Trip to Western Armenia (Part 5)

That morning the other minivan arrived at the hotel and we visited St Garabed Monastery. The road was not any better than the one to Varaqa Sourp Khach in Van, that I wrote about in part 3.  But the monastery was in worst condition than Varaqa Sourp Khach.

Again, the village children led us to the monastery, which was nothing more than a pile of ruins and hardly indicative of a sacred monastery. There were more stones that had Armenian letters or cross carved on them on the houses, than on the ruins. It was very sad, to say the least.

Hasmig, a young lady from Yerevan, that seems to be the most religious person in the group, was overcome with emotions and was crying, while another lady from Yerevan was repeating “Քորանաք, գետին անցնէք. It was hard not to be emotional.

This area too was a hub for the Armenian freedom fighters  (Ֆետայի). I recall a revolutionary song “Ախ ֆետայիներ ճան ֆետայիներ” that praises the freedom fighters and wishes them the help of the almighty Saint Garabed of Mush.

Next and last stop in Mush, was the Bridge of Sulukh, Սուլուխի կամուրջը, where the legendary Armenian hero, Kevork Chavush, was ambushed and killed. The bridge was almost intact, but not used for any kind of traffic. It stood there like a monument. The river was flowing underneath it, and it was hard not to get emotional and imagine the wounded hero taking shelter under one of the arches of the bridge.

Next, we stopped at Bingoel. ( Bingoel in the Turkish language means a thousand fountains). There were no Armenian historical sites to visit in Bingoel. We stopped on the main street of the city, while Volodia went to get some supplies.

A police car with two policemen came and parked a short distance in front of our minivans. They never talked to us. (I thought, it was a watch for our safety). I walked uphill on a path under lush green trees that led to a mosque, on top of a small hill.

The open courtyard was almost empty. I took pictures of the mosque, surrounding areas, and the beautiful city “covered” with green trees. (I am not much of a photographer, but on this trip, I was well equipped with cameras and camcorders, and with the traveling hat, I had the look of a real tourist/photographer!).

Although not a Friday, (Muslim prayer day), I saw a few people taking their shoes off and entering the mosque, while little children were offering shoe-shining services. Just for curiosity, I walked to the entrance. There was sort of a large “lobby” before the main entrance to the Mosque. I took off my shoes and entered the “lobby” just for curiosity.

I had no intention of entering the mosque. I looked at some of the artwork at the “lobby”, and was ready to turn back, when a well-dressed middle-aged man, with a suit and a tie, opened the door and signaled to me to come in. I did.

The Mosque was almost empty. Maybe two dozen people were kneeling/seating backs to the main door. It looked like a religious educational meeting. I signaled to the man who invited me in, that I just want to look and not take pictures, he signaled back that it was OK to take pictures.

Without hesitating for a second, I started video recording the beautiful domed mosque. After I finished, I sign thanked the guy who invited me in and cautiously walked out. A little boy brought me my “cleaned” walking shoes and got a good tip. Needless to say, this was my first, and last, entrance to a mosque.

I returned to the minivans and soon Volodia came back with many bags of barbecued chickens, fries, and drinks. We drove out of town with the “silent escort” of the police car that left us as soon as we were on the main highway.

We drove to a beautiful small picnic area with picnic tables, overlooking the lush valley in front of a motel type of a building that seemed to be closed. To our surprise, the sign on the building read “Sev Karetsi Sako”.  Volodia explained that the sign had no any Armenian history attached to it. It was so unmistakably Armenian that, it was hard to agree even with encyclopedic Volodia.

On our way to Erzurum (Garin) for an overnight stay, we stopped at a few beautiful waterfalls and lush green rest areas. (Here I must say that, during the tour, we stopped at many beautiful and scenic, tourist attractions that were quite interesting, but I had no intention, and the ability, to write a detailed travelogue).

Garin is considered to be the capital city of western Armenia. It has a rich history of Armenian presence in the city, and in the whole province. Vazken, himself a Garnetsi, wanted to spend two days in Garin,  but Volodia had convinced him that, there was hardly anything left of the Armenian heritage in Garin city, and the one day was more than enough. He did prove to be right.

As usual, we arrived in Garin late at night. The hotel we checked in was one of the worst hotels that we stayed in, especially so, considering the fact that, Garin is a major city that is a destination for many European skiers during the winter season. (Most of the hotels other than Van, that we stayed in, were probably “poor cousins” of three-star hotels).

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian.


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