Notes From Hairenik

On Saturday I offered to take a photographer who is visiting Armenia on a one-day excursion to an area of Lake Sevan. Her name is Julie Dermansky and she is here working on various photography projects. One of them entails documenting memorials and museums dedicated to mass tragedies.

She heard about an ancient cemetery called Noratus which I was not aware of but was more than willing to find. It is located near the town of Gavar which is on the Lake Sevan coast. The cemetery was quite extraordinary. Many graves date back as far as the 9th century. Just opposite the old graveyard is one that is fairly new by comparison, which sports some momentous memorials to the dead. Noratus cemetery is basically a vast field of erect, intricately carved stone crosses (known as a khachkar in Armenian) as well as plain slabs of stone lying on the ground that served as grave markers for those families who could not afford the crosses. Some tombstones feature highlights of the lives of the dead or of Armenian mythical tales as depicted in the carvings. About five minutes after we entered I was accosted by some kids who wanted to serve as tour guides through the cemetery and some old women who wished to sell me some thick handmade knit socks.

One gentleman named Sergey, aged 77, just wanted to chat with me which is what we did for more than 10 minutes. Takuhi, who is only 11, with her friend dressed in red and possessing mesmerizing blue eyes showed me various stones to study. The entire time she explained the images to me—in other words, which form was supposed to represent Satan, how the holy trinity was depicted, what hash marks represented the barbeque, and so forth. She was a very charming girl.

Hayravank is the monastery on the other side of the lake that I had wanted to find for years but I could not get a straight answer as to its location before Julie explained it to me according to a map she found and some tips an acquaintance gave her. The structure is about the same size more or less as the ones found at Sevanavank monastery, which is hugely popular among tourists. There is a fabulous view of the lake from there, quite different from that at Sevanavank. I noticed while I was driving that at nearly every turn around the perimeter of the lake the view changed considerably.

I have been to Sevanavank probably a dozen times. There is no doubt that it is a beautiful place, although it is suffering from remodeling. I use that term because it has been going on for over a year, and all they seem to be doing is laying down some granite stones for walkways and installing new electrical wiring. The last time I was there—about 15 months ago—workers had carelessly unearthed some bones from the graves which were just lying around. I went back to the same spot to see if they could be found but they were missing. I don’t want to even ponder what happened to them, although I have some theories going around my head as I write this.

By the end of the afternoon we were famished and we walked into a diner on the beach at the foot of Sevanavank. We naturally wanted fish and had two choices: sig which is a small-sized type of trout or ishkhan which is a trout that has just about the same dimensions of a salmon. Seeing as the ishkhan cost 25,000 dram (about $85) per kilo, we stuck with the sig, which was only 2,200 dram per serving. It was barbequed but not charred beyond recognition, accompanied with lemon and roasted sliced potatoes. The homemade strained yoghurt served beforehand with black olives was superb. The meal was excellent. I’ve found in my travels that the food at these small mom-and-pop operations is superior to that found in wannabe fancy but more pretentious than anything else establishments. If you are visiting an area where you can choose between a quaint, mellow cottage or a multi-floored “complex” restaurant as they are called here, stick with the quaint. So long as the place is clean you won’t go wrong.

Photos Copyright © Christian Garbis 2008

Labels: , , , , ,

Anonymous Paul said...
First the Haghartsin/Goshavank post and now this! This past summer I visited the same exact sites as you did except in reverse. First was Sevanavank where we had the tsoog at the cafe as well, followed by Hairavank and Noraduz. Noraduz was an amazing place to amble around and see the sites. The ancient stones mixed with modern ones is a fascinating contrast. The old women there were certainly memorable, and I was accosted by the one selling the very woolen socks you spoke of. I turned her down (because frankly the socks were probably too bulky to fit into my shoe even if I had wanted it) and she screamed at me for not buying it since I am a rich American. I actually spoke recently with a Peace Corps volunteer operating out of Sevan and he said he had a little seminar with the old ladies about being less confrontational to tourists and ways to offer more Armenian fare, as opposed to socks. He also said he gave the little kids tips on being tour guides so it looks like at least they are possibly living out what they learned! I hope so! The old ladies on the other hand still need to work on ditching the socks...

Blogger Jason Sohigian said...
Glad to see the posts about Julie's visit--we did an interview that is posted on Hetq Online about her projects--looking forward to seeing more images from the trip--especially in the context of her other work--I hope to see it published or in galleries soon--by the way you should submit work to this exhibit:

Blogger Connie said...
You missed that Avet Terteryan, the great armenian composer, lived at Hayravank and that you can find a lot of information and photos at and also at ...

shame on you! Hayravank is to find in all maps of Armenia ;=)

Connie in Germany