The art of loving from a long distance becomes a habit of losing nearest and dearest. Carelessness for not recongnizing what is ours becomes a reason for losing it. Such phrases as “patriotism”,“ it's ours”, “it is not ours”, “have given”, “have sold” have recently become a brassed off excuse for many of us. We are all masters in political analyses, and are theorists in drawing conclusions. And who is going to do anything ? Who is going to be responsible for what we have got and what is left? And we are pausing, we are thinking ... interpoint... it is dangerous, I can't bear it, my heart will collapse seeing a stranger's flag, they are guilty in the death of thousands of men with unfinished life stories. And what then? What are we doing? How will it go on? It will be, when you and I are decisive in keeping what we have. We made a decision, we went, and we saw the reality. The life doesn't go on the way it was 30 years ago. It goes just the way it has to after all what happened 8 month ago. Yes, there is some pain, it hurts much and at the same time you can see peasants harvesting wheat in the fields, there are smart vineyards, there are sun-flower fields, mountains, and forests, there are places of interest and monasteries, which are used to attract tourists' attention, there are people. We have what we have, it is a reality. There will be something, so called «then», which we will appreciate, but first of all we need to recongnise it in order to possess, in order not to divide it, not to be split, not to bully, in order not to become an object of ridicule.

Armenian Association of Professional Tourist Guides iniciated a trip to post-war Artsakh on the 3-4 of July. There were many who would like to take part in this mission. Nineteen tourist guides joined us. We set off. I must confess that I have never had such a hard night before any trip before. I made my mind, but still all sorts of different things kept popping into my head. I was afraid that I couldn't stand it – seeing all by my own eyes. We had an appointment with my colleagues in the Republic Square in Yerevan. After greeting each other we started to talk and the topics were so diverse. We were talking about everything except Arthakh. Probably all had the same feeling, and the same things kept popping into everyone's head the night before. And we avoided talking about Artsakh. We set off. Tourists talk too much (it's not news), but when a tourist guide is a tourist, it's a complitely different perception of all you see on the way (when you are telling all to a tourist you are paying attention to his/her eyes). The Ararat was favourable, appearing at its finest. Rich vineyards promised good wine in autumn. The relief of marzes you are passing by on the way to Artsakh turns your inner world up side down. You are storing the energy coming from the mountains inside, keeping the surplus in your memory.

After passing Goris we all felt anxious.

The reality we all were trying to imagine was uncertain.

We arrived in Artsakh. The presence of peacekeepers created mixed feelings. The next check point became a little common, we had already knew about the fact. Far away there was Shushi, with a sign “Shusha”, with a foreign flag, with a partial presence of foreigners, as a consiquence of all the pain we had suffered.

The most frequent asked question in the context was

- And where are we? '

If we didn't distinguish black and white, mine and yours, Arthakh and Armenian, new and old and recognized all as ours, the things might go on the other way.

The fear of facing the reality had passed away, as admiration and nostalgia was stronger.

Gandzasar was waiting for us. The yard which was always used to have many visitors and tourists was almost empty. I felt my legs trembling, as the desire to touch the church wall with my face was so strong. The energy of the place is so strong, than even adherents of different faith, atheists and pagans are sure to find some reasons to admire the complex. We were not missing a chance to know more, to learn more. Being a pro Ruben “had been captured”. A baptismal service was taking place in Gandzasar.

The pavolion where Susan from Vank Village was selling a delicious Artsakh bread with zhengyal was empty. During the war she was in Yerevan, baking ”zhengyal“ bread there. We didn't have time to find out where she was then. We were tired, but we should climb up to Hakobavank. Paradzem and I couldn't climb more, so we stopped and stayed halfway admiring the scenery and the silence of the village Kolin downslope. Ruben posted beautiful images of Hakobavanq in Facebook, describing the history of the monastry and its importance in the spiritual life of Artsakh. Tired and ispired we went on to Stepanakert. We decided to have a meal together. Then we had an informal meeting with Gevorg Arakelyan, the head of Tourism Department of Artsakh in a popular pub. We talked about domestic tourism promotion, stemps and claims which would activate the flow of tourists from the Republic of Armenia to Artsakh.

Walking along the streets of Stepanakert about 3 kilometres at night we got to the hotel. While walking we were talking about Artsakh relieving our experiences, telling funny stories happened to the tourists. The next day we continued our mission.

We met sunrise with “Dedo-Babo”, then we had a short stop in Chartar Town of Martuni Region of Artsakh. The life in Chartar was quiet, running its course. People were working in their gardens and orchards, children were playing outside. The House of Culture in Chartar seemed familiar. I didn't know that its project designer was Alexandr Tamanyan's son, Gevorg Tamanyan. In fact, the citizens of Chartar have got their neat “opera house“.

Restoration works were on in Amaras Monastary, one of spiritual centres of Artsakh situated between the Khazaz and Lusavorich Mountains. The presence of peacekeepers didn't confuse us. They were doing their job in a silence, but were watching us with interest as they knew we were tourist guides. We started to talk (I didn't missed a chance to perform briefly the history of the monastery and its importance). I realized that the more we go, the less possibilities strangers would have for alienating our history.

Our friend and driver Hakob was so kind to take us to Tnjri, Akhtorashen Village (we didn't have it in our programme). It was my first visit, I saw that 2040 years old giant (plane tree). It was impressive.

The time flashed by, taking away all our fears. The sorrow and pain of all we had experienced eased, but we wouldn't forget it, never. The secret of this therapy trip was facing the reality, making conclusions of all what had happened as well as leaving behind moanings and ravings against Armenians' fate. It was our decision not to leave wounded Artsakh alone, not to be afraid, and to keep what we had. I'll go to Artsakh again, I'll go there often, we'll go and take our friends and relatives with us. They will see, they will like, will appreciate as those who know Artsakh only distinguishing it on the map will understand what Artsakh mean to us, what a high price has been paid and what will happen if we go on labeling the things as far and close, essential and not essential regions. When we let others draw the line and estimate our values and freedom, we are losing – as a result it is narrower than expected.

Autor: Maya Mardoyan
Photos by: Yasha Solomonyan
Translation in English by: Narine Abazyan