The tradition of an independent Armenia dates back thousands of years. The Armenians themselves identify their ancestry with Noah’s son Japheth, who begat Gomer, who begat Togarmah, who finally begat Hayk, the patriarch of the Armenian people. Hayk took on this leadership role after the Assyrian giant Bel declared himself king over everything. As a response to Bel’s arrogance, he took his extended family of 300 and formed an independent village outside of the giant’s control. When Bel marched at the head of an army to retrieve the family, Hayk shot an arrow at his army and miraculously slew the giant, sending the Assyrians into disarray. Since then, according to the legend, the highlands between the Black and Caspian seas, which includes Mount Ararat, the place where Hayk’s second great grandfather Noah was said to have landed his ark, have belonged to the Armenians.<>
Whether or not this story of national origin is taken on faith, Armenia does have one historically proven superlative - it was the first country to accept Christianity as a state religion. A full ten years before the Roman Empire adopted this new monotheistic belief, King Tiridates III, after being miraculously healed of madness in 301 by the Christian son of the Persian man who slew his father, agreed to reject his country’s earlier pagan religion and adopt the belief of the man who cured him. The place where Tiridates had kept St. Gregory, his captive, imprisoned for 13 years, a mountain fortress named Khor Virap, is today a beautiful monastery with a spectacular view toward Ararat.
The 750 year history of Tiridates’ Armenia came to an end in 428, when the last of the Arsacid Dynasty was dethroned by Persia, an Empire that had become overlord to the remaining Armenian client state. For 14 centuries, Armenia, outside a 160 year period of sovereignty between the 9th and 11th centuries while under the medieval Bagratid Dynasty, was lost to history, its people forced to collaborate with its neighbors for survival. Finally, in 1828, Tsar Nicholas I, having annexed large areas of the Transcaucasus from Persia, established an Armenian Oblast based from Yerevan where all Armenians were encouraged to gather and build their own communities under Russian overlordship. This grant marked the start of today’s Armenia.
Between then and today, there have been plenty of sad chapters and controversy in the history of Armenia, but the end result is a beautiful land with proud and friendly people. Among the sights that await visitors there is Lake Sevan, one of the largest freshwater bodies of its kind in the world, which boasts excellent beaches. Among its most treasured sights is the Sevanavank, or Sevan Monastery, a penance colony for Etchmiadzin monks who had been “caught in sin”. Once separated from the mainland before Soviet engineers drained a large amount of the lake’s water for use in agriculture irrigation, the monastery here featured a regimen that was severely strict, even if the nature outside was breathtaking. Hayravank, elsewhere on Sevan’s shores, is likewise quite a fairy tale-like religious site.
Such inspirational attractions have inspired glorious craft traditions. As an example, the Armenians share along with many of its neighbors the art of carpet or “gorg” (pile carpet) weaving. Throughout the Trans-Caucasus, different sacred patterns developed over the millennia and dominated in different regions, and these traditional designs are today transmitted particularly in modern Armenia. Designs depicting serpents, dragons, and eagles are common. The unique Armenian-patterned carpet has been appreciated far and wide since it first developed, with one example making its way to Siberia as early as the seventh century before Christ.
Because of its geopolitical situation, Armenia may seem like the end of the world. However, there is plenty to experience and see that is worth the effort of getting there.