Armenia

Armenia is landlocked country, nestled in the South Caucasus region, along the route of the Great Silk Road. It is one of the world’s oldest civilizations and was the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion (c. 301 AD). Over the centuries, Armenia was conquered by Greeks, Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Mongols, Arabs, Ottoman, Turks and Russians which originated a mixture of influences and traditions, still visible in the country’s cultural and architectural heritage. Still, Armenia has, since 405 its own alphabet which is thought to have helped protecting and strengthening the Armenian language and culture and avoiding a full assimilation during the centuries of invasion.

During the reign of Tigran II (95-55 BC) Armenia became the strongest state in Asia Minor as a result of political strengthening, cultural development and extensive territorial expansion that stretched from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Sea and from river Kura to Mesopotamia. With the death of Tigran II, Armenia saw its growth declining and was reduced to its original Armenian territory. In the first centuries AD Armenia was the battle field for endless wars between the Roman and Persian Empires and by the 4th century, the country was divided in East (annexed to Persia) and West (under the Byzantine rule). The Armenian revolt and battles for independence bore fruits and by 634 the country was virtually independent; Armenia was then conquered by the Arabs in 654 and only regained its independence is 886 under the reign of Ashot Bagratuni. This new dynasty was marked by political, social and cultural ascension; Ani, the capital at a time, was a magnificent city, known as “a city of 1001 churches”; the Armenian architecture was notorious and influenced the Byzantine and European constructions. By the end of the 10th century, Armenia enter again a period of decline; it was annexed by the Byzantine Empire, the Bagratuni dynasty fell and the Turks invaded the territory. These events forced the noble families to flee to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea where they succeeded in establishing an independent Armenian state (Cilicia), which existed until the XIV century and, due to its close relations with European countries, it played an important role during the Crusades. After the fall of Cilicia, in 1375 as sequence of constants attacks, Armenia was again divided between the Ottoman Empire (West) and Persia (East) but several principalities managed to preserve their autonomy. Even under the pressures from the dominating nations, Armenians managed to preserve their identity through literature, painting, sculpture and music; and were the 10th nation to put their language in print.

In 1828, Russia annexed Eastern Armenia while the Western Armenia was under constant threat of physical annihilation to the Ottoman Empire which had already lost most of its territory in the Balkans. The Turkish anti-Armenian policy culminated during WWI with a series of massacres and brutal executions that killed more than 1.5 million Armenians (80% of the Western Armenia population) on what was the first genocide of the 20th century. The survivors took refuge in the neighbouring countries and by 1923 West Armenia was completely de-Armenized and was incorporated into the recently formed Turkish Republic. The first Armenian Republic was formed in 1918 in East Armenia but did not resist the threats from Turkey and Russia and was dissolved less than 3 years later when it was converted into a Soviet Republic. During WWII, more than 600,000 Armenians fought against fascism not only in the Soviet army but also as part of the armed forces of allied countries. The post-war period brought economic development through new industries (chemical and machine, food, metallurgy and construction); a significant part of military electronic production of the Soviet Union was concentrated in Armenia, where science was highly developed.

In 1988, began a democratic movement demanding the Karabakh’s (a mountain region previously part of Armenia by then part of Azerbaijan) reunification to Armenia. The movement eventually led to the reestablishment of Armenia’s independence and to the unification with Karabakh.

In 1991, a referendum was held and Armenia became independent as the Republic of Armenia and entered the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a configuration of former Soviet Republics. In 1992 Armenia became a member of the United Nations.

 

 

 

In 2014 unemployment and poverty were two of the main social problems in Armenia that have resulted in mass immigration; it is estimated that 30,000-35,000 people were leaving Armenia per year from 2008 to 2013. Russia is the prefered destination and the reports from 2013 show that 16,550 Armenians got Russian citizenship. For political reasons, forced immigration is not new in Armenia; to escape the Genocide, several hundred thousand Armenians fled to neighbouring countries, laying the foundation of the worldwide Armenian Diaspora.

In the recent years, more and more tourism organisations are adopting community-based approaches to preserve the rich culture and traditions of the Armenian people. In 2016 the UNDP, in cooperation with the Development Foundation of Armenia, took the compromise to support the tourism sector and to enhance its role in socio-economic development of local communities. 

Armenia’s troubled history of invasions and pressures from neighbouring countries has shaped the Armenian culture. While being subject of the influence of the West and East, Armenia managed to create a strong identity that set itself apart; it was the first country to adopt Christianity as the state religion and in 405 AD the Armenian alphabet was created. This two events are considered to have then influenced and preserved other forms of cultural expression such as architecture, visual art, music and literature. The recognition of the rich tangible and intangible Armenian heritage led to the development of “My Armenia”; a project launched in 2015, sponsored by the USAID and the Smithsonian Institute, aimed at preserving the Armenian national culture through cultural tourism. “My Armenia” focuses on enhancing cultural heritage tourism outside Yerevan, through research, scholarship, support for artisan craft and capacity building. 

Thanks to its topography, Armenia is home to several species of animals and plants, some of them endemic to the country like the Sevan Trout. Armenia is also the location where most of the world’s domesticated breeds originated from, such as the mouflon, the ancestor of the sheep. Some of the species found in Armenia are the Caspian Tiger, Caucasian Bear, Persian Leopard, Pallas Cat and the Eastern Imperial Eagle. Unfortunately many species are in decline mainly due to poaching and habitat loss, and have been declared “endangered”.

As in several other locations, the zoos in Armenia are also raising ethical issues but the major problem is more complicated as wild animals are a symbol of status and kept in privately own facilities like restaurants and hotels. Cubs are often given aways as gifts and wild cats and primates are kept as “pets”. A publication from The Guardian in 2014 stated that private citizens are allowed to own wild animals, including endangered species as long as they provide adequate areas for the animals and prevent escape from captivity. Endangered species cannot be taken from the wild but their import from zoos is allowed and should enter the CITES database, which is not always the case. Although efforts are being made to meet investigate the importation of animals, Armenia has developed a reputation for illegal trade in wild animals. 

Armenia’s landscapes are varied as the country spreads from 390 up to 4090 meters above the sea level, conferring it a diverse topography and an incredible biodiversity.  Armenia is popular for its heritage and cultural tourism, but it is also a great destination for outdoors adventures. The mountain landscapes offer good conditions for paragliding, mountaineering, snowboarding, rock climbing and trekking, among others. Mount Ararat, which was part of Armenia until 1915, is still a national token and an important landmark in the skyline of Yerevan; in addition to the landscape relevance, Mount Ararat is also a religious symbol referred to in the Bible as the place where Noah’s Ark landed. Besides the stunning mountains, Armenia is also known by its lakes, being the Lake Sevan the largest one (1200 km2) located 1900 meters above the sea level.

Armenia is located in Western Asia, in the South Caucasus region, bordered by Turkey, Georgia,  Azerbaijan and Iran. Armenia’s territory covers 360 km in length and 200 km in width, with most of it lying 1000 to 2500 meters above the sea level.

Capital: Yerevan

 

 

 

 

Due to its location and topography, the climate in Armenia ranges from dry subtropical to cold mountain weather. In plateaus and foothills, where Yerevan is located, the climate is dry with hot summers and moderately cold winters with temperatures of 25C in summer and -5C during winter. In the mountain regions, the variations are more notorious, in areas like the Ararat Valley the temperatures can rise to 40C in summer and be as low as -30C during winter. The best time to visit Yerevan and other lower areas is during spring or autumn (May, September and October) to avoid the hot summers; but to visit the high altitude areas, the summer months would be better. Overall, to visit the whole country the best months would be June and September.

Population: 3,213,011

Government: Presidential Republic 

Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as the state religion, in 301 AD, and 95% of the population still follows Christianity.  Armenia has its own church, the Armenian Apostolic Church followed by most of the population.

Armenian, an Indo-European language is the official language of Armenia. It has its own alphabet introduced in 405 AD. Due to political reason, Russian is the most common foreign language spoken in Armenia, while English is gaining popularity with a growing number of schools teaching English. The American University of Armenia (affiliate of the University of California)  was established in 1991 and strives to attract qualified individuals from neighbouring countries. French is also becoming more popular and the Fondation Université Française en Arménie was founded in 2000 and is now the largest French university in a non-French speaking country. Kurdish, Assyrian, Ukranian and Greek are also spoken by the minorities.

Armenian cuisine is as old as the country itself and reflects the Armenian lifestyles. The consumption of meat and dairy product comes from the cattle breeding tradition; the cereals and greens are eaten thanks to the fertile valleys and the diversity of dishes and cooking styles are explained by the influences of the neighbouring countries. Overall, Armenian cuisine is rich and full of flavours, with different kinds of spices being used – pepper, coriander, mint, basil, tarragon, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, saffron, to name a few. Armenian food is non-fatty, as boiling, baking, and stewing is prefered over frying, which help enhancing the natural flavours. Some of the must-try dishes are: Mante (grilled dumplings made of minced lamb or beef with yogurt and garlic); Dolma (a vegan option made of a variety of greens and rice, wrapped in grape or cabbage leaves); Lula Kebab (lamb marinated with spices such as paprika, tomato and mint leaves); Chi Kofte (beef prepared with tomato, paprika, cumin and chilies); Khash (a soup made of sheep or cow’s feet with garlic, vinegar and lemon juice)  and Gata (a pastry made from flour and nuts). 

Armenians are famous for their generosity and hospitality, they are not super formal so a handshake and a smile is a common form of greeting when meeting for the first time. Armenians are proud of bein. The g the first nation to adopt Christianity, they treasure their families and show great respect for elderly people.