On the road to Baku - Pics and words by Steve Taylor

Steve Taylor is currently on the Black Sea to the Caspian tour with MotoDiscovery 

 
Above:  Bakuriani, Georgia.  Ski resort.
When the Park City brand implodes (now apparently headed that direction) we can come here to Georgia to ski.    Here there is the sense of aspiration with many hotels under construction and new lifts and runs being established. 
 
We spent the night of 21 June 2014 in this town at the Hotel Villa Palace.
 
When Taos and Mwah (sic) rode into the town late yesterday afternoon, the area was enshrouded in fog.  It took us an hour to find the hotel.
 
 
Above:  Route from Akhaltsikhe, Georgia to the Armenian frontier. 
 
Squint and you can be in Paradox Valley, southwestern Colorado, where CO SR 91 is a regular cattle drive route.
 
 
Above:  TIMDT makes her way up to the Vardzia cave city, in the Mtkvari River valley.   In the 13th century the Georgian Church established a monastery where up to 2000 monks lived at one time.  The monastery is located 10 miles off the main route from Akhaltskihe, Georgia to the Armenian border.
 
Looks like a poor man's Cappadocia. 
 
Wonderful 300 foot vertical climb on a near perfect day... it was a little warm... 85 degrees. Both TIMDT and Mwah (sic) were happy to get the exercise.,
 
 
Above:  Frescoes on the vault ceiling adjacent to the chapel carved into the cave city of Vardzia.  The frescoes date back to the 12th century. 
 
Christian ruins are old here.  Areas comprising Georgia and Armenia were among the areas to adopt Christianity.
 
 
Above:  Khertvisi Fortress. 
 
At the junction of an unidentified river ant the Mtkvari River.  We leave the Mtkvari River and now follow the unidentified river until we reach the Armenian frontier. 
 
The Adjara region is pockmarked with old churches and castles. 
 
 
Above:  Storks in pole nest in Gorelovka, the last town size in Georgia before reaching Armenia.
 
 
Above:  Russian architecture, central square, Gyumri, Armenia.
 
Gyumri is Armenia's second city.  We stayed in Araks Hotel.
 
The city was leveled by an earthquake in 1988.  50K deaths.
 
Lots of smokers in these here parts... no non smoking zones.  It would be hard getting used to this were one to spend any amount of time in this region.
 
 
Above:  Josef Stalin.
 
Nineteen-hundred-and five began and ended with slaughter.  It was the year of revolution in which young Stalin, for the first time, commanded armed men, tasted power, and embraced terror and gangsterism.  On 06 February, he was in Baku when some Armenians shot a Tartar in the center of the city.  Azeri Turks - or "Tartars" as they were often called - retaliated.  The news spread.  The authorities, who had long resented Armenian wealth and success, encouraged the Muslim Azeri mobs to pour into the city.
 
For five long days, Azeri gangs killed every Armenian they could find, when the frenzied hatred that comes from religious tension, economic jealousy and neighbourly proximity.  While anti-Semitic pogroms broke out across the empire,k Baku descended into an orgy of ethnic killing, burning, raping, shooting and throat-cutting.  The governor, Prince Nakashidze, and his police chief did nothing.  Cossacks handed over Orthodox Armenians to be slaughtered by Azeri mobs, armed by the police.  One Armenian oil baron was besieged in his palace by an Azeri mob, whom he picked off with a Winchester rifle until he ran out of ammunition and was torn to pieces.  Eventually, the Armenians, wealthier and better armed, started to fight back and massacre Azeris. 
 
"They don't even know why they're killing each other," said the mayor.  "Thousands of dead lay in the streets," wrote a witness of the Baku slaughters, "and covered the Christian and Mussulman cemeteries.  The odour of corpses stifled us.  Everywhere women with mad eyes sought their children, and husbands were moving heaps of rotting flesh."  At least 2,000 died.
 
Stalin was there to see these infernal and apocalyptic sights.  He had formed a small Bolshevik Battle Squad in Baku.  Now he gathered this mainly Muslim gang and ordered them to divided the two communities wherever possible while simultaneously taking the opportunity to steal any useful printing equipment - and raise money for the Party by protection-rackets.  Stalin, according to his first biographer, Essad Bey, who grew up in Baku, "presented himself to the head of the Armenian household and gravely informed him that the time was near when the household would fall beneath the knives of the Muslims," but "after a donation to Bolshevik funds, Stalin conveyed the Armenian merchants to the countryside."
 
Chapter 14, "Young Stalin,"  Simon Sebag Montefiore
 
On the road to Baku...
 
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