It was snowing but not hard. Tegh’s dirt roads had become mud baths because of the melting slush, but still we decided to drive to the village church on one side of the gorge.
Ara had never been to the church, even though Tegh is only a few miles from the village where he grew up.
“There was just no reason to come here” he said. “Tegh is not on the tourist trail, and the roads are not good. My wife’s father grew up here but I don’t know the village well”.
We stopped to ask a woman if the church was accessible by car.
“Be careful” she said “last week a car began to slide and ended up in the gorge”.
Like Khndzoresk, Ara’s village and one of Armenia’s most popular tourist sites, Tegh is surrounded by a lot of natural caves. Many of these are still used as stables or barns. They’re probably easier to hike to than the caves of Khndzoresk, but the countryside was completely deserted on this cold, bright day.
On the way to the church, we passed the men of the village enjoying a little warmth from the sun. We stopped at a graveyard quite unlike any I have seen in Armenia. Usually gravestones here are polished stone, etched with the likeness of the interred, or are Armenian tufa, brick-red and ornately carved with crosses. These tombstones, centuries old, were mostly the height of coffee tables and the size of travel trunks. They might have been granite. Many were carved with soldiers on horses, vases of flowers, and men carrying guns and swords. One more modern tomb featured an engraving of a pair of scissors. A seamstress’ resting place maybe?
We inched along the mud track. It was easy to see how someone had lost control and slithered over the edge. The car’s tires were caked in several inches of mud by the time we made it to the church.
There was someone else there, although he must have come on foot. Artak told us he had fought in the 1994 Nagorno Karabakh war and shared some horror stories about massacres and captures that took place on the slopes close to where we stood. He had been taken prisoner by the Azeris he said, and brought to Baku where he thought he’d be beheaded. Somehow he was spared. His friend had not been so lucky. Artak pointed to a memorial headstone he’d erected in memory of his friend. He’d had it made with money he’d earned living in Russia. He was thinking of going back to Russia. Nothing in this village for him now.
Artak wanted his picture taken with the American. They don’t see many outsiders in Tegh. It’s a pity. It’s worth seeing. You should go.