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Armenia Photos from National Geographic Magazine

Soup for the Soul

Photograph by Alexandra Avakian

Women stir steaming pots of harissa—a
traditional, hearty soup of chicken and wheat—to feed the crowds that will soon
arrive at Noravank Monastery. The event? A celebration of the 1997 restoration
of this 14th-century monastery. Even in the 1300s, Noravank could draw a crowd.
Curious visitors would journey great distances to this remote canyon to see what
was then heralded as radical architecture.

Keeping the Faith
Photograph by Alexandra Avakian

Soldiers serve as honorary godfathers for 200 children being baptized at Tatev
Monastery, part of celebrations in 2001 marking Armenia’s 1,700 years as a
Christian nation. Mass baptisms became a familiar scene in Armenia in the years
following the country’s independence from the Soviet Union, which tried to
muzzle religion during its 70-year rule. For more than a decade the Armenian
Apostolic Church allowed such communal ceremonies in order to accommodate the
large numbers of Armenians returning to their religious roots, but last year the
church announced that it no longer sanctioned mass baptisms.

High Plains Drifters

Photograph by Alexandra Avakian

On a chilly July day on Aragats mountain, a Yezidi woman bakes unleavened bread
on an iron skillet. A semi-nomadic Kurdish people, many Yezidis wait out the
winter in villages before packing their tents and herding their sheep and goats
up to the lush mountain plains to graze. Originally from the border regions
between Iraq and Turkey, the Yezidis constitute Armenia’s largest ethnic
minority, about 2 percent of the population. Yet their religion—a mixture of
pagan, Islamic, and Christian elements—remains quite secretive, says
photographer Alex Avakian. "Trying to speak with them about their beliefs," she
says, "is like squeezing water from a stone."

Hole in One
Photograph by Alexandra Avakian

Near the village of Hatsik, an oddity called Tsak Kar—Armenian for "rock
with hole"—attracts the curious as well as cure seekers. Some believe the rock
possesses magical powers, says archaeologist Boris Gasparian. "For example, if a
woman is not able to become pregnant, she will become pregnant if she can pass
through the hole," he says. The blessings of the boulder, though, are not widely
bestowed, for only the very thin can fit through its narrow opening.

Boys on the Hood

Photograph by Alexandra Avakian

In Gyumri, children play around a gutted bus near their homes in the
neighborhood called bus station number 104. This Soviet-era name has lasted far
longer than many of the high-rise apartments built during communist rule. The
1988 earthquake in northern Armenia toppled many of these poorly constructed
buildings, killing more than 25,000 people and leaving 500,000 homeless. The
government and relief agencies supplied some emergency housing—modified shipping
containers and prefabricated shelters, called domiks—many of which are
still occupied. However, a massive building campaign has provided many of
Gyumri’s earthquake victims with modern, low-rise apartments.

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