The Seat of the Armenian Soul

BY PAUL CHADERJIAN

Once there was and there was not …

It’s a picture perfect Sunday morning in Tatev, a serene and remote corner of Southern Armenia.

The beauty of this place is so stunning that you have to remind that you are not looking at a computer-generated Hollywood backdrop or an image on an HD screen.

This is the real deal. This is the Armenia many will soon discover and want to experience.

Sitting in the morning sun, on a green hill across the gorge from the majestic Tatev Monastery Complex is 16-year-old Seryoja. Next to him on the ground is a pick axe, and he’s carrying a burlap sack.

He sits in contemplation, looking across the Vorotan Valley, its green hills, trees, pastures, the rushing white waters below, and the snow-streaked mountains on the distant horizon towards Karabakh.

This Tatev-native says he comes to this very same spot every day on his way back home from his family’s plot of farm.

Seryoja says it’s a great place to be alone, replay the dialogue he’s had with his family and friends, ponder life’s questions, and dream.

What do you dream about, I ask.

Hawaii, he says.

I ask him why Hawaii, and he says he’s seen the islands on the map. Places in the middle of an ocean, isolated, so far away, fascinate him.

I want to tell him that he is also in a fascinating, far-away place. I want to tell him that I know with all of my heart that no Hawaiian could ever compete with the uncanny hospitality, love, and soulfulness of the 500-plus villagers here.

I tell him that he will see Hawaii one day, and all he has to do is believe he will see it.

Seryoja and the people of Tatev are the salt of the earth, and they open their homes to tourists, Armenian and non-Armenian, who have come to experience their patch of heaven on earth.

Their faces are bright, glowing. Their eyes are a piercing blue like the sky.

Their hearts and hearths are open. The air they breathe is fresh, the food they eat tastes richer, and even the sheep and chicken roaming the unpaved streets and the cows and pigs fenced in at nearby orchards are amazing to look at.

For the tourist coming to the region to experience the natural wonders, historic landmarks, and the seven local villages, Tatev’s Information Center is the place to start.

Zarine and her children run the newly-built center on the way to the monastery. They also operate one of the Bed & Breakfasts (hatz oo gatz) in the village.

Zarine is the chef, industrious, working non-stop in the kitchen, on her farm, at their B&B. Her daughter Anna is the Italian-educated tour guide, interpreter, and self-assured modern Armenian women.

Zarine’s son, Artur, is the reserved, quiet, and well-mannered man of the house. He manages the office and makes sure visitors have internet access.

For 3,500 AMD/night ($10), visitors can find a clean, well-lit place to stay in this village. There are some five registered B&B’s now, which were once the dream of Zarine’s late husband, the village doctor. He had envisioned the creation of a village fund that would help create a visitor’s center and direct tourists to area homes that would house them, thus creating a new source of revenue.

There had been a cheese factory in the village during the Soviet Era, and it had generated some income in addition to farming. The village doctor knew that B&B’s could be a great way to attract those who came to see the monastery for the day and had nowhere to stay or eat.

The late doctor’s prescription for his village became a reality a few years ago with the opening of the Information Center a few steps up the road from the Tatev Monastery. Here, one can look at maps, ask questions, find a place to sleep and eat, and run into fellow travelers from all around the world. A phone call to +37493 84-56-32 can get you a room at any of the registered B&B’s.

On the evening we arrived, Marc from Brussels had come to use the computer. He had just arrived in Tatev, seeking refuge and quiet after a week in Yerevan. A friend’s wedding was what had brought him to Armenia, and Marc had figured a small village like Tatev would be the ideal place to get away from it all.

After writing an e-mail home to tell his parents he was doing well, Zarine served him tea and gatta (sweet bread) and helped make a random European a friend to those sipping tea on the patio of the Information Center.

Marc had taken a $10 cab ride from Yerevan to Goris and spent another two bucks for a bus ride from Goris to Tatev. The bus driver, Gago, had told him about his B&B, and that’s where Marc was going to stay and eat his three daily meals. The cost? $25 bucks-a-day.

Another B&B, Jon and Lena’s, comes with a wonderful love story. The homeowner is the spunky local math teacher, whose daughter Lena met a young diasporan named Jon, when he was part of the Land & Culture mission to Tatev in 1997. The couple exchanged letters and phone calls for several years until Jon returned to spend a few weeks in Armenia in 1999. Their wedding a year later took place at the Tatev Monastery.

As a way to give back to the village, Jon and Lena, now living in the US, invested some money so that Lena’s mom, Tamara, could remodel her home near the school and accommodate guests. Since the opening of Jon & Lena’s, Tamara and her family have welcomed 119 groups from the US, UK, Switzerland, and Japan.

For tourists like Marc, traveling off the beaten path, hiking, cycling, and hitchhiking are both adventuresome and safe to do in Armenia. Marc’s plans included seeing the Devil’s Bridge, a natural bridge over the Vorotan’s rushing white waters. At Devil’s Bridge are also two natural pools of hot spring water. Locals and tourists go for a dip for the healing affects of mineral baths.

Beyond the mineral baths and serenity of the region, the most refreshing experience is the hospitality of total strangers with whom you at once will feel connected.

Armenia’s villagers are warm, generous, and the food they will serve is organic, fresh, and from their own farms.

The yogurts, honey, jams, cheeses, and butter are all homemade, the breads are baked daily in a local tonir (a below-ground oven), the greens are freshly picked tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, and mints of all sorts.

For travelers looking to silence the noise of the world and the chaos of the mind, one night under the starry sky of Tatev is the answer.

The only noise here is the sound of the wind, the chirping of the birds, and perhaps the distant chime of a church bell.

There are no airplanes overhead, no cars or the constant hum of highways. There are no sirens or construction drills, save for the work being completed on the world’s longest aerial tramway station near the monastery.

There are only the sounds of nature here and the laughter of children echoing from far away.

It is only when humans are away from their home in a place like this village that our senses become sharper and our perceptions more aware.

With heightened awareness, we have the ability to be more present and experience the whole of life and our total self — distanced from the past and unconcerned about the future.

The stillness outside mystically creates a stillness inside.

In the here and now, we are given a chance to realize who we are and define the true nature and soul of our people.

We are a good people, a kind, giving people. Hospitable. Caring. Loving. Simple.

We share what we have even when it’s not a lot. We respect ourselves and each other.

We don’t judge and dismiss but acknowledge and accept. We share experiences, laugh, tell stories and express our joy and respect through our abundant tables of food.

We are each a creation of God and a part of God.

Now is the time we must collectively reflect and reacquaint ourselves with our roots and find out what’s truly in our hearts.

Who are we and whose are we?

Our rural Homeland is where we can find the answers, our true selves, and our true home.

Tatev and other villages are our turning and returning point in the modern-day Armenian experience.

Tatev is where we can find the seat of our Armenian soul.

And three apples fell from heaven: one for the storyteller, one for him who made him tell it, and one for you the reader.

Authors

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15 Comments

  1. Antoine S. Terjanian said:

    Thank you Mr. Chaderjian for such an inspiring article.
    Rural Armenia is where Armenia’s true soul is. There is no feeling like the one of walking on Armenian soil in the countryside, through mountains and valleys, and meeting Armenian farmers who will insist on giving you a taste of their produce. Keep in mind that they are offering you all they have!
    Thank you for encouraging and promoting rural tourism, it is a great way to get to know Armenia and to help rural Armenia develop and survive.

  2. Hagop said:

    I have visited more than 40 countries in the world but never came across to such an astonishing scenery similar to Datev monastery area!

  3. Mary Terzian said:

    It is a Saturday morning. I have just washed my face. I walk to the computer like a zombie, to start my daily routine. I check the e-mail list that has bloated to five hundred messages. I draw a sigh. Where do I start?
    I scan the list wearily. Junk mail. Wait. There is a message from Paul. I am wide awake.

    “Tatev. The seat of the Armenian soul.” The picture is familiar. I was there. The end of the world: the hills, the chills, the serenity. It is easier to converse with God there because the venue seems closer to heaven. As I read the article I am enveloped in the stillness of the panoramic scene. Stress and my pontifical list of what I will have to deal with today, compiled even before I wake up, fade away. Suddenly I feel the urge to take wings and fly to “Hayreni Hogh” to lose myself in the stillness of the mountains and valleys, feel a sense of freedom from mundane obligations and just live. I felt the same sensation in Karapagh, one evening, watching the sunset from the terrace of the hotel, under the protective arm of a friend, wondering if life wouldn’t be heaven, aging together in those “lost” spots of the world, where life is still what it was meant to be.

    Your article touched me to the core.

    Mary Terzian

  4. hay1 said:

    Very nice. I have been to Tatev, and the person describing it is right. Tatev and its surrounding mountains offer a scenery that you would think comes from a movie. It’s really difficult to describe it, and I have taken videos, photographs, but it’s not enough. You need to see it with your own eyes to truly understand what beauty we speak of.

  5. Ani Tashjian said:

    Dear Paul, What a great coverage about Armenia’s ” best kept secret” – Tatev and its people ! ! ! It gave me the goosebumps unlike any other article ever published, as my husband Jirair and I have a very close connection with Tatev through our son John who married Lena in the Vank in the summer of 2000. Thank God you were chosen to be part of this magnificant airway tram project bringing out the heart and soul of this remote jewel in a very special way.. For this soulful article our family remains forever grateful.
    Thank you Paul, and God bless. Ani

  6. Sylvie Tertzakian said:

    the article succeds to capture the beauty of the 1000 year old “majestic monastery”, the dreams of the young man, the traditional hospitality of the Armenian peasant and the positive characteristics of our people. the tourist info on cab rides, b&bs, and the people who run the latter, makes the reader salivate for a visit to datev.the story is an “amuse bouche” to a visit to datev, to nurture our national soul in rural armenia.
    paul, once again a story very well done. congratulations!

  7. Krikor said:

    DEAR PAUL
    SUCH A WONERFUL AND INSPIRING ARTICLE ABOUT DATEV, A JEWEL OF ARMENIAN ARCHTECTURE.
    I VISITED THE MONASTERY LAST YEAR AND I WOULD GO BACK 100 TIMES.
    KRIKOR
    PS. AS FAR AS I KNOW THE CONSTRUCTION OF A LIFT IS IN PROCESS FROM THE LOWER VILLAGE TO THE MONASTERY

  8. ARN. SWEDEN. said:

    The Seat of the Armenian Soul

    IN THE REMOTE AND APART STILLNES OF NATURE – WHEN ALL COMUNICATION BY ONES THOUGHTT-SOUL CHEASES WITH THE SOUROUNDING THOUGHT-SOULS –

    ALL NOISY THOUGHTS FROM OUTSIDE – ONES – SOULS AND SPIRITS IS GONE –
    AND STILLNESS AND SILANCE COMES WITHIN,
    IF YOU ARE A TRUE BELIVER OF AND IN GOD –
    HIS PRECENSE WITHIN CAN BE FELT – AND COMMUNICATION WITH HIM RESTORED.

    ALL SOULS ARE MINE SAYS THE LORD – THAT IS – THE LORD IS ALL SOULS – A PART OF HIM.

    MAY GOD IN AND BY JESUS CHRIST BLESS THE SOUL OF ARMENIA !!!.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENtL_li4GbE

    Arn.SWEDEN.

  9. Sona said:

    Paul Jan: Before I read your article, it seemed impossible to me to be able to capture the beauty that one sees outside of Yerevan. You have proven me wrong. You could not have done a better job than you have done. Fabulous job, wonderful article. Thank you.

  10. manooshag said:

    Hye Paul, you share it so well, almost felt I too shall have been there.
    I, too, having driven from Yerevan to the lands near Kapan,
    enjoyed the lands, the valleys, the chirping of the waters, brooks,
    ayd bagh chooreh, zoolal chooreh…
    enjoyed our villages,our peoples, beauty of our Haiastan.
    Manooshag

  11. Cristina said:

    I love your style of writing. Great article, and great place!!!

  12. Elizabeth Lopez said:

    I have been there, and out of 15 countries, Armenia is my favorite! Our family fell in love with the monasteries, the people, the countryside, and the wonderful food! If we get the chance, we will go back again….
    This article is so good at describing one of the most beautiful countries on our planet. Go to Armenia and fall in love!!

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