My friends and fellow volunteers at Geghard (Գեղարդ), 1995.
This was the reason I was sent to Gyumri, Armenia. To teach English at the Lord Byron school. It was a gift from the British government after the earthquake. Turns out that Byron helped to create the first English-Armenian dictionary. There was a statue of him outside the main building. My students had less of an idea of who Byron was, though. One day a boy, Aram, told me “please, next time you see Mr. Byron, tell him he is a very nice man.” I smiled and told him that I certainly would.
They say they’re rebuilding it, which is a blessing. It is located in northern Armenia, on the edge of this endless, flat valley surrounded by mountains. So flat and endless that you can’t even see the mountains on the far side. If you drained all the water out of the Red Sea and found a city at the bottom of it, that would be like living in Gyumri. In 1988 it was destroyed in an earthquake. Seven years I ended up living there for two years. Nothing had been rebuilt. Whole city blocks lay in ruins — factories collapsed, streets with ripples in them, schools where classes of hundreds of children were killed in an instant. They’re finally rebuilding the city, I’m told, which is good, but it shall always be a ghost city to me, devastated yet beautiful, like our souls.
This is the Cathedral of the Holy Mother, in my old stomping grounds of Gyumri, Armenia. Everyone called it Yot Verk (Յոթ Վերք) when I lived there. It is located at one end of the huge main square that makes up the heart of the city. There were only a few large buildings left (at least when I was there), this cathedral being one of them.A friend of mine got married in it and when you leave the building you are not suppose to turn your back on the center hall so we are had to slowly shuffle out walking backwards, trying not to trip.