Before we left Shikahogh, 12 volunteers from the Faith and Heritage Organization visited us. Faith and Heritage is our sister Armenia program funded by OTC/LCO whose mission is to stimulate and encourage the youth of Armenia to safeguard and preserve our heritage by conducting clean up campaigns of historical sites. They were on a three-day campaign in the Syunik region.
The LCO-OTC volunteers left their Shikahogh home and journeyed on their final two-day trip to liberated Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabagh. After crossing the strategic Berdzor/Lachin Corridor and driving through high top mountains where you feel like the clouds are right above you, we headed into Shushi the historical capital of Karabagh. Once an extensive cultural center, the city was virtually destroyed during the Karabagh War. We explored the old fortress walls, viewed the museum, and learned of the history of Shushi. Our group also went to the plateau where the fierce battle to capture Shushi occurred and changed the outcome of the war. Volunteers had a true interpretation of fighting for your homeland. After viewing the Surp Amenaprkich Ghazanchetsots Cathedral and Kanach Zham/Holy Mother of God Church, we enjoyed a traditional Armenian feast. The group stayed at the home of war veteran Saro Saryan, who now runs his residence as a youth hostel.
The next day, we headed north to the 13th century Gandzasar Monastery. Again, we were overwhelmed by the majesty of our architecture amid stunning and treacherous locations. Next, as a traditional stop, our group climbed onto the victorious tank that is now used as a memorial to the battle that it fought and climbed to the Mamik-Babik statue, that is the symbol of Artsakh.
Desperate for a taste of "home", we found a shawerma place in the capital of Stepanakert! Standing in the sidewalk, ordering shawerma-to-go wrapped in lavash was very surreal, but delicious. Our group walked the dynamic city, entered museums, and returned to our hostel in Shushi. Nearby was the Regional Hospital of Shushi. OTC-LCO previously had renovated the surgical wing here. Hospital's chief doctor and surgeon, Dr. Vigen Khachaturyan gave our group a tour of the facility. Two weeks ago, Dr. Gazarian had performed surgeries there. Below Shushi is also another completed project for the village of Karintak which LCO-OTC restored their community center after the war.
We were all ready to return to Yerevan, but very aware that our month of working and traveling together to the outer edges of Armenia would soon be over. As we drove along the Stepanakert-Goris-Yerevan highway, we made one final stop at the Noravank Monastery. Volunteers then readjusted to large metropolitan Yerevan where they enjoyed some time in the big city and said their goodbyes as they started to depart their Hayrenik each with their own impressions and memories.