Armenia’s history has been anything but peaceful yet amidst centuries of war, occupation and genocide, the people have managed to hold on to a rich culture and a strong sense of religion.
Armenia was introduced to the world as part of the Roman Empire in 114 CE and in 301 CE became the first Christian country, adopting Christianity as the official state religion. This is a fact of which Armenians are very proud and which plays a big role in the country’s heritage.
For centuries, control of Armenia was the subject of great conflict with the western region under the Ottoman Empire and the eastern region under Russian forces. At the beginning of the 19th century, Russian powers took over the entire region of what we know today as modern Armenia.
The first genocide of the 20th century was experienced in 1915 when a quarter of a million Armenians were slaughtered by the Ottomans, who decided that their presence in what was then Anatolia was too much of a liability. In addition to these atrocities, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were forced to flee their land, which accounts for the large Armenian diaspora around the world today. As a result, Armenia and Turkey refuse to have diplomatic ties even to this day.
After the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War, Armenia became one of the three Soviet republics, along with Azerbaijan and Georgia. In the early 1990’s, they began to fight for independence during the Karabakh conflict, establishing the Pan-Armenian National Movement. The Karabakh conflict escalated to a war which the Armenian’s won in the military sense, but not in terms of really improving quality of life. Full diplomacy was never reached and the borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Turkey remain closed.
Those interested in learning more about the country’s turbulent history should visit the Museum of the Armenia Genocide (Tsitsernakaberd Hill, Yerevan) which provides a simple, no-frills account of the event and the State Museum of Armenian History (Republic Square Area, Hanrapetutvan Hraparak, Yerevan) which spans all the way from 3000 BCE to the present day.
Armenia’s culture is as varied and dynamic as their terrain. Bordering Europe, Asia and the Mediterranean, Armenia has adopted traits from all of these regions while managing to remain quite distinct.
Music plays an important role in the culture of Armenia. Classical music is very popular and Armenian musicians are highly accomplished. Travelers can experience a taste of the arts through the renowned performances of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra who perform at the Yerevan Opera House. Jazz also plays a prominent role with many summer performances taking place in outdoor venues like parks.
Examples of Armenian architecture can be seen all over the country in a myriad of religious buildings. The design and detail of Armenian cathedrals and monasteries also provide an indication of the evolution of the design from simple basilicas to niched buttresses.
Most visitors to the region express their love mostly of the Armenian people, who are notoriously sociable and hospitable. Don’t expect to leave an Armenian home without a belly full of food and drink or an earful of pleasant and jovial conversation.