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Posts Tagged ‘stepanakert’

October 7 – 8, 2009: After we stopped by the Foreign Ministry to get our

Wooden statue in Nagorno-Karabakh

visas validated (alas, no passport stamps) we spent some quality time being guided round the Artsakh State Museum. While most of the museum qualified as at least interesting, the most arresting exhibit for me was an ethnographic diorama, which demonstrated that at one time women were not allowed to speak to a man without prior permission, including their husbands!!! They wore their scarves over their mouths to reinforce the prohibition, which explained the otherwise rather odd face of the woman in an iconic wooden sculpture we would see later. The sculpted woman was a lot smaller than the man, too.

Gandzasar monastery

My disgust at this custom could explain why I retain no memory of our subsequent visit to Gandzasar monastery – although my photos show an unusual central tower. It might be that it was one church too many. Or it could be that I was finding the tour a little trying. The family group was not melding too well with the rest of us, and this got worse when one of them, an Iranian-American architect from Los Angeles, got aggressive over possession of the front seat on the coach. Then the guide insisted on playing Armenian music very loudly over the coach’s sound system. Beside being (for me) just a headache-inducing loud noise, this meant that she didn’t have to lecture, or initiate a discussion, which I regretted. I had met someone who had been on the same trip the week before, and he had enjoyed interesting discussions between diaspora and non-diaspora Armenians.

However, after another late and lengthy lunch the day improved. Back in Stepanakert some of us investigated a crowd on the outskirts of a park to find a lively group of children putting on a concert of music and dance. No-one seemed to speak English, but the Australian woman (S) from the tour was able to find out that this was a display by pupils from a nearby Music School. She was subsequently interviewed for a local radio program, and we seemed to be welcome additions to the audience.

Later, as S and I walked through town in search of an internet cafe, we were waylaid by a couple of university students, who said they wanted to practice their English. We were happy to oblige, until it turned out that they really wanted to talk about God. Before religion intruded into the conversation,  I was able to establish that although we had traveled from Yerevan to Stepanakert, they weren’t able to travel from Stepanakert to Yerevan, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Young dancers in Stepanakert

Dinner only emphasized the split in the group, with the Iranian family at one table, and everyone else split between two more. And the next morning the dispute over the front seat actually turned, briefly, physical. Our guide seemed too inexperienced to know how to handle the situation, but fortunately no-one was hurt.

The weather had become damp and misty overnight, and we could barely see the buildings in Shushi, our last Nagorno-Karabakh stop. The elegiac atmosphere could hardly have been more appropriate, as this was a ghost town, devastated by the fighting in the 1990s. We left for the border in a somber mood.

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