My husband and I recently had the privilege to visit the Republic of Armenia. It was an unplanned last-minute escape, so we made no itinerary. Since we had already been to its next-door neighbor Georgia, we were expecting these two places and their people to be closely similar. It happened not. It was a very different experience. I can proudly say that we came back amazed and humbled by the history and resilience of the Armenians.
This post is just a brief introduction to the country’s history.
Armenia is situated in the South Caucasus region. It is a land-locked country surrounded by Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran. It is a small country and listed at number 138th largest countries in the world. Armenia is part of Asia but because of its proximity with Europe and Middle-East, it often confuses.
The history of the nation goes to as far as 3000 BC and they even have proof. In 2008, an archaeologist found a perfectly preserved leather shoe from a cave. Analysis established that the shoe dated back to 3500 BC. This shoe is on display in the History Museum of Armenia in Republic Square, Yerevan.
Armenia is mentioned in the Old Testament as “the land of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4), the mountain where Noah’s Ark came to rest. Mt. Ararat used to be in Armenian territory until Turkey took it in 1915. Nevertheless, it remains a principal symbol of Armenia. This dormant volcanic mountain towers at 5,137 m and is the highest mountain of Turkey. It is also visible from the capital city, Yerevan.
In 301, Saint Gregory the Illuminator baptized the then King Tiridates III, making Armenia the first Christian country. In the present day, 95% of its population are Christians and the only standing reminder of Pagan Armenia is the Temple of Garni, built in 1st or 2nd century AD. This Graeco-Roman styled temple was dedicated to Mithra, the sun god. It stands on a cliff and the view from there is unmissable and unforgettable. Today, the Temple of Garni is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Armenia.
The churches and monasteries in Armenia are ancient and contain immense history. The Etchmiadzin Cathedral built by St. Gregory, the patron saint of the Armenian Church, is the oldest cathedral in the world. It is also called the Mother Church, and is located just 16 km from Yerevan.
The 4th century monastery in Geghard is another famous Christian landmark located about an hour away from Yerevan. It was also built by St. Gregory the Illuminator. It is said that he found a spring, held scared by pagans, inside a cave and decided to build a monastery there, thus it was originally called ‘the Monastery of Caves’. Now, it is more popularly known as Geghardavank meaning ‘the Monastery of the Spear’. The reason behind this name is that the spear supposedly used by one of the Roman soldiers to wound Jesus in His last hours was kept in this monastery. The spear has now been moved to Etchmiadzin Cathedral and is on display there.
Armenia was subjected to invasions and rulers though out history because of its strategic position. At different times, Armenia had been conquered by the Roman, Byzantine, Persian, Mongolian, Arab, Turks, Ottoman and Soviet empires among others. It is not fair to write anything about Armenia and forget the 1.5 million of its people who were mercilessly exterminated by the Ottoman Empire between 1914 to 1923.
The country got some taste of short-lived freedom in-between different rulers, but it got its real independence only recently in 1991, after the fall of USSR. It is not incorrect to say that they have just begun re-building.