Mashtots Hayrapet Church

Photographer Hopes to Popularize Lesser-Known Cultural Sites in Armenia

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By Raffi Berberian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN — Many diasporan Armenians, including myself, grew up hearing about Armenia and seeing the occasional photo, video, or even painting. Some of us were lucky enough to visit at some point as well. My first visit was in 2013 in the form of what I would call a typical “First Time Armenia Family Vacation.”

This was a two-week trip with plenty of down time in Yerevan and minibus tours to the list of top spots: Garni, Geghard, Noravank, Areni, Khor Virab, Sevanavank, Karahunj, Tatev, etc.

Vorotovank

So what happens next? At the end of my trip, I remember thinking there was nothing left that was worth going back for.

But that is false. Why don’t we know about the many other amazing, beautiful, and important places to visit? One of the core reasons is the lack of accessible information. We simply do not know what else is out there and that is how my project, “Armenia: In Between,” came to be.

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Several years after my family vacation I had the opportunity to participate in Birthright Armenia. Besides working as a volunteer, we also went on excursions to tourist sites. During this time, I started wondering what other places I could see and that was the unofficial beginning of the project.

Sevanavank

It started with the creation of a Google custom map and for the last 5 years I have been adding to the map and continuing my research. My background is photography, but I realized the importance of showing information along with the photos.

In my research I found that many places to visit were located in between typical tourist attractions and that is where the name of the project comes from. For example, every tourist has visited Garni temple, but did you know that 5 minutes away you can find the beautiful 12th-century Mashtots Hayrapet Church?

Or let’s say you are visiting Tatev Monastery, 10 minutes off the main road you can stop and visit Vorotnavank, a 11th century monastic complex.

Or even for a day you are staying in Yerevan, there are some amazing sites such as the St. Astvatsatsin Katoghike Church in Avan, the oldest surviving church in Yerevan, built between the years 591 and 602.

So what can you expect from this project? Besides providing photos and information, there is also an interactive map that will help users visualize where these sites are in relation to places they have already visited and help them plan their next trip. Again this is all about creating a tool that provides accessible information. Research and descriptions with the photos come from mostly English, Armenian, and Russian online sources. A lot of the work was digging deep to find the information and combining them all in one place!

I believe this is an important project for several reasons. The overlying reason is again, access to accessible information. By having this information in an easy to reach place with visuals and interactive maps, it will persuade people to visit Armenia more than once. Hopefully we can avoid having people feel the same way I did after my first trip because there are definitely more places worth visiting than just the typical tourist spots. This is one of the keys to future tourism in Armenia.

I also think that this project is an important step in increasing awareness of many sites that are in disrepair. Hopefully by sharing these places and people visiting them more often, there will be a push for preserving these historic sites.

To view my project, visit my pages on Facebook and Instagram: https://www.facebook.com/raffiberberianphoto/ and https://www.instagram.com/raffi_berberian_photography/

For the best viewing experience and to access the interactive map, visit https://www.raffiberberianphotography.com/armenia-in-between  or https://www.raffiberberianphotography.com/the-map

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