ARARAT

   Ararat Marz is the agriculturally rich but hot and flat valley of the Arax river S of Yerevan, including the severe brown hills of the lower Azat and Vedi river watersheds, but including fine green valleys and mountains in the upper reaches, mostly now protected within the bounds of the Khosrov Nature Reserve. Ararat Marz is dominated by the double silhouette of Mt. Ararat, which looms on a clear day close and magical. Main tourist destination of the Marz is Khor Virap monastery , legendary site of the captivity of Gregory the Illuminator, which sits among the ruins of Ancient Artashat. The ruins of Dvin are another important destination, at least scientifically, while the upper valley of the Vedi River includes interesting natural sites, fortified monastery (castle of Gevorg Marzpetuni), important ancient khachkars in uninhabited mountain village of Mankuk. The fishponds of Armash are one of the Caucasusís richest spots for birders. E from Yeraskh, a fold of Mt. Urts shelters the S. Karapet Monastery. Technically in Ararat Marz, but more accessible from Garni, the remote valleys of the Azat river and its tributaries shelter Havuts Tar and Aghjots Vank (S. Stepanos) Vank monasteries, church of Baiburd and S. Astvatsatsin church in Imirzek, as well as 5 huge Vishaps (Dradonstones) and Geghi medieval castle (Kakavaberd) in the same area. The most attractive archaeological sites of the mars are represented by the Neolithic-Chalcolithic site of Masis Blur near Norabats, as well as the Bronze Age settlements in Jrahovit and Aygavan. Over the centuries, the population of the Arax valley had become predominantly Muslim, as Turkish, Mongol, and Persian conquerors pushed aside the Christian population out of these fertile lands. Though Armenians began to return to Ararat Marz, then Zangi-Basar and Garni-Basar mahals, as early as 1828 with the Russian conquest, most of the villages retained Turkish names until the middle of this century.