Toby Smith

Mount Aragats is the highest point in Armenia and is a national symbol for Armenians. The mountain is featured on the country’s coat-of-arms and represented in the names and logos of countless Armenian companies, groups and collectives. The expansive slopes have seen historic Armenian capitals, fierce battles for their control with many historical fortress and settlements surviving multiple regime and religious conquests over the centuries.

Aerial observations in the 1950’s showed the presence of permanent snowfields on the sides of Aragats’s upper crater cirque alongside moraines and glaciers inside the crater itself. A more detailed analysis in 1996 indicated a total glacial surface area of 5.5 km2 but this has been rapidly decreasing year on year. The glacial cover has been disappearing on account of the insufficient snowfall, changes in rainfall patterns and critically an increase in annual mean air temperatures.

The collapsed volcanic cone at the summit is, according to some interpretations of the Christian Bible’s Old Testament, the landing point of Noah’s Ark. Today the mountain ironically hosts an aging astronomical observatory which was once the heart of the USSR’s research program. Close to the summit is an atmospheric Cosmic Ray Detection facility – manned year-round despite the intense winter snowfall and gales at 3200m.

Those familiar with the mountain’s upper levels claim that the permanent ice has all but disappeared and is now found only in the crevices of north-facing slopes or shaded under scree fall. Tangible evidence of this recent, critical failure in the mountain’s hydrology is now only too obvious to the settlements and communities who live on downstream pasture. Entire herds of cattle, livelihoods and economic hopes are rapidly leaving this already deprived corner of Europe.

In collaboration with Project Pressure, a charity documenting the world’s glaciers, and with a grant from the Luminous Endowment for Photographers, photojournalist Toby Smith both circumnavigated and summited Mount Aragats in October 2016. The objective was to document the diverse narratives and situations all bound to and situated on the slopes of Mount Aragat. The Luminous Endowment for Photographers have made a significant contribution and without their support it would not have been possible.

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SUMMIT OF MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

At over 4000m above Sea Level Mount Aragat is the highest point in Armenia and is isolated on a flat plain. Summitted here in late October the strong wind and -25C conditions have decorated the summit cross in horiztontal ice formations.

AMBERD FORTRESS, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

Amberd Fortress was built in the 7th Century fortress las is 2300, above sea level, on the slopes of Mount Aragats. It is positioned to guard the confluence of the Arkashen and Amberd rivers. The name translates to fortress in the clouds from Armenian.

MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

The bunker of Cosmic Ray Detectors is accessible via a dim, damp access route direct from the basement of the accomodation block. Essential when snow-drifts exceed several metres in winter.

VAHRAMASHEN CHURCH, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

Shrouded in Mist and adjacent to Amberd Fortress this church is a typical cruciform shape with four two-story chambers in the corners with a large circular twelve-faceted drum sits on top.

VAHRAMASHEN CHURCH, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

Across Armenia sites of Christian Architecture often occupy or lie adjacent to alternative beliefs rooted in Pagan superstition.

BYURAKAN OBSERVATORY, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

An aged scientist defies funding cuts and continues to conduct valuable astronomy work and maintaince in the aging complex.

BYURAKAN OBSERVATORY, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

Founded in 1946 by Viktor Hambardzumyan, whose notes are depicted, this observatory was one of the main astronomy centers of the USSR. The observatory has discovered special star clusters - stellar associations, more than 1,000 flare stars, dozens of Supernovae, hundreds of Herbig-Haro objects and cometary nebulae, hundreds of galaxies.

BYURAKAN OBSERVATORY, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

The house of Viktor Ambartsumian who was a Soviet Armenian scientist, and one of the founders of theoretical astrophysics. He worked in the field of physics of stars and nebulae, stellar astronomy, dynamics of stellar systems and cosmogony of stars and galaxies, and contributed to mathematical physics. Ambartsumian founded the Byurakan Observatory in 1946.

BYURAKAN OBSERVATORY, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

At present ZTA-2.6m telescope is the largest observational instrument of BAO operating since 1976. It was constructed at the LOMO (Leningrad Optical-Mechanical Association, Saint-Petersburg, Russia).

MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

Ater the breakup of the Soviet Union, the observatory fell into hard times. Today a group of dedicated astronomers and astrophyscisits maintain the facility.

BYURAKAN TOWNSHIP, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

An Armenian couple are married in a traditional ceremony before the festivities begin across the town.

SARNAGHBYUR, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

On the Western slopes of Mount Aragat the small agricultural township of Sarnaghbyur typifies the hardship of the region. Once productive land is suffering as climate change reduces annual rainfall. Here a small arable plot is restricted to where ground water reaches teh surface soil.

SARNAGHBYUR, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

A once productive cattle farm lies abandoned save for a few nomadic cattle. Once a thriving agricultural economy the combination of post-soviet economic collapse and degradation of pasture due to climage change has left communities in financial dificulty.

SARNAGHBYUR, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

A small cave within the town nick-named the 'Silver Spring' has long been a site of religious significance, worship and memorial. Once fed by underground glacial melt-water the spring has been dry for over 3 years. A tangible illustration on how climate change has effected water supply in the region.

SARNAGHBYUR, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

A small cave within the town nick-named the 'Silver Spring' has long been a site of religious significance, worship and memorial. Once fed by underground glacial melt-water the spring has been dry for over 3 years. A tangible illustration on how climate change has effected water supply in the region.

SARNAGHBYUR DAM, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

The fresh water reservoir south of town lies dry and depleted with the shoreline several metres below historic measurements. This massively restricts agricultural productuivity further across the Aragat plain that relies on the source for summer irrigation.

MARMASHEN MONASTERY, ARMENIA

Completed in the 10th century this monastery is 15 km north of Gyumri in the Shirak province of the Republic of Armenia. The churches at Marmashen are the best surviving examples of the Ani School of medieval Armenian architecture.

MARMASHEN MONASTERY, ARMENIA

Marmashen was the dynastic burial place for the Pahlavids. An inscription dated 1029 is carved on the south façade of the Katoghike church, the largest church in the complex. It states that Prince Vahram Pahlavouni constructed the monastery, but does not give precise references to any specific buildings within the monastery.

RIVER AKHURIAN, ARMENIA

The river Akhurian forms much of the border between Western Armenia and Eastern Turkey. Glacial meltwater from the Aragat Massif has much reduced the flow of the river in Spring effecting agriculture and efficiency of the hydroelectric schemes.

GYUMRI, ARMENIA

The Spitak earthquake of 7 December 1988 had its most devastating effect in Leninakan now called Gyumri. The main reason that the quake claimed so many lives was the poor quality of the construction of the apartment blocks in which so many inhabitants were buried alive.

GYUMRI, ARMENIA

The Spitak earthquake of 7 December 1988 had its most devastating effect in Leninakan now called Gyumri. The main reason that the quake claimed so many lives was the poor quality of the construction of the apartment blocks in which so many inhabitants were buried alive.

GYUMRI, ARMENIA

The ruined structure of the Shirak Hotel remains an unofficial memorial and poignant reminder of the horror of the 1988 Spitak Earthquake that claimed over 25000 lives.

HARICHAVANK MONASTERY, ARMENIA

Harichavank known as one of the most famous monastic centers in Armenia and it was especially renowned for its school and scriptorium. Archaeological excavations of 1966 indicate that Harich was in existence during the 2nd century BC, and was one of the more well known fortress towns in Armenia.

ARAGATSON, ARMENIA

Aragatson is a village in the Aragatsotn Province of Armenia in the shadow of Mount Aragats twin peaks. Aragatsotn was a former sovkhoz soviet collective farm founded in 1971. It relies heavily on the main meltwater stream from the dwindling glaciers of Mount Aragats basin formation.

ARA, MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

Shepherds bring in their flocks of sheep every evening across the Aragat Plain. The sheep must be protected from predation by Wolves and the extreme temperatures. Climate change has a seen a dramatic change in the weather conditions, rainfall and quality of the pasture.

MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

A contemporary symbol of Christianity marks the turning towards the peak of Mount Aragats. .

MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

Deep within a purpose built concrete bunker Cosmic Ray Detector units monitor different forms of radiation associated with thunderstorms, lightning and variations in the suns output.

MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

An aged circuit board within the receives electrical impulses and data feeds from the cosmic ray detectors positioned across the mountain side.

MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

The Mount Aragats Cosmic Ray Division facility operates and is staffed year around despite harsh winter conditions. Here detector units are positioned on stilts to keep them above the deep snow drifts.

MOUNT ARAGAT, ARMENIA

A derelict astronomy lab at 3200m above seal level on the South Western slopes of Mount Aragat.

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