Martuni –
Armenia's new crossroad

Interactive city budget
New highway connecting Vardenis and Martuni
is seen as a new way for tourism development in Martuni
Journalist <text>
Journalist <photo / video >
When five years ago a close relative called to Satenik Manukyan she would hardly believe the call would be a start of a business.
"There was once a French couple traveling in Martuni. The passers-by they had approached to get information were unable to understand them because of the language divide. One of those passers-by was a relative of mine, who called to my son. As it later appeared the French were looking for a night stay, so my son invited them to stay with us. That night I had an okra soup, which the French really loved. They turned to be my first guests," shares Satenik Manukyan, 55, who opened "Green Gables" guest house soon after.

Residents of Martuni are the sons of those who left the Alashkert province of the Western Armenia in 1830s. The traditions of the historic region are still alive here. Martuni is known for its hospitality and very distinctive cuisine typical of Alashkert.

Satenik Manukyan has inherited hospitality and the cooking skills from her grandmothers. Sharing about the cooking courses she attends, and boasting the preserves in her cellar, Satenik says she mostly uses own produce.

"We have berries from the slopes of the neighboring mountains. I have everything for vegetarians just like for anyone else," she says.

The specialty dish served in Satenik's guesthouse is hemp tolma, a traditional herb meal prepared by a special recipe. The hemp tolma has as a rule been cooked in a big cauldron on the Friday preceding the Easter, or in chilly weather, and has been on the table for several days in a row.

Satenik remembers almost all the guests of the “Green Gables”, and has a memory about each of them.
“I remember a father and daughter travelling four countries; the doctors from Czechia; a Polish millionaire traveling by bike… We knew we had to register this as a business to continue, and so, we did it. I love my job,” she says.
A technical engineer by education, in winter months Satenik Manukyan leaves for a seasonal work as a chef in Russia, and gets back to run her guest house in Martuni from May till October.
“I have attended business courses after opening the guess house, drafted a business plan for improvement of toilets, and have won €800. The training helped me start thinking as a businessperson: I now know lots of things about what to do and when to do,” says the owner of the guest house, who treats her job with much responsibility.
“I have attended business courses after opening the guess house, drafted a business plan for improvement of toilets, and have won a €800. The training helped me start thinking as a businessperson: I now know lots of things about what to do and when to do,” says the owner of the guest house, who treats her job with much responsibility.
Liana Hovhannisyan, Satenik Manukyan's daughter-in-law, believes Martuni is still more a comfortable transit stop rather than a tourism destination, although the best is done to change the trend.

"We want to stir the interest of the tourists visiting Martuni. If we had a chance we would educate and develop the aptitudes of those who work with tourists, so that they could encourage tourists to stay and get to know Martuni. But that will take a while," says Liana, a coordinator at the InfoTun at "Martuni Women Community Council" NGO.

There are plans for the guest house, too, to create opportunities for kids' as well as adults' recreation.

"Martuni Women Community Council" NGO has published a brochure "Myths and Legends", which, Liana believes, will promote new tourism destinations in Martuni, and will prove crucial in terms of communicating the history of the monasteries and rural communities of Sevan region.

One of the touristic interest sites in Martuni is the Mount Armaghan, some 2829 meter high, which is good for mountain hiking in summer time, and for skiing in winter. Tourists are interested with the Armaghan Lake, as well as Gotavank, a Christian monument of 8th-9th cc. The locale is also popular as a bird watching site, where visitors can observe the migrations of storks, falcons, and eagles.

Liana Hovhannisyan says they try to boost ecotourism and agritourism in Martuni, pointing to the sites of interest in the region: the Argitch upland, Madina village, Vanevan, the 7,000 year-old stone-carved sky map in Geghovit village, the natural stone bridge in Tsakqar with a small waterfall and a mill.

"The town can turn into a tourist center in case of proper investments: the central area of the community is abundant in structures of historic and cultural value, and holy sites, and has the marvelous lake Sevan and the mountain range in the vicinity as tourist attractions," the Martuni development program for 2017-2021 points.
Martuni municipality hopes the plans for the restoration of the town recreation area, which are currently developed, will boost the town's economic growth and potential tourism-related projects.

Located in the very heart of Armenia, on the shores of the lake Sevan, Martuni is on the crossing of the roads connecting the north and the south, the west and the east of country. The 114 kilometer long section of the new shorter road to Artsakh passes through Martuni. The busy traffic on the highways brings about bigger number of visitors to Martuni and invigorates the town economy.

Yeghiazar Davtyan, member of "Martuni Women Community Council" NGO, observes at least the half of the tourist routes in Armenia passes through Martuni.

"At least 4-5 big buses, some 6-7 minibuses, and even more automobiles cross the highway. Besides, the study of packages offered by Armenian tour operators shows they include Dilijan and Noravank, Tatev and Karabakh, as well as Sevanavank, and opt for the most optimal way to reach these destinations, which is through Martuni," Davtyan says.

Mayor of Martuni believes tourism is crucial for the economic development of the town.
The new 114 km long section of the highway to Artsakh, which connects Vardenis and Martakert, brings increasing number of tourists to Martuni.
Municipality of Martuni says tourism is crucial for the town’s economic development.
The town’s name derives from the pseudonym of early 20th century Armenian revolutionary and statesman Alexander Myasnikyan.
The largest hotel in Martuni was built in late 1980s.
The Soviet-style hotel has 135 rooms.
Dozens of trucks filled with white sand were purchased by local businesspeople to improve the town beach.
Mayor of Martuni says trees and structures, which were left under the water, have been removed as much as possible; yet, the local population refrains from swimming in the area, wary of sewage water in the lake.
The resort next to the town beach used to host scores of vacationers in summer periods.
The only park in Martuni.
The sole bookshop in Martuni has found refuge in a metal structure on the outskirts of the town park.
The well attended playing ground is a Soviet legacy.
The Martuni branch of the National Gallery of Armenia is rich in pieces of Soviet modernist art, including paintings by Yervand Kochar and Grigor Khanjyan.
Lyudmila Grigoryan, tour guide at the gallery, says the visitors are mostly local schoolchildren, as well as tourists on a stop-over in Martuni.
“The gallery is in poor condition. It has no heating. We have been offered to let part of the building to be able to cover the repair,” says Lyudmila Grigoryan.
Mayor Armen Avetisyan prioritizes the improvement of the beach area of the lake Sevan neighboring Martuni for tourism development, but points some effort is needed to make it more attractive to vacationers, for the water in this gulf-shaped area needs constant clean-up.

Last summer the beach was cleaned by a joint effort of the mayor, the members of town council, and many of the town residents. Nevertheless, few are attracted to the beach that boasted the finest and the whitest sand in the Soviet times, even when it is clean. The poor condition of the resort building next to the beach adds up to the situation; years ago the resort was privatized by Hakob Hakobyan, a Republican Party member of the National Assembly, which has remained unattended since privatization.

Avetisyan says he has contacted Hakob Hakobyan with a request to discuss the issues related to the resort, but the latter has downturned the suggestion.

Avetisyan underlines the need of having hotels in the town, yet pointing to the landmark sites as the guarantee of tourism development in Martuni.

"There are plans for investments in skiing infrastructure in Armaghan; there are also plans for a farm, and a fishery, so that tourists have places to spend their leisure time, try local food and drinks. Our community benefits from every visit," says Avetisyan.

Despite the mayor of Martuni sees big potential for the development of tourism industry in the town, steps in that direction are taken only on an individual level.

One of those individuals is Tigran Baghishjanyan, a journalist and school military instructor, who received a grant by the Youth Bank of Martuni in 2013, which helped him realize his idea – buy horses and later open horse-riding club "Asp", which has seven horses now.

"This is more a hobby now, which I want to turn into a business. The work of life shall be born in one's past, one's dreams. I have loved animals and horses from childhood; I have been into ecotourism from 2002 and into horse-riding since 2013. I suggest developing horse-riding as a recreational service," Tigran shares.
Tigran’s first ride on the horseback was at the age of four, when he mounted up the animal escaping from the eyes of his parents.
Parents, scared to death, had punished their son. But the incident became a start for his ever-growing love of animals.
Maral is his horse. Tigran says no one has ever told him to take care of horses, to saddle them. He is self-taught man.
Horse-riding season in Martuni kicks off in the month of May.
Tigran wants a horse-riding club of his own.
Tigran also works at the bird-watching station and mostly guides German and French groups visiting the area for mountaineering.
The hiking tour ends at Mount Armaghan. Photo: Tigran Baghishjanyan’s personal archive.
Horses intended for tourism have to meet several standards: they shall be calm and balanced, good-looking, yet have a temper. Tigran accompanies riders to Argitch upland and Armaghan Mountain, who wish to enjoy the view of the marvelous surroundings of Gegharkunik from a high point.

"All our tours are in the mountains. I show the tourists the beauty of the mountains in Vardenis; the sightseeing sites are enough for a seven-day tour. Last year we have had some 50 visitors to Geghama Mountains as compared to only two people for 2013. The interest has grown this year, and I am sure the number of visitors will exceed 50," Tigran shares.
Tigran says hardships begin in wintertime, when horses are homed in friends' stables. He sees big potential for the development of horse-riding services, but says there is little if any interest on the part of investors, and points to the lack of state interest in boosting this type of service, too.

"Horses are very patient animals: they can die standing, and you won't even notice it. They need constant attention. It is particularly hard in the winter time: you need to get to the stables at 6:00 am to clean and to feed them, and run home to get ready before the start of the classes at school; then run to the television, then back home and get back to stables… All these can kill you if don't love what you do. But a single contact with an animal is enough to feel the reward," he says.