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ARMENIA

Geography and history

Armenia  officially the Republic of Armenia, is a sovereign state in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located in West Asia on the «Armenian Highlands», it is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijan to the east, and Iran and Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhchivan to the south. The Republic of Armenia constitutes only one-tenth of historical Armenia. The country has been on the very crossroads of The Silk Road. Traders and merchants were the most mobile and active people in Armenian society (which was, overall, quite mobile, too!). Their wonderful pieces were known in every kingdom, from Persia to China and from India to Europe. Armenia is a unitary, multi-party, democratic nation-state with an ancient cultural heritage. Urartu was established in 860 BC and by the 6th century BC it was replaced by the Satrapy of Armenia. 

In the 1st century BC the Kingdom of Armenia reached its height under Tigranes the Great. Armenia became the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion. In between the late 3rd century to early years of the 4th century, the state became the first Christian nation. The official date of state adoption of Christianity is 301 AD. The ancient Armenian kingdom was split between the Byzantine and Sasanian Empires around the early 5th century. Under the Bagratuni dynasty, the Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia was restored in the 9th century. Declining due to the wars against the Byzantines, the kingdom fell in 1045 and Armenia was soon after invaded by the Seljuk Turks. An Armenian principality and later a kingdom Cilician Armenia was located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea between the 11th and 14th centuries. Between the 16th century and 19th century, the traditional Armenian homeland composed of Eastern Armenia and Western Armenia came under the rule of the Ottoman and Iranian empires, repeatedly ruled by either of the two over the centuries. 

By the 19th century, Eastern Armenia had been conquered by the Russian Empire, while most of the western parts of the traditional Armenian homeland remained under Ottoman rule. During World War I, Armenians living in their ancestral lands in the Ottoman Empire were systematically exterminated in the Armenian Genocide. In 1918, following the Russian Revolution, all non-Russian countries declared their independence after the Russian Empire ceased to exist, leading to the establishment of the First Republic of Armenia. By 1920, the state was incorporated into the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, and in 1922 became a founding member of the Soviet Union. In 1936, the Transcaucasian state was dissolved, transforming its constituent states, including the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, into full Union republics. The modern Republic of Armenia became independent in 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Etymology

The native Armenian name for the country is Hayk’. The name in the Middle Ages was extended to Hayastan, by addition of the Persian suffix -stan (place). The name has traditionally been derived from Hayk (Հայկ), the legendary patriarch of the Armenians and a great-great-grandson of Noah, who, according to the 5th-century AD author Moses of Chorene, defeated the Babylonian king Bel in 2492 BC and established his nation in the Ararat region. The further origin of the name is uncertain. It is also further postulated that the name Hay comes from one of the two confederated, Hittite vassal states—the Ḫayaša-Azzi (1600–1200 BC).

The exonym Armenia is attested in the Old Persian Behistun Inscription (515 BC) as Armina. The ancient Greek terms Ἀρμενία (Armenía) and Ἀρμένιοι (Arménioi, «Armenians») are first mentioned by Hecataeus of Miletus (c. 550 BC – c. 476 BC). Xenophon, a Greek general serving in some of the Persian expeditions, describes many aspects of Armenian village life and hospitality in around 401 BC. He relates that the people spoke a language that to his ear sounded like the language of the Persians. According to the histories of both Moses of Chorene and Michael Chamchian, Armenia derives from the name of Aram, a lineal descendant of Hayk.

The national synbols of Armenia

The flag of Armenia is a symbol of the country, its government, its people and its idea. The flag is tricolor, with three horizontal and equal alternating stripes of red, blue and orange. The red stands for the split blood of all Armenian soldiers, present and past. The blue stands for the sky, The orange stand for for the fertile land and the farmers who work on it. The State Coat of Arms depicts Mount Ararat with Noah`s ark in the centre of the shield and the coast of the four kingdoms of historical Armenia.

The shield is supported by a lion and an eagle, while a sword, a branch,, a sheaf of spikes, a chain and a ribbon are portrayed under the shield. The national anthem of Armenia is Our Homeland. The words of the anthem are originally written by the Armenian poet Mikael Nalbandyan.In a modified version some of the words have been changed to reflect the freedom and independence of the country.

Religion

Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301 a.d. Christianity was introduced into Armenia much earlier, during the first century (60-68 a.d.) by two of Christ’s disciples Bartholomew and Thaddeus. They came to Armenia from Asorestan and Cappadocia. They baptized stately families and common people and are known as the first «Illuminators of the Armenian World». During the first two centuries, Christians in Armenia were forced to practice their religion secretly amongst a majority of Zoroastrians. This situation lasted until 301 a.d. when Christianity gained support from the state. Christianity was adopted in Armenia during the reign of King Trdat the 3rd and under the patriarchal leadership of Grigor the Illuminator.

Before adopting Christianity St. Gregory the Enlightener was imprisoned for years by King Trdat the 3rd, and upon his release he converted King Tiridates III, by healing the king of an incurable affliction through the power of God. After, the king proclaimed Christianity the official religion of Armenia, making it the first country with a national Christian church, the pair helped spread the religion. The Armenian Apostolic Church is the national church of Armenians. Its spiritual and clerical center is the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. The Armenian Apostolic Church is a religious unity with the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians at its head. At present the Catholicos of All Armenians is His Holiness Garegin the 2nd. Armenia is an open-air museum of Christianity. There are thousands of Christian monuments such as monasteries, churches, chapels and cross-stones, manuscripts, icons, etc. The Armenian churches and monasteries are built throughout Armenia and can be found in secluded gorges, on the peaks of towering mountains, hidden in forests and nestled in valleys.

More than spiritual centers, these churches have also served as medieval educational and research institutions. Each reveals impressive and unique architectural features, and is accompanied by its own enlightening stories and secretive spirit. Many of these monuments host thousands of pilgrims every year. The first book written in the Armenian alphabet was the Holy Bible, translated in Armenian as «The Breath of God.» The Holy Bible and Gospels have been copied numerous times by Armenian monks and as a result nearly 20% of over 14,000 Armenian manuscripts preserved in the Matenadaran, Yerevan’s museum of ancient manuscripts, are Gospels or Bibles. Nearly all illuminated Armenian manuscripts up to the twelfth century were Gospels. Christianity, and the Christian mindset of being loving and kind, plays a major role in the Armenian daily life of this nation, which celebrated the 1700th anniversary of Christianity in Armenia in 2001.

Together with preserving the Christian ancient traditions, the Armenians treat as a commandment the first sentence written in the Armenian alphabet, set down by the creator of the Armenian alphabet, Mesrop Mashtots: «Know wisdom and instruction; perceive the words of understanding» as a commandment and strive for enlightenment and the more progressive. There are signs which indicate that the ancient Armenians were initially nature worshipers and that this faith in time was transformed to the worship of national gods, many of which originated in neighboring cultures. Zoroastrianism had a major influence on the Armenians and their mythology. Until the late Parthian period, the Armenian lands doubtless adhered predominantly to Zoroastrianism. In the Hellenistic age (3rd to 1st centuries BC), ancient Armenian deities identified with the ancient Greek deities: Aramazd with Zeus, Anahit with Artemis, Vahagn with Hercules, Astghik with Aphrodite, Nane with Athena, Mihr with Hephaestus, Tir with Apollo.

After the formal adoption of Christianity in Armenia, new mythological images and stories were born as ancient myths and beliefs transformed. Biblical characters took over the functions of the archaic gods and spirits. After adopting Christianity all the Hellenistic temples were destroyed. Only the Temple of Garni, a classical Hellenistic temple built by king Tiridates I in the first century AD as a temple to the sun god Mihr, remained in Armenia. And a great number of petroglyphs — rock-carvings has been found in the surroundings of volcano Azhdahak. Most images depict men in scenes of hunting and fighting, as well as astronomical bodies and phenomena: the Sun, the Moon, constellations, the stellar sky, lightning, etc.

Climate of Armenia

Armenia’s different varieties of climates depend on the absolute height of the land. The geographical location of Armenia and its unique topography creates as much weather contrasts as the country itself. The climate is unusually varied according to altitude and runs to extremes, but, as a whole, is defined as continental. Armenia is protected from the harsh North Winter by the Caucasus Ridge, and consequently receives much of its weather from the Middle East Plains. The average number of frost-free days in Armenia is 250 in Ararat Valley and 150-200 in the middle mountain areas. Winters are long and moderate. In winter it is extremely cold and snowy in the mountains, but in the valleys the weather is mild (0-5 below 0C). Springs are brief and gay.Springtime begins with Geezh Mart (Crazy March), a month notorious for its unpredictable weather.

By April the delights of the season gradually steal in from the South, surmount the passes creeping to the sheltered sunny Ararat Valley, advance up the rocky valleys and descend gently upon the hills and plains of the North. Summers are hot and arid. The weather gets very hot and dry in Ararat Valley and the lowlands. In the highlands summers are mild and pleasant and springtime wild flowers still bud and bloom in July, when the snowcaps begin to fall. The first summer month is enjoyed for its mild warmth, but in second decade of July the sun turns the bright spring colours of Ararat Valley to its pale shades. Autumns are cool and refreshing. Armenian fall is noted for mild and sunny weather, bright colors of landscapes and abundance of autumn fruits.

Culture of Armenia

Armenians have their own distinctive alphabet and language. The alphabet was invented in AD 405 by Mesrop Mashtots and consists of thirty-nine letters, three of which were added during the Cilician period. 96% of the people in the country speak Armenian, while 75.8% of the population additionally speaks Russian, although English is becoming increasingly popular. One of the most important parts of Armenian culture is the music, which has brought new forms of music in recent years, while maintaining traditional styles too. Soghomon Soghomonian,ordained and commonly known as Komitas, was an Armenian priest, musicologist, composer, arranger, singer, and choirmaster, who is considered the founder of Armenian national school of music.He is recognized as one of the pioneers of ethnomusicology. Aram Khachaturian was a Soviet Armenian composer and conductor.

He is considered one of the leading Soviet composers. Khachaturian was the most renowned Armenian composer of the 20th century and the author of the first Armenian ballet music, symphony, concerto, and film score. While following the established musical traditions of Russia, he broadly used Armenian and to lesser extent, Caucasian, Eastern & Central European, and Middle Eastern peoples’ folk music in his works. He is highly regarded in Armenia, where he is considered a «national treasure».
Jazz is popular in Armenia, especially in the summer when live performances are a regular occurrence at one of the city’s many outdoor cafés and parks. Armenian rock has made its input to the rock culture. The most known Armenian traditional instrument is the duduk.

Traditional Armenian Dance

The Armenian dance heritage has been one of the oldest, richest and most varied in the Near East. From the fifth to the third millennia B.C., in the higher regions of Armenia there are rock paintings of scenes of country dancing. These dances were probably accompanied by certain kinds of songs or musical instruments. In the 5th century Moses of Khorene (Movsés Khorenats’i) himself had heard of how the old descendants of Aram (that is Armenians) make mention of these things (epic tales) in the ballads for the lyre and their songs and dances. One of the most energetic Armenian dances is the martial dance Yarkhushta.

Yarkhushta is believed to have its origins in the early Middle Ages as it is mentioned in the works of Movses Khorenatsi, Faustus of Byzantium, and Grigor Magistros. Yarkhushta has traditionally been danced by Armenian soldiers before combat engagements, partly for ritualistic purposes, and partly in order to cast off fear and boost battle spirit. The dance is performed by men, who face each other in pairs. The key element of the dance is a forward movement when participants rapidly approach one another and vigorously clap onto the palms of hands of dancers in the opposite row.

Architecture of Armenia

Two 16th-century khachkars («cross-stones»), removed from the Julfa cemetery and now on display within the precincts of Etchmiadzin. Classical Armenian architecture is divided into four separate periods. The first Armenian churches were built between the 4th and 7th Century, beginning when Armenia converted to Christianity, and ending with the Arab invasion of Armenia. The early churches were mostly simple basilicas, but some with side apses. By the 5th century the typical cupola cone in the center had become widely used. By the 7th century, centrally-planned churches had been built and a more complicated niched buttress and radiating Hrip’simé style had formed. By the time of the Arab invasion, most of what we now know as classical Armenian architecture had formed.

Carpets

The art of the Armenian carpet and rug weaving has its roots in ancient times. Armenians are earliest known weavers of oriental rugs. It is also theorized that the word ”carpet”, which Europeans used to refer to oriental rugs, is ferived from Armenian word ”karpert”, meaning woven cloth. Armenian rugs were status symbols that were placed on the floor or hung on the wall to create an ambiance within the home, palace, or church. Dining on rugs was customary among Armenians. The numerous kings, empereros, caliphs, sultans and princes that presided over the Armenians prized these beautiful Armenian rugs and often demanded them as part of an early ”tax” along with mules, falcons and salt- fish.Woven with gold or silver threads, were placed on the thrones and at the feet of Armenian royality. The types of the Armenian carpets and their development show that there came a transitional moment in the weaving technique – that of the rug making.

The weaving of carpet, giving the possibility of creating a complex and diverse form of patterns and compositions, made the whole surface subject to vertical, long or short splits, which, on the one hand, loosened the toughness of the fabric, and, on the other, deprived the carpet of displaying any circles, or vertical lines or stripes. The tendency and efforts of avoiding these two short-comings led to the making of the rug and its weaving techniques. In the case of rug making, knots were added to the vertical wefts, the two ends of which were brought out on the visible side of the rug. In the case of cloth weaving, the patterns were needle-worked on the warp; thus the main difference between the weaving of floor-cloths, carpets and the rug was that the patterns of the rugs were exclusively created through the knots. Such rugs were later known as knot-rugs or knot-carpets.

Oldest shoe

The 5,500 year old shoe, the oldest leather shoe in the world, was discovered by a team of international archaeologists. The leather shoe was found in a cave dubbed in Areni, Vayots Dzor province of Armenia, on the Iranian and Turkish borders. It was found by an Armenian PhD student Diana Zardaryan of the Institute of Archaeology, Armenia, in a pit that also included a broken pot and sheep’s horns. A perfectly preserved shoe is 1,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and 400 years older than Stonehenge in the UK.

Scientists are wondering what kept the shoe in such perfect condition that even its laces are intact. They found grass inside it but they are not sure whether it was used to keep the feet warm or maintain its shape. The authors are unsure whether it was worn by a man or a woman. The shoe is relatively small, corresponding to a UK women’s size 5 (European size 38; US size 7 women), but it could have been worn by a man of that period.

Oldest wine factory

Armenia referred to the Bible is as the cradle of wine-growing and wine production. Archaeological excavations at places of the historical settlements of Arin Berd, Karmir Blur, Teyshebani and Elar Darani testify the fact that the ancestors of the modern Armenians possessed a highly developed culture of wine-growing. Greek scholars of later epochs, including Herodotus, Xenophon and Strabon, wrote that the Armenians exported excellent wines in neighbouring states already 2500 years before, at least. Xenophone, in particular, stressed that Armenian wines where from excellent quality, well matured and existing in large varieties. Most impressive of all, however, was the discovery of the world’s oldest winery, dating back 6100 years.

It was found during excavations of Areni-1 cave, in the Yeghegnadzor region of Armenia. The excavations were carried out by Boris Gasparyan of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia and Ron Pinhasi from the University College Cork (Ireland), and were sponsored by the Gfoeller Foundation (USA) and University College Cork. In 2008 the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) also joined the project. Since then the excavations have been sponsored by UCLA and the National Geographic Society as well. The excavations of the winery were completed in 2010. This is considered to be the world’s oldest complete wine production facility ever discovered and the first historical evidence of wine making on an industrial scale ever founded.

Oghi

Oghi (sometimes oghee, Armenian: օղի òġi; colloquially aragh) is an Armenian spirit distilled from fruits or berries. Oghi, a clear fruit vodka, is the generic Armenian word for vodka of all kinds. It is widely produced as moonshine from home-grown garden fruits all across Armenia, where it is served as a popular welcome drink to guests and is routinely drunk during meals. Arguably, Armenian oghi is not «vodka» at all and merely became thought of as such during the Soviet regime in Armenia. Mulberry oghi is commercially produced and exported under the brand name Artsakh by the Artsakh-Alco Brandy Company in Askeran District in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Varieties: Tuti oghi – mulberry oghi (commercial brand name Artsakh, from Nagorno-Karabakh), Honi oghi – from hon, a small red berry (cornelian cherry), Tsirani oghi – from apricots, Tandzi oghi – from pears, Khaghoghi oghi – from grapes, Salori oghi – from plums, Moshi oghi – from blackberry, Tzi oghi – from figs, Khundzori oghi – from apples.In the Armenian Diaspora, oghi refers to the aniseed-flavored distilled alcoholic drink. In Armenia, however, aniseed-flavored spirit is virtually unknown. In the Prohibition-Era United States, Armenians produced bootleg Oghi from raisins and flavored it with anise. In the old country of Western Armenia, the oghi was often made from grape pomace, or from mulberries, and was sometimes flavored with anise, mastic, or even cardamom or orange peel, as well as other herbs or spices. In the region of Kharpert as well as nearby Chnkoosh, oghi was usually made from mulberries.