A Wonder in Karabakh: A visit to the “mysterious” attraction of Vank

Jivan and Anna, both Chinese by nationality, say in the perfect Karabakh dialect of the Armenian: “My dear, how are you? Are you alright?” When you inquire about them, they answer: “We feel good here.”

The young people from China are chefs. They work at the “Eclectica” hotel complex in the village of Vank in Nagorno-Karabakh.

They have come on an invitation from businessman Levon Hayrapetyan. Despite the fact that in winter there aren’t many customers, they still keep living in the village because, as they say, they like living there.

Vank, which is 45 kilometers from the Karabakh capital, Stepanakert, is buried in green woods flanked by hills. The sinuous road leading to the village reveals amazing views at every turn, with each new scene outmatching the previous one by its beauty. Nature seems to have outdone itself in this part of Karabakh.

Vazgen Baghramyan, 60, from Vank, is an executive worker at the “Atavan Les” LTD. The “Eclectica” hotel complex belongs to this company. The hotel, a mini-model of the famous Titanic and was built on the bank of the river Khachen, in the center of the village. The hotel that has operated for three years can house 70 guests; a hotel room is for 7,000 drams (or some $20) a night.

Baghramyan says there were no people leaving the village either during the wartime or in the post-war period. Even today many people come to settle down in Vank.

Abel Hakobjanian, 65, who is a watchman at the hotel’s parking place, is one of them. He was born in Vank, however lived in Baku since 1960. He moved to Yerevan in 1988.

“It is already a year that I have returned to Vank together with my wife. My son is in Russia, but I am eager to see him return to live in the village, all conditions are available here,” Abel says. “You can’t imagine how many guests we have especially on weekends. There is not enough space for all vehicles at the parking lot.”

The Chinese chefs are particularly pleased with the popularity of the area with visitors.

“Because when we have lots of visitors, some of them are sure to order Chinese food, and we get a chance to show our talent,” Jivan explains.

Active construction work is underway in Vank. As the villagers say: “You can’t find an idling person here.” Asphalt is laid on the streets, sidewalks are built. Construction of a new school for 350 pupils is being completed not far from the village center. Schoolchildren in Vank will start the new academic year in a new school building.

Village head Fedya Ohanyan says that people in the village are mainly engaged in construction. Some are engaged in cattle-breeding, farming and bee-keeping. “Atavan Les” alone provides 280 jobs for the village that has a population of 1,550.

The works being done in Vank are sponsored by Russia-based businessman Levon Hayrapetyan, who is a native of the village.

Vazgen Baghramyan says that Hayrapetyan has developed a special urban-type development program for the village and that all changes being made here lead to this.

Village head Ohanyan says that construction of a reservoir worth 15 million drams (about $45,000) is underway some five kilometers from the village, in the small gorge of the river Khachen.

“Tournaments in water sports are planned to be held there in the future. All this has one purpose – to develop tourism in this area,” Ohanyan says.

A zoo, a restaurant, a supermarket, a beerhouse, a branch office of Unibank, and a newly built stadium are established in Vank.

Villager Ashot Arakelyan works at the place called “Tsovin Kar”, which is three kilometers from the village. The construction work that has lasted for three years is drawing to an end. Another modern hotel and recreational area for 120 guests has been built here, immediately on the river Khachen.

“All builders are from the village. We have jobs, we live in peace, we won’t leave the village. We will soon start the construction of a hospital building,” he says.

Almost all men in Vank were under arms during the war. Village head Ohanyan says that 30 fellow-villagers fighting in the 300-man detachment lost their lives in the battlefields, another 60 were wounded.

“The enemy’s front positions were only two kilometers from our village. We had evacuated all women and children from the village. This village was the most bombarded village during the war, because the main positions were here,” he says.

Everyone in Vank is convinced that their power comes from Gandzasar, the nearby monastery. Ohanyan says that Gandzasar had given them the strength to retain the gorge of the Khachen, which proved decisive in the warfare.

Gandzasar is on the hill in front of Vank. It appears to be guarding the village with its mysterious power. The locals say the monastery received its name from the hill (literally meaning a mountain of treasure), which holds deposits of silver and other metals in its entrails. Gandzasar was a primacy in the 12th-13th centuries. Artsakh Prelacy Head Abp. Parkev Martirosian says that when the historical prelacy of Artsakh was re-established in 1989, Gandzasar was the first church to open its doors to the faithful. A theological seminary is due to be opened in Gandzasar soon.

Fr. Parkev says that Gandzasar had many times come under shelling. Bombs dropped all over the place except the church.

“God did not let [the bombs damage the church]. I think with its wonder-working power Gandzasar survived and let the people survive. Only one time a construction collapsed near the church, revealing 20 new khachkars (stone crosses) hidden there. We understood that God had opened the door to release those khachkars from captivity,” Fr. Parkev says.

The 12-kilometer-long road to Vank, the Vank-Gandzasar and Vank-Tsovin Kar roads were completely asphalted due to the means provided by businessman Hayrapetyan. The work cost a total of 10 million drams (about $30,000).

It is difficult to leave Vank, and even more so difficult to leave Gandzasar from where a beautiful view of Karabakh opens.

“If someone visits us once, he is sure to come back again. And for us the world starts and ends here,” Vank’s head says.