Old Arajadzor Village
Arajadzor is one of the most well-known villages in the Syunik region. Inhabited since ancient times, the village was renowned for its key position on trade routes including the Tatev-Baghaberd route.
According to historical records left by Ghevont Alishan, the village had such a rich harvest that produce was sent to Meghri and Nakhchivan. Handicrafts were also thriving in the village․
One legend tells us about the founding of the village. The tale concerns a gifted young man, Harut. The young man wishes to become a priest, but is not allowed to because of his bachelor status. Therefore, Harut marries a young beautiful girl, becomes a priest and starts serving the community until one day his wife dies a sudden death. Harut grieves, but soon learns to carry on. In those times, it was forbidden for priests to remarry. Harut, however, decides to disobey the spiritual code. Eventually, in secret, Harut, together with a young widow and his little son Hakob, leaves the village and finds himself in the vastness of Syunik.
Harut’s connection to the young widow is soon discovered, which gives rise to gossip and hatred. Under pressure, Harut starts wandering from town to town, finally settling in Atchanan – the territory now known as Arajadzor. Here he founds a settlement, naming it Arajadzor after his home village.
The legend tells us that these events date back to the early 1620s. As Harut’s family grows, he launches an economy, builds roads and water mills, and establishes a pipe system to supply the village with water from afar. Pottery and silk farming thrive in the newly established village. Even today, kiln relics can be found on the northern slope of the village.
Harut’s three sons help the village of Arajadzor to prosper. They also protect it from Turkish and Persian khans, who lured by the wealth of the village take every measure to conquer it. However, the people of Arajadzor invent a way to keep the village safe. High up in the forested mountains, they built towers. From there the guards could light a fire to warn each other in case of upcoming attacks. As soon as the enemy struck in great numbers, the villagers would hide in a fortress further up the village, a place which had sheltered the people of surrounding settlements for centuries. Thanks to this fortress, the people of Arajadzor managed to protect their territory. Later, the population of Arajadzor grew further, making it one of the most flourishing villages of the Kapan region. Arajadzor is now also famous for its intellectuals and musical families.
Further up from Arajadzor village, near the Khachin Khut , one will come across the cemetery of the Melik-Stepanyan family. Inside the cemetery there is a chapel built in honour of Varsenik. Varsenik was the daughter of Andreas Bek and the Orbelian Abihayat of Tatev. She was a gifted young lady, skilled in languages, handicrafts, singing, and piano. Varsenik was very fond of her home village, and she was known for helping the poor.
Varsenik was married early to Tigran Gevorgbekyan, a considerably older doctor. It is said that Tigran was a master of his profession, but was a man of traditional views, to which Varsenik never became accustomed. They had no children, and finally divorced in Echmiadzin following the church code. Varsenik returned to Arajadzor and used her wealth to found a boarding school, a concept which was not only new to Kapan but to the whole Syunik region. She was helping the poor, the elderly, children in need, and the sick.
Varsenik intended to return to St. Petersburg, where, under the patronage of Nikoghayos Adonts, she had been studying before her marriage. However, the First World War breaks out and Varsenik decides instead to travel to Yerevan and work in a hospital for migrants and orphans. She was a sister of charity and a caring mother for the children in the hospital of Armenian orphans in Yerevan.
Varsenik was so courageous that she cared for patients with typhus, but became infected with the fatal disease herself. When the death was near, Varsenik handed over her life savings of 200 rubles to one Haro from Van, whom she had nursed to recovery.
Varsenik’s brother mummified her body and buried her in their home village in the chapel of Khachin Khut. The upper part of the coffin was transparent revealing Varsenik’s face, the golden chain, and earrings. Memories passed down through generations account that Varsenik’s brother, Smbat Bek was visiting her grave daily and was greeting her with words “Good morning Varsenk, good morning my dear sister.” Every day he put flowers near her grave.
In 1937 when Smbat Melik-Stepanyan was detained and exiled as an enemy of the state, members of the secret police opened the coffin and robbed the jewels, the silver ornaments decorating the coffin lid and the silver wreaths. Varsenik remained unburied for nearly a century. In November 2015, this noble and patriotic woman was finally laid to rest in the family cemetery according to Christian rituals.
The Legend of the Girl’s Fortress
There are two Girl’s Fortresses in the Kapan region. One is located in the village of Tsav, the other is lies between Arajadzor and Shaghrshik. Both fortresses are associated with legends with a common theme - women’s self-sacrifice.
One legend states that during the Mongolian invasions the inhabitants of Arajadzor and Atchanan, led by Prince Sahak of Syunik, were hiding in the Girl’s Fortress. The Prince had a beautiful daughter named Anush. Hearing of her beauty, the Mongol Khan wished to possess her. However, Anush was well hidden behind the inaccessible walls of the fortress and the defenders were striking the Mongols with stones and arrows from the battlements.
Seeing this, the Khan came up with a cunning tactic. He sent an envoy to Prince Sahak asking for Anush’s hand in marriage. In return, he promised never to return to the fortress and to leave Armenians in peace forever. However, he also threatened to slaughter everyone inside if his demand was not met. Prince Sahak faced a difficult decision. The bread supplies were finished and his people were starving. Finally, he declined the offer; with his faith in God, he chose the path of struggle. But the hunger was growing – more people were dying from starvation than on the battlefield.
“I am the cause of all these deaths,” thought Anush. The following day, in front of the defenders and the attacking forces, she threw herself off the cliff. The Khan ordered his men to find the girl’s corpse. The Mongol soldiers searched the valley, but failed to find the body. Discouraged by the prolonged siege and the loss of Anush, the Khan withdrew from Atchanan.
Little did he know that the leafy forests that spread below the cliffs had kept Anush safe in their branches. The legend says that since that very day the fortress has been known as The Girl’s Fortress.
The Natural Fortification of Arajadzor – the Girl’s Fortress and the Folktale About It
Among the famous historical monuments of Arajadzor and Atchanan is the giant natural fortification located on a mountain range to the southeast of the village. This fortification complex of both natural and manmade origin stretches beyond Sgharshik village. The fortress has only one entrance and one exit with a tower at each, joined by a long rampart on the western side. People of Arajadzor remember the historical sieges in detail, recalling which family hid in which part of the fortress.
The complex is known for its caves, manmade caverns, and ramparts. The folktales say that when the enemy struck, the population of the village gathered their belongings and food supplies and settled in the fortress. It is believed that the invaders could never conquer the people of Arajadzor and the nearby settlements. All their raids ended in defeat thanks to the defenders of the fortress who made the invaders withdraw, using stones and arrows as their weapons.
During one of the raids, the legend says the enemy decided to conquer the inhabitants by spreading hunger. The defenders did not need water to survive the siege, because of numerous underground streams. But soon their bread supplies ran out. Sensing the Armenians hunger, the enemy strengthened its siege waiting for the defenders of the fortress to put down their arms.
The Armenian leader ordered his people to collect up all the ash overnight. Then early in the morning, in full view of the troops below, they started to sieve the ash into sacks. The enemy watching from afar, mistakenly believed that the adversary had vast flour supplies. Disappointed, the enemy left the fortress and the Armenians returned to their villages in safety.