Vacation Armenian Style: Hankavan, the other “water world”
July 30, 2004

Vacation Armenian Style: Hankavan, the other “water world”

By Vahan Ishkhanyan
ArmeniaNow reporter
”When you plunge into hot water you find yourself right in a dream,” says
Russian language teacher Karineh Nersesova.
Nersesova is among those who have found the springs of the Hankavan Health
Resort, where pools and baths are naturally filled by mineral waters at
temperatures of 37-42C (about 100-110F).

Water is special in Hankavan
Hankavan village is located 80 kilometers north of Yerevan. It is the last
settlement of the gorge of Marmarik River. The gorge straggles out 40
kilometers long, all of it a recreation zone.
Bald on one side the other side is surrounded with mountains covered with
forests through which Marmarik River flows. Hankavan, about 1,900 meters
above sea level, is a king of the gorge surrounded with pine-trees where hot
waters spring from under the ground and where the head of Marmarik River is
located a little bit upwards towards the mountains.
Karmrakhayt (river trout) inhabit the part of Marmarik River flowing next to
Hankavan (this subspecies of trout can be found in high-mountain cold
rivers). However, it disappears in the waters of the river flowing two
kilometers downwards. The average temperature in summer is 18 0C (64F).
During Soviet times the health resort belonged to a medical institution for
high-ranking officials. The upper class of Armenia rested and received
treatment there, beginning in 1963.
Chief doctor Artashes Gevorgyan, who has held his post for 30 years, recalls
many high-ranking guests. Today, anyone can rest and receive treatment in
Hankavan for a cost of 6600 drams (about $13) per day, which includes
accommodation, meals and medical advice.
Hankavan mineral waters have healing properties and are believed to cure
diseases of liver, gall-bladder, pancreas and ailments of the nervous
The alkaline waters contain potassium, calcium, iodine and other minerals.
”Our water differs from Jermuk despite Jermuk is also mineral,” says the
doctor. “For instance, people suffering from hypoxemia, or the lack of
acidity in the organism undergo treatment here while on the contrary in
Jermuk people suffering from hyperoxemia receive treatment.” People both
can drink the water as well as bathe in it.
Nersesova receives internal as well as external treatment.
”I heard people have a nice rest here but all my expectations were
surpassed,” she says. “The resort is clean, food is good, the environment,
forests, air and river are just wonderful,.
“My mother was an honored doctor and she worked at the polyclinic of KGB.
Every year she used to spend her vacations in resorts of Russia and Black
Sea. When she came here she never left for somewhere else after that. Every
year she began spending her vacations here. She used to say that Hankavan
was equal to all other places in everything. Treatment and rest just
wonderfully coexist here.”

Soak, but don’t linger
However, only carpeted stairs remind of the health resort’s former
luxuriance. The resort used to function all year, but now is open only two
months a year (July and August).
Baths are not filled with water in basement floors and a gallery where
patients once drank hot water has run dry, leaving only bright yellow
mineral traces.
The water springs have been privatized. A plant has been constructed on one
part. At the plant CO2 (carbon dioxide) is separated from mineral water and
sold to a company that produces ice and one to factories to use with milk
The resort pays the plant for use of the waters.
”They use all the water, pour it into the river and don’t provide us with
it,” says Gevorgyan. “Last year I paid 100,000 drams (about $200) so that
they fill baths with water. During Soviet times mineral water belonged to
the health resort and only we had the right to administer it. They had to
come and ask us for water. But now everything has changed, now we ask for
Today, a half-hour in a pool costs 1000 drams (about $2) and a 30-minute
bath is 500 drams.
Visitors are cautioned that it is unhealthy to spend too much time in the
“If you want you can stay here for an hour but it is dangerous to be in
water for more than ten minutes,” says attendant Serozh. “My friend, my duty
is to warn you and for the rest then it is your business.”
Serozh says he used to be confined to bed because of a spinal problem.
Mineral baths cured him he says and then he started working at the resort.
”There is no sanatorium now. It was a sanatorium 20 years ago,” says
regular visitor of the health resort, former head of collective farm Arshak
He recalls how he was spending vacations with the former First Secretary of
the Armenian Communist Party Anton Kochinyan. ”Hankavan was his favorite
place. Every day he used to climb the peak of that mountain. He would say,
‘Arshak, let’s climb together,’ but I would answer, ‘no, Anton Yervandich, I
can not,’ then in the evening he would say, ‘Arshak, let’s drink,’ but I
would answer, ‘no, Anton Yervandich, I’m receiving treatment, I cannot
drink.’ Eh! What days we had and what is left now . . .”
Armenian-American businessman Vrezh Saryan purchased the health resort four
years ago. He was born in Armenia and 30 years ago he left for USA. He was
involved in honey business and achieved great successes. During Soviet times
when he was a child he was having rest in Hankavan’s pioneer camp. However,
he was attracted first to with Hankavan by the mineral waters.

Saryan wants to bring western -style attractions
”I saw mineral water health resorts in Turkish city Ponakyal and in Israel.
Americans made 99% of people receiving treatment there,” he says, ”and the
idea was born. We have such mineral waters in Armenia, so, we should do
something to make Americans come here for having rest and receiving
Saryan is planning big investments and dreams to turn Hankavan into a center
of international tourism. He says he will build cottages and a 2,000-seat
amphitheater like the Hollywood Bowl, which he’ll call “Hankavank Bowl”.
”It will be ready in 2006,” the owner says. “Placido Domingo promised me to
come and perform here. I hope James Brown will also come here. There will be
rock concerts too.” He is planning to construct the entire health resort in
American style. Vacationers will be moving around the territory in the golf
carts, one of which stands next to his house.
However, it is yet not decided how mineral water will be sent back to the
health resort again as all springs are privatized. ”There are problems
connected with water but authorities must help. I wrote a letter to the
president and he replied, ‘Saryan, you have no problems’,” he says showing
letter of the president’s advisor where it is promised to render assistance
to the program.
Hankavan village has also been turned into a recreation zone. Greeks were
former residents of the village. Now only about 20 are left, as most sold
their houses to Yerevantsis. In winters there are about 40 residents in the
village while in summers when holiday season begins the population increases
three to four times.
The Ghushoghlyan family from Yerevan has been spending its vacations in
Hankavan for 20 years. During Soviet times they were renting a room in the
village and later they purchased a house and added a second floor to it.
”We fell in love with Hankavan,” says Arevik Ghushoghlyan. ”Before, when
we were going somewhere for having rest, either to sea or somewhere else, in
August we were necessarily visiting Hankavan.” Her daughter, 12-year-old
Arpineh, has been having rest in Hankavan since childhood, ”I had always
been waiting for the day when we must have visited Hankavan. I always miss
the waterfall (of Marmarik River located upwards the village), hot water and
forests,” she says.
However, Hankavan is a neglected place anyway. After the Greeks had left the
village telephone wires were stolen and there is no telephone communication
there now. When the Ghushoghlyans want to call somewhere they either have to
walk 15 kilometers to get to Artavazd village (former Takiarlu) or to climb
the mountain peak to be able to talk with cell phone.
The last part of Marmarik gorge’s road is also wrecked. ”You know why road
leading to Tsakhkadzor is perfectly constructed (Tsakhkadzor is on the way
to Hankavan)” says Arevik’s mother Piruza. “Because representatives of
authorities are having rest there. And they don’t need Hankavan.”
A businessman, shareholder of ”Samsung” company, consul of Uruguay in
Armenia Armen Hayrapetyan constructed a villa in Hankavan. His house sticks
out among the more ordinary village houses. A tuff (stone) road leading from
the center of the village to Hayrapetyan’s house is now being constructed as
well as a wide playground in front of his house.
”During Soviet times we came to Hankavan and liked it very much,” says the
businessman’s father, professor Vladimir Hayrapetyan. “We bought a house,
reconstructed it and in summers we always spend two months here. Sometimes
we come here in winters. But there are problems. We don’t have them, we have
a car and can get to the city whenever we want but it is difficult for other