Notes From Hairenik
September 25, 2007
Last Sunday I was determined to go on a weekend excursion down south of Yerevan. I was thinking about driving to wine country in Vayots Dzor but a friend suggested that we go to Dvin, which is located in Ararat, about 10 kilometers or so east of Ardashat. Dvin was one of the ancient capitals of Armenia and supposedly there are ruins of a fortress or something there but we had trouble finding it. We had trouble finding everything we were looking for there, actually.

Dvin is home to an Assyrian community as is Arzni, which has the largest population of Assyrians in Armenia. But for some reason the town cannot be found on maps, which imprinted a question mark on my brain that I chose to ignore. It was natural that they would have a church to visit since they are also Apostolic Christians, and to locate it we had to speak to about six people, since no one could decide on which street we should turn on. The first woman we spoke to told us to turn right at the intersection where a drinking water fountain could be easily seen (she started to describe to me what a water fountain was for some reason). We realized while looking for the street that several corners had water fountains on them, so that didn’t help very much. A young guy in his 20s loitering in front of a convenience store with several others of different ages told us to drive up 5 blocks in the opposite direction and take a left, but there was no church. So we found a sort of path that was drivable and started to head down it not very long before a typical portly Armenian granny with gold-capped teeth and wild hair came into sight. She told us that the church was just behind us, and mentioned that there was another church in Dvin that was recently constructed. We actually saw the church in the distance on the way to Dvin but we couldn’t make out exactly where it was. The church we had just been directed to, which had a placard affixed to the wall reading that it was an Assyrian Catholic Apostolic church, whatever that was supposed to mean, was built in the late 1800s but was recently restored. The door was closed unfortunately and no one came by with the key for us to enter as is what usually happens when you go to a locked church in a village, although it is apparently working with regular services.

We were off to find the Armenian church which we began to believe was actually some sort of mirage. From a distance the architecture seemed very interesting but we couldn’t actually make out whether it would be worth visiting it, plus we weren’t sure if it was the new church we were told about or an ancient church that had fallen by the wayside as a tourist attraction located either in or nearby Dvin. So we backtracked along the road we drove on, constantly looking over our shoulders but no luck. After driving at least 5 kilometers I turned the car around in the opposite direction to have another look. Sure enough, after a couple of kilometers something resembling a church perched on a hill reappeared, but it seemed somewhat inaccessible and it didn’t appear to be located in Dvin, but somewhere west of it. We had the bright idea of making a left turn off the main road that seemed partially paved but would probably lead us somewhere near the vicinity of the church. Before long we were driving along dirt roads that weaved through peach orchards. We were surrounded by peach trees and couldn’t see a damn thing other than the dusty, dilapidated road riddled with axle-snapping ditches and branches to the left and right. Once in a while a gap would appear in between some trees but all we could see were those in the orchard a few hundred meters further away. We must have driven at least 40 minutes though down these roads in a zigzag fashion until we finally hit asphalt, then instantly realized we made a complete full circle emerging onto the road we had turned from. After one or two more snafus that lead us nowhere special, at least far from our intended destination, we decided to head back for the main artery linking Dvin to the old road leading to Ardashat and then onwards to Ararat. Suddenly the dome of the church came into partial view through the trees, and judging by sight it must have been only 500 meters or so away. More determined than ever I headed once again towards Dvin, having finally been convinced that the church was there all along. The problem was that we had been searching on the west side of the town when we should have checked out the east side, where I finally determined (or rather optimistically guessed) it was. Luckily enough, the first right turn we chose lead to the church. It was built only seven years ago and was rather small compared to others scattered across the country. The architecture seemed to resemble that of Noravank which was another 80 kilometers or so south of where we were, but on a much smaller scale. The interior was ordinary with white walls and tiny, mysterious rooms closed by wooden doors and ocher crosses painted on them, characteristic of Armenian churches you can visit in diasporan communities. It was built by one of Armenia’s big businessmen—perhaps someone considered to be an “oligarch” since we found one recently carved stone cross bearing the name of the most notorious of them.

After our three-minute tour I located the outhouse and while I was lifting the hook that held the rickety wooden door shut a wasp came out from nowhere and stung my right middle finger. I barely saw the thing at all but he left an excruciating mark indicating his fleeting presence. We stomped off towards the car utterly disappointed, with me nursing my finger, and promptly lit up two small cigars which we were able to smoke completely before we arrived at the nearest grocery store to buy chocolate-covered ice cream bars.

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