Armenia is one of the countries with long, rich and not always easy history, the place that has been always fascinating me a lot and that I fell head over heels with from the very first moment. It is also a challenging destination to visit as some of the Armenian ghosts would haunt you constantly (but that makes it even more interesting for me as I enjoy difficult places).
Fortunately I was prepared for that, I studied numerous Armenia facts and I had a vague understanding of the country before my first visit there in 2012. But I’ve noticed that sadly most of the tourists coming there (those without Armenian origins) know nothing about the country (besides the list of places to visit in Armenia), not even the basics such as the genocide or the unique alphabet. So what is so different about Armenia, what makes it special?
Most important Armenian facts – the genocide
The very first and most important fact to understand the country is the Armenian genocide. It was the first event of such kind in 20th century yet not many people know about it and it’s not widely recognized. Even Hitler, when explaining his actions, said as an excuse “After all, who remembers Armenian genocide now?”.
This tragic event took place at the falling of Ottoman Empire, in 1915, and resulted with around 1.5 million deaths. The area called Western Armenia has been part of Turkey ever since, many incredible examples of Armenian architecture (such as Ani – the ancient capital of Armenia) were destroyed and the tension between these two countries is still very strong.
Now 24th of April is known as the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.Every year people of Yerevan come to the Genocide Memorial, put flowers next to the eternal flame and commemorate those who died. Every Armenian family has lost someone close in these awful events and the story is told from one generation to another so the memory of them will never be lost.
I arrived to Yerevan three days after the 99th anniversary of the genocide and the very first place I visited was the Memorial, located on the hill not far from the center. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and the place was still full of people, the whole families walking together and putting flowers in the center of the Memorial. What struck me the most was the surrounding silence, the one you wouldn’t expect with so many visitors.
Seeing families of three or four generations there, together remembering those innocent victims touched me so much. I was standing there for half an hour or so and looking at the scenes around me with tears in my eyes. And if this place was so emotional 3 days after the celebrations how it must be on 24th of April?
EDIT: After missing the anniversary of the Armenian genocide by just few days I made my priority to be in the city for the 24th April. And so I was, three times: for the centennial in 2015, in 2017 and in 2018. And I have no doubts I will be returning to Armenia for this special day again and again.
Unfortunately I couldn’t visit the Genocide Museum as it’s closed until April 2015. But I remember from my first visit there that this is an awful place and the one that everyone should see. It was an eye opening experience for me and made me realize how awful the events of 1915, how cruel ways of dying were used, how unnecessary it all was…
This is one of the museums I remember very clearly, even 2 years after visiting it, and I’m sure I will never forget. You can learn more about the place and the genocide itself and the museum’s website.
EDIT: I visited the new museum twice and I can say it is one of the places you can’t miss when you visit Yerevan. It’s such an informative and somber place.
There are more Armenians outside of Armenia
Due to the genocide Armenians are spread all over the world and have one of the biggest Diasporas of all the nations. While the population of the country is a little bit over 3 millions, there’re over 8 millions people of Armenian origins living all over the world (some sources say even about 10 millions), mostly in Russia, United States or France. One of the four quarters in the Old City in Jerusalem is Armenian, a remnant of the large community living in this Holy City.
I remember how surprised I was during my first visit in this country – first when I saw a big “Welcome Home” sign at the airport and then in Yerevan where there are a lot of flower shops with 24h deliveries to Los Angeles. Every family in Armenia has relatives abroad and it is widely seen and felt in the country.
There are quite many world-known Armenians too. A lot of the conversations with young people in Yerevan leads to System of a Down, one of the most recognized rock band in the world. All the members come from the Armenian diaspora in the USA and a lot of their lyrics are about the genocide, spreading the word about the tragic events that shaped the nation.
Other famous Armenians that probably everyone has heard about are Cher, Andre Agassi or Kim Kardashian. Basically when you see the surname ending with “-ian” it means it’s of Armenian origins – that’s another one of interesting facts about Armenia.
Yerevan – one of the oldest capitals
You might be surprised but Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is one of the oldest capitals in the world. It is even older than Rome! Yerevan, or the Erebuni fortress to be more specific, was founded in the year 782 BC. What you see now is a modern capital in the European style but the orgins of the city are really impressive!
Soviet architecture everywhere
After the very rough beginning of 20th century things still weren’t very easy for Armenia. Four years after being independent from the Ottoman Empire Armenia was annexed by the Bolshevist Russia in 1922 and incorporated to the Soviet Union. The life was tough in that time (as in every other Soviet republic) and up until now most of the Armenian cities are full of (not so pretty) architecture from that time.
Yerevan is called “the pink city”
The capital of Armenia is often called “the pink city” and you will understand why as soon as you visit Yerevan. The city was developed at the beginning of 20th century, designed by the great architect Alexander Tamanyan. The majority of buildings were built in the neoclassical Soviet style with the use of tuff – a building material with the pink shade. And indeed the majority of buildings are somehow pink hence the city’s nickname!
Armenia – the oldest Christian country in the world
But cities with their Soviet buildings aren’t the main reason to visit Armenia. Nature and beautiful monasteries are! Did you know about yet another interesting Armenia facts, that this is the oldest country in the world with the Christian religion? It dates back to the year 301 AD!
93% of the nation belong to Armenian Apostolic Church – I once went for part of the mass and it was a really interesting experience, similar yet so different to Catholic religion I grew up with.
The Armenian monasteries are just the prettiest! I’ve visited quiet many of them and every single one was more beautiful than the previous. Dark, with no decorations but a candle or two lighting up they have a truly spiritual atmosphere.
Usually their location is breathtaking too – at the shore of Lake Sevan, hidden at the end of mountainous road or reachable by the longest cable car in the world. Yes, Armenia has a pretty exceptional nature as well. It is a mountainous country and travelling around can show you how much the landscape vary – north is full of green hills while south feels more deserted.
The longest cable-car in the world
This might come as a surprise but you will find the longest cable-car in the world in Armenia. It’s called Wings od Tatev and connects Halidzor with the Tatev monastery (one of the most important monasteries in the country). The lenght of the cable-car is 5,7kms and the journey takes some 12 minutes. Opening the cable-car made visiting Tatev monastery so much easier as the same route by road took some 40 minutes. And the view you can admire from the cable car are just breathtaking!
Fun Armenia fact – the country has its own alphabet!
Not only Armenia has its own religion but also its own alphabet. It was founded in 405 AD by Mesrop Mashtots, one of the biggest personalities in Armenia. The alphabet had 36 letters, is incredibly beautiful and gives you no idea what’s happening around you! (fortunately most of the signs are also in English and/or Russian)
To give you the impression how Armenian alphabet looks like: Կամի անդ տհե րեստ ոֆ տհե Ւորլդ (that’s the name of my blog, by the way). Pretty, isn’t it?
Chess in a national sport
Armenia is big in chess. Some of the best players orginate from Armenia and the country wins numerous international tournaments. But there is a good reason why Armenia is so good at this sport. Chess are a mandatory subject at school and starting from 7 years old kids learn how to play it. In the center of Yerevan you can even find the Chess House – no matter what time of the day you go inside you will find people of all ages playing chess.
Armenia has some of the oldest wineries in the world
First of all – you probably don’t associate Armenia with wine. Yet the country produces some of the really good wines and not only from grapes but also other fruits (be sure to try the pomegranate or apricot wine!). You will also find one of the oldest wineries in the world in Armenia, in Areni. It was discovered only in 2007 but it is in fact 6100 years old!
Armenia is big on brandy
When you visit Yerevan you surely can’t miss two famous brandy (cognac) factories – Ararat and Noy. The Armenian brandy is a big thing and is/was appreciated by some of the world leaders. It is said that the Armenian brandy Ararat sealed the deals during the Yalta conference and afterwards several cases of the brandy were sent to Churchill each year.
Armenia is kind of isolated
It’s not very easy to travel to Armenia – this small country neighbors with Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iran. However, due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict the borders with the first two are closed.
You should also keep in mind that if you visit Nagorno-Karabakh and have their visa in the passport you will not be able to visit Azerbaijan. This territory is supported by Armenia and reachable only from there but officially is a part of Azeri country. I was supposed to go there this time, I even packed my backpack but then I’ve decided I like Yerevan so much I’d rather stay there and enjoy the city some more.
Ararat – the symbol of Armenia
And last but not least – Ararat. The magnificent mountain that took my breath away every time I’ve seen it. It is known as the place where Noah’s ark came to rest and is considered the home of Gods in the Armenian mythology. Ararat symbolizes the Armenian national identity, it can be found on most of the souvenirs, paintings sold in Yerevan’s park and in the country’s coat of arms and the passport stamps.
On the clear day (and there are not too many of them) the mountain can be seen from Yerevan – I was lucky as during my time in Armenia I could see it almost every day, sometimes I almost felt Ararat’s breath on my cheek. The tragic part of the story is that Mount Ararat, the symbol of Armenia, is actually located in Turkey, 32kms from the border.
So these are some Armenia facts that every person visiting the country should know. Armenia has a difficult history and might be a challenge to understand but that’s what makes it so special and interesting. After my ten or so visits there I’m more and more crazy about it and I really wouldn’t mind visiting it again (and again and again…).
Writing this post was a great reminder of some reasons why it’s one of my favorite countries and I truly hope I made you at least slightly interested in visiting Armenia! This is just the beginning, there’ll be many more posts about this wonderful Caucasus country and my love to it!
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