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So very Armenian -Khachkar, Lavash, Zhingalov

There are quite a few things that I found either unique to Armenian or omnipresent in this country: the gas-pipelines crisscrossing the country , the  candle trays in churches, Lavash and Zhingalov, the famous flat bread, or Khachkars, stone crosses. And lets not forget the current hairstyle for young men.

 

Zhngalov Khat, flat bread filled with 7-27 herbs

Lavash and  Zhingalov Khat

Lavash, a kind of flatbread, is the staple food in Armenia, it is found everywhere. There is even a sweet version. Unique to Nagorno Karabagh is a  refined  version,  Zhingalov Khat. It is Lavash filled with many different herbs. In Goris I was lucky enough to come across a group of ladies who were making lavash in a tiny bakery, they three were working like machines. One was rolling the dough out flat and thin , the next step and done by a second woman  was spreading the think spread of dough on a cushioned board and then slamming sticking against the walls of an oven set in the ground. The third was getting the Lavash out with a long iron hook.

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Shushi – sad reminder of the war

It was the very name that first drew my attention, finally a name I could easily remember. Once there, it became ingrained in my memories forever. Large parts of Sushi are still in ruins, 23 years after the war with Azerbijan that cost the lives of thousands of Azari and Aremnians soldiers and civilians. The reminders of this war are much more evident in Shushi than Stepanakert, only 15 minutes drive away.

Sushi apartment block destroyed in the war 1991- 1994

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Travelling to Nagorno Karabagh

Reading my Lonely Planet before leaving for Armenia,  the section on Nagorno Karabakh drew my attention. Vaguely I remembered a conflict over this Caucasus region, without having any specific knowledge of the reasons behind it. After walking through the bombed out areas of the town of Shushi, 23 years after the war, I will never forget. Azerbaijan and Armenia each claimed this territory for themselves. After a three-year war that left 400.000 people dead, Nagorno Karabagh is now a de-facto independent state, with a population that is predominantly Armenian.

 

Sushi bombed house

Sushi bombed house

Nagorno Karabagh has close relations with the Republic of Armenia and uses the same currency, the dram. As a tourist you don’t notice the volatile situation. Locals told me of daily skirmishes on the border with Azerbaijan. One week after I left 33 people got killed.

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Stepanakert – the charming capital

If I did this trip again, I would spend more time in Stepanakert, I found this a lovely town to stroll around, lots of restaurants, impressive government buildings and two excellent tiny museums reminding of the war. Generally, a very inviting city. The news that one week after I had left, fighting broke out again was extremely shocking. I remembered the people sitting in street-side cafés, children buying ice-cream on the way home from school, couples on benches in the many parks. All in all, living a life as we all do and I wondered what happened to them.

Approaching Stepanakert

Approaching Stepanakert

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Gandzasar Monastery meets kitschy Vank

By the time I visited Gandzasar I had had my dose of monasteries and had chosen my clear favorites: Khor Virap with majestic Mount Ararat as a backdrop and fairyland-like Noravank wrapped in a blanket of snow. Gandzasar became the perfect number three. Why? It was so quiet there, I hardly wanted to leave. You could hear nothing, absolutely nothing, but a few birds. At the end of March I was the only tourist, summers are busy I was told. Besides it is a popular wedding destination for Russians.

Gandazhar Monastery 10th century

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