AMAP: Rediscovering Silk Road Armenia landmarks

With the use of some 800 candles placed around its ancient rock layout, Armenia’s Selim Pass caravanserai glowed to the amazement of a few hundred guests last Thursday.

The 14th century “roadhouse” in the Selim Pass was one of several resting places for merchants along Armenia’s section of the famous Silk Road, and is one of several stops now marked with information panels by the Armenian Monuments Awareness Project.

AMAP is a project that reaches out to cultural and historical landmarks across Armenia to make them better known and more attractive to both locals and visitors. Over the past two years AMAP has been installing information signboards in five languages (with additional languages available on laminated handouts) in historical sites of Armenia. Selim was the 13th out of 16 places that the NGO has fitted out with these facilities under the project.

The project operates with sponsorship of VivaCell-MTS, the Honorary Consul of Italy and the USAID through its Competitive Armenian Private Sector program (CAPS).

The Silk Road was a 7,000-kilometer-long caravan trade way linking China, Asia Minor and Europe and operated from the second century BC to the 16th century AD. The Armenian section of the Silk Road covered 550 kilometers – it passed through what is now the Armenian-Georgian border to what is now the Armenian-Iranian border. It is now presented with 14 signboards in five languages with landmarks in historical Goris, Meghri, Moz areas, Ughtasar, Selim mountain pass and others.

“When I came to Armenia for the first time I was told that Armenia is the center of the world. But I am from Texas (US) and for me, of course, the center of the world was Texas,” says native Texan and AMAP chief of party, Rick Ney (who has lived in Armenia since 1992). “But when we started working on this project, especially the Silk Road, I understood that Armenia is at the crossroads of civilizations, that is, Armenia is indeed the center.”

Ney said that the idea of such a project was floated in Georgia still ten years ago but was not realized. But the idea that was being considered in Armenia still a year ago is already being translated into reality.

And witnessing the latest proof of this reality were representatives of different nations – Greeks, Indians, Italians, Chinese – representatives of nations that had a role in the creation of the Silk Road.

Italy’s ambassador to Armenia Bruno Scapini said but for the Mediterranean Sea, they would not feel the difference on their journey from Italy to Armenia -- so much alike the two countries are.

Nitasha Julka and Sandi Kumar (both 23 years old), medical students from India, presented one of their national Punjabi (five rivers) dances at the presentation, which also included performances representing Greece, China and Italy.

The young Indians said they have made friends in Armenia that they hope will last a lifetime.

Ralph Yirikian, general manager of Armenia’s leading mobile phone operator VivaCell-MTS, addressed words to the young people, urging them to continue the way they have embarked on in the future.

A bonfire was set and the “Karin” folk dance group danced Kochari, yarkhushta, and a few hours later the candles of the caravanserai faded away, with silence that this monument has lived in for years spreading until it is again welcomes new guests with the added opportunity of learning the history of this special piece of Armenian culture.