June 27, 2006
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Yerevan, Armenia — In 1999, bicyclist Vatche Soghomonian of Fresno embarked on the now-legendary “Capital-to-Capital” Bike-a-Thon, an ambitious trek from Stepanakert to Yerevan undertaken in support of Armenia’s farmers and their families. Funds raised helped establish a grape nursery in Khramort, a Karabagh village completely destroyed during the war. This year, riders from the U.S., Austria, and Armenia joined Soghomonian to raise funds for projects designed to boost the rural economy of Armenia and Karabagh, including the improvement and expansion of the Khramort nursery.
Sponsored by the California-based Armenian Technology Group (ATG), Bike-a-Thon IV began with a festive atmosphere in Yerevan’s Republic Square. On hand to wish the riders a safe journey were Homenetmen scouts and guests from Fresno, including the Reverend Ara Guekguezian. Also present were Armenia’s Agriculture Minister Davit Lokyan and professionals from ATG’s Yerevan office. “I thank ATG for all their efforts in helping reinvigorate our agricultural economy,” Lokyan said. “We want to continue our cooperation, to help create jobs and reduce poverty in rural Armenia and Karabagh.”
ATG projects noted in Aragatsotn, Shirak provinces
Beginning their journey, the cyclists jubilantly rode the circle around Republic Square, then passed the Ararat Cognac Factory and Hrazdan Stadium before entering the road to Ashtarak. Along the way, passersby showed their support by waving to the riders, as children rode their bicycles along the roadside and family elders watched in delight. Upon reaching the stunning Kasakh River Gorge, the riders turned north, enjoying the view while pedaling towards the village of Artashavan, where the main station of several ATG-sponsored anti-hail systems is located.
In Artashavan, program director Aram Karapetyan welcomed his guests, explained the operation of the hail blasters and thanked ATG for its help in funding the project. “Thanks to ATG, and the Ministry of Agriculture, we were able to get this important project off the ground,” he said. “Hail ruined 60% of our apple crop last year. Now, Ashtarak area farmers have hope in the battle against hail. We also want to purchase the hail blasters for the Ararat Valley, and, eventually, all of Armenia.”
Riding past Ashnak, Bazmaberd, and other Talin area villages, the cyclists climbed into the high plains of Shirak, known as the “Breadbasket of Armenia.” Passing vast fields of wheat and barley, the contingent of riders, cameramen, journalists, and guests eventually arrived at the Horom Bridge near Artik, where they were welcomed by long-time ATG farmers Hunan Petrosyan and Araik Sukiasyan, both currently cooperating with the ATG-created Seed Producers Support Association (SPSA), along with children dressed in national costume and wheat farmers working with SPSA.
“We thank ATG for their support over the years,” Sukiasyan said. “I have worked with ATG since 1994. It is a great organization.” After the traditional offering of bread and salt, folk singer Hasmik Harutyunyan led the children in dancing the Kochari, the traditional dance of unity, after which ATG executive director Varoujan Der Simonian presented the children with a box of raisins, donated by farmers and packers from Fresno.
Continuing their journey through Shirak, the cyclists arrived in Akhourian, at the site of one of four ATG-funded milk cooling tanks. The milk containers, whose purchase was made possible by funds raised by Bike-a-Thon II, have given small dairy farmers the opportunity to store milk, which can later be sold to producers of dairy products. Mayor Ardzrun Igitian thanked ATG and the cyclists, saying the milk cooling tank will have a huge benefit for Akhourian farmers and, as a result, the entire village economy.
From Akhourian, the riders traveled through the expansive wheat, barley, and potato fields of nearby Karnoot village, where SPSA farmers tend plots designated for seed multiplication and experimentation, which SPSA executive director Gagik Mkrtchyan happily explained to his guests. Karnoot farmers and mayors from five neighboring villages welcomed the travelers with a specially prepared dinner of several Armenian delicacies and invited everyone to a church service the following morning at the ancient village church.
Students, villagers welcome riders
The next morning, after visiting the Minas Avetisyan museum in Jajur, the cyclists rode across the mountains towards the province of Lori, stopping to meet villagers in Shirakamoot, epicenter of the 1988 earthquake and where ATG agronomists had provided wheat seed to farmers affected by the quake. After enjoying coffee and fruit, ATG personnel presented Shirakamoot children with a box of raisins from Fresno, before moving on to Vanadzor.
Along the way, students from Special School No. 2 in Vanadzor greeted the cyclists. The group then rode together into Vanadzor, where a reception had been arranged at their school. There, school director Hasmik Nerkararyan thanked ATG for their donation of raisins, and for the bridge they are helping to create between Armenia and the Diaspora.
The next day, the cyclists pedaled along the western shores of Lake Sevan to the village of Noraduz, where they investigated the ancient khachkar cemetery, visited with village women, and listened to a young boy sing an Armenian folk song. From Noraduz, the group moved on towards Martuni and the Selim Mountain Pass, coasted down Selim on part of the Old Silk Road, and then stopped briefly for a rest at the Caravansarai, as did travelers of the Middle Ages.
Return to Khramort
Following a restful night in the resort town of Jermuk, the riders continued their journey by heading to Karabagh and the village of Khramort, where they would visit the grape nursery founded in 1998 and helped with Bike-a-Thon funds. Before reaching Khramort, the cyclists met with Prime Minister Anoushavan Danielyan, who welcomed the initiative taken by the riders while expressing the desire to help in the expansion of ATG projects in Karabagh.
Following an inspiring trek to Gandzasar, a jewel of Armenian architecture of the Middle Ages, we drove to Khramort, where ATG’s Karabagh director, Vladimir Zakiyan, explained the vine grafting process and told about the need to modernize the nursery facilities to provide enough cuttings to supply vineyards throughout Karabagh. Vatche Soghomonian then commented that it was wonderful to see improvement each year in the nursery, and in the lives of the villagers. “By helping Khramort, we help Armenia, further strengthening our homeland,” Soghomonian said.
During the return trip to Yerevan, the cyclists visited the monasteries of Noravank and Khor Virab, met with SPSA farmers and villagers in Sissian and Aratashen, near Echmiadzin, and traveled to Sardarapat, where Armenians defended their homeland against the Turks in the decisive battle of 1918. From Sardarapat, the travelers visited Echmiadzin, the center of Armenian Christianity, before finishing their long journey in Yerevan. On the final leg of the trip, the riders were joined by youth from the Yerevan Bicycle Club. Together, the two groups of cyclists triumphantly entered Yerevan.
For more information about how you can help strengthen Armenia’s countryside, contact the ATG office at (559) 224-1000 or by e-mail (email@example.com). Tax-deductible donations can be sent to ATG; 1300 E. Shaw, Suite 149; P.O.Box 5969; Fresno, CA 93755-5969.
You may also donate to ATG online.