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The Pushkin pass

There are two main roads north from Vanadzor, both of which continue to Georgia. The more westerly can be reached by heading west out of the city for about 6km along the main Gyumri road and then turning right. The present-day road avoids the Pushkin Pass (2,037m) by a 2km-long tunnel which has now been renovated and (dimly) lit. If driving, keep to the 40km/h speed limit in the tunnel: on two occasions when the author used it there were unlit obstructions blocking half the road. On one occasion a driver was changing a tyre on his lorry and the next time workmen were carrying out repairs.

The pass gets its name from Pushkin who, on a visit to the Caucasus, met there in 1829 a cart carrying the body of Alexander Griboyedov (1795-1829) who had been killed in Persia, an incident described in Pushkin's Journey toErzrurum. Griboyedov, whom Pushkin knew well, was a satirical playwright whose best-known play, Woe from Wit (1824), was only performed and published posthumously - its hero is branded a lunatic when he arrives in Moscow full of liberal and progressive ideas, a dangerous practice there in either the Tsarist or the communist era. Griboyedov was also a diplomat and instrumental in Russia's peace negotiations with Turkey lollowing the war of 1828-29 when Russia gained control of much of Armenia. After that he was appointed Russia's ambassador to Persia. Russia's defeats of Turkey and Persia and its consequent territorial expansion were followed by a change of lack in Russia's foreign policy as it was now considered important to ensure that both Turkey and Persia nevertheless survived as significant powers. Russia feared that dissolution of either might lead to the possible appearance of other, stronger powers on its borders. Both states accepted Russian control of the Caucasus but while Griboyedov was in Teheran negotiating with Persia an angry mob stormed Ihe Russian embassy. His mangled body, barely recognisable, was being returned on ihe cart which Pushkin encountered.

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