A Trip to Noratus Cemetery

A long blue bus, the one imported from China to serve the Yerevan-Abovyan route, takes us out of Yerevan’s center to the road that connects Armenia’s capital with Gegharkunik and Tavush provinces, and particularly, with Lake Sevan. The bus is full, but we make our way out of it at the bus stop just after the Northern Bus Station. It’s noon. A warm and sunny February day. As we, me and my soulmate, Nané, reach the spot known to us from all of our previous trips along this road, we stretch our hands, thumbs up, and a minute later we get a ride from three friends who are driving their black Mercedes home to their village near Ijevan. They share their experiences in Russia – stories of their life and jobs in Siberia. Our conversation reminds me of my own adventures in Siberia.
On the Road from Yerevan to Sevan, Gegharkunik province, Armenia

They drop us off on the turn to Gavar. We thank them. “What you do pleases God,” they say and drive away. While we try to get used to the bright light reflected from the snow spread on the fields around the lake, a cargo minivan pulls up next to us. The passenger opens the door and we hear the driver asking in Western Armenian if we came from America. They are a bit upset learning we are Armenians, but nevertheless they give us apples and tangerines. “Now you take a photo of us”, says one of them approaching me. “But make sure you send us the picture. My name is Hovhannes Hovhannisyan, find my site and send it to me”. Of course, I say. “Thank you”, he says, somewhat knowing he’ll never receive the photograph.
On the Road to Noratus, Gegharkunik province, Armenia
We walk along the road towards the city of Gavar, taking photographs and eating fruits. People at the petrol stations and rest stops nearby cast a surprised look at us, occasional taxi driver offers us what he calls a cheap ride to wherever we are going. It’s all the same. It’s the Road. And some things never change, or perhaps they do, but slowly.
Nane and the Lake Sevan, Gegharkunik province, Armenia
Soon we reach the shore. The lake is partly frozen, and the ice creates wave-like patterns on its surface. First time I see Sevan in winter time. And it’s majestic. We spend some time around and then hitch a ride all the way to Noratus. Our driver is a mid-aged man from Vardenis.
The village of Noratus, Gegharkunik province, Armenia
Noratus is a historical village in the Gegharkunik province of Armenia, first mentioned as a settlement in the Middle Ages. Tourists are not rare here, perhaps that is the reason why every once in a while locals greet us in English. “Hello”. “How are you?” “Hi”. To their surprise, we answer in Armenian. We walk directly to the cemetery, only stopping by a small shop to buy bread and cheese.
The village of Noratus, Armenia
Noratus is most famous for its medieval cemetery, the oldest part of which includes over 800 khachkars (stone crosses) carved between the 9th-17th centuries. After the destruction of the khachkars (khachkars are uniquely decorated cross-stones characteristic of medieval Christian Armenian art) in Julfa (Jugha) by the Azerbaijani authorities, Noratus’s khachkar field is now the largest remaining collection of khachkars in the world.
The village of Noratus, Armenia
Some of the khachkars suffered badly from the weather, others are in a quite a good shape. But all of them are incredibly beautiful. One of the tombstones depicts a wedding, some others depict the occupation of the dead person. The one known as Geghama Stone honors a certain Khachatur who brought water to the village in the 17th century.
Tombstone at Noratus cemetery, Armenia
There’s a legend, says Nané, related to the khachkars of Noratus. During the invasions of Tamerlane, when his army reached the region, the villagers dressed the khachkars and made them look like real soldiers with swords. Tamerlane’s army was tricked, his army retreated and the villagers were safe. Quite possible, I thought. The khachkars are visible from the highway and they, indeed, look like a large crowd of people.
Khachkars of Noratus, Armenia
We spend some time to explore the cemetery and then rush back to the road for he hope to visit the Hayravank Monastery and return to Yerevan before it gets dark. On the outskirts of Noratus a car stops by us. “Are you going to Hayravank?” asks the driver. We get in. Turns out, he saw us passing by his house, so he jumped into his car and drove to us to ask if we needed any help or guidence. “Tourists, not Armenians, foreigners mostly, often visit our village. They are guests in our home, you know, so we try to help them whenever possible,” he says.
At the Hayravank monastery, Armenia
As we arrive to Hayravank, he briefly introduces the monastery to us and drives back to Noratus. The 9th-12th century Hayravank monastery is located northeast of the village of the same name along the southwest shores of Lake Sevan. The complex consists of a church, chapel, and gavit, a distinctive Armenian style of narthex.
Hayravank monastery, Armenia
Armenian churches, says Nané, are generally cross shaped in their plan, in interior its apses have rounded forms, but are inscribed in a rectangular from exterior. Hayravank monastery is one of those very few exceptions, which has rounded forms from exterior, too.
Hayravank monastery, Armenia
We sit on the rocks by an improvised metal table, facing the lake. A family of ducks swims in the waters. Hot tea, homemade cheese and bread, and some bananas make our dinner. Few visitors of the monastery pass by. We offer tea and bread with cheese to an old man, who shows up in the doors. He refuses, and continues smoking his cigarette. We slowly walk towards the road jumping over the mud.

A black Soviet Lada car passes by us and then stops a bit further. “Are you going to Yerevan, guys?” asks the driver when we are near. We jump in the car, and by the time it gets dark, we return back to Yerevan.

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