Stories of Stones

Postcard from Armenia

Jock at Sissian

I paid for our rooms at the Hotel Basen in Sissian and got directions for the road ahead.  We arrived in the dark last night and I had no clue where we were. At first we couldn’t find the hotel as all the lights were off and I drove around in circles on roads like creek beds like a bat with a GPS. It was about minus 2 Celsius, dark, and no one was around.  When we found it, it didn’t look like a hotel, more like small blocks of old soviet cold stone accommodations. Which is what it turned out to be. Apparently alongside the airstrip that didn’t get built before the Soviet Union collapsed. It turned out we were close to the centre of town. Sissan is about two and a half hours north of the Iranian border. It’s been a city since around 800 BC.

Makes you think it was here 2800 years ago, no Buddhism, no Christianity no Islam. In principle things should have gotten better in the last 3000 years or so. And in those days when the Arabs or the Turks were not invading, there were earthquakes and when there was peace there is just dry ground and stones, rocks and stones and hot as hell in summer  and rocks and snow and ice in winter.  Not far from Yerevan there are the ruins of an old stone church which in 650AD stood 45 meters tall and they say maybe it was the tallest building in the world. There is a sign on it that says it was destroyed by either Arabs or earthquakes around 1000 AD. There was a replica built in the Armenian town of Ani but that apparently collapsed about 900 years ago as well. Ani sits on the border with Turkey and was supposed to be returned to Armenia at the end of the First World War but never was. Around 1000 years ago Ani was a city on the Silk Road with over 100,000 people known as the city of 1001 churches it rivaled Damascus, Bagdad and Constantinople. Now it is just piles of stones some of which have parts of churches and fortresses rising out of them and not even in Armenia anymore.

No wonder the Armenians invented wine; where there is wine there is hope. And as an aside Armenians also invented carpets, kind of ironic. Like “hey this wine is great stuff, now let’s create something to make us miserable when we spill it”.

I scraped the ice of the car windows which had fine ice crystals all over it, like it was decorated for Christmas and paid for the rooms. I asked the woman there how to get to the main road and if there was anything we should keep our eye out for on the way to Goris and then she mentioned the Armenian Stonehenge, just on the right after the petrol station. Well the main road out was hardly a road, and the petrol station was an LPG refill station, and the track wasn’t on the right but on the left. But there pretty much in the middle of nowhere is a muddy track and down that road we now journeyed to Քարահունջ which is also called Zorats Karer or Karahunj.

Driving slow on a stony dirt track across the rocky hills and then there was a section of deep muddy bog and I could see us stuck up to our axles in it, so I parked on top of the hill and we walked down a slope towards the stone circles. In the centre of a patch of sticky muddy ground, we passed a recently constructed rough stone hut with a metal door that had a sign “Information and Souvenirs” it was closed and uninviting. By now it was about 9 in the morning and still colder than a grave diggers arse. But the valley below in the shadow of the snow covered mountains was literally awesome and if before you didn’t believe in Yarweh or Bahama or Buddha then you sure as hell had to believe in something now. And the stone circles as we walked in on them were madder than a paisley shirt, every which way but a kind of order to them all at the same time. There were was a large stone circle with these kind of tentacles coming out from the centre. On the sign that was paid for by USAID (a gift from the American people) it said something about stones that talk and that maybe under them were buried fallen warriors. I did see some long ago looted tombs so who knows. And many of the stones had holes in them big enough to put your arm through. The sign said they were used to observe the galaxies and now because the galaxies have shifted or we have, the circle can be dated to between 7500 and 12,000 years old.


I said to my mate who was visiting from Australia, “I wonder why they built it here?”

“Well they had to build it somewhere” he said

“So okay but why here?”

“Why not?”

And I look around and though we are high it seems we are also surrounded by mountains on all sides, but it was hardly a plateau.

So we wandered around being artistic. Taking pictures and making poses from behind rocks, on top of rocks, rocks in the foreground, the background, flanked by mountains, by sky, by other rocks. And it was icy, with snow on the peaks and white powder on the near hills.

As we wandered back there was loud stock car racer engine roar and this old while Russian Volga with a mismatched blue door wallowed through that bog like a battlefield tank, music blaring, it was rap but in that moment it sounded like the Star Wars theme.

They skidded to a halt at the end of the road where we were and then with only three cylinders firing and the muffler gone, much revving and wheels spinning they reversed up the steep little slope next to the Info centre. Three rangy youths in wool hats and hoodies out jumped and put rocks under the wheels to stop it rolling. I thought maybe they were shepherds or bandits or escaped convicts but it turns out they ran the Info Center and were building a chain mesh fence between the adjoining fields. I guess to separate this bit of rocky ground from the bit of rocky ground next to it. They offered us cans of iced coffee and we followed them up the treacherously uneven crazy paved stone steps into the center. Turns out one of them had worked with a famous German archeologist and knew a lot about Karahunj. Like it was constructed at least 2500 years before Stonehenge and that the word Hunj and Henge are very similar and Karahunj, Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids form an equidistant triangle. Go figure that. And it turns out that just over the range is a field of prehistoric carved stones at a place called Navasar and they showed photos and graphics of a 7500 year old carving depicting two stick figures and a serpent a tree with one fruit in it, one of the stick figures had a prong between his legs and they told me that was Adam. They sold tee-shirts, postcards and other souvenirs with the carving on it. Makes you think too that the bible crosses a fair bit of territory. Also you have to admit that stones are pretty good at preserving history. Like 7500 years ago some guy who thinks the world is flat and doesn’t know where he is on it except he is on a hillside and he makes a rock carving of a story he heard somewhere. Then in 2014 someone in Armenia makes a tee-shirt out of it.

About jocknoble

I have worked in thirty countries with most time spent in India, Kenya, Indonesia, USA , Australia and Armenia. My current role with World Vision International is as a Livelihoods Advisory based in Manila. Before this I spent 4 years based in Armenia leading an economic development learning hub for 10 countries across the Middle East and Eastern Europe. I spent 8 years with World Vision Australia where I founded and lead the Social Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Unit (SEED), a team of economic development specialists,to establish and support innovative initiatives in poor communities from Africa to the Asia Pacific, Senegal to Timor Leste.. I believe the reason people are poor is that they do not have enough money and our challenge is to help instill hope and a genuine sense of self-belief, starting with those of us who somehow work in development. I was the founder and CEO of Diversity@work Australia Inc, a social enterprise developing innovative models, strategies and educational programs to strengthen companies through diversity and inclusion. I hold a Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and a Masters of Strategic Foresight from Swinburne University in Melbourne, post-graduate studies in Not for Profit Management at Georgetown University and Negotiation and Conflict Management at Latrobe University Melbourne. I was the Carey Medal winner for 2007 for exceptional and outstanding service to the community. So it goes Published Books: 'Postcards - What am I doing here' (2016) which is a collection of my blogs along with selected photographs, and Stores from the Road - Ten stories for workers in international development (2016)
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