September - October 2012
Armenia - Historic Western Armenia - Javaghk - Artsakh
September 12, 2012, 7:55 p.m., Air France flight from Paris landed at Yerevan’s Zevartnotz Airport. My wife, Shoushan and I, accompanied by Hagop and Vicky Seropian, close friends and advocates of the “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” project were on this flight. Upon completing immigration formalities we were met by a large number of friends who had come to the airport, in spite of us keeping our arrival very low key.
Due to health reason I had not been in Armenia since 2010, although Shoushan had spent over five weeks in 2010 visiting sites, inspecting hotels, restaurants and other touristic related establishments. Additionally, Hagop Seropian represented us in Armenia during his visit in 2011, thus keeping up our yearly visit commitment alive.
This time during our visit to Armenia we had planned to take a side trip to Historic Western Armenia. I had made reservations for the four of us with NV Narekavank Tours whose managing director Armen and I had met several years ago during his sales/marketing visit to the USA.
Early morning of September 17, 2012, our 15 seater Mercedes bus left Yerevan toward the Armenian-Georgian border, passing Gyumri and several Armenian villages. Crossing the border was very easy and fast. Both Armenian and Georgian boarder officials and guards were very cordial, welcoming and friendly. We drove through Javakhk Region passed the town of Akhalkalak; we had a short stop at Khertvisi Fortress towering over Parvana and Kura Rivers. In Akhaltskhe we had an authentic Georgian lunch including (khachapouri –a variation of cheese pizza).
The Georgian-Turkish border was about a 45 minute drive; here too the visa/passport officials and formality was very fast and cordial. Then we drove through beautiful mountains and forests and arrived to the town of Ardahan. We visited its old fortress that belonged to the Pakradouni Royal Family. In the 16th Century it was invaded by the Ottomans and later by the Russians. We continued on to Kars, where we saw the medieval stone bridge and the Church of Apostles (10th Century),
the Castle and the Hammams (Bath). We stayed overnight in Sari Ghamish at a resort hotel 50kms from Kars.
The second day was one of the highlights of our trip. Visiting Ani, the glorious capital of the Armenian Kingdom in the 9-11th Centuries, and known as “the city of one thousand and one churches”, was located on the Great Silk Road and was the largest trade, religious and cultural center on the Europe and Asia crossroad.
We experienced the power of hundreds of medieval towers, grand Cathedrals, palaces, mosques, baths etc; most are in ruins yet some partially remain standing.
later we drove through Igdir and had a stop to take pictures of Mount Ararat from its western side.
We had lunch at an apple orchard setting right by Akhourian River, a few miles across from Pakaran Village in Armenia. Following lunch we drove to Bayazit, where we saw the Daoink Fortress and explored the magnificent 18th Century palace of Is’hak Pasha, a complex where Persian, Ottoman and Armenian architecture is intertwined in mosques, courtyards and harem rooms.
We saw Mount Tonrag and its volcanic lavas, drove through Apougha prairies, passed the town of Chaltran and arrived to the beautiful waterfalls of Muradiye (Pergri Chervej). After dinner we drove to Van to our hotel.
Our third day was a visit to the city of Van, starting with its Urartian Dushba Fortress (9th Century BC) where we saw the Menua Tomb. There we met several groups of Armenian tourists from Canada and Eastern USA. We then drove to Varakavank Monastery with its seven Churches, most in ruins, despite which a local family keeps the grounds clean in an effort to try to attract tourists to visit. There are several homes right on the grounds of the churches as well as a Mosque. After a short stop at the legendary Mher’s Rock carved door, we continued south driving by the turquoise waters of Lake Van, followed by a 20 minute boat ride to Akhtamar Island.
The unique Holy Cross Cathedral (10th Century) is an exceptional monument featuring Armenian architecture; all covered with marvelous Biblical relieves outside and frescoes inside. Once a year in September, a Sunday Liturgy is held and the Church becomes an operating Armenian Church. The rest of the year the Cathedral is used as a museum where all types of tourists and pilgrims visit. Lunch was Lake Van’s famous “Darekh/incikefal” fish.
On the fourth day we left Van and drove by the shores of Lake Van.
Our guide new of a secluded location where several of our group participants swam and others dipped their feet in the crystal clear and creamy waters of the Lake. We had a picnic lunch after which we drove to Mount Nemrut, a volcano site. Up the serpentine drive we reached the peak and enjoyed breathtaking views of Lake Van on one side and the Crater Lake on the other. There we saw a large group of European hikers who were visiting the historic Armenian sites. We drove down to the town of Bitlis, nestled in a gorge in the Taurus Mountains, saw its fortress and a short visit to the town, then entered Mush Valley and arrived to our hotel in Mush.
On day five we hiked up the hill to visit ruins of the legendary Apostles Monastery (4th Century). Later we drove to visit the remnants of "Msho Su;tan Sourp Garabed" St. John Cathedral.
once the most important center of the Armenian Churches; it remains as ruins inside a Kurdish village. We continued to the medieval Murad Bridge on the eastern Euphrates River. This is also called Souloukh Bridge where Armenian Hero Kevork Chavoush was martyred. We then returned to Mush Old Town and saw several ruins of Armenian Churches and went up the hill for a panoramic view of Mush. Day five had a special meaning to our group and Armenians all around the world. It was actually September 21, Independence day of Armenia. Everyone in the group wanted to have a drink to toast and celebrate the occasion. We finally were able to find a store where we bought a bottle of wine, which we equally divided into 14 disposable cups. (The restaurant did not allow us to use their glasses for wine consumption).
We left Mush on day six passing over Bingol and Palandoken Mountain Ranges, passing the Western Euphrates and drove to the monastery of Aparank. We saw St. John’s Church (17th Century) as well as St. David Chapel. Of the three tallest (over six meters) carved cross-stones, known as Khatchkars, two remain standing.
We had a picnic style lunch and enjoyed the crisp weather of the mountains. Next stop was Erzeroum and visiting the Byzantine Fortress, where we saw the renowned medieval medreses (theology schools) of Yakutiye and Chifte Minare. Later in the afternoon we passed by the old Shepherd’s Bridge and onto Sari Ghamish, our hotel.
Our last day was a drive from Sari Gahmish through Kars to the Turkish-Georgia-Armenia borders, which took almost ten hours, including border crossings, a lunch stop in Akhaltskhe and several rest stops.
Queen Tamara (Akhaltskhe) and Khertvisi Fortress.
This was a very educational and enjoyable trip as our small group of twelve passengers, a driver and the guide became so close, that in addition to enjoying the sites, we all enjoyed each others company too.
Back in Yerevan, September 24, we visited Yerevan Zoo and had a meeting with Ms. Barbara Siebert, Program Director of FPWC (Preservation of Wild Life and Cultural Assets).
We discussed the efforts of my grand daughter, Savannah, and what she is doing to promote animal adoption, especially at Yerevan Zoo, using her unique web site www.yerezoo.org .
The next day we stayed in Yerevan and took some interesting photos of the different statues that are newly erected almost everywhere in the city.
Although we have been in this area several times, we wanted to visit Goshavank again where we visited with Zarouhi (the ground keeper and guide of so many years). She told us that through donations from Diaspora Armenians, they are able to upkeep the monastery, Gosh’s home and related sites. She especially praised and was very thankful to the lawyers from the USA (members of the Armenian Bar Association) who had visited Goshavank a few years ago and made generous donations.
We then drove to Barz Lidge, which is the seventh largest lake in Armenia, located about nine kms from the main highway near Dilijan. The road is narrow and windy through dense forests and the lake was green. One would think that the water was not clean; however a closer look revealed that it is the reflection of the green forest which makes the lake look green. We returned to Dilijan and had our favorite smelt fish at Kedap Restaurant.
On September 27, we visited the office of Huyr Service at the lobby of Ani Hotel,
to reconfirm our bus trip to Artsakh. As always, the agents were very courteous and knowledgeable and were able to answer all the questions we had. There we saw friends from Los Angeles, Mr. and Mrs. Yeprem and Varsenig Baghboudarian,
Yeprem, "Mher", Varsenig, Shoushan
who were in Armenia to bring yearly donations to “Nor Hadjin” Village’s school on behalf of the “Hadjin Compatriot Union”. They too had booked the same tour to Artsakh. The next several days we spent in Yerevan walking around the local streets, visiting Sayat Nova St., Toumanian Street, Northern Avenue, Apovian Boulevard, Hrabarag etc… One evening we enjoyed a live one man show by Nareg Tourian:”C’est la Vie.” We had pizza and ice cream several times at one of our favorite cafes, Marco Polo on Apovian Blvd. and enjoyed people watching. We also made sure to drive to Aramous Village near the City of Apovian for a wonderful Fish dinner and a fun evening with friends.
On the morning of October 2, 2012, we met our tour bus at the Hyur Service office on Nalbandian Blvd. This date was a popular date to travel as Hyur Service had three buses, (36, 15 and 9 seats) traveling to Artsakh. Our first stop was at Khor Virab, where we have been several times.
It was unfortunate for some of the first time elderly visitors not to be able to climb the stairs from the bus stop to the church’s entrance; we later found out that there are some local taxis which will drive you up for a fee. Our next stop was at Noravank
VAIIB is pleased to report that they have finally built very clean public bathrooms there. Lunch was at Eden (Yetem) Restaurant near Areni where our VAIIB Logo is proudly displayed on the window,which makes us very happy.
Yeprem-Hagop- Vicky- Shoushan- Alla-Ara-Varsenig - Ani (in the middle)
Couple of rest stops, a panoramic view of gorgeous Goris and we are entering Artsakh.
Stepanaguerd has become a beautiful, modern and clean city with several new hotels, restaurants, coffee houses available for the enjoyment of tourists. We visited the National Museum, Askeran, Kantsasar, Shushi, Dadig-Mamig (symbol of Artsakh),
Babig Mamig (Symbol of Free Artsakh)
and even had time to visit the local shouga (bazaar). We met with Tourism officials and discussed ways to improve services. A visit at the new Stepanaguerd Airport located about twenty minutes from city center on the way to Askeran, it is a beautiful complex. We also visited and inspected several hotels in Stepanaguerd and Shoushi. Most are modern, clean and excellent within their category. Food, entertainment and services are very good and will become even better with proper training from tourism specialists.
The next morning we left for Datev and enjoyed a ride on the world’s longest ropeway. 5.7kms long which takes about 12 minutes each way in a 25 passenger cable car traveling at a maximum height of 360 meters.
Excellent scenery of lush green mountains, valleys, gorges, rivers etc… Datev Monastery is a wonderful place to visit and hear about its legendary stories. On our decent we enjoyed lunch at the newly established restaurant near the foot of the cable car. Then we drove to Zoratz Karer (Karahounch), a 7500 year old rock formation used as an astrology center. This is the Armenian version of Stonehenge. Our Next stop was a winery in the village of Areni. The wine tasting stop was most enjoyable and almost everyone in the group purchased a different fruit flavored wine. The consensus of the group was the Cherry wine flavor. Few days later we drove back to the same area and took a side road to Smpadapert Castle built in the fifth Century about 10 kms, up the hills with no roads.
Our Nissan Pathfinder was able to climb the hills even cross rivers or go through standing water, we had to come down and walk several times but we made it. It was a beautiful site to see but consider visiting Smpadapert only if you are a hiker and only with a local guide from the village bellow.
For the next several days we continued our hotel and touristic site inspections. We visited the Yerevan Zoo again and met with Mr. Ruben Khachatryan, Director of the Yerevan Zoo, who explained to us the renovation programs, as well as, Eco-Club, Animal feeding and animal adoption projects. He further informed us that Yerevan Zoo permits and is available to the press for interviews filming, videos and other media avenues.
Ruben Khachatryan -Yerevan Zoo Director displaying Yerevan Zoo Magazine and Ara Boyadjian with AAA Magazine
We met with Mr. Ara Petrossyan, R.A. Deputy Minister of Economy, as well as Mrs. Hasmig Poghosyan R.A. Minister of Culture.
Shoushan and Ara with R.A.Minister of Culture Hasmig Poghosyan and R.A.Deputy Minister Ara Bedrossyan
We discussed issues concerning improvement of tourist services, removal of graffiti, installation of rest areas (bathrooms) at tourist stops, training hotel and restaurants staff and many other important issues to guarantee the safety and well being of visitors.
On October 9, we were invited to the H1 Television Station for a pre-recording of the “Yerk Yerkotz” musical show. The program was dedicated to Yerevan-Erepouni’s 2794th anniversary. Celebrities and singers sang songs dedicated to Yerevan and several guests talked about the beautiful city and the glorious old, present and future days it holds. After enjoying the show, we had a chance to speak with a few celebrities, including Actor/Singer Ashod Ghazaryan and his wife, Armen Manoukyan, as well as Actor Vicken Stepanian and his wife.
Ara and Shoushan with Ashod Ghazarian and Vicken Stepanian
We presented them our ideas and encouraged them to make sure to have all Armenian entertainers who travel abroad to be Ambassadors of good will and always, after any stage performances, invite the audience to visit Armenia, because “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful”. On a different occasion we enjoyed listening to lovely songs by young artists Anna Khachatryan, Vartan Badalyan, Sarkis Arakelyan, as well as Ardag Adamyan’s accordion. and actor Souren Arustamyan.
Ara and Shoushan with Souren Arustamyan and Anna Khachatryan
Upon our return home, we felt that our stay should have been a little longer, as we did not have enough time to enjoy more of Armenia and its hospitality. Until our next visit we’d like to say… “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” and please do your part for our motherland and continue to help promote tourism to Armenia.
Tebi Yergir Forum April 01, 2012
Glendale: On April 01, 2012 “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” participated in a unique forum organized by the ARF “Shant” Student Association at the Glendale Central library.
Hundreds of Diaspora Armenians flooded the library to hear and learn about Tebi Yergir’s Making Repatriation a Reality and networking with over fourteen organizations that help facilitate that process.
The program featured two distinguished speakers who gave first hand information about their experiences in Armenia. Attorney, Sara Anjargolian, a documentary photographer talked about her personal experiences and involvements in various projects in Armenia.
During a Q&A, our own Ara Boyadjian presented to the panel and the audience, the importance of our unique and direct message (Slogan/logo) which invites everyone to Visit Armenia. He reminded everyone that this is not our logo, it belongs to every Armenian and encouraged everyone to use this logo whenever and wherever it is possible. He also read inserts form our web site about, Things you can do to promote tourism to Armenia and help its economy.
Harout Bronozian, host of the “Veratarts Armenian TV program had sponsored a raffle for a one way ticket to Yerevan, which Hayk Makhmuryan won and several T-shirts and coffee mugs were won by other attendees. The “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” distributed our beautiful Logo Bumper sticker.
This was a very successful event. Congratulations to The Organizing Committee for an excellent program, everything was presented as planned. The audience was a mixture of young, the young in heart, families with children and babies who were eager to learn so much about Armenia and what Armenia has to offer. Until next time, please tell everyone to “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful”.
The Armenia Fund Telelthon 2010
On November 25, 2010 The Armenia Fund’s 13th International Telethon with live 12 hour show aired from KCET Hollywood Studios and reached millions of households globally.
The program featured a rich presentation of Armenian music and entertainment, as well as celebrities, political and community leaders, school children and long time Armenia Fund supporters and donors.
The “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” representatives visited the KCET studios in person to deliver their humble contribution and participation to this noble cause.
The theme of this year’s fundraiser was “Water Is Life”. The funds will be used towards repairing corroded and worn out water pipelines or even in some areas installing brand new ones for the first time where they never existed in Artsakh.
During one of the intermissions, Ara Boyadjian was able to meet and talk with Hrant Tokhatyan a dynamic actor/entertainer who was MCing the show along with Mark Geragos and other celebrities both local and from Armenia.
Ara was able to update Hrant about the latest “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” project’s accomplishments and reminded Hrant to bring the message to all Armenia entertainers who travel abroad to be Armenia’s welcoming ambassadors by inviting everyone to Visit Armenia, because, “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful”. Hrant agreed to the importance of spreading the word and encouraging everyone to repeat this unique slogan. “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful”.
Hrant Tokhatyan and Ara Boyadjian
The Armenia fund 2010 raised a whopping $20.8 millions.
The “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” project thanks everyone who participate in this great humanitarian project.
AUGUST – SEPTEMBER 2010
Arrival at Zevartnotz airport, going through immigration, including exchanging money to pay for our entry visas, claiming our luggage, going through customs and exiting the airport took less than thirty minutes. This smooth procedure is a big bonus for tourists arriving in Yerevan after a long flight. Our travel agent welcomed us with flowers and whisked us to our hotel where delicious fruits, cheese and crackers as well as bottled water were put in our room for our enjoyment.
Due to health reasons, Ara did not fly with us to Armenia this year. Representing “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” were Lena, Shoushan and Shake.
We stayed about five weeks in Armenia. As part of our professional familiarization trip, we inspected both old and new hotels, travel services, met with several hotel managers, enjoyed new restaurants and took most of the daily sightseeing tours offered by one of the major sightseeing companies in Armenia, Hyur Service. www.Hyurservice.com
We visited the Madenataran, Mayr Hayastan for panoramic view of Yerevan, The Armenian Genocide Memorial (Dzidzernagapert), Yeraplour, Erebouni fortress and Museum, Khor Virap, Noravank, Areni Winery, Chermoug, Karahounch, Datev Monastery (the aerial tramway was not yet operational),
Goris, Etchmiadzin, Sardarabad, Lori Marz, Sanahin, Haghpat, Akhtala, Mount Arakadz, Ampert, Puragan, Ashtarag, Garni, Keghart, Lake Sevan, Dilijan etc… We like to take these tours again so that we are updated and are closely aware of the services provided to tourists and check the improvements made from year to year. In addition to the scheduled sightseeing tours, we also made some private car tours.
Our first visit was to Stepanavan, located about 100 miles north of Yerevan, half way to Tbilisi (Georgia), on a dramatic green Lori plateau, beside the gorge of Dzoraget River. The city was named after Marxist revolutionary, Stepan Shahumyan. Although the city had suffered major destruction during the 1988 Spitak earthquake, it has recovered beautifully. We stopped at the SIC (Stepanavan Information Center) and were directed to visit the Museum and Lori Berd .
We then went to Dendropark, a 35 hectares botanical garden founded in 1931, where hundreds of species of trees from across Europe and Eurasia are found.
We visited Dzoraget canyon, where we had their famous barbeque and watched the village’s young children swim in the river. There are, of course, many more places to visit in Stepanavan, where you can, enjoy the nature, the wooded hills, the lover’s trail, eat one of their famous Tak (warm) Khadjapoori, but, every beautiful day must end. We headed back to Yerevan, although we could have stayed a night at one of Stepanavan’s very reasonably priced “Bed and Breakfast” hotels.
Two days later we drove again north, through Spitak and Alaverdi. We stopped at a housing project in Spitak, where over 150 homes are being built by the Government of Armenia, for the victims of the 1988 earthquake.
The project is almost complete and we were told that President Serge Sarkisian will give these homes to the villagers during a ceremony next month.
We went on to the border and drove to Tbilisi. Our travel agent had arranged a hotel for us near the Freedom Square.
We enjoyed walking the medieval narrow streets of Narikala, the district with historic European style buildings.
The streets were clean; traffic was like in any big city. The next day we drove by the Metekhi Church, in the Bath district and saw the Synagogue and the Mosque next to each other within a few hundred meters from the Church. We then visited the Sameba Cathedral, the Opera and Ballet theatre, enjoyed some authentic Georgian food and headed back to Armenia. Crossing the border was again very simple and easy, both Georgia and Armenian border guards were polite and pleasant.
After re-entering Armenia, our driver took a different route; we went through Noyemperian, where we saw the newly reconstructed Noyemperyan Regional Hospital, a very modern 30 room hospital equipped with the latest medical services. This was completed with the sponsorship of the Armenia Fund Chapters of Germany, Switzerland, Lebanon and Australia. We then continued on to Voskebar and Ichevan.At this point we asked the driver to make a detour and take us to a village right by the border with Azerbaijan called Chinari (Davoush Marz). We knew about this village from a friend of “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful,” Nelli Shushi Martirossyan , who for the past several years has worked diligently to help reconstruct and repair this village’s school.
Due to the late hour and because we arrived unannounced, we were unable to meet with anyone; however, we saw the school and talked to some villagers. This was a real experience, because a ‘stone throw away’ is the border with Azerbaijan. We left Chinari and went through Dilijan, back to Yerevan, arriving very late to our hotel.
On August 29, we attended the wonderful concert of Tata Simonian at the Hraztan Stadium. We understand over twenty-five thousand people attended this concert.
We had excellent seats and we enjoyed every moment of the concert. In addition to being an excellent singer and entertainer, Tata inspires the audience with his Armenian nationalistic words, encourages the youth and advocates the importance of education. He also invites diasporans to come home and visit Armenia. We were seated next to another young Armenian singing star, Razmig Amyan, who told us about his upcoming projects.
Next, we went to Etchmiadzin and saw several new monuments and statues at the entrance of the city.
The Holy Hand statue inscribed with “Havadk, Houys, Ser” (Belief, Hope, Love), another one a statue in memory of singer, Aram Asatryan.
A new Church and Baptism (Genounk Avazan) is built and hundreds of locals as well as Diaspora visitors are being baptized there.
We went on to the village of Marcara, right at the border of Turkey.
Two years ago, they had brought natural gas to this village; however, they still do not have any running water. Villagers carry water in pails and both grandmas and youngsters do this difficult chore daily.
We entered a villager’s home and saw the special room they had for their religious icons kept intact since the 1920s.
In the village of Aramus, famous for its carrots, they have built several quality specialized seafood restaurants alongside artificial lakes and ponds, where you can choose live Sterling fish or Ishkhan, which they barbeque, grill, broil, fry or boil for you.
They also serve ample side dishes of fries, salads, cheeses and fresh fruits. Aramus is only 20 minutes from Yerevan, so it is a must see, especially if you enjoy fish.
One of our favorite places to visit is a restaurant near Dilijan where among many delicious foods, they have a fried smelt fish dish beautifully prepared and presented...
The restaurant is called Kedap and it has several private bungalow type rooms above the river in a beautiful garden setting.
It is located half way between Goshavank and Haghartzin on the main road just north of Dilijan.
We met Rev. Fr. Avedis Ayvazyan at Haghartzin who after a prayer told us about the renovation of the Churches there. A young man from the village told us about the legend of the “Dreamers Tree” located behind the main church.
Lake Sevan has risen and covered the south west road going to Kavar; they directed us to take a hilly road. Upon arrival we saw roads and also the Khachkar monuments and fences surrounding them being repaired by financial aid from Viva Cell-MTS. During the past several years, under the leadership of its President, Mr. Ralph Yirikian, this company is involved in leading many of the corporate charitable projects in Armenia.
We also drove to the Jorga section at the north east shores of Lake Sevan where there are private beaches with cottages that you can rent for summer getaways - locals go vacationing there.
We went to Dzaghgatzor (Tzaghkadzor) and did some hotel inspections. We visited Hotel Kecharis, Multi Rest house and Jupiter hotel. Most hotels in Dzaghgatzor are resort style, excellent for retreats or business meetings, honeymooners or sports activities. They are open year round; the winter season is especially excellent for those who like to ski. Construction of new roads, hotels, resorts and chalets were noticeable.
We noticed several on-site information posts in five languages. The Noravank 5 mile road has 10 information boards, as well as directional signs prompting drivers to the sites, such as The Magic Cave and the Churches. Archeologists from Armenia and other countries are discovering prehistoric items in these caves such as the oldest shoe and other clothing as well as remnants of animals.
With the efforts of RA Minister of Culture, Hon. Hasmik Poghosyan, and the support and sponsorship of the Ministry of Culture, USAID, Honorary Consul of Italy to Gyumri, Mr. Antonio Montalto, and with major financial support from Viva Cell-MTS communications as part of its corporate social responsibility program, the signage and traffic is improving.
Beautifully designed infrastructure with new streets and pedestrian bridges are blooming around Yerevan.
These new roadways, tunnels and pedestrian bridges, adorned with fresh flowers, as well as other infrastructure advances are now constructed and operational, which have greatly benefited transportation and the traffic condition in the city. Additionally, both drivers and pedestrians are beginning to yield the right of way to each other at crosswalks and intersections. They still have a long way to go in making pedestrian traffic safer, but this is a start.
We continued to conduct hotel, site and restaurant inspections, met with several tour operators and travel agencies who handled incoming tourists to Armenia, and exchanged views and suggestions with them to improve tourism to Armenia. We left Armenia, heading back home, all the while, having every intention to return soon.
“Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful.”
L.A. Times Travel and Adventure Show 2010
The Armenian American Chamber of Commerce (AACC) based in Glendale, California www.armenianchamber.org in association with the Armenian Consulate General in Los Angeles, www.armeniaconsulatela.org and the Armenian Tourism Development Agency (ATDA) in Yerevan www.armeniainfo.am participated in the Los Angeles Times Travel and Adventure Show held on February 13 and 14, 2010 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Travel agents and tour operators from Los Angeles and Armenia were exhibitors and presented travel brochures and material in a very eye catching and exquisitely designed exhibition booth by Henrik Mansourian.
Shoushan Boyadjian Visit Armenia - Naira Armenia Travel+M - Ani AACC
Levon Travel www.levontravel.com, Sidon Travel www.sidontravel.com , Armenia Travel+M www.armeniatravel.am , Elitar Travel www.armeniaholidays.com, Nueva Vista www.nuevavista.am as well as ATDA and Karabakh www.nkrusa.org were the main exhibitors sharing the “Welcome to Armenia” booth. They all gave detailed information about Armenia, its history, sights, nature and the availability of a variety of tours fitting every interest and budget, such as historical sights, ancient Churches, “Khanchkars”, museums, art showcases, hiking, biking, bird watching, skiing and other possibilities that Armenia offers its visitors. Treats from Chocolatier “Grand Candy” was offered to the booth visitors.
Ara Boyadjian - "Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful"
At 11:10AM the AACC presented a dance show at the Global Beat Stage featuring Allen and Mary “the Dynamic Duo” who danced impressively with a forceful interpretation of “Artsakh” . The Siranoush and Vartan Gevorkian Dance Academy of Burbank followed with a presentation of four Armenian Folkloric dances - Kochari, Sevani, Hayastan and Donagan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njHp2axlCmg . Twenty-six of the Gevorkian Academy dancers, clad in colorful, traditional Armenian folk costumes, magnificently performed in front of several hundred spectators at the show receiving thunderous applause. The “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” logo was prominently displayed on a beautiful poster prepared by the Armenian Consulate of Los Angeles, next to the stage.
Ara and Shoushan Boyadjian of “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” invited Ms. Gayle Anderson of KTLA Morning News (a long time and very popular news reporter in Los Angeles) to the “Welcome to Armenia” booth where she personally met with the organizing committee members, and was given details of Armenia, the people, their hospitality, and the sights and sounds of this ancient nation.
Naira Armenia Travel - Ani AACC - Shoushan Visit Armenia - Gayle Anderson KTLA - Ara Visit Armenia It Is Beautiful - Armen AACC
Ms. Anderson was interviewed by Horizon Armenian TV in Hollywood and Hayastan One TV.
Shoushan "Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful" - Gayle Anderson KTLA TV - Ani Horizon TV
Matthew Karanian of The Stone Garden Productions presented Anderson with the Armenia and Karabagh guide book, the first commercial guide book dedicated solely to Armenia and Karabagh and the winner of three national book awards, including the Award Finalist for Best Travel Guide by the Independent Publishers Association. www.StoneGardenProductions.com
At 3:30PM at the destination workshop, speakers Mathew Karanian and Robert Kurkjian who have spent more than a decade doing research and taking photos for their guide books provided informative speeches about Armenia.
Thousands of visitors including a large number of professional travel agents, airlines carriers, cruise liners, tour operators, and sister city representatives as well as representatives of the media attended this two day event.
We are very proud and congratulate the “Welcome to Armenia” organizers for a professionally orchestrated, informative and remarkable exhibition. We are confident their efforts will reflect in increasing tourism to Armenia.
Thank you AACC, Consul General of Republic of Armenian., ATDA and NKRUSA Representatives.
“VISIT ARMENIA, IT IS BEAUTIFUL”
Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School December 12, 2008 presentation
On behalf of “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” project I visited Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School on Friday December 12, 2008. I was greeted by school Principal Dr. Vicken Yacoubian, who thanked me for bringing the message of “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” through slides and eyewitness comments to the students of eleventh grade.
Mr. Kevork Sarkissian and Mrs. Tamar Tufenkjian-Seraydarian, several other teachers and over sixty students, followed the one hour presentation which focused on visits to boarder villages and life outside Yerevan. I also talked about youth organizations in Armenia, who actively advocate, issues such as stop smoking, corruption and keeping Yerevan clean.
Removal of graffiti from historic monuments as well as from streets of Yerevan is one of the projects “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” is recommending and working to implement with help from students, communities and city authorities in Armenia.
I also informed the students about an essay contest being planned, which details will be announced shortly. Several students asked questions regarding their counterparts in Armenia. This presentation was one of the first steps for the eleventh graderes towards preparation of visiting Armenia later this year.
Thank you Mr. Sarkissian for asking us to share our enthusiasm and experiences to promote tourism to Armenia with your students.
REUNIONS IN ARMENIA:
Armenia has become a popular place for all kinds of reunions. This year we encountered several different groups of people in Armenia visiting with members of their families or schools from other parts of the world.
*At our hotel, we met a family of four from Marseilles, France (husband, wife and two young children). They united with the wife’s parents and sister who had come from Beirut, Lebanon to Armenia for the reunion. The family from France had been to Armenia once before and had fallen in love with the Motherland, while the family members from Lebanon had never visited Armenia. It was a perfect and memorable 2 week reunion. Not only did they enjoy each other, the wife’s parents and sister had the opportunity to visit Armenia. Likely Armenia will be the place for their future family reunions.
*Another family, staying at our hotel, was a couple from Rostov, Russia that had come to Yerevan to join relatives who were visiting from the United States, as well as other family members residing in Armenia.
*The World Reunion of Armenian Schools of Egypt www.armenegypt.com had a reunion for the first time in Armenia. Over 379 alumni and their spouses from different countries spent fun-filled days visiting beautiful sights in Armenia as well as in Artsakh. I knew several families from the Los Angeles area who kept me posted with their tours/adventures and thoughts. Many of these individuals were first timers to Armenia. I am told it was a successful school reunion. Many will return and bring their families to experience and enjoy the beauty of the country and the special feelings/emotions Armenia seems to kindle in its children.
I was happy to meet Vic Darchinyan “The Raging Bull”. http://www.vicdarchinyan.com/ He lives in Sydney and was visiting friends and family in Armenia as well as getting ready for his next boxing tournament on November 1st in Las Vegas. We met several times, at our hotel, and talked about his successes and goals. He is an idol among sport fans (young and old) in Armenia. Vic is the current IBF Jr. Bantamweight World Champion and former IBF/IBO Flyweight World Champion. Current record (30-1-1, 24KOs).
Vic Darchinyan and Ara Boyadjian in Yerevan
Norayr Mardirossyan is the leader of the Hye Riders (Motorcycle club) in Armenia. http://hyeriders.com/ He informed me that they have about fifteen members and that their activities include traveling (by bike, of course) to neighboring countries and participating in various motorcycling events, which have created reciprocal visits from cyclists from those other countries to Armenia. I suggested that a yearly event be arranged, in Armenia, whereby motorcycle enthusiasts, from all over, can participate. Norayr informed me that, in the past, they have had such rides on a small scale. With some encouragement and interest from the motorcycle riding world, a ride is scheduled to take place on or about June 15 (hopefully each year) leaving Yerevan, with a visit to Baroyr Sevag’s Museum, and on to Goris and Ghapan to the Karekin Nejteh monument, as a pilgrimage to him. (A possible three days –two night’s event).
Norayr Mardirossyan of Hye Riders Armenia and Ara Boyadjian
Brothers Jerry, Berj and Hratch Hirimyan from Istanbul were visiting Armenia by invitation of His Holiness Karekin II to attend a ceremony in honor of Catholicos Mgrdich Khrimian. They are the great grandsons of Khrimian Hairig’s brother and are very proud of their family and heritage. The brothers are musicians, composers, and singers in Turkey. They sing in several languages and they have just released a new song CD/DVD “Bu Topragin Cocuklari (the sons of this land).
During our yearly visit to Garni, (a favorite tourist spot) we met Vanoush Khanamerian. This 82 year young gentleman is the father of Armenian Dance. Several of today’s dance school teachers, both in Armenia and abroad, are his protégés. We spent a fun filled hour together during which he told us anecdotes and stories from his travel experiences. The festivities in celebration of Armenian Independence on September 21st, presented at Republic Square, ended with a dance from Vanoush Khanamerian himself and his students.
Shoushan, Mrs.and Vanoush Khanamerian, Lena , Ara
It was an honor to once again, meet H.E. Hasmig Boghosian, R.A. Minister of Culture, http://mincult.am/am/ who gave me information and updates about some of the latest cultural achievements in Armenia, particularly with regard to our youth. We, also, discussed the importance of keeping cultural monument areas clean, and educating the populace regarding littering, trash, etc. throughout Armenia. Trash and graffiti removal should be a priority, with educational institutions (starting with kindergarten schools) taking the first steps in teaching students the relevance of “Don’t Litter” and “Keep Armenia Beautiful” campaigns and utilizing the meanings of these slogans as part of the new generation’s responsibility in treating and keeping Armenia clean.. The meeting was concluded with a presentation and issuance of a letter of gratitude to me for promoting Armenia, through the “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” campaign. We are hopeful that the VAIIB logo and “VisitArmenia.org” link will be incorporated in the Mincult.am site.
I find that my annual meetings with Ara Petrosyan, Deputy Minister of RA Ministry of Economy, http://mineconomy.am/am/ ,as always, are very important and fruitful. Our exchange of concerns and discussions of various points of interest that are fundamentally significant to Armenia’s prosperity and growth, whether through the tourism industry or other means, help us to work together within our own channels and abilities to either direct the issues at hand to the appropriate entities and/or help to rectify problems as expeditiously as possible. This year, we discussed problems regarding the increase of traffic within the city, keeping tourist sites clean, and specialized training of hotel and service workers. A certificate of appreciation for the “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” project was issued by Mr. Petrosyan, Deputy Minister of R.A. Ministry of Economy.
Mr. Vasken Khatchikyan, Head of R.A. State Fund of Social Insurance services, originally from the Lori Marz, has been working tirelessly to introduce Akhtala as a prime tourist attraction. Near Sanahin and Haghpat, lays the fortified monastery of Akhtala, with breathtaking frescoes
.These well preserved frescos of Byzantine and Greek eras are a rarity in Armenia. Mr. Khatchikyan has a vast knowledge of historic facts of the area, and has been working hard for the past several years to make Akhtala a UNESCO historic heritage site. The roads and facilities in the area are being built and repaired. Akhtala is a definite stop for tourists to enjoy this unique area/site. During our meeting, we discussed the possibilities of promoting this Northern Gateway to Armenia to tourists throughout the world and to encourage tour companies to include the monastery and fortress of Akhtala in their tour programs/destinations.
I had a lengthy meeting with Mr. Antranik Hovanisyan, Youth Affairs Director of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs of the Republic of Armenia. http://youthpolicy.am/en/ He gave me details of the Youth Festival “Dialogue of Cultures-2008” held at Dzaghgatzor, Armenia. This festival was designed to help in the development of intercultural dialogue, promote diversity and to contribute in the participation of Armenia and its youth in relation to global issues.
I had several meetings with Mher Sadoyan, Director of the Armenia Tree Project (a USA based non-profit organization, which combats the deforestation of Armenia and helps tree planting projects). http://www.armeniatree.org/ We discussed the possibility of establishing several tourist locations, where tour buses can make a rest stop and tourists could voluntarily plant trees, with their own hands and a shovel, at affordable fees to help encourage and fortify Armenia’s commitment to the environment. Planting of fruit and nut bearing trees should also be considered in the tree planting project.
Avetik Afrikyan, of Hyur Service, http://www.hyurservice.com/eng/ provided me useful information and photographs to assist me in the promotion of the Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful Project campaign and updated PSI video presentation.
Although the VAIIB project is non commercial, I make it a point to stop by the American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia http://amcham.am/ to learn about its current projects. This year I met with Ms. Diana Gaziyan, Executive Director and Mr. James G. Lykos, Senior Advisor of ACCA and explained to them the purpose and benefits of the “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” project in promoting tourism to Armenia thus helping the socioeconomics of the country and its people.
This year I toured the “Beer of Yerevan” CJSC plants where Kilikia Beer and other fruit juices and products are manufactured and bottled. http://www.kilikia.am/ I met with Mr. Ashot Baghdasaryan, General Director of the company and discussed the possibility of incorporating the “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” logo on labels of exported bottles and jars of its products as a public service announcement. Mr. Ashod Hovannisyan, head of marketing and export , gave me a thorough tour of the facilities equipped with modern technological machinery in an impressively clean environment. I tasted fresh pomegranate juice (with no sugars or preservatives added) and enjoyed a glass of Kilikia Beer right from the brewery. Delicious !
Sebouh Baghdoian from Vienna, a devoted advocate and a close friend of the “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” project in Europe, was in Armenia, doing some work at Kegharkounik Marz. We met several times and exchanged ideas on how to maximize our efforts in further promoting the “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” campaign. (All ideas and suggestion are always welcome. Please feel free to send an email).
NEWLY VISITED SIGHTS/LOCATIONS:
Having been to Armenia every year (sometimes twice a year) since 1999, and having been to many different regions, cities, villages, we decided to visit different locations this year. Visiting Goris, Ghapan (aka Kapan) and Meghri was one of the highlights of our trip this year. Though we had been to Goris several times before, we had never traveled farther than Goris to the southern parts of Armenia. Mr. Artin Manoukian, of the Glendale-Ghapan sister city association (in Glendale, CA), http://www.glendale-ghapan.org/ put me in contact with the sister city organization’s representative, Armenag Stepanian, in Ghapan. After a six hour drive from Yerevan, with a few rest stops on the way, we received a warm welcome from Armenag and settled into Darist Hotel, in the center of town (an older building with clean, renovated rooms with hot/cold running water; and a restaurant with an outdoor terrace overlooking the river) Ghapan is one of the rare cities in the world where two different rivers (Voghchi and Vachagan) flow through it. We visited Ghapan’s City Hall and were received by Hon.Armen Karapetyan, Mayor of Ghapan. We discussed issues of interest to increase tourism to the area. The Syunik region can be hikers, bikers, and horse back riders paradise as well for those looking for a relaxing place with clean mountain air away from the stress of a modern hustling environment.
Hon. Armen Karapetyan and Ara
Mr. Karapetyan presented me a PSI booklet “Visit Kapan - The fortress of Lernahaystan”. A well prepared publication with excellent pictures and information about Syunik and Ghapan. We continued on to Meghri (known for its pomegranate and fig trees) through a new mountainous highway, a two hour ride through winding roads and beautiful forests, mountains, ridges and valleys. As we started the descent, the Arax River was shining, from below, like a diamond. As we approached the border with Iran, we had a wonderful view of the river flowing with majestic serenity. We were greeted with warm hospitality by a local Meghri family, and enjoyed fresh fruits, milk and honey. Our return to Ghapan was via the old winding road (a faster route). Nona, a reporter of Ghapan’s local TV station, Khoustoup TV, conducted an interview with me, asking several questions about my visit, and the VAIIB campaign. I, also, stressed the importance of educating the public, particularly children to keep their city, rivers and all tourist attractions clean and free of debris and to continue their education, stay in their hometowns and implement what they learn in the advancement of their cities.
Ara, Lena, Shoushan, Armenag
On September 16, 1976 , the Mousa Ler (Mousa Dagh), http://www.mousaler.com/ monument was erected across the Zvartnotz airport (near the city of Etchmiadzin) in honor of the heroic people of Mousa Dagh, (known for the 40 days the villagers successfully defended their village).
It has been a tradition that on the third Sunday of September, a celebration takes place at the sight of the monument which resembles a fortress, symbolizing the heroism and solidarity of the Mousa Dagh people. The celebration includes Prayers, traditional “Harissa” (cracked wheat and meat porridge), traditional music (Zourna-Drums,) patriotic songs and dances.
Thousands of Armenians attend this unique event which is open to the public at no charge. I was lucky to participate in this year’s ceremonies and enjoyed talking to some of the locals – Mousa Ler’s proud people.
This time during our visit to Garni, we took a jeep ride down to the Tzor. The scenery, raging river, unusual rock formations and majestic peaks were awe inspiring. This is an ideal place for hikers interested in at least a seven hour trail. Plan to spend the night, outdoors in a tent of course. It is strongly suggested that the hike is organized through the appropriate Garni representatives.
We visited the village of Markara, at Armenia’s border with Turkey, with beautiful and close up views of Mount Ararat from its northern side.
We also went to Gavar and visited the Khatchkars of Noratus Cemetery, after making a stop at Hayravank overlooking Lake Sevan. . Dzaghgatzor, the popular sports and youth getaway in Armenia was another return trip we made. Not only, Armenia’s residents enjoy and reap the benefits of this area, various youth organizations from throughout the world gather at this locality for planned summer activities and stays. Winter skiing and other snow sports are very popular with available new ski lifts.
We took a minibus tour, from a local tour operator, to Mt. Arakadz with a photo stop at the Alphabet monument at the skirts of the mountain. We continued up Mt. Arakadz to the fortress of Ampert as well as Degher where we stopped in at St. Asdvadzadzin Church.The panoramic view of Puragan from atop the mountain, including the observatory is breathtaking.
In addition to the nightly two hour water fountain music/water show at the Republic Square on August 23rd, there was an open air concert to celebrate the Declaration of Independence. Several singers and dance groups participated. Thousands of people attended this event.
The 2008 Olympic medal winners were honored in an open air celebration held on August 26 at the Republic Square. The inspiring and congratulatory speech of President Serge Sarkisyan was followed by a “Star” filled concert wherein entertainers such as Aida Sarikisian, Shoushan Bedrosian, Andre, Haigo (2007 Eurovision participant) and Sirousho’s (Quele Quele - 2008 Eurovision) voices pleasantly echoed throughout the night. The evening ended with fireworks spectacular.
On September 28, 2008 H.H. Catholicos Karekin II blessed the “Sourp Muron”, a Ceremony that takes place every seven years, when thousands of pilgrims from throughout the world come to Etchmiadzin for this holy event wherein this blessed oil is prepared and passed throughout the Armenian churches worldwide.
The Hamazkayin “Knar” dance group from Lebanon was visiting Armenia. Leader Felix Haroutyounyan explained, in a TV interview, the importance of Armenian culture, through dance, music and all means possible throughout the Diaspora as well as bringing these talents home to Armenia.
Garen Kocharian designed and prepared a 30 second Public Service Information video with the “Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful” logo which included photos of various activities such as swimming, skiing, mountain climbing, hiking, food and entertainment and other fun photos. (The sounds of Ara Gevorkian bring further enjoyment to the video).
I learned about a youth organization called “Miasin” http://miasin.am/ and saw them in action on one occasion. Approximately one hundred young students (mostly girls), wearing white T-shirts had organized a peaceful demonstrations walking on Apovian Boulevard, with chants and banners on an anti-smoking campaign. I understand that some of their demonstrations also deal with corruption issues. However, the one which most interested me was the march to “Keep Yerevan Clean”
I made several hotel inspections to familiarize and update myself with new accommodations and offered services. Most established facilities have websites that are to par with their respective accommodations. During the last week of September, hotels in Yerevan were sold out, due to the normal tourist season, business meetings and various conventions/seminars held in Yerevan.This is always good news.
Until my next visit, I leave you with thoughts of Armenia, and to make a decision to Visit Armenia, It Is Beautiful.
Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School
Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School November 21, 2007 presentation Mr. Kevork Sarkissian, Armenian anf12
d Department Chair of Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School in Hollywood invited me, to have a presentation and discussion with the higher classes of the high school.
The discussion was regarding recent situations in Armenia, especially in the rural areas and villages, including the road conditions, water, economic development, education, health, traffic, pollution, forests and environment. I had prepared a slide show, which was interesting to the students. They had several questions and comments and we had a successful discussion. I was pleased to see that our youth are eager and interested to learn about our homeland, its current situation and its future.
Thank you Mr. Sarkissian for this opportunity to talk to your students and arouse their interest in this matter. Now they are aware that they too can share in helping our homeland prosper.
A last minute decision, and a surprise for my wife, I booked a flight to Armenia for October 30, 2007, to attend an engagement party in Yerevan. As you know, we were there in August, but I just couldn't resist the temptation to go again. My wife and I left to fly to Yerevan, via France. On the airplane, we met a number of Armenians who were traveling to Armenia (some as tourists others for business, and yet others to attend different conferences being held in Armenia).
In Paris, while connecting to our flight to Yerevan, we met a group of over sixty people, all members of a French medical organization called "Association Sente Armenienne France" with a number of cardiologists and heart specialists as well as professors in cardiology. I was informed that they would be visiting several hospitals in Armenia, and would be establishing working relations with some of the facilities.
In fact, on our return flight from Yerevan to Paris, we met up again with some of the group's participants, who told us that a successful heart surgery was preformed to a pregnant woman at the Nork Marash hospital. Upon arrival at the Zvartnotz airport, the issuance of our visas, the immigration, baggage claim and customs process took exactly 35 minutes, which is quite fast compared, to many other cities' airports in the world.
In this month of November (in comparison to August, when many were out of town), the traffic in Yerevan was very heavy, mostly due to a very large number of additional cars being brought into Yerevan (I understand that about 25.000 cars per year are being brought in). The construction of pedestrian underpasses continues which will hopefully help with pedestrian traffic.
On November 3, 2007 we participated in the Seventh International Tourism Fair held at Cine Moscow lobby. Some of the exhibitors had very nice booths with good information and were handing out well prepared colorful travel brochures. The TourInfo Magazine, (a free publication) ATDA, Armenian Hotel Associations, Arthurs Hotels and resorts, Armenia Marriott, Golden City hotel group and Czech Airlines were among many other exhibitors.
A group of Tour Operators and Travel Agents from Italy were visiting Armenia for a familiarization trip. They were guests of one of the major travel companies in Armenia. While there, they had hotel inspections as well as several sightseeing tours. There educational and pleasant experiences should result in increase of tourists from Italy and Europe.
On November 8, 2007, I had a lengthy meeting with Mr. Ara Petrosyan, Deputy Minister of Trade and Economic Development. We discussed issues such as the departure terminal of the airport where crowds of well wishers (non-travelers who come to the airport with the traveler to send them off), thereby creating overcrowding, and disruption of the smooth movement of passengers. I also suggested easier ways to obtain the 10,000 Dram exit fee stamp and making a visa extension simpler to get. I asked Mr. Petrosyan to bring some of the ideas discussed to the appropriate authorities and departments. These included educating drivers to drive more safely particularly in relation to extending courtesies to pedestrians who are legally crossing the street, and teaching pedestrians to cross from marked cross-walks whenever possible; planning and creating more one-way streets as well as street signs for easier and faster traffic flow, and other infrastructure needs within the City.
It seems that in the smaller towns and villages, drivers and pedestrians are more courteous than in Yerevan (probably since it is not as crowded as Yerevan has gotten to become). I also suggested that information brochures about Armenia be printed and distributed by the Ministry of Foreign Affaires to the Armenian Consulates throughout the world. I met with "Armenian Hotel Association" Executive Director Ms.Lusine Minasyan. She informed me that member hotels are participating in educating their staff through special courses in the hospitality and service business, and that most hotels are now accepting credit card payments with their reservation and cancellation policies being similar to known world wide accepted formats. We discussed the implementation of the "star" system and other issues related to hotel and hospitality industry in Armenia.
I also visited the offices of American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia and was given a general idea of development progress in Armenia. I am hopeful that ties between Armenia and the US with relation to commerce grows stronger, each day.
I had a very interesting meeting with Mr. Vazgen Khachikyan (President of State Fund of RA Social Insurance) who is from Akhtala, he gave me detailed information about the work done to promote tourism to Akhtala, including but not limited to the renovation of the fortress and St. Astvatsatseen monastery. He informed me that the RA Government will be helping to repair the roads leading to the fortress and that individuals will build clean restaurants and facilities to attract and accommodate tourists. Future plans include construction of a resort hotel to encourage tourist to spend one or more nights in this beautiful area.
Based on this, and my visits to Akhtala in August, I suggest that tour operators, include Akhtala as an additional stop during Haghpad and Sanahin tour, or give an option to have Sanahin and Akhtala or Haghpad and Akhtala as a full day tour. All three monasteries/complexes can be visited in one day, if you leave early enough in the morning from Yerevan (approximately 8:30 AM), including a 15-20 minute stop at the AyPenKeem (Alphabet) sight at the skirt of Arakadz Mountain. While I was there, the Northern Avenue had not yet officially been opened. But of course, I strolled along it, and enjoyed the very modern look of the area. Yet, I don't know if I felt like I was walking in Yerevan or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. I suppose this is the same feeling that Yerevan citizens are experiencing. Do you keep Yerevan traditional or start to modernize? This is a question that tourists can answer for themselves. Let me know what you think?
Our 2007 visit to Armenia started on August 01. Once again, I traveled with my wife, two daughters, and both my grandchildren (my grandson is 17 years old and granddaughter is 6 years old. Each one of them had a great time). When we landed at Zevartnotz Airport’s eleven (11) month old new arrival terminal, things were more organized than ever before. Issuance of entry visas, and going through immigration was very smooth. All of our baggage (11 pieces) had arrived with no problem, and there were no crowds of porters imposing their help. Instead we rented luggage-carrying carts (the fee was 400 Drams: approximately $1.35 each) As we exited the airport, we were greeted, as usual, with the smiling faces of our friends with flowers and kisses. The number of friends meeting us grows every year, although we ask them not to come to the airport…but, that is part of the fun. After hugs and kisses we were whisked to our hotel, where our usual rooms were ready. The staff greeted us as usual like family members. This trip we decided to travel to areas that we had not seen before. One such destination was our drive alongside Lake Sevan from the south eastern side where the scenery was very different from the western side of the lake, which has been the side of lake where we have driven by several times in the past. It was well worth taking this trip along the southeastern side of Sevan, and visiting Hayr Vank, with a beautiful view of the lake, and passing through the village/town of Kavar and a stop at Noratuz cemetery full of erected katchkars as head stones. On another day, we drove along the western side of Sevan and revisited Haghartzin Monastery in Dilijan (which is one of my personal favorites). Jermouk was another beautiful town that we visited again this trip. The waterfalls, rivers, manmade lake and mineral water baths are the hallmarks of Jermouk, and should not be missed. The weather in Jermouk is usually much cooler than in Yerevan, so jackets are a must, particularly in the evening. Before arriving to Jermouk, we went to the Shakee waterfall in Sunik. Don’t count on getting in to see the waterfall, because you need to get into the hydro plant first, which is locked off by a gate. For almost half an hour, we kept honking the car horn, and we finally grabbed the attention of the caretaker there, who let us in. We had to pay a little something for him to turn the switch on for the waterfall. A small hike along the path brought us to the Shakee waterfall where we enjoyed the sound and sights of the fall and surroundings, under a beautiful blue sky with the sun shining bright upon us. We drove back to Jermouk, and stayed the night. Another day, we went to the Akhtala compound and St.Astvatsatseen (Holy Virgin) monastery founded in the 10th Century by the Bagratoonee-Kyooreekians. Akhtala is past the Haghpat monastery in the Lori Province. The drive to Akhtala was through lush forests, steep and tall cliffs, with rapid rivers and creeks below. The Akhtala compound/fortress is one of the most well preserved fortresses in Armenia. The internal walls of the Church are decorated with colorful murals dating back to before the 13th Century. It is said that these murals are one of the exceptional representations of the Greek Orthodox culture outside Byzantium. In the Akhtala area, there are also other historic and architectural monuments, such as The Holy Trinity monastery, the Twin Churches, St. George Church, khachkars and other noteworthy ruins. In August traffic was light in Yerevan, as residents had gone “hankesdanalou” (vacationing). Dzaghgatsor , Jermouk, Dilijan, Sevan and other popular spots were busy with Yerevantzies. The huge water fountain in the Republic Square was being repaired, and underground pedestrian passes where being built on major streets, such as at Khanjian and Sayat Nova. Of course, where ever you look, new construction of modern high-rises were in the works; many with iron/metal and glass which I noted to be a changing and new look to the charming and traditional face of old Yerevan with its pink and gray tone stone buildings. But this is progress…We also noticed several individual homes being built right outside of Yerevan,. Hopefully, this is a sign of expansion outside the Getron.(City center) There is just too much going on within the few blocks in the Getron, the surroundings of the Republic Square. It is wise to start expanding to some of the other areas in Yerevan . Unfortunately, the airport departure lounge is still very crowded and check in lines are way too long, so always plan on checking in at least three (3) hours prior to your flight departure. Remember to purchase your exit permit of 10, 000 Dram before entering the check in line. Until next time –
February 22, 2007
March 20, 2006 was a celebration in our household, because once again, we had purchased our airline tickets to visit Armenia in September 2006 (this time traveling with me and my wife was my daughter Lena and her three friends, two of whom were first time visitors to Armenia, on the newly scheduled Air France connection via Paris).
We arrived Yerevan on September 13, 2006. My compliments to the border control personnel, as welcoming smiles and polite treatment was noticeable. As usual we were greeted with hugs and flowers from our friends and whisked off to the hotel we normally stay at. Although the hour was late by the time we reached the hotel, we stayed up until the wee hours of the night talking, laughing and enjoying our reunion. The Following day, Sept 14, 2006 was the opening of Zevartnotz airport’s new arrival terminal with its modern baggage carousels and two security monitors which should expedite the arrival process,
On September 21,2006 we attended an impressive Independence Day Military parade at the beautifully decorated Republic Square followed with a Service of Blessing the Republic of Armenia at St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral on the occasion of the 15th Anniversary of Armenia’s Independence. Thousands of people were all outdoors celebrating and the national TV did live broadcast of all the festivities. The “Vasken Sargsyan” Stadium was the highlight of the evening with a concert-show, followed by spectacular fireworks. Late that night, the Opera House square was bustling with people present at a concert with Shoushan Petrosian with her patriotic and crowd pleasing songs. Several other concerts and functions were preformed throughout Yerevan and all regional centers. Independence in movies was also shown at the Moscow Cinema, with over 20 feature films and documentaries all produced after the Independence. It was a true celebration. Most importantly almost all the functions were free to the public. The Ministry of Culture and Youth Affaires organized and presented the cultural events.
A large number of conferences, forums, expositions and exhibitions coincided on these days. The Armenian Evangelical Church celebrated its 160th Anniversary during a four-day conference attended by representatives from 22 countries. The Armenia Relief Society (A.R.S.) also had several hundred members and delegates from throughout the world participate in celebrating the 15th Anniversary of the establishment of the ARS Chapter in Armenia.
On September 29 and 30 another celebration took place in Armenia when President Jacques Chirac of France made a historic visit to Armenia joined by his wife and several French ministers and dignitaries. This unprecedented visit included a ceremonial visit to “Dzidzernakapert” the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, a state dinner at the residence of President Robert Kocharian, inauguration of “the Place de France” square, visit to Etchmiadzin and His Holiness Karekin II and finally an open air spectacular concert was performed by world renowned Armenian singer Charles Aznavour at the Republic Square attended by tens of thousands.
On October 4th and 5th, at the invitation of R.A President Kocharian the President of Romania Mr. Traian Basescu visited Armenia during which time he gave his respects at the Genocide Memorial and had meetings with prime minister Markarian and His Holiness Karekin II.Z
My wife and I had an opportunity to visit several “Mangadouns” (home for children): Our overall impression was that they were very well managed with adequate support staff, very clean and the children were healthy, well behaved and in good spirits. This trip, I also had the need for medical attention (minor health reason) and was taken to “Nairi” Medical Center and Hospital. It, too, was well maintained and clean and the medical service provided at the Emergency Room was noteworthy.
A final observation and comment from a tourist standpoint and to assist tourist concerns: I believe Armenia needs immediate attention to three “T” problems. Traffic, Trash and Toilets. I invite anyone in the Diaspora, or why not in Armenia, who can help improving these areas; please contact me and I will try my best to bring your ideas and suggestions to the proper agencies personnel for positive action.
Until my next report, I close by asking you to “Visit Armenia it is Beautiful” and tell a friend.
- Karekin Njdeh (founder of the Armenian Youth Federation in the U.S. in 1933) award to Ms. Ani Khodaverdian and Ms. Dalar Abolian for their youth activities and work at the Burbank High Schools concerning the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and their dedication to the Armenian cause
Since my last visit to Armenia in September 2004, my wife Shoushan and I planned on returning in the summer of 2005, along with our two daughters and granddaughter. My daughter Lena has been to Armenia at least seven times, many times accompanied by her own family or friends. However, this was to be the first visit for my youngest daughter Lisa and her four-year-old daughter Savannah. We waited anxiously for July 2005.
Over the next three weeks, we re-visited many towns, villages, and sights throughout Armenia so that Lisa and Savannah could also experience and enjoy the very unique and beautiful places. Each day we asked some of our local friends (who are now like family for us) to join our private tour excursion, as it is more fun to share the sites of the country with the locals and hear their input of local customs, and daily life in Armenia. We had a private mini-bus that could seat up to 14 people and traveled to our destinations, singing, laughing and just feeling lucky. It is easy to arrange private tours whether it is by van, mini-bus, bus or private car. I would recommend that larger groups (for vans/buses) reserve the vehicle appropriate for the size of their group when planning their trip to guarantee the availability of their van/bus. For smaller groups, there are various agencies/tour operators in Yerevan that can arrange tours after arrival. However, I suggest that a first time visitor to Armenia make all their arrangements for tours when planning their trip, and not wait to get to Yerevan to schedule their tours.
Another first we experienced this year, was on July 03, 2005, a fun day where youngsters (and the young at heart) throw buckets of water on passers by on the street to celebrate "Vartavar", an old Armenian tradition. (I will write about the origin/meaning of this tradition separately).
I was invited to appear on two live TV shows, and a radio program. The first was at Armenia’s National TV station, ”Hayastan One” morning show with Mariam Ghaplanian and Felix Khachatryan and the second on Yerkir Media TV station with Tigran Haroutyounyan at his variety show. The radio program which aired a live interview was on Vem Radio Station in their program "Economy and Values" with Executive Director and host Manuk Hergnyan.
All of the interviewers were interested to know the reason for the slogan and logo of "Visit Armenia, It is Beautiful" and the details and efforts of how this was being promoted in the Diaspora. Among other questions, each interviewer asked if the Government of Armenia was assisting me in this project. First, I explained why this concept is so important to Armenia, and how people in Armenia and the Diaspora can help spread the word, utilize the logo, and promote Armenia. I invited all Armenians to visit the website, and declared the website and logo as belonging to the Armenian people. I explained that though I did not have specific, actual or planned support from the Government of Armenia, the Deputy Minister of RA Ministry of Economic Development Mr. Ara Petrosyan, with whom I met several times during this visit, as well as my previous visits, personally and through his office, support the concept for which I am thankful. I believe, in due course, as the government and the people realize the real benefits and importance of the tourism industry to our country, everyone will work together to promote Armenia as a tourist destination.
During this visit, I gave several establishments and locations frequented by tourist the "Visit Armenia, It is Beautiful" Logo sticker, which they happily displayed. For example, the souvenirs shop at Garni, Armen’s restaurant in Alahverdi, Mer Taghe bistro on Toumanian in Yerevan, the Kitchen (Khohanotz) at Sardarapad, and on several tour buses.
A new sight this year was the newly erected stone made alphabet Oasis at the foothills of Mount Aragatdz which we stopped at on our way to Ambert fortress. This unique monument was built to commemorate the 1600 year anniversary of the Armenian Alphabet. A great picture taking opportunity. Our next stop was at the church in Oshagan village where St. Mesrob Masdotz is buried. The young priest of the church, Ter Manuel, in addition to his many duties and teachings at the church and village also encourages the talented children of the village to paint religious pictures of saints "Sourpanegar".
Another unofficial statistic I noted, as told by the Deacon who keeps the Christening (Genounk) reservation book at Sourp Etchmiadzin is that the number of Christenings at Etchmiadzin has risen to an average of six to eight per weekday and twelve to fifteen per weekend with a large number from the Diaspora. This was good news.
On this trip, we were lucky that our visit coincided with the visit of the Vartan & Siranoush Gevorkian International Dance Ensemble of Burbank, California. They had several performances at the Opera in Yerevan with over 150 dancers. We were present at the opening night, a full house and enjoyed a spectacular show. I understand that the other performances were just as successful. This same dance school has performed in Armenia in 2001, when again I saw them on my trip.
One of the most pleasing facts I noticed this trip was a varied number of groups of non-Armenian tourists (way more than I had noticed in the past) including a large group of Japanese tourists, and a group of Philippines from London, as well as smaller groups from Germany, France, Italy, Argentina, Australia and the Middle East. (I say that this is a most pleasing fact because one of the main goals of "Visit Armenia, It is Beautiful" is to introduce our country not only to Armenians but to non-Armenians as well.)
I kindly encourage everyone who has traveled to Armenia to tell a friend to visit Armenia, and remember "VISIT ARMENIA, IT IS BEAUTIFUL"
Until my next visit and update to you,
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