In 1989 and 1990, Land and Culture volunteers had the opportunity to travel back in time by working on the archaeological site of Ambert, located in the Aragatz mountain range. Volunteers from various parts of the world lived in the quaint resort of Biuragan, also the site of Armenia's famous observatory. They commuted 15 minutes on a bumpy ride through time to excavate the “tonirs “and dwellings of their ancestors. Sounds, “sharagans”, and songs from the past were heard through the walls of the 10th century church. Working under the mesmerizing hum of bees, the cool picnics by the river were rejuvenating. Those who spent their summer at Ambert will always remember the ride back to the future and long for the past. LCO excavated and cleared the fortress to expose the walls from centuries of debris to reveal Ambert’s secrets.
Armenia's geographical position, at the crossroads of communication between east and west, made it the theater of fierce battles between the two world's, so profoundly different in their culture and traditions, and inevitably always in disagreement. Because it was troubled by this strife, and periodically laid waste by the invasions of powerful neighbors, Armenia and her princes, built over the centuries, numerous means of defense in order to survive against warlike adversaries. From this standpoint the Ambert fortress and church, typical examples of constructions arising in answer to a particular need, are especially interesting.
Tradition attributes the founding of Ambert and of many other fortresses along the Armenian border the King Ashot Yerkat, but this is just a popular tribute to the national hero, a protagonist in the struggle for Armenian independence. The exact founding date of Ambert can be established proving it belonged to the Pahlavouni princes from the 10th century to the Seljuk invasion. Ambert’s architectural works are clearly not from the same period. In fact, construction lasted several centuries. The fortress was built with the criteria used for military constructions at that time, for which considerable importance was given the choice of a site having a good natural defense system in order to reduce the number and size of fortifications. Ambert was built on a promontory formed by the narrow valleys hollowed out by the Ambert and Arkhashian Rivers. A domed church built in 1026 by the glorious army leader Vahram Pahlavouni rises between the castle and the end of the promontory, almost against the wall following the course of the Arkhashian River.
Gogaran is a small village located five miles outside of Spitak, the epicenter of the December 7, 1988 earthquake. The village of 200 families suffered damage caused by the earthquake, which was very visible and had affected the residents’ lives and their community. The three-story schoolhouse collapsed and almost all the school-age children died during this catastrophe. It was a generation lost.
LCO thought the area was in crucial physical and emotional need and adopted Gogaran as a campaign site from 1989 to 1996. During this seven-year period, LCO assisted the local villagers to rebuild their homes that were partially destroyed by the earthquake. In 1991, the villagers requested that we select the reconstruction of Gogaran’s 16th century ancient church built on a 4th century foundation as a project and gift to all residents of Gogaran.
In 1996, Sourp Astdvadzadzin, was completed and its consecration was blessed by His Holiness KAREKIN I and 2,000 people from throughout Armenia attended. This was the first major diasporan and volunteer supported project in Armenia. Now Sourp Astvadzadzin is a permanent religious and community institution for the people and future generations of Gogaran.
Since the LCO has been working in this region since the earthquake, former volunteers have developed long-standing friendships and bonds with the villagers as they work alongside these people of the land. LCO continues to support this project and community.
In 1995, with the cooperation of the Committee on Historic Preservation of Monuments, LCO adopted the village of Tatev, across from the Tatev Monastery. While Holy Etchmiadzin continued its renovation of the main monastery, LCO had undertaken the renovation of the Sourp Minas village church dating from the 17th century.
The famous 9th Century Tatev Monastery is located in the Syunik Province, and about 18 kilometers southwest of the town of Goris, on the right bank plateau of the Vorotan River. This region is remote but beautiful. Throughout the pre-independence period, on-going renovations of the various historical monuments were periodically undertaken in this region.
LCO volunteers restored the landscape, renovated the roof of the village church, and the interior and surrounding exterior of the church. In 1997, Sourp Minas was rededicated. In addition, volunteers also assisted in renovating the village’s medical clinic.
Beginning in 1991, LCO embarked upon two projects in the village of Madrasa.
During the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were displaced from their homes in Azerbaijan and came to Armenia for safety. Already plagued with those left homeless after the earthquake, the Armenian government had been struggling to also provide housing for the refugees.
One of the casualties of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict was a village outside Baku, Azerbaijan called Madrasa. The entire population of 600 Armenian families was removed in November of 1988 and dispersed throughout the Soviet Union. The head of this village, in typical Armenian fashion, was determined not to let this event end an existence and way of life that he had known since birth. He located 130 of the original families, who had been housed in temporary accommodations throughout Armenia, and together decided to recreate their village life-- but on Armenian soil. In November of 1990, the Refugee Committee allocated a large parcel of land on which their new village was to be created. This area was initially named New Madrasa but was renamed Dprevan, the Armenian translation of Madrasa, which means school in Arabic, Madrasa is located in the Ashdarag Region of Armenia, approximately 30 miles north of Yerevan.
The area has been divided into approximately 200 family plots. In 1991, in two years time, with the help of LCO, approximately 45 homes were built. Volunteers worked side by side with these families as they rebuilt their homes and tilled their soil. Also, here, shoveling dirt, carrying stone blocks, mixing cement, were the typical chores our volunteers.
The blockade had made the work very difficult at times, but Madrasa took on some semblance of a real village. Villagers planted trees and gardens. As a means to provide self-sufficiency for the villagers, the LCO initiated a fruit tree planting program and construction of a solar fruit dryer. When the dryer was completed in 1995, not only was it used by the residents of Madrasa but by surrounding villages as well. In 1996, the fruit was boxed and marketed for sale.
On Easter weekend a few years after completion of the fruit dryer project, eight LCO volunteers from different walks of life headed back out to Madrasa, now Dprevan. The people of the village had aged; some had left.
But overall, the spirit of the LCO still remained. This time, the Land and Culture Organization was asked by the villagers to help build a water reservoir with a pump and a shelter to secure the village with a steady access to drinking water. The plan was for the LCO volunteers and some local volunteers to build a cement pool in two days time. However, as is the case in Armenia, the work started slow but somehow, with determined energy, the work was completed at the end of the two-day campaign.
The volunteers also visited the solar fruit dryers built by fellow LCO volunteers in 1995. Today this fruit dryer is the only source of revenue generating plant in the village.
This was the first time LCO had organized a springtime campaign. The volunteers were a mix of veterans and new members. They all enjoyed the change of pace and the opportunity to return to the basics. The village and the work was a rewarding, especially since it was held of Good Friday and Good Saturday. The villagers also welcomed the presence of the young and dynamic volunteers.
Between 1998 until 2001, LCO worked on the partial renovation of the Saghmosavank Monastery and its complex.
The village of Saghmosavan is located in the Ashtarak region of the Republic of Armenia. It is some 40 minutes northwest of Yerevan and lies on the banks of the Kazakh River.
The awe-inspiring, medieval monastic complex of Saghmosavank is located in this village. This hauntingly beautiful structure can be seen from a distance as one approaches Saghmosavan. The enormous stone monastery and adjacent chapels stand on the edge of a ravine, and Mount Aragadz (the tallest mountain range in present-day Armenia) serves as a backdrop some distance away. The complex is made up of the church of Sourp Sion, the Gavit (a large ceremonial vestibule), the Library, Sourp Astvadzadzin Church and etched khatchkars inside and around the monastic complex.
The complex began with the construction of Sourp Sion church in the early 13th century (1215) by Prince Vatche Vatchoudian. Work continued on the remaining structures and ended in 1255 with the building of the Library by Prince Kourd Vatchoudian. The Old Cemetery, dating from the 13th-14th centuries, is found in the northwest area of the complex. There are a number of notable khatchkars still standing.
One of the best examples of Armenian medieval architecture, Saghmosavank has undergone numerous renovations throughout the ages. The 1988 earthquake did considerable damage to the main structure in the form of severe cracks in the walls and the roof. As a result, water leakage (which freezes during the winter months) had aggravated the damage.
Our volunteers completed renovation of the Gavit, the Bell Tower, Sourp Astvadzadzin Church, and parts of Sourp Sion. They dismantled the interior of the Gavit and repaired the weatherworn ceiling and interior. During this repair period, the volunteers discovered a concealed staircase near the main entrance of Sourp Astvadzadzin that was probably used long ago as an escape route leading to the bottom of the gorge by the Kazakh River. Volunteers continued to repair the damage to the monastic complex and renovated the three remaining edifices. This includes Sourp Sion Church, the Library, and the Cemetery.
The volunteers worked under the guidance of architects and historical preservationist. They performed tasks such as cleaning the walls that had been blackened by aging and weathering (Sourp Sion Church), constructing a drainage system to prevent water seepage through the stone walls, removing and replacing stones, filling cavities in walls, rebuilding the roof, and replacing floor slates in the library. In addition, there were pairs of khatchkars leaning against a structurally weak wall of the monastery. To preserve the valuable khatchkars, this wall was demolished and rebuilt and the khatchkars were carefully reset.Once this phase of the construction was completed, the renovation of the sacramental areas of the Saghmosavank Monastery was complete. In August of 2001, LCO sponsored the oodzoom, or re-consecration, of the Saghmosavank Church. This ceremony served as part of the nationwide celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the establishment of Armenian Christendom. All volunteers serving on a campaign during this time were invited to attend and participate in the celebration.