May 122014
 
Tblisi is the capital and the largest city of Georgia.  The Mtkvari River runs through the middle of it and it has a population of roughly 1.5 million people. Tblisi was founded in the 5th century by the monarch of Georgia’s ancient precursor Kingdom of Iberia, and has served, with various intervals, as Georgia’s capital for more than a thousand years. 
Tbilisi is diverse culturally, ethnically, and religiously, though it is overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox Christian.
Our accompanying professor calls it the home of a million churches and a million hammams.
 
Hammams, (Turkish Baths) in the oldest part of town
According to old legend, the present-day territory of Tbilisi was covered by forests as late as 458. One day King Vakhtang I Gorgasali of Georgia went hunting in the region with a falcon. The King’s falcon allegedly caught a pheasant during the hunt, after which both birds fell into a nearby hot spring and died. King Vakhtang became so impressed with the hot springs that he decided to cut down the forest and build a city on the location. The name  ‘Tbilisi’ means warm location. 
This hawk statue is just to the right of the baths above and is truly one of the most beautiful sculptures I have seen, sadly the light at the time of day we were there was very poor and you need to walk all around it to really appreciate it.
 
Tblisi’s great location meant that the King wasn’t meant to stay in power for long.  From 570–580, the Persians took over Tbilisi and ruled it for about a decade. In the year 627, Tbilisi was then sacked by the Byzantine/Khazar armies and later, in 736–738, Arab armies. The Arab domination of Tbilisi continued until about 1050. In 1068, the city was once again sacked, only this time by the Turks.
 
In 1122,  King of Georgia David the Builder entered Tbilisi.  He drove out the turks and inaugurated Georgia’s Golden Age from the 12-13th centuries.  Then you have the Mongols, the Persians and of course, the Russians.
Georgia gained independence during the breakup of the Soviet Union.  They have internal problems and strife with Ossetia, but they get along just fine with the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis.
The country does not have the wealth of Azerbaijan.  Their primary income is from their expatriate community sending money back home.  Their largest expat community is in Russia.   They suffered horribly during the 1990’s and are still suffering.  Many museums are closed due to lack of funds, and according to our accompanying professor, fields such as archeology just don’t have the funding to be supported in a manner that should be, to keep them up with international standards.
 
The photo above shows the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi it is the main Cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church. It was constructed between 1995 and 2004, it is the third-tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world.   In front of that the building with the blue (glass) dome is the presidents home, and the two ultra-modern buildings, still under construction will be an art gallery, and I am not quite sure what else.
 

Tblisi

Looking down into town, from the feet of Mother Georgia.

Tblisi

This is the headquarters of the Bank of Georgia. Designed by architect George Chakhava, parts are lifted off the ground so nature can grow beneath.Its structure resembles Russian constructivists from the 1920’s but has a bit of Brutalism thrown in for fun.  I just love it, but I know it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Tblisi

 

Tblisi

I don’t know if this was or was not a real Starbucks, but this was an authentic old horse-drawn tram car.
This is a Tamada, or Georgian Toastmaster.  Georgians like to say that the tamada is dictator of the table, but it would be more appropriate to compare him to a leader or even a teacher. Tamada ought to be eloquent, intelligent, smart, sharp−witted and quick−thinking, with a good sense of humor because very often some of the guests might try to compete with him on the toast making.   This particular guy is modeled on an old Colchian statue. (6th to 1st century BC)
 

Tblisi

We have, and most likely will visit many old churches along the way. Above is the dome of Sioni cathedral which shelters the Cross of St. Nino the woman that brought Christianity to Georgia.
The cross on the top of 13th century Metekhi Church of the Virgin, this church was built on the site of David the Builders former palace.
There are approximately 2500 jews in Tblisi happy to show off their beautiful synagogues.
And finally Mother Georgia herself, in all her Soviet Constructivist glory.
May 112014
 
DSC_0012We headed out of town to Dmanisi.  Dmanisi is a medieval town overlooking the confluence of two rivers where Silk Road caravans used to pass.  Early human fossils, originally named Homo georgicus and now considered Homo erectus georgicus, were found at Dmanisi between 1991 and 2005. At 1.8 million years old, they represent the earliest known human presence in the Caucasus, and the oldest outside of Africa.
Georgia CaucususThe country side is truly gorgeous, and a picnic on the grounds was a welcome change.
Georgian Countryside old Church ruins
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grave markersWe then meandered down to Bolnisi, long the seat of a bishop or archbishop, and the home of the oldest dated Christian structure in Georgia. It is known as Bolnisi Sioni (Sioni being Georgian for Zion and a designation used by many of their churches). This three-nave basilica church dates to the 5th century AD and features some pagan elements in its stonework. The original roof is missing but has been replaced with a modern covering.
A dedication inscription from the Bolnisi church, carved in the late 5th century, is one of the oldest dated specimens of Georgian writing. It mentions Bishop David of Bolnisi and two Sassanid kings Peroz I and Kavadh I.
Sadly, whoever had the key, failed to show up, so we were unable to get inside.
Bolnisi GeorgiaWe ended the day with a visit to a five female art co-operative that does batik and silk painting.  Of course, I was in heaven.  Delightful studio space in an old home, and two really beautiful working women to show us around. The studio is called La Maisono Bleue and is at 94 Barnov in Tblisi.
Hand painted fabric
Georgia is radically different that Azerbaijan in so many ways.  Their economy is so much more depressed, so there isn’t the extra money to throw at cleaning the streets and environment.  Things don’t quite get done, ala, the key to the church, and yet the Georgians are a proud and wonderful people.  They love their country, that is so obvious, they love their history, you can tell by the guides in the museums (those that are open), I hope that their economy can find a way to help them realize their potential.
May 112014
 

We began our day heading straight out of Tblisi to Kutaisi.  Today was an entire day of archaeological sites, and a very, very long day in the bus, so not too many photographs.

CaucasusThis is an archaeological group and our visiting professor is Gocha Tsetskhladze, who is Georgian, studied at Oxford, was there during the breakup of the Soviet Union, thus becoming stateless and now teaches in Melbourne.

He has explained how difficult it is to be an archaeologist in Georgia, and why the sad state of the sites we visited.
Archaeology under the Soviet rule was a fairly good field. There was money for museums, which meant there was money for digs. After the breakup of the Soviet Union there was no money at all. Gocha told a story of how during the 1990’s to about 2006 it was so difficult that one of his colleagues that still lived in Georgia built a cage on the window of his apartment to raise chickens just so his children would have food.  He simply stated that there is no way to say how awful it was.  There was no food, no heat, and no jobs.  It is still difficult for anyone over the age of 40 as they were so accustomed to the government providing all, and of course that is just not the case now.
With this situation archaeology has been put on the back burner.  Yes, there are quite a lot of outside countries that are dying to come in and help, but the government here will not allow anyone to dig without a supervising Georgian archaeologists, and of course, most of them have moved out of the country.  There is also the classic higher educational silliness.  In other words, they don’t want other countries to come in because the Georgians want to be able to own all publications that result from any knowledge gained during any dig that occurs.

Archeology in the Caucasus

There was a short period where there was some expeditions occurring and that is where the three sites we visited began.  Sadly, once these sites were opened they were robbed, so much of the more important sites have literally been covered over with dirt to protect them.
The first site we saw was prepared for tourists with signage, however the others were not. It appears to me that there is hope that this can become one way of  obtaining financing.
Caucasus The other form of archaeology they have here is Pipeline Archeology.  When the pipeline was dug between the oil producing country of Azerbaijan through Georgia the oil company was given 5 meters on both sides of the pipeline to dig.  The archaeologists were right there with them.  They found thousands upon thousand of items.  The down side of this was that it showed them how rich a site it was, but they couldn’t dig further than the 10 meters in width.  While anyone can understand the frustration, I would assume that the lack of dollars to do a decent dig would have put an end to the entire venture anyway.  They did however publish three volumes regarding what they found.
Mtshkheta was our first stop for the day.  Our first site was Bagineti and our guide was a delightful Georgian girl that was a George Soros scholar from UC Berkeley.    Mtshketa was the capital of the Eastern Georgian Capital of Iberia from the 3rd to the 5thcentury BC. 
 
 
I will digress for a moment here.  The use of the name Iberia can be confusing.  The name comes from the same Iberia of Spain.  It is not known if people started in Georgia and migrated to Spain with the name, or vice versa.
We visited a church, of course.  This is Jvari, one of the first Christian churches in Georgia.  Georgia’s conversion to Christianity took place in the Mtshkehta area in 337 AD, and the Orthodox churches built during this period are considered among the finest in the country.
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Caucasus

We then visited the Samtavro Valley Site cemetery.  An amazingly old and diverse cemetery. The languages they found consisted of (amongst others) Georgian, Greek, Roman and  Aramaic, showing there was a large Jewish population at the time. There are more than 4000 graves in this area and they date from the 8th century BC to the 8th century AD

Samtavro Valley

*Samtavro Valley
There are may graves here, this is an example of where they pushed soil
back over the site to prevent looting
Our third site was Dzalisi.  First thing that you come across in the excavation is the Kings (from the Karlti Kingdom also known as Iberia)  olympic sized pool dating from the Roman time.  Then the Roman-style baths, where the most concentrated effort is taking place, with the first mosaic that I have seen since we arrived in the Caucusus. 

Dzalisi

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Dzalisi

We are spending the night in a little “B&B” type spot.  It is actually an expanded home of a woman known as Lali.  The accommodations are sparse but the homemade wine is good. (or at least it is after an entire carafe).  We are in the second largest city in Georgia, and yet it is so impoverished that there is no hotel for tourists.  The locals have made up for it by turning their homes into these little guesthouses and hostels, serving homemade food and homemade wine with monk size rooms and boat style bathrooms.  At this point our group is so cohesive it has turned into a wonderful adventure and a whole heck of a lot of fun, and they obviously have wifi!
 
May 102014
 

After an interesting night at Lali’s Guesthouse our first stop was just down the road at Bagrati Cathedral.

Bagrati Cathedral is an interesting study in the rights, wrongs, ups, downs and political meddling’s of historic restoration.
Bagrati was/is one of the finest examples of the domed-church architectural style of the medieval period.  The church was constructed at the end of the 10th and beginning of the 11th century. It was devastated in an explosion during war with the Turks in the 17th century. The explosion caused the cupola and ceiling to collapse, the church continued to fall into complete ruin through the ages.
It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 along with the other site we visited today the Gelati Monastery.
However, due to the extreme reconstruction Bagrati was removed from the World Heritage List in June of 2013. 
The restoration was headed by Italian architect Andrea Bruno.  This was a project, personally pushed by President Mikheil Saakashvill, despite criticism from many different parties and absolutely no input from UNESCO.
Most everyone complains about the use of glass and steel, my attitude is this restoration should never have taken place.  The church should have simply been left in ruin.  However, if you are going to restore the building then do it in a way that you are absolutely sure where the old leaves off and the new begins. 

The Gelati Monastery was founded by King David the Builder in 1106.  This architectural complex housed Georgia’s first academy as well as the monastery.

The grave of David the Builder
The Monastery is known for its tile mosaics and frescoes.  They were suffering from neglect and thanks to a donation by the American Ambassador to Georgia a restoration program has begun.  I do not believe that the US has donated enough money to do the whole job, but at least the damage has slowed and repair has begun.

Our last stop was the Vani archaeological site that began in 1947, but sadly sits idle today for lack of funds.  The digging that has taken place has revealed thousands upon thousands of artifacts, many of which were of gold. 
 Gocha showing us the striations of the dig
Some of the larger items in the curator’s office
We were given a tour of the storehouse of items that were dug up prior to the closing of the dig.

We had a rather rainy day, and are spending the next two nights in the alpine village of Bakuriani.  This was a favored ski resort during the Soviet times and training area for the Soviet team.  It is also the site one of the Russian Children’s Pioneer Camps and sits amidst a 100-year-old fir forest.  Truth is, it is an odd place.  It is somewhat of a ghost town.  Many of the homes have been abandoned.  Starting in 2000 people have started to come back, and hotels are creeping in, but it has an odd feel to it.  A little like going to a ski resort in the summer that has no summer season.

A roadside pottery shop typical of the area, reminded us all of Tijuana.

May 092014
 

Today was a fascinating day.  Not just for what we saw but how long it took for us to get to where we were going.  We were approximately 3 hours away from our destination.  What this says is there are literally no places to stay in Georgia.  The hotel we are staying at in the ski resort is as close a hotel as we could get to the part of Georgia we were visiting.   There just aren’t hotels that are acceptable for the average American.

 

This says so much about the situation in this country.  I am not knocking it, it is just an interesting observation about their economy.

 

We traveled all of this way to visit Vardzia. Vardzia is the site of the most famous cave-city in Georgia, which, largely because of its connections with Queen Tamar, is a place of almost mythic importance for most Georgians.  It was in a closed border zone throughout the Soviet period, making it even more mythical than it might have actually been.  It is said that its name derives from Ak Var Dzia or “Here I am, uncle” Tamar’s call when lost in the caves.

First established by King George III in 1156 and consecrated in 1185, his daughter Tamar made it into a monastery, which became the chief seminary of southwestern Georgia housing 2,000 monks until an earthquake ruined it in 1283, slicing away a large portion of the rock face.  Another quake in 1456 was followed by a Persian army in the mid 1500’s and the Turks at the end of the century so that now around 600 chambers survive from a total of 3,000.  These originally included stables, barracks, bakeries wine presses and stores.

The area still has a working monastery and chapel and exquisite frescoes outside of the chapel.

Only about one half of the original 13 levels remain that penetrated 54 yards in to the cliffs.  The area has been protected since 1938.  Heavy rain in 1998, caused a large section of cliff to collapse and the Dutch and US governments quickly came to the aid with money for repairs.  It is said that Egyptian vultures nesting in the caves are making the management even more complex.

Our drive was through interesting countryside.  I think it best to just post a few photographs and let everyone take from them what they would.

Both this house and this apartment complex were typical of what we saw in most every town.

We stopped to take pictures of the castle, and probably had more fun teasing each other on this old rickety bridge.

 

May 072014
 
Uplistsikhe Cave Town, “Lord’s Fortress”, is one of three cave towns in Georgia. We saw the first one, Vardzia, yesterday and we will see the third tomorrow. 
 
 
Uplistsikhe was founded in the Bronze Age around 1000 BC and was inhabited until the 13th century AD.  Between the 6th century BC and the 11th century AD Uplistshke was one of the most important political and religious centers of pre-Christian Georgia.
Prior to the country becoming fully Christianized, some of the caves were used to celebrate pagan ceremonies thought to be related to the sun goddess, but there is no actual proof of this fact. 
The cities largest period of glory was after the Arab conquest, in the 8th and 9th century, when the town grew to about 20,000 people and it evolved into an important caravan trading post.  The city was almost completely destroyed by the Mongol conquest in the 13th century that led to the abandonment of the town.   An earthquake in 1920 did severe damage to the cave structures, so photos do not represent the actual size of the original settlement.
The View from the caves overlooking a 17th century settlement
During the glory period it was a part of the Silk Road.  The silk road began in Xian in China and travelled many, many routes, the main being through Kashgar, Merv, Aleppo, Syria and on to Turkey.  Someplace between Aleppo, Syria and Turkey the routes took off and headed through the Caucasus, and eventually all roads ended in Road.  The Silk Road, known as the Horse Road to the Chinese, wasn’t just a road for goods, it was also a road for the movement of science and ideas, in fact, Buddhism spread this way.
A little diversion here, the reason the Chinese called it the Horse Road is because they could not breed horses due to a calcium deficiency in China.  They desperately needed horses to beat back invaders, so they set out on what we call the Southern Silk road trading tea for horses.
Our second stop was one that we requested, and that was the “Soviet” Museum better known as the Stalin Museum.  Stalin was born in the town of Gori in Georgia.  He lived in a one room home until he was four years old when he moved to Tblisi.  He studied the seminary in Tblisi, but upon discovering Marx he left to become the Stalin that history knows.
At some time his boyhood house was essentially cased in marble for protection, and then the museum was built behind it in 1953 after his death.
I have absolutely no desire to go into Stalinism, but the question has arisen how the Georgians feel about Stalin.  Essentially they are not fond of him.  The older generation, especially men that served in the war still respect him, but those are dying out.  I saw this little demonstration taking place in the square as we drove by.  I have no idea what the situation was, but there have been people making a point for millennium, and will continue for millennium.
 We drove past the refugee camps of the Russo-Georgian war also known as the 2008 South Ossetia War, the Five Day War or the August War.  It was an armed conflict between Georgia and Russian South Ossetian separatists regarding the Ossetia area, which is part of Georgia.  The only people that recognize Ossetia are the Nicaraguans, the Venezuelans and the Russians.  The conflict remains today.  I bring this up only because I discussed the divisions occurring in Azerbaijan, and want you to know that there are conflicts here in Georgia as well.
 These are pretty blurry as we were on the freeway
Our last stop was Svetitskhoveli (living pillar) Cathedral.  This was the holiest of churches in Georgia, until the Holy Trinity Church in Tblisi was built, replacing it as the number one church for Georgia.  This the third church built on this site, this particular one was built in the 11thcentury.
We happened upon a wonderful ceremony regarding the icon of the Virgin of Iberia.  These icons travel around, and this particular one was in the United States just two days ago.  It will travel to all the major churches in Georgia before heading back to the U.S.
Another slight diversion.  The church cross in Georgia has drooping arms.  This is because St. Nino made the first cross out of grapevines, and they are not straight.
 Some walking around shots:
The town where the church is, is fast becoming a place for tourists so money is being poured in and the town feels more like Disneyland.  These were on someones gate.

 

Nuts are poured into the wine lees and then starch is added to make “candy”.  It is horrible!

 

These dumplings, on the other hand are wonderful.  These are some knitted ones out of the local felt.

 

Georgian Grappa

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 072014
 

Today we had a 2 and 1/2 hour drive  out of Tblisi. Our destination was the David Gareja Monastery complex.

 

There are a few things about this drive.  We are heading south east towards the Azerbaijan border. This is classic steppe country, a semi arid desert, that is essentially just wide open country, no trees, and grass for as far as the eye can see.  It is time to move the grazing animals up to the high country, so we had so much fun hoping off the bus and taking pictures of the cowboys herding the sheep, cows, goats and whatever other animals went along for the ride.
 The David Gareja Monastery Complex includes hundreds of cells, churches, chapels, refectories and living quarters hallowed out of the rock face.  The complex consists of 15-20 monasteries depending on what book you are reading, and the countryside they sit on is vast, but I could not find an idea of acreage.
These caves were carved out differently that the other two we saw.  Here they would heat the sandstone and pour water on it to break off the cave walls in chunks.
The complex was founded in the 6th century by St. David Garejeli one of thirteen Assyrian monks who arrived in the country to spread the gospel.  David had two disciples Dodo and Luciane, and the three of them left Tblisi to find a more aesthetic life.  They headed east towards the holy land and made their final stop here.  Eventually the word spread and the area became a pilgrimage area. 
 
 
From the 11th to the 13th century the cultural development of this area reached its highest phase, with frescoes that became part of the world’s treasures.
Upon the downfall of the Georgian monarch the monastery suffered a period of decline and then devastation by the Mongol army in 1265.  The monastery was restored and then suffered an attack by Safavid in 1615 when all the monks were massacred, and manuscripts, many of the frescoes and unique works of art were destroyed.
After that there was a period when the monastery was unoccupied, most likely due to the fact that the Persians were occupying the area.  The monastery was resurrected in 1690 by Father Superior Onopre Machutadze.
The monastery was again closed after the Bolshevik takeover of Georgia in 1921.  During the Soviet War in Afghanistan the area was used as a training ground for the Soviet military.  They did some serious damage to the murals that were still left in the monastery by using the monastery as a firing range.
The original monastery is still active today with some very antisocial monks.  The monastery complex sits on the Georgian border with Azerbaijan, and is part of a few border disputes.  The area has been part of both countries during history, but since the monks were Georgian and it is such an important part of the Georgian religious movement, the Georgians are not open to any negotiations, especially talks on the part of the Azerbaijanis to make it a joint tourist center.

 

On the ride home we were told about the social situation in Georgia.  After the break up of the Soviet Union pension funds were suspended and many people had absolutely no income.  Today pensions have been re-instated but are very, very small.  They run about $150 Laris a month which is about $85US.  The retirement age for woman is 60 and 65 for men.  There are talks of upping the retirement age for men to 67.  Unlike social security, everyone gets a pension irrelevant of time and type of work. 
 

 

St. George, who replaced Lenin after the fall of the Soviet Union
 
Education under the soviet was free from kindergarten through college.  Today state kindergarten costs  about 150 Lari/month   but private kindergarten is double.  School is compulsory from the age of 6 to what is equivalent to our sophomore year in high school
It is spring and wildflowers are everywhere, I always loved red poppies.
State schools are free of  charge, and I am not really sure there are any state universities. Private university  can vary between 5000 Lari ($2850 US) a year to $15,000 US a year.
Georgia adopted universal healthcare in January of this year (2014). Healthcare is free for retired people and vaccinations are free of charge for children under 14.  Doctors visits are charged per visit but 70%  of hospital stays are paid by the government, however, there are waiting lists for operations.
Old cars are everywhere, but filled with wine bottles, now that is worth a photo.
Military service is compulsory for men at 18.  If you get into college before the age of 18 you can defer your service until after you graduate.  The service is 18 months.
In soviet time it was compulsory for everyone to learn Russian, so it was the second language.  Today it is still taught, but being replaced by English, various European languages and even Japanese.
We saw tortoises everywhere
We leave Georgia tomorrow and head for Armenia.  It has been an interesting trip.  Georgia is obviously suffering financially from the break up of the Soviet Union.  There is a considerable soviet hangover, obvious in much of the older citizenry.  Our guide, while delightful, towed the soviet line so often, I often just tuned her out.  Which is sad, but you can only hear so many times that every fruit, vegetable, and red wine produced in Georgia cures all ails including radiation poisoning. 
 
 
There is absolutely NOTHING to purchase in Georgia.  I am not surprised.  People are so busy trying to figure out where they are going, that the concept of tourism is so very much on the back burner.  I discussed this earlier when I pointed out there were essentially no hotels outside of Tblisis and the ski resorts.  However, it is also obvious in the fact that most every museum is closed, and there are no tourist shops to speak of, yes they exist, but they seem to cater more to the Russian tourist than people from outside the Russian mindset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 052014
 
Armenia is much smaller than Georgia, covering only 11,482 square miles.  It is a country of only 3.2 million people and 98% are ethnic Armenians.  The capital is Yerevan and it was established in 782 BC.  One third of the population of Armenia lives in Yerevan.

Armenia

Armenians call themselves Hyastan after Haik the great great grandson of Noah, and of course with the assumed landing of the Ark at Mount Ararat (which now sits in East Turkey), Mount Ararat stands as the symbol of Armenia.  Armenia is staunchly Christian.  The apostolic Church of Armenia is the oldest church in the world as Armenia was the first country of the world to declare Christianity as it’s state religion in 301 AD.  Today the church faces a most serious problem with a lack of men willing to enter the clergy.

Armenia

Armenia is an Indo European language  closest to Greek but very limited in its actual foundation.  It has 36 letters and most Armenians can read their ancient language, since it hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. Armenian does, however borrow heavily from other languages.  The language was founded in the 5th century by Meshrup Mashtots, who is considered a national hero.  There are only 14 alphabets in the world Georgia and Armenia each are one of these 14.
Armenia

A sculpture honoring Armenian and Georgian actors.

Armenians are well educated and credited with inventing MRI, the Mig jet, plastic surgery and the single handled water faucet to name a few.
Armenia has 6 distinct ecological zones, so the countryside, as you drive through it varies constantly.  It is home to the Prunus Armeniaca, or apricot.  So the apricot is another symbol of Armenia, and they even have a film festival where they give out the Golden Apricot.
The Armenians have suffered far greater from the breakup of the Soviet Union than Georgia.  Similar to Georgia, a goodly portion of their income comes from the Armenian diaspora.  Armenia is still mentally very Soviet.  There is no democracy and they have done far fewer economic reforms than Georgia.  Bureaucracy, bribery and corruption are still a large part of the Armenian way of life.
Armenia

I think this was a horse paddock made of abandoned cars

Their two problems are their “state of war” with Azerbaijan, and the genocide issue with Turkey.  These two situations have forced border closings with those two countries and sanctions.  Because of this, Russia has had the ability to put big pressure on Armenia so that 80% of the Armenian economy is owned by Russia.  This forces Armenia to actually be somewhat of a client state despite the fact that it is in fact independent.

Armenia

The Dashnaks, or militias, are still around, although their most active period was throughout the 20th century.  During the 1970’s the Dahsnaks were responsible for the assassinations of diplomats found to have been part of the Armenian genocide.  The last of these assassinations was in Canada in the 1990’s.

Armenia

It is essentially an all day drive from the border to Yerevan. 
First stop on that road was the Haghpat (means solid walls) Monastery complex.  This UNESCO site was founded in the 10th century and was added to over a two hundred year period.   The architecture, which is a blending of Byzantine church architecture and the local Caucasian architecture was just amazing.  The size of stone used, and in such a simple manner was majestic and royal.

Armenia

*Haghpat, Armenia

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Haghpaht, Armenia

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Hagpaht, Armenia

*Haghpaht Armenia

Next stop was the Sanahin Bridge in the town of Alaverdi.  The bridge was built in the 12thcentury as was used for all types of traffic until the 1970’s today it serves as a footbridge only.
Alaverdi Bridge, Armenia
*Alaverdi Bridge, Armenia
Sadly Alaverdi is also the site of a Russian copper smelting operations, which were abandoned upon the breakup of the Soviet Union.  The horrendous ecological situation is obvious by just standing on the street looking into the abandoned plant and down into the river that runs beside it.
Russian Smelting in Armenia
Lunch was with a Molokon family.  The Molokon are a breakaway sect of  Orthodox Christianity.  They do not believe in iconography, they pray but do not make the sign of the Christ, they abhor alcohol, TV and the internet.  They are pacifists and marry only others of their own faith.  The men wear beards and the women scarves.  The society is a male dominated society.  They have been described as very industrious and honest. There are Molokon’s around the world including Los Angeles and a group in Potrero Hill San Francisco; the SF church is at 841 Carolina Street
Lunch was meager but good, and in a house that is so poor, that it was very sad. No photographs were allowed due to their religious convictions. 
 
I snapped a picture of our host as he left his home, and the other photo I took off the internet.  The woman looked much like our hostess.  Yes we too noticed our host was clean shaven, there are many rules and many different interpretations of this religion, and in fact there was a TV in the room we ate in.
DSC_0311-001
We passed by Lake Savan, it was pouring rain by this time.  Savan is the 2nd world’s largest Alpine Lake at 48 ½ miles long. During Stalin’s time the Russians had plans to use the lake for power production and irrigation and the lake shrank by 59 feet, while tragic, it showed a small island that held a bronze age settlement that was an absolute treasure trove for archaeologists. 
Lake Savan
We arrived in Yerevan in time for me to get this off and head to dinner.
This Soviet era monument was erected to mark the 50thanniversary of the Soviet power in the Caucasus its design was intended symbolically to represent the eternal union of Armenia Georgia and Azerbaijan under Soviet rule.  That it is still standing perhaps shows that the Armenians have a well-developed sense of irony