YSIP 2013 participant Angelika Hakopyan looks back fondly on her group trip to Karabakh and how the beauty of the land defied her expectations.
Looking out our bus window, my friends and I were nothing short of anxious at entering Karabakh. Not knowing much about this country, the pitch blackness and the stories of war tanks laying across the land fueled our imagination and led us to believe we were entering a war-ridden land that was devastated by the battles from years ago. I couldn’t understand why the many native Armenians who knew about my trip were excited at the opportunity I would have to witness the beauty of Karabakh. Nonetheless, all that changed when we embarked on our journey the next day. I quickly came to realize why everyone else was so thrilled at the prospect of my visit to this country, a place that was, at least for me, shrouded in mystery and ignorance.
Stepping out of our hotel and driving to the Parliament building in Stepanakert in the early morning, allowed me my first real look at Karabakh and I became conscious of the fact that my preconceived judgments were completely impetuous. From the various churches we visited to the historic landmarks of Shushi, the environment was nothing short of spectacular. Even the hour-long drives to these locations were enjoyable because of the breathtaking scenery. We visited countless sights, but the three most memorable for me were the opera, the grand cathedral, and the astounding mountain region.
On our first night in Karabakh, the AGBU YSIP group and I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch an opera in Tigranakert. The drive over to the location was an adventure in itself because we got to see things like old war machinery and a present-day ghost town whose remnants were scattered across a wide array of land. The opera was also extremely entertaining because the setup of the stage gave an ambience of creativity as it was set within the walls of a fortress beneath the starry sky. There were a lot of laughs as we watched a typical romance story unfold between two young lovers who must fight for their love against the girl’s overprotective father—to an extent, most Armenians can relate to this storyline. All in all, the opera ended on a happy note, as did our night.
The following day, we visited the town of Shushi. The walking tour was enjoyable and a pleasant change from the constant driving. One of the more memorable places we visited in Shushi was the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral. The view of the cathedral was awe-inspiring. Since it was Sunday morning, my fellow interns and I got the opportunity to watch the weekly mass. Standing in the pews of the cathedral, I really got the sense of what it feels like to be a fellow inhabitant of Karabakh. I shared this moment with everyone else there, be they an AGBU intern or not.
Of all the places we visited during our stay in Karabakh, the most unforgettable were the mountains of Jdrduz. While walking towards our final destination, I became more and more in awe of the grandeur of the place. At first I thought the vast field of flowers was what our coordinator meant to show us, but when she told me to keep walking towards the edge of the cliff, the endlessness of this landmark’s magnificence dawned on me. Standing on the edge of a rock, all one can see is the infinite greenery of the landscape. The river flowing below and the clear blue skies above made the sight seem almost unreal, as if an artist had painted the scenery with the stroke of his brush.
Having the opportunity to leave the streets of Yerevan and enter a completely new environment made this trip all the more special. If someone were to ask me what makes this whole experience worthwhile, I would say it is the places we get to see, but it is also the people I get the chance to experience it with. Our final night in Karabakh was definitely one of the most unforgettable—a combination of good food, good company, and good music. Our coordinator Anna summed up the trip in one simple phrase in her toast: “Who would have thought that twenty years ago, thirty interns from five different countries would be gathered here today, sitting in Stepanakert, enjoying tetu oghi.” The night ended with an abundance of smiles and laughs..