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30 August Garni, Geghard & Khor Virab

In A Deep Hole

On Wednesday, I joined a group of French-Armenian diaspora tourists on a trip to the pagan temple of Garni, a Hellenistic monument of ancient Armenia.  Outside the temple was a beautiful gorge and village, and locals were selling souvenirs at the temple entrance.  Dried grape snack and fox skin.

Temple of Garni - amazingly Hellenistic isn't it ?
The Village & Gorge of Garni
Armenian-French Diaspora dancing.

Gerghard was next.  It’s a spectacular monasterial complex carved out from the rocks in a remote gorge in the mountains.  I wondered around its dark halls, gawking at ancient carvings and spying on devoted locals praying for their loved ones in an increasingly confusing world.  A teenage boy held a sheep closely to his chest.  In a matter of minutes, the sheep would be sacrificed, and the sign of the cross would be made of the sheep’s blood on a newborn baby’s forehead.

Entrance to the amazing Gerghard Monastery, literary the Cross Monastery.
One of the caves of Gerghard
The mysterious...
 Lion attacking a bull - symbol of princely power
Peacock at the Gates... 
Look at the symbol of the Proshyan ruling house on the top left corner
Symbol of the Proshyans: a chain around the neck of two lions, linked to an eagle with a lamb in its craws.
Graffiti of holy crosses
Geghard from afar

After Gerghard, I joined my Franco-Armenians fellow tourists – all 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation French citizens of varying age - in having a picnic nearby.  This cheerful and fun-loving lot had great joy singing and dancing – and joined a native Armenian picnic group.  Both intermingled well and I was amazed how young 3rd generation Franco-Armenians kept their ancestral cultures alive - all of them were having great fun dancing and singing old Armenian patriotic songs... with cries of "Hayastan ! Hayastan" (Hayastan is the Armenian word for Armenia) from time to time.  It was also these overseas Armenians who also contributed so much resources, and in a few cases, personal lives in fighting against the Azeris for Nagorno-Karabakh.  Although I see myself first and foremost a Singaporean rather than having any political loyalty to my ancestral roots, I remain deeply disturbed that many of my countrymen openly deny their Chinese ancestry and pretend to be pseudo-Westerners in the midst of Southeast Asia.

Sacrifical sheep at Gegard
Banknote with the Ararat

We drove back to Yerevan and jumped into Ara’s car.  He drove me to Khor Virab, a monumental monastery with Mt Ararat in its backdrop.  It was a pity that the skies remained misty and I couldn’t take yet another popular photo – that of Khor Virab with Mt Ararat in its backdrop.  Khor Virab was where St Gregory the Illuminator, a Parthian prince-turned monk, was imprisoned in a pit by King Trdat III for 15 years for being Christian.  In the pit, he was tortured, had a bag of ashes placed over his head, molten lead poured over him, and placed him together with corpses, filth and poisonous snakes.  He survived them all, like Uri Gellar, and was finally released when a vision appeared telling the King’s sisters that the prayers of Gregory could save the King, who by then had been turned into a devil-possessed boar.  And so Gregory saved the king and as a gratitude the king declared Armenia a Christian state at a time Roman emperor Diocletian was still persecuting the Christians.  Hence turning Armenia the first Christian country, something the Armenians are proud of and wouldn’t stop reminding all visitors.  And so, like all trashy tourists, I decided to explore Gregory’s pit, and had to climb down a ladder into the pit.  Stuffy and bare, there were only a few lit candles in it.  What do you expect, man ?  Coca Cola vending machines ?  At least there were no longer any more snakes and corpses…

Khorvirab with Ararat in the background
Respect the Power of the Armenian Brandy!  I'm clearly high...

Respect the Power of the Armenian Brandy !

"Comrades, respect the power of Armenian brandy!  It is easier to climb up to heaven than to get out of here when you have taken too much on board."

    Attributed to Maxim Gorky

Finally – no surprise – I returned to Yerevan and went straight to Onnik and Gohar’s place.  Today, I was finally introduced to the delights of the famous Armenian Brandy - produced by the Ararat Brandy Company now owned by the French, sold in an auction that scandalised ordinary Armenians.  Churchill was introduced to the 10 year old Dvin by Stalin at Yalta in 1944 and had a case sent to him every year - and he made no secret about preferring it to French cognac.  I bought the 18 year old Vaspurakan - vicious, smooth, brown delight that brought one to the heavens.  With Onnik and his wife, we spent every evening this week sampling the delights of the extremely potent Armenian vodka and thick black Armenian coffee, and now, Armenian brandy as well. The pleasures of life... but of course, this imposed a cost on my daily routine, and I spent every morning dozing off on the way to the wonderful monuments of Armenia, certainly missing some of the beautiful countryside along the way.

31 August Yerevan, Mt Aragats & Etchmiadzin
Having Tea with Hospitable Yezidis

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