Outside of Armenia, there is some tendency to equate Armenian history with the Genocide, and while the events of 1915 are certainly important, they are only one part of the Armenian story. If we focus too much on the things that have happened to us, we risk overlooking all the wonderful things we have done. We have a great legacy of skill and creativity, and as we work to help Armenia grow and thrive, I can think of nothing more inspiring than looking at what we’ve already done. Not only that, but keeping in touch with our roots also reminds us what we are fighting for.
The first time I got to see one of Armenia’s beautiful, ancient churches, the experience awed me. Coming from the United States, we consider a building to be old if it was built fifty years ago, and it’s downright historic by the time it’s much older than a hundred. In fact, with the exception of the Pueblos in the southwestern states, our very oldest buildings are less than five hundred years old. When I compare that to the fact that Armenia has multiple churches built as early as the beginning of the fourth century, it’s easy to recognize the incredible wealth of culture and history here in Hayastan.
Let me say a little more about the many monasteries that dot our country. As of writing this, I have sadly only visited two-- Hovhannavank and Saghmosavank-- but even that small a taste is enough to leave me amazed. Often built at the edge of cliffs and overlooking steep canyons, the views are stunning. So is the stonework, some original and some done more recently to repair damage done by various earthquakes. No two are identical, though many have the umbrella-shaped roofs unique to Armenian architecture and intricate, stone crosses called khachkar built into their walls.
Speaking of khachkars, these beautiful Armenian crosses can be found in many places besides the old monasteries. Though they originally served as gravestones, they have since become an artform in and of themselves and can be found displayed in many places including parks all over Yerevan and memorials worldwide. Unfortunately, many of the oldest examples of these stones, especially those outside of Armenia, have been destroyed, but the craft itself is still alive and well.
On the topic of skilled craftsmanship, I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about Armenian carpets. A glance at the Vernissage market near Republic Square reveals hundreds of colorfully woven rugs, some with designs that first appeared centuries ago. There are a number of bigger operations as well, like the Megerian Rug Factory which I had the pleasure of touring with a group from Birthright Armenia. Most Armenian carpets use wool tied in a strong double knot, and the traditional dyes hold their color incredibly well, to the point that even the rugs that have survived for a hundred years or more are still bright and vibrant.
And there’s so much more I could talk about. I’ve mentioned a lot of the more physical crafts that are a part of Armenian culture at the cost of neglecting many others: folklore and old legends, tales of the wise fool Silly Pugi, literature from Hayastancis and Diasporans alike. But I’m afraid that if I go on much longer I’ll just be rambling, so I’ll do my best to come to a conclusion here.
I actually hesitated before writing this article, as it could be taken to be focusing on Armenia’s tourist attractions as opposed to the realities of living here. And while that’s true, I don’t think it tells the whole story. Certainly, focusing on history, art, and culture while ignoring the harder issues is not particularly helpful for someone looking to make a life here. However, the opposite is true as well: if we only see the problems in Armenia, what reason would there be to move here? The good and the bad are both part of what Armenia is, and one of those good things is Armenia’s long, rich heritage. It’s something special, and that deserves to be celebrated.