Sardarapat

  
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SardarapatA huge monument commemorating the decisive battle in which Armenia defeated Turkey in 1918 and thus "saved the nation" from potential annihilation.

>More background info

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

More background info: In the wake of the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, the remaining lands of Armenia north and east of Mt Ararat served refugees as a safe haven for most of the time during the remainder of World War One. Only towards the end of this "Great War", even these last parts of Armenia came under threat too – as Russia withdrew its troops after the October Revolution of 1917, Armenia feared a renewed Turkish advance. And indeed it did come to this.
 
Turkish forces moved into eastern Armenia, attacking Alexandropol (today's Gyumri) and were advancing towards Yerevan in May 1918. But a newly formed army of the newly independent remaining Armenia managed to fight back at Sardarapat and dispelled the Turkish forces. The latter then gave up their campaign. Victory!
 
The battle of Sardarapat is therefore regarded as the decisive feat through which Armenia managed to save the remaining homeland. All of Western Armenia had already been taken by Turkey. And it may indeed have been swallowed up the rest of Armenia too. That is: without the victory at Sardarapat, Armenia may have ceased to exist altogether.
 
No wonder, then, that Sardarapat is of supreme importance to nationalist Armenians – to them a visit to Sardarapat is therefore a kind a pilgrimage.
 
The Sardarapat monument was erected, at the historic battle site, for the 50th anniversary of the battle in 1968, i.e. during the times when Armenia was a constituent part of the Soviet Union. It shows in the size and some of the style of the monument – although its execution also incorporates a lot of decidedly Armenian elements.
 
The Armenian-ness of the place was further enhanced by the addition, in 1978, of the adjacent museum.
 
Compared, in particular, to the genocide memorial and museum at Tsitsernakaberd in Armenia's capital Yerevan, Sardarapat is only a minor dark tourism site, but it may still be worth the excursion when spending some time in the city/country.
 
 
What there is to see: First and foremost a pretty impressive monument, which combines Soviet grandeur of monument design with very Armenian elements; for starters: the reddish brown colour of the stones used couldn’t possibly be more typically Armenian!
 
The dominating component is a tall bell tower, ca. 100 feet high (over 30m), a trellis-like structure in which nine bells are supported in the open spaces. On the main approach to the bell tower from the north the path passes two stone bulls facing each other fiercely, as if guarding the entrance to the "shrine".
 
Heading east from the main monument, a wide avenue with flower beds is flanked on the southern side by large stone eagles of a similarly fierce design. Alongside, and behind it are a few further smaller memorials.
 
At the end of this main avenue, there's a ca. 50m long semi-circular wall adorned with reliefs full of symbolism involving winged horses and such like. Also note the twin peaks of Mt Ararat on the top of the edge. The reliefs on the back, that is the outward curving side of the wall, include some especially interesting elements, which are of a rather martial style. I noted, in particular, the double line of figures, in which the men on the top line carry rifles forward, looking fierce, whereas the women in the row below look a lot less fierce and carry wine amphorae! Maybe for the apres-battle victory party?
 
Behind the relief-ed memorial wall, a long approach path leads to the Sardarapat museum – though organized tours may spare visitors the long walk and drive there from the main monument's car park.
 
The Museum at Sardarapat is primarily an exhibition of a comprehensive ethnography collection, and as such is of little real interest to the dark tourist. Only the exhibition in the central hall is about the battle history. I saw the ethnography collection on a guided tour and wished I had opted out of it – I was bored stiff by all the pots, garments, tools, and whatnot; only the jewellery was mildly captivating. But if you're more into such museums, then you may get a lot more out of it – after all it's reputed to be the best collection of its kind in the country! Just not dark tourist material …
 
 
Location: Some 6 miles (10km) south-west of the little town of Armavir, which is ca. 30 miles (45 km) west of Yerevan.
 
Google maps locator:[40.095,43.948]
  
 
Access and costs: easy with a guided tour, more difficult independently, costs vary a lot.
  
Details: getting to Sardarapat independently is a bit tricky. Marshrutkas from Yerevan can only get you as far as Armavir, from where you'd have to take a taxi. So you could just as well use one of the many tour operators' offers of day excursion programmes that include a visit to Sardarapat. Prices for these vary a lot, mostly depending on whether it's a place on a scheduled group tour by coach (quite cheap, from ca. 5000 AMD) or a private tour with driver and English-speaking guide – in August 2010 the latter cost us 48,000 AMD in total for two persons on a combined tour with Metsamor and Echimadzin. A half-day excursion to Sardarapat alone would come to quite a bit less, of course (between 20,000 and 30,000 perhaps).
 
Note that if you go to the museum, the main entrance and guide fees (ca. 500 to 800 AMD respectively) are for the ethnography collection only, and a separate, additional fee is levied for the battle-related exhibition in the central hall. The latter is typically not included in excursion tour programmes. Unless you're decidedly interested in the ethnography collection I'd recommend you rather skip this and pay the extra for the central hall instead.
 
The monument complex can in theory be accessed at any time (no extra admission fee here either), the museum's opening times are: Tuesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
 
In the museum there's a no photography policy in force.
 
 
Time required: The monument complex alone could be explored in something like half an hour to an hour; the museum will take some time too, especially if you also want to see the ethnography collection. Two hours in total is a good estimate for a more or less complete visit. Transport from Yerevan will add another two to three hours.
 
 
Combinability with other dark destinations: En route to Sardarapat you'll pass Metsamor, and even if you don't go to the nearby museum you will see the huge cooling towers of the nuclear powers station when driving past the town.
 
Otherwise, the dark sights of Yerevan are naturally of top priority, much more so than Sardarapat itself.
 
 
Combinability with non-dark destinations: The most obvious and standard combination is the Museum at Sardarapat with its comprehensive ethnographic collection, reputed to be Armenia's best such exhibition of nation-defining cultural artefacts (if you're into that type of museum … personally, I found it extremely tedious and 95% dead boring).
  
Guided day excursion from Yerevan that take in Sardarapat frequently combine this not only with Metsamor but also with Echmiadzin, the seat of the Holy See of the Armenian church. This is arguably the most significant religious, historical site in Armenia and thus also a premier tourist destination, with a cluster of churches and monuments to marvel at. Clergymen scuttling about in a very business-like fashion are another remarkable sight at this place! Some carry  briefcases like proper businessmen, but they all have long beards, even the very young ones. What is it with beards and really devout men of the monotheistic religions, be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim ...?
 
Also en route from Yerevan, close to the city's airport, you can pop by the ruins of Zvartnots cathedral  ... if you still haven't seen enough of these ubiquitous sights of Armenia
 
 
 
  • Sardarapat 01 - planSardarapat 01 - plan
  • Sardarapat 02 - approachSardarapat 02 - approach
  • Sardarapat 03 - guard bullsSardarapat 03 - guard bulls
  • Sardarapat 04 - bell towerSardarapat 04 - bell tower
  • Sardarapat 05 - bell towerSardarapat 05 - bell tower
  • Sardarapat 06 - memorial laneSardarapat 06 - memorial lane
  • Sardarapat 07 - inspiration and irrigationSardarapat 07 - inspiration and irrigation
  • Sardarapat 08 - big Armenian reliefSardarapat 08 - big Armenian relief
  • Sardarapat 09 - forward to armsSardarapat 09 - forward to arms
  • Sardarapat 10 - male and female roles allocationSardarapat 10 - male and female roles allocation
  • Sardarapat 11 - view from the museumSardarapat 11 - view from the museum
  • Sardarapat 12 - museumSardarapat 12 - museum
  • SardarapatSardarapat

 

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