After the previous, rather text-heavy post, this time I picked something more visual, and while the previous post was newly-created original material, this time it is again based on something from the archives. Just over a year ago I posted a series of photos on my now purged Facebook page that were taken in the little town of Sisian in south-eastern Armenia. This followed one of the quiz questions I used to put up there regularly on Fridays. The photo above came with the question “a fun-less funfair, abandoned, overgrown and slowly rusting away … Where is this?”. I had half expected that people would mistake this for something in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, but as far as I can remember nobody did. Nor did anyone guess the correct answer. You now already know, of course.
In the follow-up post revealing the correct answer, I then posted a whole series of additional photos from that forlorn place (which I nevertheless quite liked). This time I was reminded of that post because Sisian was my first stop back in Armenia after my four-day excursion into Nagorno-Karabakh (aka Artsakh). That was ten years ago. It wouldn’t be possible to go there now, of course, since the long-standing conflict has escalated into full-on military combat between troops from Azerbaijan and Artsakh/Armenia again (possibly also with the involvement of mercenaries from other countries such as Syria, maybe even Turkey). Even a Russia-brokered ceasefire didn’t hold. As I already lamented in this recent post here, it’s depressing, and also personally heartbreaking, as it was a particularly enlightening trip back in 2010. Some of the recent media coverage has been especially tragic (see e.g. this report from on the ground! – external link). I do hope peace can return to the region instead of an ever-escalating war. But for the underlying issue of Nagorno-Karabakh being de facto Armenian but still de jure Azeri I see no real solution that could be equally acceptable to both sides.
But back to little Sisian. In addition to the funless funfair image above I also posted the following (slightly adapted):
Sisian is a good example of a declined rural Armenian town that has seen better days in Soviet times. Since then, the economy has shrunk in the more remote parts far from Yerevan, and there is much unemployment and dereliction. The main square in the town centre seen above was agreeable enough, but on the edges the place was, well, more edgy. Abandoned restaurants, overgrown waterless water features and rows of crumbling Khrushchyovkas (early 1960s prefab apartment blocks). Here are some more impressions:
The only sight of more specific dark-tourism interest within Sisian was the town’s own war memorial and cemetery of the fallen – from the 1990s conflict, that is:
For accommodation we checked into the charming Hotel Dina for two nights, which offered very budget-friendly simple rooms, but since the markup for a “mini suite” was so minimal we treated ourselves to that.
And what a sweet suite it was, totally old Soviet-era Caucasian charm, with rugs not just on the floor but also on the sofa and armchairs and it featured a little balcony overlooking the main street, where in the evening the townsfolk engaged in “gulyating”, that age-old ex-Soviet/Russian custom of going for a collective walk after dark on Sundays. Moreover, our hostess prepared two down-home-cooking evening meals for us, which were also cheap but very tasty, varied and filling.
We also used Sisian as a base for exploring some of the region’s non-dark marvels (you see I can appreciate things outside the realm of dark tourism too!), such as the standing stones of Zorats Karer (“Armenia’s Stonehenge”) and the spectacularly positioned Tatev monastery atop a tall rock within a fabulous mountainscape. It’s all still very much off the beaten track and there were no coachloads of tourists, as there are at the more famous Khor Virap or in Echmiadzin. The only other travellers we encountered were a young couple from Poland who hitched a lift with us.
Now, of course, in 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic and now also the nearby war (and war refugees fleeing into Armenia) there will be absolutely no tourism at all. I can’t help but wonder what that must mean for the already fragile local economy … and for that lovely old-fashioned Hotel Dina …
… but before it gets all too depressing again, let’s have another poll for a themed post to come. As promised last time, two of its options make a return here, because both had come close to winning but didn’t. Here we go – see which of these four options would you most like to see featured as a special post on this blog:
a) dark tourism and clothes
b) dark tourism and spheres
c) dark tourism and arches
d) dark tourism and lakes
Please leave a comment below with your pick!