Gegharkunik Province

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Presentation

Gegharkunik Province is situated in the eastern part of RA. In the eastern part the region has borders with Azerbaijan. Theregion includes the territories of Gavar, Chambarak, Martuni, Sevan and Vardenis.
The Administrative centre is Gavar. The territory is 5348 km2, but only 240.033 ha are useful for agriculture. Gegharkunik is the largest region in Armenia, it occupies th 18% of the whole territory. The region includes 5 cities- Gavar, Chambarak, Martuni, Sevan and Vardenis and 87 villages.

The Yerevan-Sevan-Dilijan republican highway runs through the province.

Etymology

The name of Gegharkunik is derived from Gegham, a 5th-generation Haykazuni King and one of the descendants of the legendary patriarch and founder of the Armenian nation Hayk. Gegham was the father of Sisak (founder of the Siunia dynasty), and Harma (grandfather of Ara the Beautiful). Gegham mountains and the Lake of Gegham (currently known as Lake Sevan) were also named after Gegham.

Popular places in Gegharkunik Province

Sevanavank

The medieval Sevanavank Monastery which is one of the most-visited sights in Armenia is located on a peninsula of Lake Sevan. Sevanavank Monastery played a crucial role in Armenian history during the battles. Its location and the fact that it was completely surrounded by water made it a good strategic shelter. Armenian King Ashot II (also known as Ashot Erkat, “Erkat” meaning “Iron”) won a decisive victory against the Arabs in the Battle of Sevan in 924-925, thereby restoring the kingdom of the Bagratuni dynasty.

The monastic complex comprises 2 churches — vivid pieces of early Armenian medieval architecture- Surp Arakelots (“Holy Apostles”) and Surp Astvatsatsin (“Holy Mother of God”). The inscription in one of the churches says that it was built by Armenian princess Mariam, daughter of King Ashot I, who was the founder of the Bagratuni dynasty.          

Sevanavank is one of the 30 churches that Princess Mariam vowed to build in memory of her husband. However, the peninsula was a religious and educational center even centuries before the construction of Sevanavank Monastery churches. St. Harutyun Church was built by Gregory the Illuminator, the founder of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The church was presumably ruined by an earthquake in 995.

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Hayravank Monastery

Hayravank  is a 9th to 12th century Armenian monastery located just northeast of the village of Hayravank along the southwest shores of Lake Sevan in the Gegharkunik Province of Armenia. The monastic complex consists of a church, chapel, and gavit.

Surrounding the monastery are numerous khachkars and gravestones that are part of a small cemetery. To the northwest a short distance from the site, are the remains of Bronze Age through medieval fortification walls and foundations of a settlement. A polished black vessel of the Early Bronze Age was discovered during archaeological excavations in the area. Weapons of metal and stone, tools, clay idols, numerous vessels, fireplaces and two tombs, all from the Iron Age were discovered in the vicinity as well.

Noratus

Not far from the mountain lake Sevan in the Gegharkunik region of Armenia is the ancient village of Noratus. It is here, according to researchers, that the world’s largest collection of khachkars is located, and perhaps the oldest surviving Armenian cemetery.

After the destruction of the cemetery of ancient khachkars near the city of Julfa (Juga, the historical region of Nakhichevan) on the territory of modern Azerbaijan, there are not many places left on the planet where you can see such a number of ancient khachkars collected at one point. One of such unforgettable places is the village of Noratus in Armenia.
The cemetery of the village of Noratus is located on seven hectares of territory with almost a thousand khachkars, the origin of which dates back to the 13th-17th centuries. Each of them depicts a unique ornament, such as a carved scene of a wedding and rural life. The oldest khachkar in the village of Noratus dates back to the 5th century AD, which makes it a more interesting and attractive place to visit.

Recall that the Armenian khachkar (խաչքար, literally “cross-stone”) is a carved memorial stele with a carved image of a cross and additional ornaments. A characteristic feature of most khachkars is a cross with a solar disk under it. The rest of the stone is decorated with images of leaves, grapes, pomegranates or abstract patterns.
The church of Surb Astvatsatsin, built in the 9th century, has been preserved in the center of the village. In the 14th century it was destroyed by the Persians, then rebuilt in the 15th century and again destroyed by now Leng Timur (Tamerlane), only the ruins of the church have survived. On the outskirts of Noratus, there is a small cross-domed church of St. Grigor, built in the 10th century.

In Noratus, locals are very fond of telling tourists about a beautiful legend.

“Once, one fierce conqueror, the Mongol-Tatar Khan, in his military campaign reached the very village of Noratus in Armenia. The inhabitants of the village were few compared to the horde of conquerors, and it was impossible to escape without outside help. Then they turned to their dead ancestors for help. They put the clothes of warriors on the ancient khachkars and asked for help. When the fierce conquerors approached Noratus, the united army stood in orderly rows of living people and khachkars. Seeing such a large army, the enemies did not even think to attack, but retreated and camped at a distance. The enemies completely surrounded the village and after some time sent their leader for negotiations.
The elders of Noratus understood that someday their military cunning would be revealed and then all the inhabitants of the village would die. The most respected elder agreed with the leader that the conquerors would not touch those who took refuge in the ancient chapel in the cemetery of the village of Noratus. And the rest will decide their own fate in single combat with enemies. The next day, the enemies broke into the village. There were no residents anywhere. They say that there was a network of underground passages below: either the angels took them to heaven, or the dead ancestors led the inhabitants out of the encirclement through the secret paths of the other world.
Then the leader of the conquerors went to the ancient stone chapel to the cemeteries. A respected elder sat inside and prayed alone. The elder said that the people turned into doves and flew away…

The shocked leader of the conquerors sat down in the chapel next to the elder and said: «We don’t fight here anymore. I still have a lot to learn from this people!» He remained in the chapel with the elder and spent several hours in conversation with him. And then the army left for good, and they never fought with the Armenian people again.”

So says the legend.

St. Thaddeus Church

St. Thaddeus the Apostle Church of Ddmashen is a 7th-century Armenian church located within the village of Ddmashen in the Gegharkunik Province of Armenia. Named after Saint Thaddeus the Apostle, the church is considered by some to be the fourth most important example of its style of architecture after the Cathedral of Talin, Ptghavank, and Aruchavank. Following structural damage caused by an earthquake, the drum was replaced in 1907 by a sixteen-sided one in an architectural style that was different from that of the original. Aside from the aforementioned alteration, there have not been any other major changes to the church. A large cemetery is situated south of the church, consisting mostly of unmarked grave stones. 

Architecture

The church of S. Tadevos has a large cruciform rectangular-plan. A single conical dome rests above a sixteen-sided drum with eight windows that let light into the interior of the structure. There are also niches in the facades between each of the windows that surround the drum. There is a single small window at the apse, while there are ten larger windows light the nave, and a window in each of the prayer rooms or «studies» adjacent to the apse. The exterior and interior of the church are relatively void of any decoration. Molding above the windows is undecorated as well.  Within the interior of the church is a painted wooden altar.

Makenyats Vank

Makenyats Vank is a 9th–13th century Armenian monastery located 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) south of Lake Sevan in the village of Makenis in the Gegharkunik Province of Armenia. The monastery was founded in 851 with the construction of the central S. Astvatsatsin Church by Prince Grigor Supan II, the son of Princess Mariam, who was also the founder of Kotavank in Nerkin Getashen, Armenia. Makenyats Vank served as a major cultural and educational center for the medieval province of Gegharkunik.

Architecture

The main church of S. Astvatsatsin is cruciform in plan, with a conical dome supported by a circular tholobate below. Four windows pierce the walls of the tholobate, letting some light into the church interior. A large horse carved in bas-relief adorns the interior basalt lintel of the main portal to the church.

A single cupola rests over the southwest entry. Numerous khachkars have been placed along the walls of the Church as well as the outer walls enclosing the monastery. A cemetery encompasses the church, especially around the western end, with both medieval and contemporary graves. Along the outer wall, along the gorge to the southwest corner, there is a medieval sanitary facility.

Berdkunk Fortress

The ruins of Berdkunk are located on the eastern shore of Lake Sevan. The fortress was built in the II or I millennium BC. The citadel occupies a small peninsula and is fenced off from the rest of the land by a fortress wall. From the side of the water, it is protected by impregnable rocks, among which there is a small but convenient bay.

Almost nothing remained of the buildings in the fortress. But there are paths leading underground. One passage stretches out of the fortress on land, and the other goes under water. The underwater dungeon is littered with fragments of columns and walls with relief decorations.

Sevan flora and fauna feel quite comfortable here. During underwater filming, the authors of the essay find a supposed secret exit to the water. But it is filled up — once the vault collapsed here.
There are stone anchors near the fortress bay.

And near the walls of Birdkunk you can see a lot of fragments of ceramics and bones of domestic animals. All finds are covered with a thick layer of calcium, which indicates their advanced age. Their large number indicates the activity of the ancient inhabitants and the important role of this settlement in trade.

Lake Sevan

Lake Sevan is a large lake located in Gegharkunik Province of Armenia. A national landmark, it is by far the largest body of water in the entirety of Armenia, taking up 5% of the country’s territory. It takes up an area of 1,242 square kilometers, and has a maximum depth of 79.4 meters. This lake is so large that there is only one point from which you can see the whole thing, and this is Mount Artanish.

Sevan is one of the three “great seas” of Great Armenia, along with Lake Van and Lake Urmia, which are now in Turkey and Iran respectively. Only Sevan from these three lakes remained in the territory of Armenia, so it is very important for Armenia and is one of the most visited touristic sites of the country.   

During the time of the Soviet Union, Lake Sevan was used extensively for water irrigation. The lake was drained over time, losing much of its depth. The peninsula on which rests Sevanavank monastery used to be an island before the water level lowered.

The Peninsula

Sevan Peninsula used to be an island. During the soviet times a considerable amount of the water was drained from Sevan. As a result of this, the water level dropped by 20m, leaving the monastery reachable from land. Today, the Armenian government is trying to increase the level of water again.  From the territory of the peninsula you can enjoy the colors of Lake Sevan.

Legends of Sevan

According to the legend  During the battle between Armenians and Arabs and his soldiers were too few in comparison with the Arab army. Even with many monks and fishermen who joined their King, Arabs kept being more in number. Then Ashot Yerkat spoke to one of his wise fishermen and asked for advice. The fisherman lived there for years and knew the peculiarities of weather well. He advised the King to attack the Arabs early in the morning when the sun just starts to rise. The King followed the advice, and led his soldiers in boats towards the Arabs. The sun was behind the Armenian forces and, therefore, blinded the Arabs. Armenians managed to win the battle, after which the lake was full of Arab soldiers. Because of the dead bodies and their uniforms, the lake looked black. Hence, the name Sevan.

The problems of Sevan and their impact on tourism, the monuments of Sevan

The dishes of Gegharkunik region

Qyufta / Kufta

According to some sources, the word «Kufta» comes from Persian and means minced meat balls, in fact, it is meat balls made from fresh beef ground 5-6 times, seasoned, and in old times, beaten on a stone with a stick. Gavar or Kyavar kufta are famous for their deliciousness.
Kufta (or qyufta in Armenian) is an interesting Armenian dish that is savory and absolutely delicious.
The dish is reminiscent to meatballs and it is a part of every wedding or large gathering in Armenia and the kufta is served in different manners depending on where in Armenia you are.
The main ingredients in kufta are beef, onion, butter, egg, black pepper, and salt. It’s boiled in water and then served with butter, or it is boiled and then fried, depending on how you like it.

Pakhlava

The list of Armenian sweet dishes wouldn’t be complete without this little gem, Pakhlava, which originated from the eastern cuisine. In Western Armenia, it was called Baklava, while in the Eastern part, they call it Pakhlava.

This mouthwatering pastry with multi-layered paper-thin dough, chopped walnuts, and honey will certainly not leave you disappointed. The mixture of sugar and walnuts is added to each dough layer, put in a large pan to bake, and when ready, the final dessert is topped with honey or syrup.

It is a popular dish in not only Armenia but also in Iran, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Greece, albeit with some variations. Nowadays, Gavar is a renowned place where you can try the best Paklava with its traditional unique flavors.

Traditionally it was a must serve dessert during weddings, baptisms, and birthdays. Pakhlava has now become a common dessert found in almost every restaurant and cafe in Yerevan.

Tolma

One of the easiest dishes in Armenia cuisine (if cooked correctly) is definitely Tolma or Dolma (Տոլմա). It is a dish made with meat and spices and other ingredients rolled into grape leaves (most popular) or cabbage. Alternatively, it can be stuffed in vegetables like eggplant, tomato, pepper, or even stuffed in apples.

Tolma is an old dish popular in the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, and even in many Mediterranean countries.

In Armenia, tolma has been around for centuries and is a very important part of the cuisine. There is even a Tolma festival that takes place in the country where you can try over 50 different types of the Armenian food!

The typical ingredients for tolma are beef mince, rice, chopped onion, coriander and parsley, chopped garlic, tomato sauce, black pepper, salt, and grape leaves.

After mixing all the ingredients together with the minced meat, the tolma is assembled layer by layer in a pot and prepared on a 150C fire for 50-60 minutes without mixing because you cant mix tolma (it’s an unwritten rule in Armenia)!

Despite the fact that this is the most popular dish in Armenia, it should be noted that it is also prepared in the Gegharkunik region, but with a different recipe. Since this region is rich in fish species, trout or whitefish meat is often used here instead of beef.
500 gr. trout fish fillet, 100 grams of corn, 50 grams of tomatoes, 50 grams of dill, salt, ground black and red pepper. Mix everything, wrap it with a grape leaf, put it in a pot and put it in the oven.

Gegharkunik festivals

The Big Bonfire festival

The Big Bonfire Festival is held in autumn in the town of Gavar, Gegharkunik region, and symbolizes the harvest of potatoes. At the festival, an exhibition-sale of traditional dishes of the region is held. Here you can also get to know the ways of preparing them.

The event is accompanied by folk music and dances, games and competitions.

Sevan Music Festival

The «Sevan» music festival takes place on the shores of Lake Sevan and in the town of Sevan. It lasts one or two days. The festival is attended by rock bands from Armenia and other countries.

The festival is held in August. To participate, you need to have a playlist of your own songs (modern rock or Armenian folk music) and submit an application.

The festival is a good opportunity to enjoy contemporary music and the beauty of Lake Sevan.

Huso Aragast Bard Festival 

Huso Aragast, which means “Sail of Hope,” is a music festival, named after a very famous Armenian song.
The Festival provides visitors with an opportunity to discover new names in the music industry and gives musicians the chance to write, present, and promote new works.
The festival takes place at Wishup shore of Lake Sevan. Every year the festival brings together music lovers and performers from different countries.
The festival closes with an evening near the campfire.

Mets Poor Festival

Mets Pur Festival is a celebration of one of the most hospitable regions of Armenia – Gavar in Gegharkunik region. As the motto of the event states, “People of Gavar are Hosting” everyone with open arms, good food, and a lively ambiance. The Festival presents visitors with the traditional bonfire-made potato of Gavar along with delicious kufta, cheese, gata, pakhlava, and other national dishes. Every autumn the people of Gavar organize this beautiful event to celebrate the potato harvest and contribute to the economic development of the region. And, just like all festivals in Armenia, this occasion cannot end without national music and dances to spice up the day for all visitors.

Links to materials used: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 , 10

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