An Introduction to Armenia
Armenia is an amazing land with a lot of history. One can visit ancient, candle-lit monasteries as well as the ruins of the many empires that swayed through this land, including the Persians, Romans, Mongols and Turks. Many believe that the biblical Noah’s Ark rests somewhere amongst the high mountains of Armenia. There are many small villages dotting the Armenian countryside with spectacular views of the Caucasus mountains and ample natural beauty. Armenia also has the distinction of being the first officially Christian country in the world. Newly independent, modern-day Armenia also is experiencing a sort of renaissance and overall economic boom after a long period of Communist and Soviet rule and stagnation.
Though small and often hard to find on a map, Armenia has great cultural and strategic importance for many nations, including the United States. Though having a turbulent history, in recent times Armenia has been able to remain relatively politically stable in a world otherwise filled with chaos. When you’re a country that’s surrounded by the likes of Georgia, Iran, Azerbaijan, the restive Kurdish regions of Turkey and a stone’s throw from one of the most volatile regions of the Russian Federation, that’s hard to do. In part, this is due to Armenia’s orientation towards the west as well as support from it’s diaspora community which actually numbers more than the population of Armenia itself!
Armenians are a closely knit group who have suffered a lot throughout the centuries. Over the years, many from Armenia migrated all over the world, creating one of the largest diaspora communities ever. Though found in large concentrations all over the world, including Los Angeles, Sydney, Paris and even Iran, Armenians have never forgotten their homeland and are also there to prop it up on the world stage whenever necessary. In fact, many argue that Armenians, especially its large diaspora community in France, have been a strong force in keeping Turkey out of the European Union. This is partly due to Turkey’s refusal to apologize for the massacre of perhaps up to a million Armenians during the first World War. Regardless, Armenia has a share of influence in today’s world much larger than its tiny physical size.
Below are some links that will hopefully help to spark your interest in learning more about the fascinating little land of Armenia.
A Quick Tour of Places and Things to See and Do
Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city, is a the heart of the country’s cultural and political life. It is the place to be if you’re anyone in Armenia. Actually, it’s the place to be if you’re anyone in the region. I mean, you have Baku and maybe Tbilisi that are not too far away, but they’re not as cool as Yerevan. With the Caucasus mountains in the background, large broad boulevards, beautiful and historical architecture (check out Yerevan’s opera house) and a vibrant, relatively young population, it’s a fun and flashy city in a region that has seen quite some turmoil and political uncertainty during the past few decades.
Armenia is known as being the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion way back in 301 AD. Thus it would only be natural that the country has some of the oldest and most impressive churches and monasteries in the world. The 9th-century Tatev monastery is just one example of this. Located at the edge of a deep gorge overlooking the Vorotan River, the Tatev monastery was once also one of Armenia’s most famous medieval universities and specialized in various sciences, theology and in special Armenian forms of miniature painting. And of course, the view from the monastery grounds of the surrounding region are second-to-none.
The Yeghegis Valley is one of the most beautiful areas in the Caucasus region. Surrounded by the towering peaks of the Caucasus mountains, this place will take you back in time with it’s traditional Armenian villages, old churches and even an ancient Jewish cemetery.
One of the more famous historical sites in this region is the Tsakhatskar Monastery, a ninth-century complex of ruined churches other religious structures (also known as Tsakhats Kar Monastery, see above). Close to the Monastery is the Smbataberd fortress.
Echmiadzin is probably the most historically and spiritually significant city in all of Armenia. It was the capital of the Armenian nation from 180 to 340, around the same time when Armenians were adopting Christianity. The town is also home to the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the “mother church” of Armenia’s sect of Christianity, the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Debed CanyonThis is one of the most charming parts of Armenia. This picturesque canyon is dotted with little villages, most with their own historical monuments, monasteries and even small fortresses. The region also contains the famous Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries, both UNESCO World Heritage sites. Debed is a bit out of the way from Yerevan but well worth the trip for those who are able.
Lake SevanLake Sevan is Armenia’s largest lake and one of the most beautiful spots in the country. You could say it’s God’s country as it’s surrounded by several monasteries including the famous Sevanavank Monastery. If that’s not your thing, no worries. Other areas around the lake are replete with fancy hotels, the best beaches that you can find in a landlocked country and some of the best seafood that you can get in the Caucasus area.
Shikahogh State ReserveShikahogh State Reserve is a large, virtually virgin natural reserve that is home to many animals and over 1,000 different types of plants. You can easily see leopards, bears, wild goats and various kinds of snakes. Being the second largest reserve in all of Armenia, much of it is actually unexplored. Several of the park’s trails can lead to some breathtaking waterfalls. It’s an Armenian nature lover’s paradise.
Dilijan National ParkOf Armenia’s many national parks, Dilijan has a reputation as being the most beautiful of the bunch. It’s also well-known for its medicinal mineral water springs and Armenian cultural heritage sites including the Haghartsin Monastery, the Goshavank Monastery, the Matosavank Monastery, the Akhnabat church and Jukhtak Vank, just to name a few. It’s probably the best non-urban space to hike around and explore in Armenia.
More Information about Armenia
Armeniapedia – The wiki of all things Armenian. Here you will find information about Armenia and the Armenian community’s history, culture, language, food, travel, organizations, books and really anything else that is relevant to the country and its people. This is probably the best place (aside from this site!) to start your quest for knowledge about Armenia.
Armenian History – This site was created by a mister Y. Babayan who wanted to bring the history of the Armenian people to the world. Personally, I think that he’s done a pretty good job of giving a clear synopsis of Armenian history. The site is definitely worth checking out.
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