monastery of Tatev which delays our arrival in Karabakh by two hours. It's already 5 p.m. and having left Yerevan at 12 we haven't made even half of the way. Nune proposes to cast lots to the idea. Finnish coordinator Sala Lazarenko's argument is strong "When again shall we stand a chance of the kind again?"  And we unanimously raise our hands in support. The deal is closed, we are going to visit the monastery.

Tatev monastery is located 280 km-s away from Yerevan. The fortified monastery of Tatev is dating back to the ninth century. In the eight century the monastery collected scot from 680 villages and tried to expand its influence which repeatedly resulted into conflict with the local population. In XIV-XV the monastery was the cultural center in Armenia. Nune Sarkisyan is telling me a legend, according to one of the versions the builder of the monastery jumped from the roof killing himself.

Tatev is reachable through a motorway and cable car which is the biggest line in the world. Its construction took two years and over USD 1 million. The cable car tour lasts 14 minutes and costs 2,500 drams (GEL 8). Monday was a day off so we couldn't make the cable car tour.

After visiting the monastery of Tatev we moved on. At 1 a.m. we arrived in Stepanakert. It's pitch dark around. Hard to look around the city. Next morning we have a meeting scheduled with the parliamentary chairperson.

About the Project

Journalists' short-term expedition to Armenia and Karabakh is being organized within the framework of Go Group Media project Caucasian Crossroad. The project is partnered with Internews Armenia. The undertaking is being funded by the Foundation for Media, Communication and Development known by its Finnish acronym VIKES.

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