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Polar Explorer Fridtjof Nansen’s Visit to Armenia

Explore Fridtjof Nansen's compassionate journey in 1925 through post-World War I and post-Genocide Armenia. Discover his dedication to Armenian refugees, canal-building initiatives, and the unique encounters with the country's culture. Join Nansen on this humanitarian odyssey documented in "Gjennern Armenia," shedding light on his profound impact on Armenian history and society.

Being a great humanist Norwegian polar explorer, Fridtjof Nansen made efforts to help the people left homeless, alienated and starving as a result of the First World War. The Armenian people, who were on the verge of annihilation as a result of the 1915 Genocide, were always in the center of his attention.

In 1924, Nansen actively addressed Armenian refugee issues, advocating for a just resolution, improving emigrants' conditions, facilitating their return, and initiating canal projects to cultivate arid lands. Nansen's impactful efforts granted "Nansen passports" to thousands, easing their plight.

Nansen during his travels in Armenia. Notice the carpet on which he is sitting!

At 7 o'clock on June 16, 1925, Nansen and his commission left Tiflis by train for Armenia. During the night, they traversed the Lori region, known for its forested mountains and gorges, and the next morning, they encountered a different landscape. Unlike Lori, the Aragatsotn region lacks forested areas. On that occasion, he wrote: "The land is barren, without trees; there is no green anywhere, no wooded hill in sight. Is this dry, yellowish land supposed to be cultivated for refugees? The scene in front of my window did not leave an encouraging impression."

On June 17, 1925, a warm welcome awaited Nansen and his delegation at Yerevan station.

On June 18, the Nansen commission leaves for Sardarapat region. At that time, it was very important to create an irrigation system for the Sardarapat field and make it a fertile land. They visited Hoktemberyan's cotton factory and expressed their satisfaction about ii.

Nansen in Armenia

Then moved to the Armenian-Turkish border, explored the shores of Araks river, visited Margara and other Armenian villages. Afterwards, the guests visited the ruins of Armavir, one of the ancient capitals of Armenia, surrounded by cotton fields. A young woman working there gave Nansen a cotton cocoon, of which Nansen wrote: "It was a welcome wish according to the custom of the country, so natural, simple and touching. I held that tender cotton for a long time.'' The guests then visited the village of Bambakashat, whose inhabitants welcomed them with salt and bread, milk and fruits. The same day in the evening, the guests return to Yerevan and are invited to a dinner in the city's summer park, where they not only enjoy delicious Armenian food and fruits, but also listen to Armenian music, for which Nansen personally thanks choir leader K. Shahnazaryan. Later, he wrote in his travel notes: "The food and Armenian wine are good, but there is no mention of fruits. At that time, the apricots had started to ripen. Armenia itself is the motherland of apricots, the apricots here are so big and juicy that I have never seen such anywhere."

After the Armenian Genocide, thousands of children became orphans. They found shelters in various parts of the world, including Eastern Armenia. In this photo, you can see Nansen having lunch with orphans in Leninakan (Gyumri).

After the sessions held the next day, the guests visit the Museum of the History of Armenia, and the knowledge gained on the skeletons and skulls studied there, Nansen later uses in his work written about Armenians. After that, the guests were led to Yerevan State University, where a warm reception was organized. A friendly party is organized in the courtyard of the university, which takes place in a warm and businesslike atmosphere. Nansen is awarded the title of honorary doctor and honorary member of the scientific council of Yerevan State University.

After visiting the university, the guests went to the Zangvi coast and saw the Yerevan fortress.

On June 20, Nansen's delegation continues to explore the Sardarapat Plain, approaching Araks river and discussing the possibility of building a canal. They observe the Surmalu Plateau, which was once covered with vineyards, gardens, and fields, but has now risen to a bare plain. In the evening, they come to the Hoktemberyan station to take the train to Leninakan. But it turns out that their special carriage has to be attached to the train quite late.

Therefore, as they spend most of the night there, Nansen prefers lying in the open air on a tarpaulin under a starry sky, rather than sleeping in a hot compartment coach.

On June 21, Nansen and his companions were already in Leninakan, where they felt the breath of new life and participated in the opening of the Shirak canal, which turned into a popular celebration. When the water flowed, Nansen threw his broad-brimmed hat into the water as a sign of joy and a bright vision of the future. Returning to the city, they attend a dinner. Nansen also visits the newly established textile factory in Leninakan, where a warm welcome is organized and he himself speaks with words of thanks and good wishes.

Bust of Fridtjof Nansen in Yerevan (sculptor Garegin Davtyan). Armenia will never forget how Nansen helped us! To honor him in Armenia there are streets and parks named after him, as well as a museum dedicated to Nansen and statues commemorating his contributions.

On the morning of June 24, they leave for Yerevan, through the northern regions of Armenia. They were in Lori, specifically in Stepanavan, Gharakilisa (now Vanadzor) and then went to Dilijan, where they visited the Republican Sanatorium. After spending the night in Dilijan, the guests take the route to Sevan, the unique beauty of which enchants Nansen. On the banks of the Sevan River, they eat royal trout or, as Nansen called it, "the jewel of the Armenian feast." Then they move to Yerevan.

On June 27, Nansen's commission was in Kanaker, Garni, Dvin, banks of Zangvi river, Ghrer, Sevjur.

On June 28, the guests visited Etchmiadzin, got acquainted with its architectural monuments and were received by the Catholicos. They get to know the manuscripts in the local bookstores.

Nansen during his travels in Armenia

Nansen was particularly fascinated by the structure of the cathedral and the church of Hripsime, with the domes rising on the quadrangle. On June 29, they visited the Yerevan hydroelectric power station, which was a unique structure and left a great impression. Then they entered "Ararat" wine factory and tasted Armenian drinks. "Everyone was nice... red wine... sherry... madera... port wine... At the end, I was given muscat... I had never drunk such wonderful wine," he wrote. In the evening of the same day, a government dinner is organized in honor of the guests on the bank of Zangvi. In addition to traveling through Armenia, Nansen also participates in many meetings, during which important issues were discussed. He also visits the studio of Martiros Saryan, where he gets acquainted with the works of the great artist. Saryan immortalized that meeting with two portraits of Nansen, which are now kept in Saryan's museum. On July 1, a farewell concert will be held at the city theater, followed by a dinner. On July 2, 1925, statesmen, accompanied by a large crowd, bid farewell to the great philanthropist from the Yerevan railway station. Nansen writes: "Yerevan, Zangvi valley, beautiful gardens were disappearing behind us. In the south, Ararat stood cloudless in all its height, and its broad snow-covered peak was shining under the light of the sun."

Nansen described his trip to Armenia in the book "Gjennern Armenia" ("Through Armenia") published in 1927. Two years later, another book of his, also related to the 1925 trip, "Gjennern Kaukasus til Volga" ("Through the Caucasus to the Volga") was published. Nansen did not give up caring for the Armenian people until the end of his life. In 1928, he toured America, during which he gave fund-raising lectures for the benefit of Armenians.


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