Thursday, 21 November

Armen, EcoCamp Founder: “Armenia’s Kapan Could Be the Capital of the Silk Road”

"Kapan should be viewed from a satellite," says Armen Ghazaryan from Kapan, while climbing the road to the town’s Baghabourj district. He’s been operating an eco-camp in Baghabourj for one year. Cyclists, mountaineers and travelers come here from different parts of the world. He’s accommodated more than 300 tourists. "And we did it without advertising," adds Armen, who can climb up to the camp, which is 1.5 kilometers away from the center of Kapan, 4-5 times a day.

"How old am I in your opinion? " asks Armen.

“Well, up to 38-40,” I reply.

"Then I'm in a good shape, " he smiles.

Armen is 48 years old. He has 5 specialties.

"First, I’m a massage therapist-fitness trainer, second - ecotourism organizer, third - organic farmer, and fourth - journalist. I was the most popular fitness journalist in Sochi, working in the club, communicating with thousands of people," says Armen. He moved from Kapan to Moscow in 1985, studied economy at the Moscow State University, but he regards this specialty to be the least important. He lived in Moscow till 2007, then moved to Sochi, and returned to Kapan in 2013.

Kapan - Capital of the Silk Road

Armen says he left his sweet life in Sochi as he was looking for a greater meaning in life. Besides, he is not a conformist. His wife, Siranoush Vardanyan from Gyumri, joined him.

They got acquainted via the Internet, then met in Yerevan. Today, they are the founders of a family venture. In 2013, they established ARK Environmental NGO (registered later in 2015), and ARK LLC in 2016 to be able to engage in commercial activities. They took the first place among 200 NGOs across Armenia with their camps social entrepreneurship project, and also received a small grant from the U.S. for current expenses.

The initiative was born due to a conversation that Armen still remembers with a smile. "When we were coming from Sochi, my sister-in-law called from Gyumri and asked my wife Siran whether Kapan was paved. It really hit me. I wondered how people in Armenia could be so unaware of Kapan, whether it’s a village or a town, whether the streets are paved or dirt. I decided that Kapan should get its own image. In 2014, I organized a roundtable. There was already an initiative group, and we started talking. Until then, no one thought about branding, it was a self-organized process,” says Armen, and notes that when people begin to talk about branding,firstthey think about investing millions, to build a hotel, but they don’t realize that to attract tourists the town needs to have an image, a brand, and one that’s not artificial.

Returning to Kapan 28 years later, Armen wanted to understand the town's inner self, since he’d imagined Kapan according to his childhood memories. "I spent a year reviewing historical and geographical information, meeting people, learning their thoughts. I noticed that people regard us very narrowly, that is, they talk about Nzhdeh and others, but they do not understand how Kapan can be interesting for the world. They do not view Kapan from a satellite," says Armen.

Branding has begun from viewing it from a satellite. Armen emphasizes that Kapan, being the regional center of Syunik province, is also the southeastern edge of European Christian civilization. The next advantage is having Armenia's largest forest areas located in Syunik. Here one can find the biggest difference between high and low points in Armenia. "If Aragats mountain is higher than Kaputjugh, the difference between the summit and the base of Aragats is less than the difference here, from Nerkin Hund to the summit of Kaputjugh. When you have such a difference, there is also a variety of landscapes, flora, fauna, and climate. It's hard to find another place in the world where there are seven climatic zones within such a small area, " Armen says.

He adds that Kapan could be proclaimed the capital of the Silk Road. If that road starts from China, and ends in Venice, Kapan is in the middle of the road.

The eco-camp is part of Kapan branding. "We were the ones to lay the foundation, but we had friends helping us. We did it via crowdfunding. We were the first in Syunik to do something like that. The first stage of the camp was built with that money. Then we had an opportunity to invite foreign volunteers to participate in the activities of the community and the camp, " says Armen. The first volunteers were from New Zealand, Australia and the United States. As a first step, they mapped Kapan tourist trails. In the past, there were only points and a car road, now there are 22 tourist trails, 6 of which already have signs, others will have them in the near future.

Kapan branding was discussed with volunteers. Then they’ve started spreading the information about the forests, the town, being the Silk Road center and the edge of European civilization on different platforms. The name selection was also discussed with volunteers. They didn’t want to name it Noah's Ark because that name was used too much, so they decided to name it ARK as an ark, and as an abbreviation for Armen Kazaryan. On the other hand, in the Kapan dialect, the word "ark" means respect and honor.

People, being tired of urbanization, look for nature

Armen says he had no intention of establishing an eco-camp at first. After buying the plot, he planned to make a massage room there and do some organic farming. He notes that he would give a massage outside, in a clean place. He says when he massages somebody, he can write a book about their life.

On one side of the eco-camp, tents are placed on the grass. There are tourists who prefer to stay there. Sometimes they come with their own tents. Those who visit the camp are those who want to stay in the outdoors.

Armen applies the rules of the wild nature when working in the garden. He’s planted a wide variety of seeds, not knowing which ones would grow. He says that whichever feels comfortable, will come out and grow, as in nature. For example, an apricot tree has come out in the vegetable patch of beans. Armen says the roots of the apricot tree help to draw water from the deep soil, and the roots of beans produce nitrous oxide and give it to the apricot tree.

"The vegetable patch is constructed in a way that when it rains, no drop leaves the soil. It’s built against the flow of the water, and a stone wall protects it from the wind. There is grass on the soil, it's an imitation of forest leaf fall, so that the soil doesn’t dry out. I can go to the mountains and feel safe for the soil, " explains the camp founder.

The tourists staying at the eco-camp come from different parts of the world. Armen says that when talking to tourists, you realize that people are tired of urbanization and are looking for nature.

Walking around the camp, one can see wooden two-story cottages, the outdoor kitchen, bathroom-toilets.

Besides theeco-camp, Armen and his wife Siranoush have a summerhouse located in the village of Arajadzor, 20 km from Kapan.

Overcoming all obstacles that life and the business throw him, Armen says he has no complaints.

Photos: Vahe Sarukhanyan

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