Noyemberyan: How Eco-Tourism Saved a Small Town from Mining
It was noon when we met Arman Yaralyan in the central park of Noyemberyan, furnished with brightly colored benches and playground equipment waiting for restoration. He had just driven four hours from Yerevan, where he lives with his wife and daughter and works as an animator, to take us into the mountains. We hopped in an SUV with him and one of his friends and headed off the paved roads into the slopes that enfolded the houses.
Beautiful views in the hills around Noyemberyan
“I want to build a guesthouse here,” he said when we reached a flat, clear patch of grass in the forested mountains. Stretching out behind us lay rolling panoramas of rich green mountains, and in front of us the friendly, cosy little town of Noyemberyan spread out in white houses and roads on the slopes. There is still an issue with finding the money to build the house itself, but even without a building, the mountain makes a prime spot for hiking and camping. All you need is an adventurous spirit, and some tents.
Arman has a dream to come back and live in his hometown with his family, and while he is looking for the money to make that possible, he is also working on other things to encourage tourism in the area, such as a map that will tell curious travelers where to go and what they can see. And the best thing: he’s not the only local working on this exciting project.
We met Nune Azizyan first in the 3D modeling lab where she learned the skills that allowed her and her friend Siranoush to start VitRoom, their small business selling hand-painted vases and lamps. After showing us the software that she and the other students have used to design everything from rings to models of Armenian historical sites, she told us about her part in the tourism movement.
Residents of Noyemberyan gathering in the town center have a new sense of the power of political action
“In March, a Russian mining company called Polymetal Armenia wanted to start a mine in Noyemberyan. I was pregnant at the time so I couldn’t go out and protest, but I started collecting signatures for a petition. We got 300 signatures and presented it to the municipal authorities who told the company that no, the people of Noyemberyan do not want this. We said that instead we could use the land for eco-tourism. After that we realized how important it was to bring tourists here, so we have started many projects for this.”
A local farm
Nune herself is one of the founders of the Noyemberyan Tourism Center. The Center is now a digital entity, with a Facebook page connecting tourists to places to stay, things to do and other useful information about Noyemberyan. It is currently only in Armenian, as it has only been up for a few months, but they have plans to work on translating it, and also creating a physical office space for the tourism center.
Besides hiking and ecotourism, Noyemberyan also is the site of an up-and-coming wine route. On our way into town we met Arman Khojoyan from the Center for Agribusiness and Rural Development, an organization supported by USDA, which is helping local wine makers to develop their homemade village wines into high quality products and create tasting rooms and guesthouses in their homes. We visited the Davityan Family Winery in Achajour village, where the family served us not only wine, fruit, and gata (delicious Armenian flaky pastry), but also Armenian songs played by the daughter of the family on a traditional Armenian flute. We visited another similar winery, the Alaverdyan Family Winery in Aygehovit village (treated to coffee and food again, Armenian style). Just before Noyemberyan we visited Tigran Budaghyan, another CARD beneficiary, who moved his family’s Israel Ori Restaurant near the road to make it a nice stop for tourists passing through to eat fresh khorovats (Armenian barbecue), vegetables, and other specialties. He also has started to build a guesthouse and wine-tasting room, but is still working on finding the money to finish the building and buy fermentation tanks to improve the quality of his wine.
Finally, with our friends from Noyemberyan Center for Community Development NGO we visited Gagik Aghababyan, the manager of the Berdavan wine factory. Gagik is from Berdavan village, but worked for many years at Armenia’s well known Ijevan wine company, which he had an instrumental role in building. After retiring from the company, he decided to dedicate his time and expertise to producing high quality wines in his home village. He showed us around the winery and invited us into the future guesthouse, picturesque wooden village house, where he served us pickles, compote, wine, about six jars of preserves and juice to take home. Needless to say, we were even more overwhelmed than usual by Armenian hospitality, and eager to be some of the first tourists on this undiscovered wine route when it is fully completed next year.
Noyemberyan is a prime location for tourism. Located right on the Yerevan-Tblisi highway, it is the perfect place for tourists to relax and enjoy the peaceful nature, and the friendliness of this Armenian town before they continue on their journey. It is off the beaten path, leaving stunningly unspoiled nature, a nice escape from the busy Caucasus tours that jump from one site to the next.
In addition, tourism in Noyemberyan has an important humanitarian aspect. Although the town itself is far out of the range of fire, almost everyone you meet has relatives or friends in the border villages. In these villages, farms, schools, and streets are regular targets for fire from the Azeri military posts across the border. Armenians in these villages do not want to start a military conflict and instead engage in non-violent resistance in the hopes that development and greater awareness of the conflict will bring it to the attention of foreign powers who could put pressure on the Aliev government to stop these human rights violations. And tourism is a very effective, and very safe way to raise this awareness through human connections.
In many places, eco- and, humanitarian, and other types of tourism are the subject of controversy. Tourists are often resented by locals, and considered bad for local development. But in Noyemberyan, the locals are waiting eagerly for tourists to create more awareness, exposure to international people and ideas, development, and friendships for their town.
So what are you waiting for? Make Noyemberyan your next adventure destination!
For more information, visit the Noyemberyan Tourism Center: https://www.facebook.com/NTC-Noyemberyan-Tourism-Center-1093311677473167/
Also contact us for more info or English info, we will be happy to set you up with friendly, knowledgeable, English-speaking guides and anything else you need.