On the International Year of Mountains

Me and my colleague with students on the summit of Mt. Arailer

I live in mountains,
I work and rest on mountains
          and I love mountains with all my heart.

Mountain Arailer

    In the Central Armenia, to the North of Yegvard lava plateau rises the cone of the extinct volcano Arailer (2577 m above sea level). The English for “Arailer” is “Mountain of Ara”. It is named by the name after the dying and resurrecting  deity in the Armenian mythology (the cult of Ara, Araism). Ara symbolizes the main features of pagan worship of the spring, awakening, fertility. A 2 km diameter crater has remained on the top of the mountain. It opens to the South-West by a deep canyon. The fairy-tale beauty of this small corner of nature is conditioned by numerous picturesque rocks of whimsical shapes in combination with diverse vegetation.
     This place is called “Tzakhkevank” – “The Tample of Flowers”; the inhabitants celebrate the religious feasts both the Christian and Heathen ones.
     At the place of the coming-out of the crater to the ravine rises a huge rock. There is a small cave in it. People come here to put candles not only from the neighbouring villages. The water, flowing down the walls of the cave is considered to have medicinal properties and to be a cure for diseases of an eye.

Vivid rocks in Tzakhkevank ravineTzakhkevank shrine

 Arailer is remarkable not only for its outward appearance and for its relatively isolated location from other mountain ranges. The mountain is extremely interesting from the geomorphological point of view. It is a carrier of the richest gene poll of flora and fauna as well.

Poppies (Papaver orientale) on the southern slope of ArailerThe nestle of crested larkArailer in spring (Pushkinia scilloides)The lizard (Lacerta media) after the winter sleep

It is enough to say that 650 species of vascular plants are registered in flora of Arailer mountain. It is about 20% of Armenia's flora – the high degree of floristic base saturation. Here, comparatively on a small area we have almost all main types of vegetation of Armenia: semidesert, steppe, meadow-steppe, forest and meadows, fragments of tall herbaceous vegetation, rock and mound vegetation and steppe shrubberies.

The oak forest in autumnThe feather-grass steppe on the eastern slopes of ArailerThe spring on the summit of Arailer (Merendera trigyna and Scilla armena)The sun scorched subalpine meadow with surprising rocks

    There are 20 endemics of Armenian Highlands, 9 of them are endemics of Armenia. More than 30 rare and threatened species are present in Arailer's flora. 15 of them are in Red Data Book of Armenia, 3  – in Red Data Book of USSR. Most of the rare species and many others are very decorative and may be introduced.

Very rare plant Linaria pyramidata in the crater of ArailerEast poppy (Papaver orientale)Rare Aquilegia olympica - have been collected on Arailer just onceTulipa julia - reducing at present because of its decorative valueFritillaria caucasica - one of the most beautiful components of spring floraThe snowflower (Merendera trigyna) is flowering always the first

    The oak forest tract that occupies the northern slopes is of great scientific interest. In the form of admixture various species of maple, birch, mountain ash (7 species!), asp and some others grow here. This forest contains a great variety of wild relatives of cultivated plants, most of them are wild fruit-trees and berry-shrubs. There are about 50 species of trees and shrubs grow on the slopes of Arailer.
 The fact of survival of  Arailers’s forest under the circumstances of arid climate and practically complete lack of sourses is surprising. Uncontrolled mass felling during the last years has considerably accelerated the natural process of reduction of the forests (the tendency of climate drying is conductive to this).

One can observe a very interesting textural feature in andesite-basalts on Eastern slope of Arailer. Volcanic rocks contain spherical inclusions with diameter up to 4-5cm. The inhabitants call these inclusions “stone hail”. Specialists are of the opinion that their origin is board up with a great quantity of half-hardened sprays of lava that fell on the surface of the gliding liquid lava, during the eruption of the volcano. After hardening the lava took an extraordinary shape.

Volcanic rocks with stone hailThe stone hail

You get tremendous impressions and beautiful feelings staying on the summit or on the rim of the crater. The fascinating view opens from the summit of the volcano: The Geghama Mountain Range with some classic volcanic cones in the East, The Tzakhuniantz Range in the North, large Aragatz Mountain rises in the West, then the mountain range Armenian Dance is seen. There is very picturesque canyon of Kasakh River twists near the foundation of Arailer and the large Aparan Reservior that lies to the North-Wests.  Two extinct volcanoes Arailer and bible Ararat are face to face and there are no relief barriers between them.

Good bye, Arailer

The essay and photographs are prepared on the basis of the individual scientific research (1996-1999) and of the work was supported by the Research Support Scheme of the Open Society Support Foundation, grant No.: 1776/2000. The aim of this research is to investigate the present condition of Arailer’s vegetation and to prepare the recommendations for its conservation, restoration and rational utilization. This program includes the scientific basis preparation for recognition the area of crater and Tzakhkevank ravine a Natural Monument.

I am very anxious to introduce a contribution to the International Year of Mountains 2002 by publishing an illustrated booklet based on the results of this research (in Armenian and English) and to distribute it both in Armenia and in different countries.

This would be the first generalized publication about Arailer.

It is intended to attract attention to the mountains on the example of Arailer as one of the most interesting ecosystems in the republic and to the necessity of its conservation through the main ecological problems in Armenia such as reduction of biodiversity, aridity and forests’ problem etc.

But the problem is that I cannot find a sponsor for publication of the booklet.
I would be grateful if you’ll kindly share me some information about the foundations or other organizations to whom I can apply with my request.

Anna Asatryan,
Ph. D. of Biological sciences

Institute of Botany of NAS RA,
Avan, Yerevan 375063, Armenia

E-mail: crocus@post.com

You will find here more information and more photographs soon!