My first encountering with a new country was again happening at the border. Surprising: There was no line of waiting cars. But very friendly officials who were taking lot of time doing their work. But a friend gave me the advice to imagine in this moment, that you have more time than the others. Then it is no problem.
My first impressions of the country right after the border were bad streets, less traffic and a lot of cars from old soviet times. Armenia was once a formal independent union republic of the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in September 1981 they proclaimed the Republic of Armenia. Several of the old soviet states went to a bad economic crisis afterwards. Furthermore Armenia still had problems with the aftermath of the earthquake in 1988 with 25.000 deaths. In the year 2004 the average per capita income was only 790 Dollar the months. You must imagine that a third of the population (in total 3.1 million) lives in the capital Yeravan and the half in Yervean and around the city. Here is the income considerably higher than on the countryside. The area which I passed at the beginning was therefore very poor. That’s why they took care of the cars, they produced spare parts of the car by their own and new cars weren’t affordable for sure. The majority of the people in this area are farmers, so the produce what they need. You could see that with the animals at the street.
My first stop was the monastery of Haghpat. I arrived here at the time of the sunset – perfect! I made a deal with the hotel next to the monastery that I can sleep in the car at the hotels parking area and use the shower at the next morning (1,50€). The panorama was beautiful! When you come from the border of Georgia you will drive the first 50 km through a gorge. The monastery and the corresponding village were at the top of the gorge on a plateau. Only the smoke of a nearby bush fire was in between me and the sun.
At the next day I figured out that the bush fire wasn’t a bush fire. It was smokestack of a nearby copper industry which was attached to a mountain. The end of the smokestack was at the peak of the mountain. I never saw something like this before! The copper fabric is also a relict of old soviet times. Since then not so many things changed. The cable way which connects the fabric with the leaving area on the plateau is hanging as sad as the smoking clouds over the gorge. It seems that time stands still.
My way continues through the beautiful Debed Canyon. I pass monasteries (Kabayr, Sanahin), the soviet role model city Vanadzor and continued to the Dilijan national park. I wasn’t in the mood for hiking that’s why I continued to the lake Sevan. The route to the lake was very beautiful. I passed a lot of cute small villages through a valley and went up to 2.100m. The condition of the street was surprisingly good and for a short time I was very close to the area of Nagorno-Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh was once an autonomic region of Azerbaijan which was mainly populated by Armenians. After the fall of the Soviet Union more and more people of this region were striving for more rights. Azerbaijan couldn’t control this and it was ending in a military conflict in 1991. Because there are a lot of Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia was giving military help. Nagorno-Karabakh was declaring independence from Azerbaijan and Armenian forces were occupying since 1994 more than a third of the region. For the United Nations Nagorno-Karabakh is not an independent state; it is still a region of Azerbaijan. This conflict is the reason why Azerbaijan and Armenia are death enemies. The border is closed and there is no diplomatic relations between the two countries. It will take a very long time until there will be peace in this area.
I expected that the road will go uphill to the lake. But right behind a corner there was already the lake. The lake Sevan is with its altitude of 1.900m and an area of 940 square kilometers one of the highest mountain lakes of the world. The eastern shore of the lake is barely habited and I was already prepared to camp in the nature when I was spotting a camp site (Wishup Shore). The owners seem very kind from the beginning also there was a bar with fresh beer from the tap. They made an exception that I could park the car within the camp site which is normally only for tents. So I had a great with towards the lake Sevan at the next morning. At the night I was hanging out for a long while with the owners who are also organizing a lot of off-road tours. So we had a good topics to talk about. I even met one of the guys several days later in Yerevan. He spotted me from behind screaming “Maaathias”.
At the camp site I also had a long and interesting conversation with Arsen, a former diplomat who was placed for a while in Germany. We talked a lot about politics. Armenia is not in the best position. Since the genocide of the Turks on the Armenian people there are no real relations between Turkey and Armenia. Turkey still denies that the genocide ever happened. There is a long border between these two countries but no border gate is open. That’s why Armenia still keeps good relations to Russia and Putin. In the north there is Georgia and in the South is Iran. To both states Armenia keeps good relations. By the way also towards the United States. So Armenia is probably one of the few countries having good relations towards Russia, Iran and the USA… From the exciting conversation with Arsen there is one of his quotes left in my mind: “If there is a problem which cannot solved, there are exactly two solutions: The one is time, the other one is money”
My next station was the Mt. Aragats. The three peaks of the mountains are the highest of the country. A narrow street brought me up to 3.200m but I decided to place my camp a little bit below next to a small lake and a Mercedes Camper with license plate from Berlin. Karl and Amina are like me on the way to India. But they (plus two dogs they took from the road) are taking more time for their route and they needed almost a year to Armenia (Blog: http://www.blau-zeit.de). I had a long conversation this evening with Karl. Their car was also only the second car which I saw since Georgia.
In the next morning I already started at 6:30 to reach the southern peak (3.800m). At this time there was no hiker on the paths so I had the old volcano only for me. As I wasn’t adapted to the high altitude I need to make several stops on the way to the top. I used these stops to look back over the beautiful landscape but also to look back to my life. I looked back what I reached and which lucky changes had happened and which nice and now important people I met. Such moments are just great.
I stayed one night in the summer house of the family of Raphael which I know from Dresden. He also gave me a lot of advices what to see in the country. The house was a bit far away from the city center, but close to temples and monasteries which I visited at the next day. After that I went to the capital. It is a growing and clean city. A lot of glamour, a lot of constructions, big cars nice boutiques. It is financed mainly by the Armenians who live outside from Armenia. From 10 million Armenians worldwide there are only living 3.1 millions in Armenia. The reasons were mainly the pursuit at the beginning of the 20ths century, the conflicts with Turkey and Azerbaijan and also economical reasons.
Since Saturday morning 03:20 there were with Ben and Konrad two new members in the team for the next two weeks. In Yerevan we visited the moving genocide museum and did some sightseeing in the city. The next day we were heading to the south. On the first kilometers the mountain Arrarat was always on our side. It was nice to see this mountain which I only knew before from Dresden from a picture within the Döner-Shop called “Arrarat”. On the way to the south we visited some very beautiful monasteries. We didn’t get to the last one, because the road was to bad. So we decided to do wild camping in the mountains of Armenia.
We continued to the monastery of Tatev, one of the oldest and most visited monasteries in Armenia. To get there we had a two hours rough road (the street map showed better conditions). On the way we passed a village which had their best times in the Soviet Union. We used a cable way for the last kilometers to the monastery. It is a new cable way (2010) which went over the incredible devils gorge. After the night camping we needed a real bed again. As we later figured out we stayed in the hotel of the major of the village Halidzor. With him we had dinner together and found a way to communicate with hands, feeds, English and Russian. It was a beautiful last might in Armenia, because at the next day we were supposed to enter Iran.
You might have noticed after reading this post where Armenia is located. But several of the Armenians still don’t know the right position of their country. Only a few people support the government, a lot of inhabitants think there was a fraud in the elections. Several days ago there was a attack towards the police station in Yerevan and it took several days to get everything under control. Young Armenians don’t see any perspective in the country and leaving to the USA or Europe. Armenia was enrichment for me. And I am happy to know where Armenia is located.