Silk Road of Armenia: A Night in Fioletovo
The main street in the village of Fioletovo is empty when we arrive there in search of a shelter for the night, slowly walking down the muddy path that leads from the main road to the village. Houses are located on both sides of the street, in front of the gates to each household a cabbage is placed on top of an electricity meter box. Russian Molokans, who make the overwhelming majority of the village’s population, are well-known in Armenia for their cabbage and pickles. We walk along the street, and the village looks abandoned and dead. But as it gets dark, women and men dressed in skirts and suits come out of their houses and walk to the evening religious service. As they pass by, they cast a curious glance at us.
We ask people about a place to spend the night. One man invites us over to his house. He describes the location, but we fail to remember it. The man walks away, leaving us in confusion. It gets colder. Some people suggest us to sleep on the roof of the village’s cultural center. An Armenian lady in the local shop, where we buy bread and biscuits for our dinner, suggests us to visit an old grandpa who, she says, lives alone in a big house and he may be able to host us. We decide to give it a try, but first, we want to get some cheese.
About a hundred meters after the shop I approach a young man to ask where we can buy cheese. He rides a motorcycle, and his two daughters sit in the side-car. “Are you pilgrims?” he asks, and I tell him who we are and what are we doing – hitchhiking along the Silk Road of Armenia. “So you are wanderers,” he says, then turns to the older of his two little girls. “Take these strangers home and tell your mother to give them some cheese.” We thank the man (his name is Sasha) and follow his daughter who guides us to their home without saying a single word.
Soon we find ourselves sitting around the table in their kitchen, drinking tea and talking to the man Sasha’s wife, Tania. All of a sudden, Sasha appears in the kitchen. “Give them tea to drink, then offer them a dinner, and don’t forget to give them some cheese… Oh, and don’t take any money from them. They are pilgrims,” he says to his wife and leaves the kitchen. We talk to Tania, she smiles as she speaks, but as soon as Sasha returns she becomes silent, only occasionally sharing her opinion. Sasha does the talking, while Tania arranges the dinner – potato soup, cheese, bread and honey, jams, pickled mushrooms, carrots.
Sasha shows us many photographs from their family albums, and I realize that the family led a very different life in the past and only recently did they return to their roots and traditions. When I ask if it is OK to take a few photos of them, Sasha refuses. “Is it really necessary to take photographs? The moment is already in your heart… No, no photographs. You can share today’s experience just with your heart and your words,” says Sasha.
Word after word we find ourselves engaged in a philosophical conversation. Man is an evil creation, says Sasha, who believes that since man is intrinsically bad, his only intention should be doing good. “One should only do good things – with love, kindness and compassion. I found this Truth, and this is how I try to live my life,” says our host. He asks if I associate myself with any religion. I give him a messed up answer, but he looks satisfied. He then tells stories of his wanders in Russia, particularly in Siberia, where he was freezing in the night, and random people offered him a place to sleep. His adventures in Siberia remind me of my own trip to the region back in January 2009.
“Many people helped me whenever I was in need, and when I saw you walking on the street, strangers as I was myself in Russia, I couldn’t just let you walk away like that. So I ask you, please, do not leave my house and stay with us tonight. If I can pay back at least 1% of the kindness that people showed to me, I will be very happy,” says Sasha. Tania is also happy to have us around, though she rarely shows her feelings. We accept his offer, somewhat relieved to have a shelter for another night on the road. We talk until late night, sipping tea and tasting various homemade jams. His wife arranges a couch in their bedroom for Emée, and I’m given another couch in the kitchen. The night is warm and peaceful.
The village of Fioletovo in the Lori province of Armenia was founded in 1842 by Russian Molokan exiles from the Tambov Governorate of the Russian Empire. Molokans are members of a spiritual Christian sect. They were Russian peasants who refused to obey the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century. In the 19th century, the government’s policy in Tsarist Russia was to send them away from the center of the country to Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, central Asia, and Siberia. The Molokans do not accept icons, church hierarchy, clergy, do not worship the cross, don’t eat pork, don’t drink alcohol and do not smoke, considering it a sin.