Silk Road of Armenia: Kobayr Monastery
We greet the third day of our hitchhiking trip along the Silk Road of Armenia in our sleeping bags, laying on a dusty bed in an abandoned house in the village of Kobayr. It’s 8 o’clock in the morning. The night was rather cold, and we are lazy to leave our warm sleeping bags, so we spend half an hour singing songs. Packing doesn’t take long and we decide to explore the house before leaving it. What we find is spiderwebs, layers of dust and dirt, ruined beds, old photographs depicting a dead man in a wooden coffin, letters from people who lived in the house before.
At Zaven’s house, we enjoy another cup of coffee. I talk to Zaven about the abandoned houses in the village, while his mother gives Emée a workshop on how to make cheese. Her pension is enough only to cover the utility payments, so she makes cheese and sells it at the market.
We soon leave their house, and Zaven takes us up the narrow path to the ruins of the 12th-century Kobayr monastery that sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Debed canyon. He carries a chainsaw on his shoulder. “My friends are waiting for me up there, we have to cut some wood to heat the house,” Zaven explains. Together with two of his friends he, in fact, is in charge of the renovation of the monastery.
The Monastery of Kobayr
An important cultural centers of medieval Armenia, the monastery of Kobayr was founded in 1171 CE by the daughter of the King Kyurike II, Mariam, who oversaw built the oldest church of the complex, the Mariamashen church. In 13th century, Kobayr was acquired by the Zakarids and converted into Chalcedonian monastery.
Several members of the nobel family are buried here. When the Chalcedonian monks left the monastery, it remained abandoned for several centuries, and after returning to the bosom of the Armenian Apostolic Church, its doors were open again in 17-18th cc.
Zaven shows us the frescoes in one the churches, and briefly introduces the process of renovation of the monastery. He then bids us goodbye and slowly walks up the side of the gorge, his head down, the hand holding the chainsaw. Left alone, we wander around, exploring the area. While Emée takes photographs of the frescoes, I examine the tombstones. We then walk back to the village to pick up our backpacks and continue our road. “I will always remember you,” says Zaven’s mother just before we leave their house.
A short stop in the village of Dsegh to visit the house museum of Hovhannes Tumanyan, Armenia’s national poet, a fun ride to the city of Vanadzor to enjoy a cup of tea with potato pies in a little Soviet-style café called “Buffet”, a walk through Vanadzor to the outskirts of the city, another fun ride on a delivery truck… We’re now on our way to the village of Fioletovo, populated by the Molokans, members of a Christian sect that originated in Russia.
The Molokans are well-known in Armenia for their cabbage and pickled vegetables. “I buy cabbage from them, and then sell it in other towns,” says our driver. At dusk, he drops us off on the road near Fioletovo. An old couple sells cabbage on the roadside. Woman’s head is covered with a scarf, her husband features a long white beard. We approach them and I ask in Russian if it’s possible to spend the night in the village. They assure us that all we have to do is simply take a walk through the village. “Someone will definitely invite you over to their house,” says the woman. We thank them and walk towards the village.