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THE SACRED HIGHLAND OF ARMENIA

I do not know if I will write a novel about Armenia, but Armenia wrote a novel in my heart. These words belong to the international best - selling author Paulo Coelho, who was much impressed visiting Armenian in October 2004. When he was asked about his impressions of the city, he said that the buildings and streets are almost the same everywhere around the world. It is the people that make the difference, and my best impression was the people.

The Republic of Armenia lies in the eastern part of a territory called the Armenian Plateau. The country once included Mount Ararat, which biblical tradition identifies as the mountain that Noah's ark rested on after the flood. Armenia dates back as far as the sixth century B.C., originating in the cradle of civilization, the Euphrates valley, and spreading to Asia Minor, in which it became the successor to Urartu in the eighth century B.C. Once spanning the Caucasus region from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, Armenia has stood the test of time as a distinctive culture and unique people, despite numerous conquests over time - from Alexander the Great to the Syrians, Persians, Byzantines, Mongols, and many more. Throughout most of its long history, however, Armenia has been invaded by a succession of empires. Under constant threat of domination by foreign forces, Armenians became both cosmopolitan as well as fierce protectors of their culture and tradition. But the most horrific massacre took place in April 1915 during World War I, when the Young Turks of the Ottoman Empire ordered the deportation of the Armenian population to the deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia. According to the majority of historians, between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians were murdered or died of starvation. The Armenian massacre is considered the first genocide in the 20th century. Armenia is also known as the first country in the world officially embracing Christianity as the only state religion in the year 301 AD. The Armenian king Trdat was miraculously healed by St. Gregory the Illuminator and declared Christianity as the only official religion in Armenia. Twelve years later, after the battle of the Milvian Bridge the Roman emperor Constantine would declare Christianity as a tolerable religion in the Roman Empire.

Nowadays Armenia occupies a territory of 29,800 square kilometers. The average altitude of the territory is 1,800 meters above the sea level, the highest peak has an altitude of 4,090 meters and the lowest point is ravine of Debet with an altitude of 380 meters. Armenia occupies a part of in the chain of the mountains which is called the Armenian Plateau. While flying in a plane over the Armenian Plateau you will see an endless chain of mountains, lakes hidden in the heights, mountain torrents and waterfalls, valleys, isolated highlands. Among all these Lake Sevan unveils itself with constantly changing colors - either matching the sky in a harmony or contrasting itself to the sky blue. In most picturesque places in the mountains chiseled by thick forests or deep ravines you can find scattered but interconnected by some inner logic architectural master - pieces like ensemble of Haghartsin monastery (10-13 A.D.), Goshavank (10-13 A.D.), Kecharis (11-20 A.D.), the complexes of Sanahin and Haghpat (10-20A.D.), Odzun (6-7 A.D.), Marmashen (9-13 A.D.), Hnevank (12-13 A.D.). You can climb through the paths to fortresses Amberd (7-15 A.D.), Halidzor (17 A.D.), Baghaberd (5 A.D.), Garni and you will feel the spirit of centuries, the flight of human thought and the power of its domination over the nature.

This country of lakes, rivers and springs is also rich of mineral waters. In Jermuk, Bjni, Dilijan and other resorts you can treat different diseases by taking a bath in mineral waters. The waterfall of Shaki is one of the aquatic beauties of Armenia, which, splitting the chest of cliffs, falls from an altitude of 18 meters into the ravine and flows into the river Vorotan which passes through Syunik and joins the river Araks.

Armenia is beautiful not only in summer but also in winter when the mountains and valleys are covered with snow. In Tsakhkadzor town by an aerial cable way you can go up to the top of Mount Teghenis, contemplate the magnificence of the highland, have a cup of oriental coffee prepared on hot sand and ski down the mountains.

The capital Yerevan is nice with its old and new buildings, broad streets, large and small museums and exhibitions. Due to a number of works made during the latest years Yerevan has thoroughly changed its scene. New buildings, new constructions are corroborative evidence of flourishing Yerevan which is of utmost importance for tourism promotion.

THE CULTURE

From ancient times, Armenians have cherished their artistic traditions, which reflect a unique culture and landscape. Aspects of everyday life are expressed in the most artistic fashion, in needlework, embellishments, carvings and design.

Architecture - is one of the most interesting art forms in Armenia, as, for example, churches bear artistic illustrations in frescoes and reliefs. Sculpting is everywhere - in nearly every city, town, and village in Armenia.

Music -Armenians love music, and they have been creating exquisite compositions for centuries. Sharakans are traditional Armenian liturgical songs, which are experiencing a revival today. Distinctive musical instruments are used to play Armenian folk songs. Sayat-Nova, Komitas and Aram Khachaturian are among Armenia's best-known musicians and composers. Contemporary music comes in the forms of jazz and pop. Frequent concerts make for delightful evenings at the Philharmonic, Chamber Music Hall, Opera and Ballet House in Yerevan.

Literature - has always played a vital role in Armenia's cultural and national identity. Before the Armenian alphabet was developed in the 5thcentury, Armenian tales were passed down by oral tradition and written in foreign languages. Christian culture and the invention of the Armenian alphabet by MesropMashtots, so thoroughly expressive of the language that it has withstood the centuries without any essential changes, gave new stimuli to the development of unique cultural traditions. There is no better place to view this literary and artistic history than Yerevan's unique Matenadaran (Institute of Ancient Manuscripts), which houses an extraordinary collection of 14,000 complete manuscripts, fragments and miniatures.

Painting - Armenian painting blossomed in the 19thcentury. Artists from that period, such as the portrait painter HakobHovnatanian and the seascape artist Ivan Aivazovsky, continue to enjoy internationalreputation. In the 20thcentury, MartirosSaryan captured nature's essence in a new light and Arshile Gorky greatly influenced a generation of young American artists in New York, while Carzou and Jansem found fame and fortune painting in France. A visit to Saryan Park will bring you in touch with today's Armenian artists.

Rug and Carpet Weaving - The Caucasus region and Armenia in particular have been cited by scholars as the place where rug and carpet weaving originated. Armenians continue this tradition, and one can find many shops specializing in fine new and old rugs and carpets. Visitors to Armenia find handmade crafts, Armenian gold, precious and semi-precious stones which inspire jewelers in many regions. Obsidian stone is used for jewelry, desk accessories, and decorative items. Carpet making is not only a fine art, but Kilim weaving, for example, is applied to clothing items, bags, and home furnishings. Wood carvings replicate the ancient stone crosses (khachkars) found throughout the country, and no two are exactly alike. Armenian crafts couple elegant utility and delightful whimsy in textiles, ceramics, metal and woodworking.

POPULATION

According to the general census of 2009 the population of Armenia is about 3, 215.900 million, 1, 1 million of which lives in the capital Yerevan.

Population flight began with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the collapse of the local economy. It has decreased the official figure by perhaps up to one million, many of whom left to seek employment elsewhere. The most intensive migration was to the central and southern regions of the Russian Federation, as well as to various CIS countries. At least 40, 000 people left for the United States and other industrialized countries. The vast majority live in Moscow, where the thriving economy generates enough income to send remittances to family members staying behind (as much as 250 million dollars a month).

ARMENIAN HOLIDAYS

Armenians celebrate both public (state) and religious holidays. The celebrations here are usually accompanied with joyful songs and traditional Armenian dances. Usually all stores are open on holidays and Saturdays. Most of the shops and supermarkets are open on Sundays, too.

State holidays

December 31st - January 1-2New Year's Day
January 28thArmy Day
March 8thInternational Women's Day
April 24thMemorial Day of Victims of Genocide of Armenians
May 1stLabor Day
May 9thDay of Victory and Peace
May 28thDay of the First Republic
June 1stDay of Children's Defense
July 5thConstitution Day
September 1stthe Day of Knowledge, Writing and Literature
September 21stIndependence Day
December 7thMemorial Day of 1988 Spitak Earthquake Victims

Religious holidays

January 6thChristmas and Epiphany
Holy Easter Daythe Armenian Church celebrates the Easter Feast on the first Sunday following the full moon of the vernal equinox, with 35 days movability, during the period from March 21 –April 26

THE LANGUAGE

The official language is Armenian, a separate branch of Indo-European family. The written characters are very unique and are not similar to any other alphabets. Besides Armenian, nearly everyone speaks Russian here and many can communicate in English, too.

THE PEOPLE

The Armenians, an ancient people live in Armenia "Hayastan," and they call themselves "Hai." The indigenous people of the land of Ararat, Armenians forged their national identity with the rise of powerful Armenian kingdoms, the adoption of Christianity as Armenia's state religion, and the creation of the Armenian alphabet, which spurred the development of literature, philosophy, and science.

While the Armenian state withstood foreign invasions and domination over the centuries, the population continued to inhabit the highlands in Asia Minor, centered around Mount Ararat, the national symbol of Armenia and resting place of Noah's Ark. This continual presence came to an abrupt halt when the Young Turk regime of the Ottoman Empire implemented the first genocide of the twentieth century against its Armenian citizenry beginning in 1915. As a result, the majority of the Armenian people were either killed outright or ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homeland, taking refuge in neighboring countries or finding sanctuary in what remained of Armenia, the soon-to-be Soviet Republic of Armenia.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the rebirth of the independent Armenian state, the Republic of Armenia reemerged as the latest embodiment of Armenia's perseverance as a nation. Overall, the population of Armenians world-wide is estimated to be 10 million, many comprising Diaspora communities in Russia, the US, Europe and the Middle East. Despite dispersion and effects of globalization which have drawn Armenians to the four corners of the world, Armenians continue to uphold strong cultural, religious, and historical customs and traditions, and have a rekindled spirit regarding their homeland, Armenia.

THE RELIGION

The majority of Armenians consider themselves to be Armenian Christians, having derived their faith directly from Christ's apostles. The Christian faith has shaped Armenian culture so intimately that it permeates the very landscape at virtually every corner of the country. Armenia became the first nation to declare Christianity as its state religion in 301 AD.

Christianity was first introduced in Armenia by the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus in the first century AD. At this time, paganism was widespread and practiced by the kings of Armenia.

The religion is deeply rooted in Armenia.

Most ethnic Armenians belong to the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox church. The head of the church is the Catholicos of All Armenians, who resides in Holy Echmiadzin.

THE WEATHER

Armenia has a tremendous climatic variety packed in a small physical area. From the sunny Ararat valley and its bountiful fruits to the idyllic snowcapped mountain ranges, which traverse the land, Armenia's diverse nature is a reflection of its broad climatic range. Moreover, several microclimates exist due to the country's mountainous terrain. A day that is sunny and hot in the Ararat Valley may be quite brisk near the windswept mountainous lakes, and snowing in the upper regions of Mount Aragats. The rolling hills and high flats seem as if they were sculpted for rugged cross-country skiing in the winter, while Lake Sevan in the summertime is a wonderful destination for swimming, sunbathing, and relaxation.

Average temperatures in the country's capital, Yerevan, range from -5C° in winter to 30C°in summer, although extreme days can see the thermometer fall to -10C°and the hottest summer days have topped out over 40C°. Average precipitation ranges from less than 12 inches per year in the lower Arax River valley to about 36 inches per year at the highest altitudes.

NATURAL FEATURES

Armenia is situated at a cultural, historical, and religious intersection and located at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, in the southern Transcaucasus. From ancient times the Armenian Highland was called the "Island of Mountains" or the "Rooftop of Asia Minor." In fact, the average altitude of the country is over a mile high, at about 1800 meters above sea level. Presently, the country is landlocked and has no navigable waterways, in contrast to Historic Armenia, which at its height under King Tigran the Great, stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and was more than ten times the current size of the present day Republic.

Mount Ararat, the embodiment of the Armenians’ proud, dominates the national landscape, psyche and character. Mount Aragats, the highest point within the Republic's boundaries (4090 meters at its summit) is a hiker's less explored paradise.Armenia's lowest elevation is found in the Arax River valley at 390 meters. The Ararat plain is divided by the Araks River and occupies the southwestern part of Armenia. More than 200 rivers and streams traverse Armenia, with steep falls, rapids and swift currents. Armenia has 5 scenic canyons. In addition, there are over 200 therapeutic mineral springs, differing in composition and temperature.

Lake Sevan is by far the largest body of water in Armenia, accounting for 5% of the country's land area. In ancient times it was called the Geghama Sea. One of the largest freshwater mountain lakes in the world, Lake Sevan offers visitors an array of recreational opportunities and stunning vistas. The Sevan Basin is rich with archaeological and historic monuments; some say that the bowl of the lake was formed from the crater of an extinct volcano.

Armenia's rivers flow into two large aquatic arteries of the Southern Caucasus- the basins of the Kura River in the north and the Araks River in the south. The Akhurian, Hrazdan, Kassakh, Vokhchi, Arpa, Vorotan Rivers run into the Araks River, and the Debet and Agshtev Rivers pour into the Kura River.

Where early man smelted iron, copper is the most important raw material mined in Armenia today, along with bauxite, silver, molybdenum, lead, obsidian, semiprecious stones and zinc. Substantial deposits of pumice, marble, perlite, limestone, salt, basalt, granite, volcanic stone (tuff), as well as smaller amounts of gold, diamonds and platinum lie beneath Armenia's surface. Although oil deposits have been identified, the complex geology of the region makes recovery difficult and expensive.

GEOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

The Republic of Armenia is located in the southern Caucasus, bordered by Georgia from the north, Azerbaijan from the east, Iran from the south and Turkey from the west. Contemporary Armenia has a territory of 29,800 square km, lying between 1000 and 2500 meters above sea level. The highest peak is mount Aragats (4090m), while the lowest point is Debed River Canyon (400m).

Yerevan is the capital and the largest city of Armenia.

 
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