Last week a friend of mine and I planned to jump into my Niva and journey towards Tbilisi, Georgia. Both of us had never been and I especially wanted to check the city out since effectively it is one of the oldest if not the oldest city in the South Caucasus and has fantastic architecture, not to mention scenery. It was also the intellectual center of the Armenians in the 1800s into the early 1900s, so I wanted to get a first-hand glimpse of old Tiflis as the city is called in Armenian. I made a road trip to Samtskhe-Javakheti or Javakhk several years ago and admired the beautiful landscape, so I wanted to travel Georgia again but this time drive in my own car.
By the time we woke, took showers, had a bite to eat, filled up gasoline, and made sure we had our passports with us, we didn’t hit the road towards Lori until 9:00 am. It took us about two and a half hours to reach the border by way of Alaverdi, which is about 20 miles or so from the Georgian border. When we finally got there about five or six cars were parked in front of us waiting to take care of the administrative problems associated with crossing a state border, and Hamlet and I also found out what we had to do. There were two windows we thought we had to approach. At one window we showed our Armenian special residency visas and American passports to a customs officer, then were told that everything was fine but we should see the officer directly across from him. The officers worked in small rooms that are situated right at the gate to cross the border. The other officer studied the passports and while doing so had trouble pronouncing my last name (which is Adanalian), then made a flippant remark about what kind of name it was. Naturally I reassured him that was Armenian, even though I suppose he was suspicious for some stupid reason. He reaffirmed that they were in order, and then he asked for the paperwork for the car.
I gave him the official registration/title of the car, which looks like a credit card, followed by the transfer of ownership which was typed in Armenian. He glanced over it, turning it over a couple of times, then asked, “What is this?” I told him but he protested. “This isn’t stamped with a seal. Why are you showing this to me? This is basically useless and besides, you don’t have a sealed Russian or English translation. Go back, you can’t cross with your car.”
In Armenia the legitimacy of all services received and capital purchased must be validated with an official seal stamped on a typed document describing the transaction made. The seal is used by government agencies and businesses considered in good standing. Agencies providing legal services also use the seal. A seal has to be round and have an exact official diameter for it to be legal. Within the seal in a narrow space between the outer edge and an inner ring the name of the institution must appear in Armenian as well as in Russian or English. The seal is also usually signed by the person who stamped it. If a document is not sealed, which is most always affixed in blue ink, the legality associated with the transaction is questionable or otherwise considered not binding.
We could have crossed on foot but then there would be the problem of transportation. Supposedly there are taxis on the other side of the border but we figured the ride would be fairly expensive to Tbilisi. But the fun of the journey was to go with my car so we could stop and site watch whenever we wanted without worrying about the meter ticking.
So we drove to Alaverdi to find a notary office. It was located in the courthouse but there was a padlock on the iron gate protecting the main entrance. A few guys were standing on the corner waiting for something to happen, and one of them told us that he could help by taking us to the notary, who happened to live in a neighborhood that happened to be perched on a cliff about a half-mile north of where we were parked. We jumped into the Niva to make the 10-minute journey upwards along the winding snake-like road. Four false starts later, we found the high-rise apartment where the notary lived and walked up to the second floor. The man helping us was determined to find the guy at all costs. We knocked on the notary’s door but no one was home. The neighbors across the hall didn’t know him or where he was. But the next-door resident confirmed he was away, yet he she didn’t have his mobile or home phone numbers. The search was officially over, and our search guide was visibly disappointed, but we thanked him happily. We were actually cheered up that he went all out to assist us, as it is always pleasant to experience the resilience of someone who chooses to help solve your problem in this country—it becomes their dilemma in the process and they want it resolved.
We decided to make a fruitless trip to Vanadzor to go to the office of the original notary who issued the transfer of ownership in the first place when I purchased the car and chew her out while she translated and stamped for not telling me what needed to be done. But there were about 20 people in line there to get things in order. I knew of another notary who worked in a trailer and did express work by cutting corners but charging more money, nevertheless it turned out she replaced the notary who issued my transfer of ownership and worked in the office at city hall, as her trailer office was gone.
Instead we headed to Dilijan and had a barbeque lunch complete with all the fixings along the river there, then went to visit Goshavank build in the 12th century. The church is being renovated in phases it seems, but they still have to get around to cleaning all the bird droppings that completely cover nearly all the interior walls. Apparently the ancient structure has become a giant bird house over the years, as the church is currently not working as an official place of worship.
Incidentally, the next day we decided to drive south towards Yeghiknadzor but along the way decided to head straight towards Datev located in Syunik instead. The winding road from the main highway was treacherous as much of it is severely eroding, but the one-hour ride to the top of the mountain where the monastery is situated was worth it. By far the religious complex was the most fascinating that I have seen in Armenia. It was surrounded by a type of fortress wall complete with a watch tower in the shape of a church steeple along the north and east sides which served as a perch for the armaments. Apparently the complex was financed by the district governor or nakharar at the time who ensured its protection. We found dozens of dormitory rooms, meeting halls, and what seemed to be rooms for meditation with fabulous views of the surrounding landscape. We also found the shed where wheat and other grains were ground by a gigantic stone wheel and where bread was baked. Anyone living or visiting Armenia who has never been to Datev must make the journey there at some point during their lives. It is an inspirational, moving place at which to spend time. The entire time there the two of us were in surprise and awe.
Then we drove down to Kapan, the administrative capital of Syunik, in the dark with lightning storms over our heads to light another snake-like uphill road for split seconds at a time, braving to pass delivery trucks en route to Iran along the way. We spent the night at the Darist Hotel of course after having a midnight barbeque meal and home-distilled mulberry vodka. It was all in all a great weekend south of Yerevan. I actually prefer the south because it is more picturesque over all and the people there, especially in Syunik where General Karekin Njdeh fought bravely against the Red Army for months even after Yerevan surrendered in 1921, are proud and self-reliant. They don’t generally make excuses and cry for assistance from the government in order to make things happen in their communities—this is obvious to you when you enter towns and villages. The architecture in Goris is unique standing apart from that in other parts of the country. Buildings there are comparably very much more structurally sound than most I have seen anywhere else, presumably because engineers or foremen did not steal building materials to sell them on the side when they were being erected 20 or more years ago. You can see the pride on the people’s faces and in their attitudes. That is, unless they are from Yerevan—I saw lots of Yerevan license plates on vehicles for some reason there.
Anyway, I finally learned my lesson after all this time living here. Very few can do anything if their papers are not stamped with approval. Apparently very few things in this country rival the power of the seal, which in my experience was ultimate.