Posts Tagged ‘caucasus travel’

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[FAR’s Intern(s) in Armenia – Samantha]: Farewell.

July 24, 2010

By Samantha McQueen

The cliché must be true… my travels truly have changed me and Armenia will always be a part of my life. At the same time I think I left a chunk of myself there, too. Not only in the sense that my sleeping patterns are still stuck in Yerevan time, but I don’t think I could feel complete without returning again.

I finally see what the Diaspora has been fighting for. Armenians love their land and they are a crucial part of it. Through the wars and genocide, they have fought for the right to remain Armenian while holding onto the values of hard work and family. Farmers climb uphill for four hours to find fresh grass for their cows. Suddenly the nine to five job doesn’t seem so bad. And they still manage to take a stroll with their neighbors every night. We have a hard time balancing work with our social lives in America. If nothing else, I’ve learned to take time out of my day for family and friends.

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Credit: Samantha McQueen

Armenians are also some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever encountered. They are willing to spend their last penny on a dinner guest, no matter who is the wealthier in the situation. We could use a little of that generosity here. It brings a feeling of unity to the nation, especially with the struggles of the last century.

After a few tearful goodbyes, I realized that nine former strangers are going through the same feelings. We all felt that warmth and empathy for the people and their land. I guess that’s why it’s a cliché. They work so hard for what they have and value the things that really matter in life. If it wasn’t clear to me before, the saying “money doesn’t buy happiness” now makes sense. It’s almost impossible to leave Armenia without feeling like you belong to a culture that welcomes you into their lives with open arms.

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Credit: FAR Staff

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[Hayastani Kidak Society]: The Stepanavan District in Armenia Introduces New Travel Guide.

July 23, 2010

The Stepanavan District in Armenia introduces its new Travel Guide to develop tourism in this area. The project has been made possible through a International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) grant. The purpose of creating this travel guide is to attract more tourists and visitors and new investors to this district, bring government attention to a former tourism center of Armenia and help to improve the economy of the region.

You can download it here.

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Credit: Stepanavan District

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[ACYOA Dispatches]: Lake Sevan.

July 22, 2010

By Arman Ayrapetyan

Nothing on this three-week trip has topped the excitement of climbing the mountains around Lake Sevan. Together our group scaled the steep mountainside along with Tigran, our tour guide. It felt as though we would never make it to the top, and I had some thoughts of calling it quits, but I forced myself to finish the climb. As we got higher, it started getting colder, our ears started to pop, and for me, it became increasingly harder to breathe.

At the top of the tallest mountain we climbed, sat what we thought was a lightning rod, surrounded by a wide field. Lake Sevan was a great view from the top, and our hotel was as small as a fingernail.

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Credit: Arman Ayrapetyan

To our surprise we heard thunder, and not too long after, it started to drizzle. After taking our pictures, we started working our way back down. The mountain became increasingly slippery and I found myself falling on sharp plants. Due to the poor traction of my sneakers, I was the last one to make it to the bottom. We then bypassed an angry dog and finished the climb with a victory picture.

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Credit: Arman Ayrapetyan

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[ACYOA Dispatches]: Visit to Khor Virab.

July 21, 2010

By Paul Derderian

On July 18, we visited Khor Virab, the pit where St. Gregory resided for 13 years before healing King Drtad through prayer.  Khor Virab truly surpassed our expectations.  Mt. Ararat was the first thing we saw as we pulled up to the parking lot.  It was the closest view of the mountain we had seen yet.  I was instantly in awe of the beautiful sight — our motherland.

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Credit: Paul Derderian

After we climbed the stone steps leading  to the church at Khor Virab, we participated in Badarak.  The Divine Liturgy was held in a church across from St. Gregory’s chapel, which contains an entranceway to the infamous pit.  The liturgy was beautiful; the choir had a full angelic sound, providing bass, alto, and soprano sounds for each hymn. A Der Hayr said the confession during the singing of the “Der Voghormya,” instead of after the hymn like we are used to.  This had such a powerful effect on all of us, as it emphasized the fact that we were asking the Lord for mercy and forgiveness of our sins.

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Credit: Paul Derderian

Following Badarak, we descended into the actual pit that St. Gregory was thrown into.  As we went down the ladder, the feeling of his prayers and faith overwhelmed each of us.  It made us reflect on how strong one’s faith must be in order to stay sane in a place like that for a couple of days, let alone  years.  In that pit, we realized how necessary a strong faith is in life.  St. Gregory proved that with strong faith in God, anything is possible.  The trip to Khor Virab inspired all of us to keep our faith, traditions, and culture alive.

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Credit: Paul Derderian

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[FAR’s Intern(s) in Armenia – Samantha]: Nagorno Karabakh.

July 20, 2010

By Samantha McQueen

I’m back in Yerevan for the final time before flying back home to America. It’s bittersweet to return for a third time, as this city is starting to feel like a home base for me, however short lived. The seven hour trip from Karabakh was a little painful but knowing I have one full day left doesn’t allow much time for laziness. I need to be in full tourist mode.

Karabakh was definitely a change from other areas we have visited. The people drive flashier cars and show extreme desire for independence of their land while struggling with international recognition as an individual state. It’s a blossoming territory; with modern sculptures along the central square of Stepanakert and construction of new malls in Shushi, it’s on its way to becoming a modern tourist spot. And the locals were definitely excited to see some visitors. Our group was immediately interviewed for the nightly news at the customs office… we were like celebrities. My fellow FAR blogger, Erin, was featured and she did a fantastic job representing the group. It was obvious the citizens were proud of their region and truly wanted to share their land with travelers.

I’m heading back to America tomorrow with great friends, fond memories, and a feeling of camaraderie with my fellow Armenians. They have been hospitable hosts (they never allow guests to work or pay for anything) and were more than excited to help me understand what it means to be an Armenian. There is more growth to be done when I return. A personal analysis of my transforming Armenian-American identity is just beginning.

Erin, during her interview for the Nightly News

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Credit: iPhone & Samantha McQueen

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[FAR’s Intern(s) in Armenia – Samantha]: En Route to Karabakh.

July 19, 2010

By Samantha McQueen

We left Yerevan to head to the Syunik region down south on our way to Karabakh. The roads were filled with actual Armenian cowboys and donkeys devouring the surprisingly green grass. It was interesting to see the different and naturally-occurring resources in the Armenian hills. The natives use the weeds to make Ourts tea and the valleys are filled with pomegranate, walnut, and hazelnut trees. It was breathtaking. Armenians are a very resourceful community.

And now since we’ve arrived… Tatev is my new favorite tourist destination! Not only did we drive through the world’s most exciting (and notably motion sickness-inducing) roads, but I actually touched a cloud. It’s disappointing that only 20% of Armenia’s tourists visit the spot. It probably (or more likely, obviously) has something to do with the roads. Our driver was a little old man from Goris who had spent 35 years just driving back and forth from Goris to Tatev. I felt more in touch with the locals in the city than I have anywhere else so far.

Ts’tesutyun for now!

En route to Tatev

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Credit: iPhone & Samantha McQueen

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[FAR’s Intern(s) in Armenia – Samantha]: Holy Etchmiadzin and FAR in Yerevan.

July 16, 2010

By Samantha McQueen

Today we toured Etchmiadzin and had the opportunity to meet with His Holiness Karekin II. He was casual in his conversation and I think he truly impressed the group with his personality. I was a little nervous to ask about the Church’s involvement with social issues that have become political debates in America, but he was very diplomatic in his response and said that he understood the world is full of different opinions. I didn’t even mean for him to actually discuss the issues, but he was willing to share his thoughts. He seems to understand the concerns of the younger generation.

Later in the day, I met with the FAR staff to work on some accounting projects and I’m glad I had the chance to talk with a few of the employees about some concerns in Armenia. They explained that even with a high level degree, including a master, it’s difficult to find work in the country. Professionals are leaving to find careers abroad. It really puts things into perspective for me, especially coming from women in the workforce.

Ts’tesutyun for now!

Mount Ararat

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Credit: iPhone & Samantha McQueen