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Tavush Marz in the northeastern corner of Armenia offers a wonderful range of mountain and forest scenery sprinkled with beautifully sited historic monasteries. Dilijan, nearest point of entry to the Marz, is only 90 minutes from Yerevan by good car via Lake Sevan, and is probably the best place to stay for an extended exploration, though there are hotels in Ijevan, Berd and Noyemberian as well. The best-known destinations are Haghartsin, Goshavank, and Makaravank, but a series of other remote sites, particularly the cluster of monasteries in the forest near Kirants/Acharkut, repay with wild scenery, warm village hospitality, and adventure the difficulty of reaching them. The visit lends itself to a formidable driving circuit, following the border to Noyemberian in the N and returning via Akhtala, Haghpat, Sanahin, and the main Georgia-Vanadzor road. The mountain road from Chambarak to Berd is as starkly beautiful as any in the Mediterranean, and a splendid track traverses high summer pastures from Yenokavan to Noyemberian.

Historically, the Tavush region came sometimes under Georgian and sometimes Armenian rulers. Before Armenia's short-lived independence in 1918-20, Tavush was part of the Yelizavetpol (now Gance in Azerbaijan) district. Armenia and Georgia fought a short, sharp war in 1919 to establish what became the Soviet-era border, whereas the border with Azerbaijan was dictated by geography and ethnography -- Armenia inherited the hills, Azerbaijan the broad river valleys of the Kura and its tributaries. Where the rivers intruded into the hills, two Azerbaijani enclaves were captured in the 1988-94 hostilities.


Dilijan, was a major summer resort in Soviet times, blessed with a cool, moist climate, even in summer, and pleasant evergreen forests protected, in principle, by a large nature reserve that wraps around the town and extends along the SW bank of the Getik river. There are hotels, pensionats, and bed & breakfasts of various descriptions, most notably the "Lernayin Hayastan" resort on the ridge S of town, formerly a spa for Soviet nomenklatura families, now controlled by the Defense Ministry but often available for tourists or seminars. An Old Town section of Sharambeyan Street has been restored and has an ethnographic museum plus a row of early 20th c. houses now serving a museum. If the wood makers shop is open, it is very worthy of a stop in. Dilijan is rich in prehistoric tombs, including the Golovino Early Iron Age site 3 km on the Sevan road, and Redkin Lager Iron Age site 3 km along the Ijevan road on the Aghstev river.

West of Dilijan - Jukhtak Vank

From the main Dilijan roundabout 3.2 km W of Dilijan on the Vanadzor (upper left) road, the N fork of a small roundabout leads under the orange railroad bridge about 2.7 km to the ornate iron gates of the Dilijan mineral water factory (less salty than Jermuk, this recently revived table water was in early 1999 trying to recapture a share of the Yerevan bottled water market). A dirt road (impassible to cars due to landslides) leads up to the right to (10 minutes on foot) Jukhtak Vank, nestled in an attractive forest grove with picnic tables. The near church, St. Grigor, was built probably in the 11th or 12th c. The dome disappeared long ago, and the foundation and walls have been brutally reinforced against the collapsing soft stone below. The W church, S. Astvatsatsin, has this inscription: "In the year 1201, in the Amirdom of Lasha and the Khanate of (missing), I Hayrapet, abbot of S. Petros Monastery, built S. Astvatsatsin with the hope that every sunrise in both vestibules one mass will be offered for me and one for my brother Shmavon, and in all the churches for my parents." Khachkars. On the wooded slope somewhere opposite is Matosavank monastery. The small church, dedicated to S. Astvatsatsin of Pghndzahank and dated 1247, was built under Avag Zakarian, son of Ivane, after he had pledged submission to the Mongols and become Georgian/Armenian military leader for Mangu Khan, grandson of the great Genghis. The hard to follow "trail" to Matosavank begins at the nature reserve sign on the road, shortly before the mineral factory. From here, take the left steep fork down and across the river towards the monastery which is up above in the woods.

Continuing W on the potholed but adequate former traffic artery paralleling the Aghstev river and railroad line, one soon enters Lori Marz bound for Vanadzor and Gyumri.

East From Dilijan - Haghartsin, Goshavank

Taking the road E from Dilijan, one reaches in 6.7 km the turn-off right (sign-posted in Armenian) for Parz Lich ("Clear Lake"). Cross the bridge over the Aghstev, bearing W, then take the left fork, which winds through about 8 km of forest to end at a modest green lake, banks slightly muddy (beware ringworm) but excellent for a picnic and forest hikes in a quiet, non-typical setting.

Continuing E on the Ijevan road another 0.8 km, an unmarked paved road ascends steeply left under the railroad tracks near the village of Teghut and into a lovely wooded stream valley with picnic areas, culminating in Haghartsin Monastery, one of Armenia's most evocative. After passing the decaying remains of an ill-advised cable car, note funerary shrines with khachkars. Reaching the monastery complex proper, first building on the left is the large vaulted dining room of 1248, one of only two such in Armenia (other at Haghpat), beyond which is a ruined service building with working oven. The gavit (end of 12th c) was built at the behest of Ivane Zakarian against the small domed 10th c. church of S. Grigor. The small S. Stepanos church of 1244 is behind. S. Astvatatsin church on the right, built or rebuilt in 1281, has high on the outside of the E wall a donation relief sculture showing the Zakarian brothers. Though the churches are locked, a local caretaker has the keys. Near contemporary Kirakos Gandzaketsi (tr. R. Bedrosian) had warm praise for:

"the blessed vardapet Khachatur Taronatsi, director of the holy congregation of Haghartsin, a holy, virtuous man renowned for his learning, especially for his musical knowledge. He made the holy congregation which he directed sparkle; prior to his coming it was desolate and withered. The king of the Georgians, Giorgi, Tamar's father, especially esteemed Khachatur; and he gave to the church, under his own signature, two villages, Abasadzor and Tandzut, and a vineyard in Mijnashen. And by all the saints he placed a curse on anyone who dared to shore these properties from the monastery. ... Khachatur passed to Christ and is buried on the western side of the church."
There is an ancient nut tree just E of the Astvatsatsin, shading a fine view point, and various remains of graves, including "royal" graves of the Bagratuni family S of the S. Grigor church. Admire the fine families of pigs rooting on the surrounding hillside. Five km N of Teghut were found and taken to the museum two Aramaic inscriptions of Artashes I.

Continuing E on the main road, first village is Haghartsin (until recently called Kuybishev after the famous Bolshevik, till 1940 Zarkhej). In the mountains somewhere north, 15 km W of Ijevan, in the locality of Dzorapor on the side of Mt. Aghjanots, are substantial remains of Kayan Berd, a castle that presided in medieval times over a substantial district. It was probably build in the 10th century under King Ashot Yerkat, but was restored under various masters, including Atabek Ivane Zakarian. Besieged here by the Mongols in 1236, Avag the son of Ivane prudently surrendered and became a valued Mongol ally. The castle was destroyed at the end of the 14th century during Timur Lenk's invasions.

At 15.8 km is the turnoff right (S) toward Gosh and Chambarak/Krasnosyelsk. Take the first right up to Goshavank or Nor Getik Vank in the village of Gosh. The monastery was founded in 1188 by famous Armenian cleric, scientist, author and law-giver Mkhitar Gosh (died 1213) with the help of Prince Ivane Zakarian as replacement for Old Getik Vank (SW near Martuni in Gegharkunik, on the Jivikhlu road), which was destroyed by earthquake in 1188. The monastic complex is large and well-endowed, and was for a brief period an important center of Armenian medieval culture. The architect Mkhitar the Carpenter and his disciple Hovhanes also took an active part in building the monastery. The rectangular room next to the reading room stands out from the rest of the complex by its walls of large unworked stones. In all probability, this room is a holdover from an early Iron Age fortress built on the site perhaps 2000 years before. The reading room of the monastery school itself is unusual, built in several stages, with a chapel/bell-tower built on top in 1291. Note the intricately carved khachkar, the famous "Aserghnagorts" ("embroidered"), standing beside the S. Grigory church doorway, the work of Master Poghos, dated 1291. Its mate was moved to the State History Museum in Yerevan. The Gregory the Illuminator chapel is richly carved. There is a museum in the village, along with alleged remnants of Mkhitar's house; his tomb church stands in the village W of the monastery.

St. Hripsime chapel (1254), situated south-west of the main group - a domed building, square in the plan, of an original composition. The church of Grigor Lusavorich was started in 1237 and finished by Prince Grigor-Tkha in 1241. The book depository with a bell-tower in Goshavank is a structure of a most unusual composition. Originally, before 1241. there had been in its place a small building with niches for keeping books in and with a wooden "glkhatun" type ceiling. Adjacent to it on the western side was a vast premise which probably served as a refectory and an auditorium. It also had wooden roofing. Then, a two-floor bell-tower was built over the book depository. The second stage, accomplished in 1291 by the patrons Dasapet and Karapet, where the top - a small church with two altar apses, crowned with a multicolumn rotund belfry - was completed. The entrance to the church was from the roof of the auditorium by a cantilever stone staircase.

Among the memorial khachkars of Goshavank there are unique and highly artistic ones. The khachkars created by the carver Pavgos in Goshavank stand out among the rest. The best of them is a 1291 khachkar with the maker's name carved in the bottom left star. This is a unique and highly artistic work. The finely carved lacy ornaments are arranged in layers in which the basic elements of the composition - a cross on a shield-shaped rosette and eight-pointed Starr filling the corners of the middle-cross section-show clearly. The intricate openwork ornaments vary - a clear-cut geometrical pattern constitutes the background, and the accentuating elements form a complicated combination of a floral and geometrical ornament which never repeats itself.

Kirakos Gandzaketsi, who studied here in the 13th c and was author of "The History of Armenia", described Nor Getik and its benefactors (tr. R. Bedrosian):

The marvellous vardapet and his monks then began work on the construction of a monastery and church in the above-mentioned Tandzut valley, by order of the great prince Ivane. They built a beautiful wooden church which was consecrated in the name of saint Gregory... At Nor Getik, at the head of the monastery, they also built a smaller church in the name of Saint John the Baptist, the ordainer of Christ, the greatest fruit of womankind. Then they began on the foundation of the glorious church built with dressed stones and crowned with a heavenly dome, a marvel to the beholder. Construction was begun in 640 A.E., four years after Salahadin took Jerusalem, and it was completed in five years ... It was built by vardapet Mkhitar with his religious community with the aid of Vakhtang Khachenatsi, lord of Haterk and his brothers Grigor, Grigoris, Khoydan, and Vasak and other pious princes, Dawit and Sadun (the sons of Kurd) as well as their sister named Arzu khatun (Vakhtang Haterketsi's wife). This woman did much to help. She and her daughters made a beautiful curtain of the softest goats' hair as a covering for the holy altar; it was a marvel to behold. It was dyed with variegated colors like a piece of carving with pictures accurately drawn on it showing the Incarnation of the Savior and other saints. It astonished those who saw it. Beholders would bless God for giving women the knowledge of tapestry-making and the genius of embroidery, as is said in Job, for it was no less than the altar ornaments Beseliel and Eghiab fashioned [Exodus 36.1]; nor is it bold to say so, for the same spirit moved them both. Not only did the woman make a curtain for this church at Getik, but for other churches as well, Haghpat, Makaravank and Dadivank; for she was a great lover of the Church, and very pious.

The pre-consecration festival at Getik was conducted with great throngs of people attending. Among those present was Yovhannes, the bishop of Haghpat, a virtuous and blessed man as well as a multitude of priests and servitors. And they consecrated the church in the name of the blessed Mother of God.
They also constructed a beautiful parvis of dressed stones for the church. The great general Zakare and his brother Ivane provided much support, for they held the princeship of the district and they so loved the holy vardapet (for in confession, Zakare was his spiritual son). They gave the church extensive land bounded by streams extending from mountain to mountain, as well as a mine in Abasadzor, and Zoradzor in the district of Bjni, and Ashawan above the monastery. They themselves also built a village close to a small lake of immense depth, naming the village after the lake Tzrkatsov (for in it swam many marsh-loving, mud-loving reptiles), as well as another smaller village below the monastery which they named Urhelanj. They also built many other chapels in the name of the blessed Apostles and the holy Hripsime.
Because Mkhitar loved deserts and uninhabited places, he made his home distant from the monastery. There he built a small wooden church in the name of the Holy Spirit. In his old age he built a church as a mausoleum for himself above the monastery on the right. It was made with dressed stones and lime and named for the Resurrection of Christ.This venerable man of whom we spoke above, reached great old age, having kept his faith. But when he saw that his bodily strength was failing and that he was close to joining his fathers, he called the residents of the congregation of Nor Getik who had shared with him in all the labors of the church and monastery, and he blessed them and his students in the name of the Lord.
Selecting one of them, named Martiros, who had studied with him and was his intimate, Mkhitar appointed him as their director. Martiros was a youth but perfected in learning, a man mellifluous in the songs of worship, a great reader and a speedy writer. Mkhitar commanded him to direct them. And he wrote a will to the great hazarapet Ivane, Zakare's brother, and entrusted to him the monastery and its director. Then he himself, white-haired and ripe in age, passed from this world to Christ.