Area: 2,643 km2
Administrative center: Gyumri
Distance from Yerevan to Gyumri: 155 km
The Shirak region, located in Armenia’s northwest corner, includes the nation’s second largest city, Gyumri. Shirak offers some of the country’s best and least known scenic and natural features, such as the great Arpa Lake and the alpine meadows and valleys of the Ashotsk region. Shirak is also the only place from within Armenia’s current borders where visitors can bear witness to a unique jewel of Armenia’s past, the ruins of the glorious city of Ani, the former flourishing Armenian capital and cultural center, tantalizingly located just across the Akhuryan River in today’s Turkey. The Shirak region’s climate and landscapes are similarly rugged, with high altitudes and long winters, but the warm season ushers in unparalleled beauty unfurled across miles of wildflower meadows under snow capped peaks and icy mountain streams. The architectural splendor of Haritch, Marmashen and many other churches and monasteries dotting the region are likewise attractions to the area as are the denizens of Shirak, famous for their hospitality, sense of humor and love of culture.
Gyumri, the heart and soul of Shirak, endured tremendous damage and human loss in the 1988 earthquake, as many of the poor quality soviet-era buildings collapsed on top of their inhabitants. During the years that followed, harsh winters, blockade, and a shattered economy all combined to force the proud inhabitants into survival mode. However, many would agree that today, at least in part, the corner has been turned, and Gyumri is once again beginning to stand upright with dignity. Cooperative efforts between the leadership and government of Armenia, solidarity and monetary assistance from the Diaspora coupled with support from many International Organizations have acted to bolster the resilient spirit and boundless energy of the citizens of Gyumri to transform the city from a disaster to a recovery zone. New apartment buildings, schools, public buildings and community centers are under construction everywhere, reflecting the city’s rebirth. Gyumri is a historic city, with a rich urban legacy and culture. Among its attractions are the old city (Kumayri historic district), the recently refurbished St. Nishan Church, various museums and theaters, and an expansive open air market, a pre-soviet center of commerce which has survived and is blossoming today.
The Shirak Region is full of intriguing places. Lake Arpa, situated in the northwest corner of Shirak, is one of the world’s most ecologically important lakes, supporting several unique and endangered species of wildlife. Arpa, with its 20 square kilometer surface area and maximum depth of only 8 meters, is fed by the Yeghnajur, Karmrajur and Elal Rivers. In turn, it is the source of the Akhuryan River. The Mantash Reservoir is one of Shirak’s most beautiful places. Containing over 8 million cubic meters of water at an altitude of 2,600 meters, the reservoir is a favorite destination for fishermen determined to catch the famed ‘alabalagh’ trout. The famous pagan monument, Tsak Kar (literally hole stone) is situated in Toparli, an idyllic mountain village. The monument is a huge stone with a hole just big enough for a person to squeeze through. Legend has it that people who pass through the hole will acquire eternal happiness, and locals love to tell stories of overweight yet resolute individuals who have spent hours trapped in the hole! Beyond Toparli is Tarband, a remarkably well-preserved but sparsely populated village with interesting stone walls and streets and a lovely old church. Haritch Monastery (7th to 13th cc.) was built with giant multicolored stones-each 3.5 meters wide. It is adjacent to the 7th Century St. Grigor Church. For centuries, Haritch was the summer residence of Armenian Catholicos who preferred the region’s cool nights to the oppressive heat of Echmiadzin. Also of interest in Haritch are the ruins of the 5th Century Church of the Resurrection, a 13th Century chapel and the village history museum, the creation of a local history teacher. Visitors will want to record their impressions in a log delicately presented to them by the museum’s single employee! En route, visitors may also want to visit Artik, home of the famous pink Artik tuf stone.
Get in touch
19 Hrachya Kochar street, #39 Yerevan 0012, Republic of Armenia