There are 64 Graves –some of them inscribed in Hebrew. They are the only evidence of a small community of Jewish people who lived in South Armenia in the 12th and 13th centuries. Today, Armenia is 98% homogenous.
Apart from the ethnic Armenians, there are small communities of Yazidis–often working as shepherds and herders– and of Malakhans –often red-haired, and unfailingly peaceable and modest– who are ethnically Russian, and who are usually found in the North of Armenia. Since the 1400s there have been no Jews.
All that remains of the Vayots Dzor Jewish community is this small graveyard. There is no history of where these people came from, or what happened to them. It probably wasn’t good.
The graveyard was excavated only a few years ago. Then, some of the stones were are used to form the base of a bridge. Luckily, someone quickly recognized the rarity of what they had found. The graves were not looted or further tampered with. Jewish communities from other parts of the world were told of the discovery. Some clubbed together to build steps from the river up to the graveyard, near the village of Yeghegis. There is now a wall and a gate with a blue Star of David.
The anniversary of the discovery of the graveyard is in a couple of days. Then, there will probably be many people visiting from all over the world to honor the long dead. Today there was no one. We walked among the graves– full length and piteously short –and listened to the water, and the birds, and smelled the wild garlic.
Previous visitors, almost certainly Jewish, had placed stones in neat lines on top of many of the graves. I am not sure why. Perhaps you know?
The Jewish cemetery of Yeghegis is only one of the mysteries of Armenia. Around every corner there are more rocks and stones and carvings with secrets they will not tell. On the way to Vayots Dzor we stopped to visit Armenia’s Stonehenge. I love it there and try to visit every season. The situation is glorious, and I am hooked on the ancient intrigue. The settlement is believed to be at least 7000 years old, meaning it predates the standing stones in the south of England by a millennium or two. Many of the stones have perfect circles somehow cut in an age before Precision tools. No one knows how or why. Clearly, there are graves and the remains of ancient dwellings. Locals and international experts bicker about whether the surrounding stones are evidence of an observatory, or were placed to make a wall for defense. It’s impossible to say.
As more and more tourists come to visit Armenia, the mysteries and ongoing discoveries only add to the fun.