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About 10km past the small city of Armavir (Hoktemberyan) in the orchards and farms of the Ararat Plain stands the venerated war memorial site of Sardarapat. It was here in May 1918 that the forces of the first Armenian republic under Zoravar (General) Andranik turned back the Turkish invaders and saved the country from a likely annihilation. The monument commemorates the victory by Armenian troops and irregular forces commanded by Daniel-Bel Pirumian over attacking Turkish troops who were coming down the railway from Alexandropol (Gyumri). The Battle of Sardarapat lasted from 22 May to 26 May 1918 and was a decisive victory resulting in the declaration of an independent Armenia on 28 May 1918.

The monument was unveiled in 1968 to commemorate the 50th anniversary and each year on 28 May celebrations are held here: the bells are tolled and there are performances by folk song and dance groups. Built in Soiet times with statues of giant bulls, a 35m stone belltower shrine to the fallen, five eagle statues built of tuff and a memorial wall, the site puts an Armenian twist on Soviet war memorials. This striking red tuff monument, in the form of two Assyrian bulls facing each other separated by a structure from which bells are hung, can be seen straight ahead from the road from Armavir. This 35m-tall structure, contrasting with the massive bulls, is built in a form inspired by the stelae at Odzun, Lori province, and Aghudi, Syunik province.

Nationalist Armenians treat a visit here as a kind of pilgrimage.

Sardarapat has a second, adjacent point of interest. There is an excellent museum which also includes some material about the battle. A path leads down to it from the memorial wall. Museum (working hours 11am-5pm Tue-Sun) has relics from the battle itself in the first hall, as well as exhibits of items from the Neolithic Age up to the Middle Ages. Upstairs there is a treasure trove of carpets, jewellery, ceramics and handicrafts, the sum of which represents the country’s best ethnography collection – a celebration of Armenian culture, survival and life.

Symbolically the museum has only two windows: one looking east towards Aragats and the other west towards Ararat. Apart from displays connected with the battle, it has good displays about life in the Arax Valley including finds from various archaeological sites in the valley along with displays of crafts such as carpet weaving, embroidery and lace making. There are also displays explaining the traditional farm tasks like butter making and other occupations such as armourer, blacksmith and goldsmith. A hall of contemporary sculpture, nothing more than 15 years old, has many intriguing pieces. The whole museum is well presented with good labelling, including in English.

The area surrounding the monument is meticulously well kept, perhaps because it has since 1998 come under the control of the Ministry of Defence: older women sweep the paths with besoms while younger ones weed the rose beds. The monument is on a small hill and is approached from the main road up a slope with steps. Monument's designer was the evidently gifted Peoples Architect of the USSR, Raphael Israelian (1909-73). At right angles to the approach slope, broad paths through gardens and flanked by eagles lead to a memorial wall covered with symbolic reliefs and penetrated by an arch. There is now also a memorial garden for the dead in the conflict over Nagorno Karabagh.

It can be extremely hot in the Arax plain in summer and there is very little shade at Sardarapat.

Getting There & Away - Sardarapat is about 10km southwest of Armavir, signposted near the village of Araks. If time is short it makes sense to combine a visit with one to Echmiadzin or Metsamor. Marshrutkas leave from Yerevan’s Kilikya Avtokayan for Armavir (45 minutes to an hour, every 15 minutes, 7.30am to 9.30pm).

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