The 2013 volunteers began work on a new campaign on the 16th Century Sourp Stepanos Nakhavegah Church in Shikahogh with inscriptions on stones from the 13th century. AGBU (Armenian General Benevolent Union)’s founder Boghos Nubar Pasha's forefather Moves Kahana Melik Nubaryans are from this village as evidenced by one of the gravestones on the church grounds. Volunteers were eager to begin the work, putting on their work gloves and heading from their home up to the church. The project began with hired workers cutting any trees that had grown on the church’s roof and our volunteers helped remove the debris. Later, the church’s roof will be professionally dismantled stone by stone and any remaining tree roots will be cautiously removed. As in all LCO historical renovation projects, first an archaeological dig is done before any restoration work begins. Armenian archaeologist Arman Nalbandian is guiding and overseeing the group during the archaeological phase of the project. Volunteers got into it clearing stones from inside and outside of the church. Others took small tools and began digging away brush and the top layer of soil. Some found ceramic pieces and bones. Anytime a volunteer finds anything, they notify Arman who documents the artifact.
The village of Shikahogh (sheg hogh/red soil) is located in the southern Syunik region south of the city of Kapan at the foot of the dense Shikahogh State Reserve, Armenia’s second largest forest reserve. It is a vulnerable village with a shrunken population of 262 people, including 24 schoolchildren. Being three kilometers from the Armenian-Karabagh border, the Azeris also shelled Shikahogh during the Karabagh conflict. Fighting began in 1989 and intensified in 1992 until the Armenians liberated the Karabagh region in 1994. Now they are hoping, in this peaceful era, to develop ecotourism in the Shikahogh State Reserve area.
As it is humid, volunteers will be working three hours in the morning and three hours later in the afternoon. That will give them time to rest, do laundry, and explore the village and surrounding area. The villagers have been very friendly and helpful to the group. Tonight our group got into the local scene by visiting a makeshift “club” at the village’s community center playing ping-pong, hanging out, and dancing “acheeg pakhtzenel” (stealing the girl) with the local youth.
Additional photos can be found on the Gallery link of the website.