Beware of unexpected attack, if you are visiting land of Karabakh

28.07.2018

My father told me this before I went there. In funny way, it summed up his worries before visiting unrecognized republic which is still recovering from relatively recent war in 90´s. Nagorno Karabakh or Artsakh - the Black Garden fulfilled my expectations in every way. The capital city Stepanakert is the little Switzerland of Karabakh. Working infrastructure, new buildings, unbelievable history museum, park in the center and good atmosphere. The other parts of Karabakh do not look like this, but renovation comes to the most forgotten parts of the cities step by step.

I found my home in the house of Saro on the suburb of mini town Shushi. Saro lives with his family in love, respect and huge will to tell the facts about his homeland to travelers. I was lucky, and I became the part of the big family for few days. They also had a dog called Jessie and lovely cat called Kata. The warm of home like in the fairytale, and I did not mention the cuisine of mom Hasmik and here cabbage, borsch, dates in sweet sauce. I already miss all of these.

Shushi used to be center of culture and art of Armenians and Azeris (the people who live in Azerbaijan. Once upon a time, there was 19th century. The city was known for its tolerance and for the people of other nations living in peace. Unfortunately, is is not true anymore. The war destroyed this city and from original 17000 citizens there are only 5000 left.

The biggest memory for me was the visit of abandoned mosque near the center where I climbed the tower alone where muezzins woke up the population for morning prayers. Saro ensured me that this mosque will be renovated soon - this fact really pleased me.

One day later I am meeting Vladik, smart sixty-year-old guy which will drive me around half of Karabakh. The mornings are foggy and wet. I am little bit worried that the weather will be terrible, but except of the cold weather, everything is ok (except of the flat tire). We are going to 2000 years old sycamore near the village Karmir Suka. We could go there by car, but the tree was bordered. When there is a good weather, families have picknicks there. This time, we are alone here. I found a well with very good drinkable water near sycamore.

We are coming to Amaras Monastery from 5th century which was found by my namesake Gregor, also called Illuminator. This monastery is very important to Armenians, because creator of Armenian alphabet Mesrop Mastoc built a school there. The purpose of this school was spread the written form of language. Except of monastery, you will find interesting the great white dog that will rush to you and you will have to play with him. Prepare the wet wipes for cleaning your clothes.

I can admit that one of my goals was the visit of city Agdam, which was literally destroyed during the war with Azerbaijan. After 3 months, it was not possible to live in any building there. Today, you will see just ruins and few of military bases. As we were travelling there, I have noticed just 2 houses which were inhabited. Before the war, there used to live almost 40000 citizens. I will provide you just photo from the internet, because according to Saro, you could go to jail for stopping there and taking pictures of this place. It is obvious that you will have very strange feelings when crossing through such a place.

Paradoxically, just after you will come across this ghost city, you will see the renovated wall in perfect condition. This wall belongs to fort Triganakert from 1st century b.c. Inside this fort there is the archeological museum with information in English and great amount of stone artifacts. But I was not sure if it was right to clean them with detergent when I saw them doing it.

After exhausting climbing of walls during our journey back, we are stopping near the ruins of Askeran fortress. These walls used to be 1,5 kilometers long and they crossed the valley. Nowadays, they are renovating them.

The good impression from our journey is disrupted by flat tyre on our vehicle. The car that was passing by helped us to choose the right tool for changing the tyre. I take is as a satisfaction for my help when I helped the driver with the exhaust which was broken.

In different time but at the same place I meet Seta and Crista - 2 elderly women. Seta is the Armenian living in Jerevan and in the France - journalist and author of the book about Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. Crista is originally Romanian with perfect knowledge of Hungarian language - she teaches in Switzerland and she speaks a lot. Thanks to these ladies I spend too much time in monastery Gandzasar - it is probably the most famous Christian building in whole Karabakh for thousands of years. My tour guide says that the monastery is from 5th century but according to Seta, this information is not correct, and this monastery was built in 12th century.

Right before the sun set down, Seta decided to tell us her memories from 10 years ago - when she wrote her book. We set off for our road trip around Northern Karabakh, including city Martuni where Azerbaijani sniper killed Karabakh soldier the day before yesterday. I was surprised with the low amount soldiers at fragile Karabakh - Azerbaijani border.

"Hey dude, where are you from?", asks me local soldier at the gas station politely. "I came from Slovakia", I answered him, and I left him a badge with sign - I love Slovakia. I carry few of these badges with myself and I give them to people who help me or leave a good impression on me - I can recommend it, people are always happy about it.

In the end, every tourist and explorer must stop by statues Tatik and Papik - approximately 2 kilometers from center of Stepanakert. They are made of stone and they symbolize unbreakable spirit of locals, who also call them "We are our mountains." I wish this ability to be unbreakable to this nation, their future is uncertain, but according to me, they are good people, who stays proud. I also wish this to us - Slovaks and to myself. The visit of Karabakh helps us to realize how important is to realize who we are, where do we come from and what are our values.

USEFUL TIPS: realize, when you are going to Karabakh and get stamp to your passport - you are not allowed to visit Azerbaijan anymore - officialy is it still area of Azerbaijan; if you reach city of Agdam - don´t leave your car, even if you need to pee; beware of freely moving dogs; don´t visiting mountains by yourself - unexploded mines.

Date of trip: april 2017

Author: Peter Gregor