This past week we have been walking around the parts of Gyumri that we have not had the chance to explore yet. Although Gyumri is a relatively small city, there is a lot to see. Furthermore, if you do not have a Gyumri native to point out interesting sights, a lot of the city will pass by without you noticing. Luckily, we have had some great tour guides to show us around and make sure we don’t miss anything important.
First up, was the now infamous Digin Lilig (read Serop’s last blog entry). After making us yet another delicious meal, Digin Lilig offered to take us to see Gyumri’s ‘Mayr Hayasdan’ statue. As she walked arm in arm with her hopeful future son-in-law Serop (that’s the running joke in the house), Digin Lilig showed us around some of the older neighborhoods in the city. Next stop was the tomb of the Unknown Soldier followed by the Sev Pert (Black Fort). The Sev Pert is a tremendously important historical landmark in Gyumri because it was once used to defend the entire city from the attacking Turks during the Armenian Genocide. Finally, we arrived at our destination, the majestic statue of Mayr Hayastan. The statue sits on top of a massive hill. You have to climb stairs that seem to have no end to reach the top and see the stature. However, a little lactic acid in your quadriceps is a small price to pay for the magnificent view you have from the top. You can see the entire town of Gyumri from the site of the statue. The feeling you get as you look at this triumphant symbol of Armenia watching over the proud town of Gyumri is difficult to describe within the limited space and time frame I have with this blog entry. My only alternative is to encourage you to come and experience it for yourself. Trust me, you will not regret it.
Round two of exploring Gyumri was lead by some of the older students we have at our day camp. Tatev, Arax, Anahit, Bella, and Meroujan were nice enough to take us around the city after we finished up our camp session yesterday. The tour started at Yot Verk Church. The church suffered major damage during the earthquake; however, it has now been fully renovated and is in great shape. The church has pieces of two fallen towers on display in its front court yard. The towers fell during the earthquake and serve as reminders of the terrible tragedy that struck Gyumri in 1988. Our tour guides then led us to see some of Gyumri’s cultural centers such as the opera house and the Kohar Music School (home of the world famous Kohar Yerkchakhoump). As we walked past statues of famous Armenian authors and artists such as Hovhaness Toumanian, the students enlightened us about Gyumri’s long history as the cultural epicenter of Armenia. We were all delighted to learn about Gyumri’s important role in the development and the future of Armenian art and culture. The tour concluded with a stop at the statue of Charles Aznavour. All in all, it was a great afternoon. We got to see a lot of stuff that we would have never seen if we were out exploring by ourselves. However, with the good came the bad. The student showed us around some parts of the city that have yet to be renovated from the earthquake. These areas are in extremely bad shape. There are buildings that are half-torn down with people still living in them. It looks like these structures are held together with the thinnest of threads and could crumble and crush its inhabitants at any second. It is appalling to find people living in these conditions more than 20 years after the earthquake. To cap it all off, the cab driver that drove us home described in detail the horrors of the earthquake. He told us stories of having to dig for days to find his relatives and then having to carry them on his back to bury them. All these sights showed me the tremendous amount of help this city really needs to return to its glory days. I hope these words and pictures will motivate you as much as experiencing these things first hand have motivated me to get involved and lend a helping hand to help out our motherland, our Mayr Hayasdan.
To end things on a positive note, I want to share with you all what happened to Serop and I when we stopped by the Gyumri fire station. Serop wanted to check out the fire station and see if he could buy a Gyumri Fire Department shirt for a buddy of his in the states. We walked in and greeted the firefighters around the station. Serop then proceeded to ask them if they had any t-shirts available that he could take back home with him. A very nice firefighter named Vasken smiled at Serop and then proceeded to literally give him the shirt off his own back. This was no t-shirt. This was an official Armenian Fire Service
uniform that firefighters here in Armenia wear when they are on duty. Serop attempted to refuse and tell Vasken that this was completely unnecessary, but it was to no avail. Vasken was having none of it. He told Serop that this was a present from his heart and he really wanted Serop to have it. Serop was left with no other choice but to accept the gift. In addition, Serop was extremely moved by Vasken’s actions and I don’t think Serop’s buddy is going to be able to get this shirt off Serop anytime soon. To return the favor, Serop and I stopped by the station today and gave the firefighters a few of our AYF beanies.