Kapan – an introduction to the Caucasus

Sunday 16 to Tuesday 18 November

Crossing the border from Iran to Armenia was another of those two world experiences.  The country looked different, the people looked different, the food was different.  And it was with great delight I shed the hajib (scarf) and smock.

I had lost weight in Iran, a combination of 16 AFDs (alcohol free days) and most meals consisting of a huge serving of rice which I find difficult to digest, meant that my jeans were falling off me.

After some bureaucratic delays at the border we were met by Roza our guide and Artek our driver.  Uncertain of what travelling would be like in Armenia, and with limited internet when we were in Iran to plan it, we decided to use guided services to Yerevan.

It was a slow 120km drive to our first stop Kapan.  This is a small, highly industrialised town of the soviet era.  It is difficult to say it is not ugly, particularly in the dull autumn weather.

We had driven over mountain passes that hit the snow line, with Roza explaining that these formed impenetrable barriers for the Arabian Forces who constantly set out to invade this country.

Kapan is not geared for tourists, and with limited English we managed a meal of kebabs and some very rough wine.  Bruce tells me the beer was acceptable, perhaps because it was alcoholic.

In the cold damp weather our sightseeing was limited.  We toured the town.  First was Garegin Nzhdeh‘s memorial.  He is a hero of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, fighting for national independence and in World War I. During World War II he encouraged Armenia to join Axis to attack Turkey.  He was later arrested in Moscow, where he died.  He has post-humously been named as Armenia’s most outstanding figure.

Our next stop was to the Monument to the Great Patriotic War (WWII).  A very Soviet style monument.  At the same site are tombs of soldier heroes who died fighting for Armenia’s Independence, some as recently as 2004.  Border incursions from Azerbijan and Turkey are still occurring in this region.

We visited the local church, quite modern – St. Mesrop Mashtots Church, consecrated 2001.  Behind it sits an old mine shaft tower – a reminder that this town is the centre of mining.  In fact the bronze used in the Statue of Liberty came from Armenia’s mines.

Hiding cameras from the misty rain, we visited the Vahanavank Monastery built in the 10th and 11th centuries. Vahanavank became the religious center for the kings of Syunik in the 11th century. The principal church is of S. Gregory the Illuminator and a smaller church at the entrance is Surb Astvatsatsin.  Armenia is a christian country and, it appears, most tourist sites are monasteries of some form or another.

Kapan is proud of its heroes.  Another notable is Davit Bek, a military commander of the 18th century who led campaigns against the forces of the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Iran.  A massive statue of him in in central Kapan.

We also found a street of heroes, so many who died fighting for the country’s independence.

Links in this page are from Wikipedia.