In The Place Of The Ancient Gods
On top of Dizapayt Mountain, a sacred site since ancient times, Armenians built Katarovank in the 4th century. The arduous, but stunningly beautiful climb, takes you to the summit where the monastery stands in ruins, but a church built in the 17th century remains to hear your prayers for peace.
At Night We Hear The Bullets Fly
Karlin is the caretaker of Amaras Monastery. He is proud of his work in preserving Amaras, which was founded by St. Gregory, who brought Christianity to Armenia in the 4th century. It was here that St. Mesrob Mashtots created the first school to use his new alphabet in 410 AD. Amaras was a deeply historic place in the Christian tradition of the indigenous Armenian people long before the Turkish tribes left Central Asia to invade the surrounding lands beginning in the 11th century. Amaras proximity to Azerbaijan worries Karlin, who fears it will be destroyed as Azeris destroyed the ancient Armenian cemetery in Julfa, Nakhchivan. Over coffee he tells us "We are close to the fighting. Oftentimes at night we hear the bullets fly."
Gandzasar Monastery, begun in the 10th century, has heard the prayers of the people for hundreds of years, long before the creation of Azerbaijan in 1918. A little girl stands alone in the flow of men coming to pray for a family member lost in the war, a small reminder of the children left fatherless by ethnic cleansing in Azerbaijan and the war for independence that followed.
Okhty Drni Vank, the Monastery of the Seven Doors
The legend of the Monastery of the Seven Doors tells another story of ancient Armenian lands at the crossroads of imperialist empires. It is said that a woman whose seven brothers were killed defending their homeland against foreign invaders built Okhty Drni as early as the 6th century. As you climb the slope of the mountain to the ruined monastery, the air seems suffused with the spirit of faith and hope that carries a people forward through time and memory. Stand silent in the ruined church and feel the sacredness of the place in a land consecrated by the lives of so many lost fighting for their freedom. Light seven candles, as tradition requires, in memory and prayers for peace.
Two men who were refugees from the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Azerbaijan in the late 1980's returned to their native Artsakh, where their families had lived in pre-Soviet times. When Azerbaijan attacked, both men found themselves forced to fight to defend their homes and save their lives. Many Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan look back with sadness on the lives they once shared with ethnically Turkish Azeris in a place they had come to love. But they look to their future in Artsakh with promise and hope.
War veteran Karine was one of the first female soldiers in what was then Nagorno Karabakh's army. Over her family's objections, Karine determined to fight, "It was my home too, after all, and I wanted to fight for my country like any man." Practiced with weapons from Soviet times, Karine went to the recruiting center only to be rejected because she was a woman. She argued fiercely with the recruiter, who told her that she would only be considered for duty if she could reassemble a Kalashnikov in just a minute. "He looked at me and I knew he was thinking there was no way a girl like me could do it. But when I did, he had to take me. He'd spoken in front of too many people. 'Go home and get your things,' he told me. So I did, and my mother cried and cried."
In the war, Karine tells us she was wounded and went back to fight. But the second time, she was wounded so badly that she wasn't expected to survive. She doesn't remember much, so her mother takes over the story. Karine's mother tells how poor the facilities were and how little hope they expressed for Karine. She demanded to stay and nurse her daughter, and when the staff couldn't get her to leave, they gave up. "She's my daughter and I wouldn't give up on her. I never left her and nursed her myself for many months until I knew she would live. The doctors couldn't believe it. But it was a mother's love for her child that made Karine fight and made her well again."
"It's his birthday today and I have never missed it. He had just finished university," she told us "and had his first job". "We knew we would have to defend our homes, or they would kill us too," she said, referring to the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Azerbaijan. "And then the war broke out. I have grown old in sorrow for my son."
A hayduk, or freedom fighter, Ludmilla is a veteran of the war for independence. "I could have left," she said, "but we have lived on these lands for thousands of years. I wanted my children and grandchildren to know their homeland."
I Must Fight My Grief And Win
Like too many families, the Gasparyans lost their son to the April War, when Azerbaijan again violated the ceasefire. Although he had finished his military service, Liana's son believed in their homeland and volunteered. “If we don’t believe, we can lose Artsakh tomorrow - we have it because we believe.” Speaking about her son, Liana struggled to smile through her tears "I must fight my grief and win." She channels her grief into her job teaching a new generation of children, and into the business she dreams of starting that will bear her son's name and employ local people selling Armenian-made products.
Martuni Hopes For Peace
Young soldiers pose for a picture in Martuni, a town hard hit by the April War in 2016.
Comes Home To War
In 2015, we watched as a man got out of his car with shopping bags and disappeared into the ruined apartment building, another casualty of war.
Stone By Stone
A young couple who chose to stay, instead of following the job market to Russia, are rebuilding one of the lovely, historic Shushi homes which was badly damaged in the war. They are doing the work themselves, literally stone by stone. "We could leave, but we want our children to grow up here. We want them to run and play on our land. We want them to know their home and their history."
Sunset On The Ruins
Exploring the cliffs at sunset, we came upon another Shushi building ruined in the war, but with its spectacular views intact.
The Silk Road
Always a meeting place for diverse cultures, vestiges of a medieval trail leads travelers to Shushi's ruined caravanserai, another reminder of Armenian lands at a crossroads of empires.
Caught In The Crossfire
This mosque was damaged in the war for independence and saved by the Armenian people of Shushi. Currently under restoration, the government of Artsakh is preserving the historic character of Shushi as a meeting place of cultures.
Before Her The Mountains
A young woman looks out over the mountains from the cliffs of Shushi.
Umbrella Falls, Shushi, Artsakh
A spectacularly beautiful place in Honut Canyon near Shushi, Artsakh, draws locals and visitors for the long hike in to a perfect picnic spot.
The Land Has Taken So Much
The beauty of this place contrasts with the sacrifices the local people have made to hold onto their ancestral lands. “It is so beautiful because the land has taken so much,” Liana Gasparyan tells us.
Not On Any Map continues in the coming weeks with more photos and stories. Please check back again soon!