BY HEGHINAR MELKOM MELKOMIAN
On October 16, 2010, I did not get to ride on the world’s longest reversible aerial tramway, but I got to strengthen my belief in people who simply want to see Armenia prosper. While the world was fascinated by the operation of the “Wings of Tatev” aerial tramway, I was fascinated with the dedication of those who provided funding for the realization of its operation.
While many were awed at how the 17th century Dzit-han (Oil mill) was restored, I was awed at the birth of the idea to restore it. It is truly amazing how people like you and me, Diasporan Armenians and non-Armenians, gather and decide to donate to the Tatev Revival Project, for the revival of the South of Armenia: A project beyond the scope of our imagination; donations, beyond our lifetime bank accounts.
Over 700 guests comprising of local and international high-ranking officials and businessmen and 70 local and international media representatives attended the grand event in the Syrunik province. In about 5 hours, at whirlwind speed, several small initiatives took place and dozens of messages floated within and outside of the walls of the monastery. On the valley right above the monastery small pavilions had been set up as part of the folk festival. Within the walls of the monastery a large stage had been constructed for the concert, in the place where the crane used to stand.
The kitchen of the monastery was bustling once again and housed the “Cuisine Revival Project”. Guests could taste long-forgotten, yet delicious traditional Armenian dishes and desserts. The women at the baking house baked fresh “lavash” on the spot, in the “tonir”. There was too much going on for one day, but that is truly the scope of the project. October 16 was not solely the day the aerial tramway was launched, but also the day the Tatev Revival Project was officially launched, the day all those who had donated 20 million dollars were thanked and the day funds were gathered for the many components of the project.
As part of its ongoing fundraising efforts, such as the online donation section at www.tatev.am/donate, during the opening ceremony some of the activities were also aimed to this end. In one of the monk cells the “Southern Armenia Ecotourism” pavilion had been set up with breathtaking pictures of several beautiful sites. Another monk cell was used to display and also sell different works of miniature paintings. In other places, books and souvenirs of Tatev were being sold. Adjacent to all the structures within the monastic complex, such as the Poghos-Petros Church, Grigor Tatevatsi’s mausoleum, the Swinging Tower “Gavazan”, etc., posters had been placed explaining their history, current condition and the funds required for their renovation/restoration.
The official opening began with the welcoming speech by Pegor Papazian, the CEO of the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia, which is implementing the Tatev Revival Project. After his speech, Garegin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, blessed the “Wings of Tatev” at the Halidzor aerial tramway station, a 40 minute drive away from the monastery. Serzh Sargsyan, the President of Armenia; Garegin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, Bako Sahakyan, the President of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and seven children from the villages surrounding the monastery entered one of the two cabins of the aerial tramway, thus marking the official launch of the aerial tramway. In 11 minutes Mr. Papazian welcomed the guests from the Tatev station and everybody headed down towards the vicinity of the monastery.
Many have never even realized what used to stand next to the monastery. What once used to be a small mound resembling a pile of ruins, today is an interactive museum. The fully-restored oil mill, the Dzit-han tells a 400- year old history. I don’t know if it was the damp smell of the structure, or its beautiful architecture or its 17th century artifacts that left such an inexplicable impression on me, but I can state: I loved the Dzit-han and it alone is worth a visit to Tatev. Before entering the monastery, guests became acquainted with how the Dzit-han used to work and only after that did they enter the territory of the mighty fortress for the festivities. After the prayer s and blessings of the Supreme Patriarch in front of the Boghos-Bedros Church, a very touching and beautifully presented concert began. After the concert the guests once again went outside to partake in the folk festival, with traditional songs and dances.
The Tatev monastic complex is located on top of a hill and is surrounded by beautiful green mountains. Anyone who has visited the region before in this season can guarantee you one thing: mist. However, on October 16, there was nothing but a warm sun and cool breeze throughout the day. In other words, Tatev greeted its guests in all her glory. Almost at the end of the event the wind became stronger and clouds gathered, but no one expected what happened next. Suddenly it began pouring ‘’Hollywood movie” style and this, accompanied by hail. The wind was so strong that it was blowing away everything and throwing the heavier stuff on the ground. The wind managed to overturn a large, full milk churn, probably about 30kg, right in front of my eyes. This all happened in a matter of about 10 minutes, after which the sun come out and, on the horizon over the monastic complex and the aerial tramway, a rainbow appeared.
Never before have I seen a rainbow in such vivid colors. As the old saying goes, “There’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow”, and ironically enough on that day Tatev was at the foot of the rainbow. And as if everyone was not astonished enough by the speed and beauty of everything, another rainbow appeared on top of the first one. For the first time in my life I witnessed a double rainbow, which was literally breathtaking. Somehow everyone forgot that they were all wet and just stood there to take in the beautiful sight. I think Mother Nature played a little game to emphasize the already natural beauty of the location and send yet another message: “You can experience the ineffable only in Tatev”. On October 16, 2010, I got to experience many things, but I did not get to ride on the world’s longest reversible aerial tramway. That will have to wait until my next visit.