BY HEGHINAR MELKOM MELKOMIAN
It is interesting that the word crane has two completely different meanings, but is spelled the same way in English. It is also interesting that the lifting machine and the bird species are pronounced the same way, “groong,” in Armenian. The long-legged and long-necked bird, famous for standing on one leg, is more than just another bird for Armenians. Cranes are one of our national symbols, associated with immigration and fortune.
Cranes are one of those rare creatures in nature that choose a lifelong partner. Every year during the migration season they leave their nests, but when the weather gets warmer, they return to their old homes. The faithful birds are believed to bring fortune and having a nest on one’s house is something to be proud of. We have many popular folk songs dedicated to these creatures and in all of them, we ask them to return home after their migration and bring with them our brothers and sisters from abroad. We associate the forced migration and the inevitable return of these birds with that of our compatriots.
Today, more than ever we see and subconsciously refer to the cranes in Armenia. We constantly appeal to our Diasporan compatriots to pack their bags and move to Armenia, help make Armenia stronger from the inside and physically participate in its development. As far as seeing a crane is concerned, the city is filled with these lifting machines that work on and off season to keep up with the deadlines of the vast construction works. However, sometimes the presence of a crane does not necessarily mean construction, but the contrary. Such is the example of the crane which stood erect and faithful next to the Poghos Petros Church of the Tatev monastic complex for over 20 years. The decayed crane had become the symbol of the abandonment and neglect of Tatev.
A major earthquake in 1931 left the monastery in ruins. During the late Soviet period several reconstruction attempts were made. If we compare old and new pictures we can see the vast work carried out within the walls of the complex. However, as the well-known saying goes, “there is more to it than meets the eye”. It is only fair to label the construction works as blotched-up attempts. The monastic complex, perched on the edge of a cliff, is located in a highly humid environment. Every time it rains in Tatev, the different structures within the complex soak up the water from their leaking roofs. After each rain, the walls leak water for days, weakening the foundations of the monastery.
As part of the Tatev Revival Project implemented by the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia, by 2016 the Tatev monastic complex and its surrounding region will be revitalized. The project, the capacity of which is $50 million, will launch on October 16, 2010, together with the opening ceremony of the world’s longest reversible aerial tramway, which outreached the previous longest Sandia Peak tramway in New Mexico, USA. The Tatev Revival Project is one of the frontrunner initiatives of the Foundation’s tourism development program. The long-term aim of the foundation in this specific sector is to make Armenia an attractive touristic spot not only by showing off its ancient churches and monuments, but by developing a competitive tourism market. Yes, competitive: a foreign word for many spheres in Armenia.
Thus, for the first time in Armenia, a region is being announced as a touristic hotspot and actual steps are being taken to make the region tourist attractive. The project consists of three main components: restoring the monastery – structurally, spiritually and academically, developing community-based tourism in the six villages surrounding the monastery, and building tourism infrastructures, such as the world’s longest aerial tramway spanning the Vorotan River Gorge. The enormous Tatev Monastery, which is at the heart of the Project, will be restored with its eight main structures. The structures include the St. Poghos-Petros Church and Bell Tower, the Grigor Tatevatsi Mausoleum, the St. Grigor Lusavorich Church, the Gavazan “The Swinging Column”, the St. Astvatsatsin Church, the Dzit-han “The Oil Mill”, the Monk Cells and the Communal Quarters.
The Tatev Active Museum will be created, which will exhibit artifacts with activities, workshops and events, highlighting the monastery’s living history, and its spiritual, cultural and academic legacy. Since Tatev is located in a scenic region, for all those who prefer active holidays, the Southern Armenia Nature Trails will be launched: a network of walking, hiking, horseback riding and biking trails. This will serve as a precedent for Armenia’s other regions to also develop ecotourism, using their natural resources. On the other hand, for all those who enjoy the serenity of village life and want to spend more time in the region, there will be high quality local bed and breakfasts: an unprecedented source of sustainable development and poverty alleviation for the local population.
And last, but not least, is the food. We all search for traditional dishes when we travel abroad. For years many have mocked Armenia’s traditional cuisine or claimed that it does not have one, since the food presented in the restaurants has little or nothing to do with our nation or its traditions. However, since professional cooks have never written down the recipes of our traditional dishes or worked on their development, in time we have forgotten these recipes. We have, but the older generation hasn’t. And so, with the help of the Armenian Cuisine Revival project many old traditional recipes have been elicited from the villages in the region. The broad goals of the project are to enhance Armenia’s culinary culture, engage rural communities and stimulate economic growth, and develop a food culture that lends itself to new, marketable tourism products locally, nationally and internationally.
As part of the upcoming launch of the project, the region is being cleared of trash and other wastes. As part of the clean up, the old and rusty crane, the lifting machine, which had somehow grown roots into the land, was dismantled and removed from the territory of the monastery in mid-September. Even though, once the renovation works of the monastery resume, a new crane will be placed in the area, the dismantling of the latter symbolizes the end of the monastery’s and region’s neglect.
With all the above mentioned projects at hand, the upcoming revival of the south of Armenia, and the vision of the development of the whole of Armenia in general, the Armenians in Armenia once again call on the crane, the emigrants’ bird, to return home to the motherland, together with our brothers and sisters.