free counters
  • Black Garden in The Mountains

    日期:2003-01-15 | 分类:旅行 (Traveling) | Tags:纳戈尔诺-卡拉巴赫(Nagorno-karabakh) 亚美尼亚(Armenia)



    -- Travel in Nagorno-Karabakh

    As I come awake on the bus, it takes me some time to remember where I am. The mountain ranges that I can see from the window look very familiar; the autumn forests, river valleys with sparkling streams, black tilled fields and flocks of sheep spread over the meadows make the landscape look just like certain places in Southern China. But the flashback ends, and I remember that I am on the road to Stepanakert. The road is surprisingly good - it was built on the donations of the Armenian diaspora. Despite this, I can't help but feel a sense of loss, that a craggy mountain road which has seen so much of the history between East and West has become just another modern freeway.

    The word "Nagorno" is Russian, meaning "on the mountains" or "mountainous," and "Karabakh" is a mixture of Turkish and Persian, meaning "black garden," but the 95% of the population which are Armenian call their homeland "Artsakh," after an Armenian kingdom of the 7th century. For more than 1300 years, Arab, Persian, Mongol, Tatar, Turkish and Russian armies have washed over this stretch of the Silk Road like tides and disappeared again, leaving only the Christ-worshipping Armenians and their khachkars, eternal as the mountains. All these names are like a concentrated history of Nagorno-Karabakh; and in the years 1991-1994, it once more became a blood-drenched purgatory. In a war that took more than 30,000 lives and caused heavy damage to its economy, Armenia with its population of only 3 million defeated 8-million-strong Azerbaijan, and Karabakh became a de facto independent republic, with its own flag, its own parliament, its own army and its own elected president. However, to this moment in the whole world only its sister-nation Armenia recognizes the independent Artsakh Republic of Mountainous Karabakh.

    And so, while I muse on things gone by, the bus takes us through the famous Lachin corridor - and my journey to Nagorno-Karabakh begins.

    *** THE SAHYANS ***

    Smbat Sahyan was supposed to pick me up at the Stepanakert Bus Terminal, and he came just in time - several people at the terminal had already offered to help me out. Before we met, all the information I had about him was a name on a piece of paper - everything was arranged by a mutual friend; what's more, before coming to the Caucasus I didn't know a single native Armenian. As we drove in Sahyan's 20-year old Volga, I had a feeling that I was discovering the real life of Karabakh.

    Smbat Sahyan is a professor of chemistry at the Artsakh State University, his wife Milanya teaches Russian; of their three sons, the eldest is a doctor, the second is a lawyer, and the youngest is studying economics in college - a typical family of Armenian intellectuals. On the most visible spot on the wall hangs a photograph of Irina - Sahyan's granddaughter, and the darling of the whole family. One day after dinner we watched a videotape of her at eighteen months, and I was glued to the TV screen for the whole hour - the little one is a born performer!

    That day in the afternoon, Sahyan and I exhausted our common vocabulary of English and Armenian, and our communication reached a deadlock. From this perspective, to anyone who can't speak Armenian or Russian, travel in Karabakh and Armenia is a little like a trip to the moon. The arrival of Lilia - Sahyan's niece - at this point was like manna from Heaven. I was very surprised at her excellent English, until I found out that she works as English interpreter to the President of Nagorno-Karabakh himself, and specially took half a day off from work to translate for me. From the conversation with this beautiful Armenian girl, I found out about the modern Karabakh, the common people's Karabakh, the Karabakh thirsting for the world's recognition.

    No matter whether young or old, at home or abroad, all Armenians have something in common - a great sense of national dignity. From its origins some 2600 years ago near the lake Sevan, it has been in the blood of Armenians, generation after generation. Maybe because they have been cut off from their motherland so long, in the people of Karabakh it is especially strong. To say nothing of photographs of heroes, statues and relics in museums; even the arrival of me, a foreigner in search of history, moved these people very deeply. This became expressed in an unreserved hospitality - the Sahyans, whom I had never even met before, are a great example. Good thing I'm not a man, otherwise I would probably spend my days in Karabakh drinking 80-proof vodka with my hosts!

    As I began to understand these people better and better, I found myself gaining a great respect for them.


    The first time I heard the name Shushi was in a book, which said that in ancient times, Shushi was a very important city on the Silk Road. The book also said that Shushi was the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh till 1920, when it was invaded by Turks who massacred more than 20,000 Armenians there, including the Catholicos - the head of the Armenian church - and completely destroyed the old city fortress. During the Soviet rule which followed, Shushi was rebuilt; however, during the 1991-1994 war, everything once again turned into dust.

    From very far away one can already see, on the top of a hill, the silhouette of Shushi's main church. This church with a strange name - Ghazanchetsots - has been built entirely out of white stone, which really makes it stand out against the other churches, the majority of which are built with pink tuff - no wonder that it was once the seat of the Catholicos. Lilia told me that for several decades, this church was used as a warehouse by the Azerbaijanis and was in a very bad state of repair, until its recent restoration. I wondered why such an old church could look so fresh, especially compared with the ruins of the old fortress around it. Inside the church we met two old repatriate Armenian men, with a great number of Russian medals on their chests. This sight of old men coming back to their birthplace was very touching to me.

    As we drove along the streets of Shushi, I couldn't bring myself to believe that this was the bustling trade capital of which the legends spoke. Among the collapsed walls and ruined buildings, a few roofs still remained; however, I didn't see even one unbroken glass pane. Ivy grew over rusted gates, their blood-red leaves rustling in the wind. Occasionally, one could see people passing on the street - one blink of an eye, and they would dissolve in the ruins. Were they people or ghosts? I wondered. Around halfway, among several ruined buildings I saw a Muslim minaret. Although it was half-destroyed, the mosaic was still colorful and fresh. I told Sahyan to stop so I could take a picture, but he said that there was a more beautiful pair of Persian towers up ahead. Twin-minaret really were impressive, and in addition, they had escaped the war almost unscathed, but now they were overgrown with grass and deserted, and no mullahs called to prayer from their heights. I never did take a picture of that first tower; only after I looked it up in other people's travel records after my return did I find out that it was an Azerbaijani mosque, a taboo subject among the people of Karabakh. Shushi, formerly the fifth largest city in the Caucasus, is also the home town of many Azerbaijani musicians, writers and philosophers, including the writer of Azerbaijan's national anthem. But now, one might not see a single Azerbaijani in the entire city. Three years of war created more than a million refugees, and now, after ten years, no one can say when they will be able to return. I was going to say something about this, and then thought better of it - did a meddling foreigner like me really have the right to tell what to do to two peoples whose history, religion and race have made them enemies for hundreds and thousands of years?

    From the half-collapsed city wall of Shushi, we could see the capital city of Stepanakert bathed in the setting sun, calm and untroubled. Lilia said that ten years ago, more than a thousand bombs would drop on the city every day. Everyone who could escape escaped, the ones who remained were forced to live like rats - stay underground during the day, and only come out at night. This lasted more than a thousand days; I didn't ask Lilia where she and her family were at that time. Ten years of nonstop construction have erased the traces of war from the face of Stepanakert; Shushi, however, never recovered. As I watched the golden leaves of trees on the city walls and listened to the sound of grasshoppers brought over by the wind, I held a minute of silence for history, for war, for the abandoned capital Shushi.


    In the morning, as Sahyan drove me to the Artsakh State University, I thought he was only going to introduce me to his colleagues. After my arrival to the Caucasus, I had time to get used to the great effect that my Asian face had on the people here, and so I thought that this time would simply be more of the same. We passed through the departments of Chemistry, Physics, and Computer Science, and the office of the Dean, meeting friendly smiles and making small talk all along, so I was entirely unprepared for what came next - I was suddenly guided to the English Department's lecture hall and left standing on a lectern in front of fifty-sixty pairs of curious eyes! I often did personnel training in my company, but this was my first time on a university lecture podium. The lecture was organized by their English professor, and titled "China's Traditions and Culture". I was a little humbled - this is a topic that even a qualified professor can't finish in an hour and a half, let alone a newbie like me who has studied instruments!

    The sun shone through the windows, warming me gently, and made me think of my lazy autumn days in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Suddenly, I thought about how, hundreds and thousands of years ago, our two people were connected by a small road over the mountains; and here I was now, a visitor from the other end of the Silk Road who had flown five thousand miles to be here. Although I am merely one tourist on a journey, in these people's hearts I was none other than the emissary of the legendary Chinese Empire itself. So I talked, about everything from the Silk Road to the traditions of the Spring Festival, from wedding ceremonies to the structure of Chinese characters; I finally even wrote the name of my little dog Huan-Huan on the blackboard. All the students diligently copied the two characters next to my e-mail address in their notebooks; hopefully, they won't start thinking it's my name as time passes!

    If it wasn't for Sahyan telling everyone that I had to leave on time, I don't know how long this lecture would have lasted. As we went out the door, I saw that the corridor was full of students from every department. Although the ones not from the English department might not have understood too much, this didn't put a damper on their friendliness. We got into the car accompanied by cheers; the next place in my program was the Artsakh Museum. With us we had two students from the English Department - my temporary interpreters. In the museum's guestbook, I wrote down my wishes in English and Chinese - that I hoped that another pair of Chinese eyes would eventually read the lines I wrote.

    The week after I returned to China, I received an email greeting from one of the students who was in the classroom that day. I replied immediately, and attached some of the pictures that I took during my journey, and received more emails in response; and so, between Stepanakert and Shanghai, an electronic road was opened. Here's a question to all the historians: could it be that the Silk Road's beginning was also one single greeting, that took place a thousand years ago?

    *** BLACK GARDEN ***

    The blackberry thickets on both sides of the road stood higher than a person, their fruit ripe and almost transparent in the bright sun. After trying one berry I was hooked and couldn't stop, until my mouth and hands were totally black. Sahyan was laughing and saying something I couldn't understand, as I picked a branch of dog-rose berries. The road we were on led, over cliffs and peaks, to Gandzasar - the biggest and most beautiful church in Karabakh.

    Gandzasar was built in 1216 A.D., and according to legend, John the Baptist's skull is buried somewhere on its grounds. Maybe it's because I've seen too many paintings about Salome , in the beginning I felt that reality was so much more austere and bleaker than the colorful story I knew about but as I came closer, I began to make out the great many carvings on the church walls, and realized that splendor didn't have to be colorful. In the church yard, we encountered an Armenian-American emigrant couple. When they found out that I had come to Karabakh to travel, their joy knew no bounds, and they introduced me to their companion and Armenian archaeologist Hamlet. Their happiness was understandable - most of the tourists in Karabakh are Armenian emigrants, who have been living abroad for several generations and most of whom can speak Armenian fairly well; people like me who don't have any blood ties and don't speak the language are very rare.

    I insisted on going part of the way down the mountain by foot, and there was nothing left for Sahyan to do but drive ahead. Outside the church there was a graveyard with khatchkars - stones with cross designs; the flowers that shone from between the stones were also shaped like crosses. As I reached the middle of the mountain, I looked back upon the silhouette of Gandzasar that, for 800 war-torn years, has proudly stood on the top. In an instant, I understood the meaning of the word "eternality".

    Without Lilia's translation, language became some sort of a game - with
    English, Chinese, Russian and Armenian words flying around, Surprisingly enough, with all of music and dance we understood each other perfectly. As the car finally stopped in a valley, I didn't know yet what was in store, and only when Milanya started taking out plates, glasses and all sorts of food out of the trunk did I remember that we hadn't even eaten yet. The meal in the shadow of the trees by a sparkling stream was sumptuous enough, and we were even treated to the display of fishes playing and jumping in the water. Enjoying life and making easy conversation has been a part of the life in Karabakh for centuries, even with the specter of war still hanging overhead.

    As we returned, the sun was already setting behind the mountains. All over the black earth of the hillsides, were freshly plowed furrows; at the foot of the hills, among the fresh green vegetation curled a fine purple mist, with specks of orange that made it look like blossoms of saffron. Even farther, flocks of sheep were spread, like clouds, over the jade-green grass; two great trees stood straight on the uneven horizon. Of the village that we passed in the valley, only the roofs were visible: apple trees hid the rest of the small stone houses. On the road, we encountered a small donkey carrying firewood; its owner offered us a handful of walnuts with an ingenuous smile. I thought of the carvings of Adam and Eve I saw in Gandzasar. Maybe right now they are looking from above at this Eden on Earth? Can anyone tell me, how long will this peace last?

    During my days in Nagorno-Karabakh, I learned a word in the Karabakh dialect - "Loh Lava", meaning "everything's fine". With all my heart, I wish that everything will be fine for this Black Garden and its people, Loh Lava.



    November 5, 2005 in Shanghai



  • 那是俺糊涂了, 早上5点多才睡, 9点就起来当搬运工.
  • 英文太难啊。自己说了不言谢的,转头就不得了?:)。天热,别累着了。
  • 什么太难了? 您老醒了?还没谢谢你呢.
  • 太难了姐姐。