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Armenia is a landlocked country in the Caucasus that is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Iran to the south, Azerbaijan to the east, and Azerbaijan's Naxcivan exclave to the southwest. This former Soviet republic straddles Asia and Europe and boasts an ancient and rich culture.
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Armenia has been around for at least 3,000 years. Armenians have historically inhabited the "Armenian Highlands", a vast section of mountains and valleys across eastern Anatolia and the Southern Caucasus. It is here that the biblical mountains of Ararat (and today's eponymous cognac brand) can be found. Armenia became the world's first Christian country in 301 AD.
Various vassal states, principalities, kingdoms and empires rose and fell in different parts of this highland during history. They were unified once, just before the time of Christ, in the empire of Tigran the Great, which stretched from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Sea.
Much of the region's history has since been spent under the dominion of whichever great power was à la mode at the time: Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Persians, Russians and Soviets have all come and gone. These empires often fought their wars on Armenian territory, using Armenian soldiers. Despite rarely being politically independent, Armenians have consistently kept their language and their church. Its location on the silk road allowed Armenia to forge a link in the great network of merchant communities that extended from eastern Asia to Venice.
Russians and Ottomans dominated Armenia's modern history. Ottoman control was established early, upon the fall of the Byzantine empire in the fifteenth century. Russia's presence was established later, in the 1820s, after a series of wars with the Persians.
Islamic Ottoman rule was, for much of the time, largely benign. The Armenians' religious autonomy was bought through their higher taxation. However, relations soured in the late nineteenth century which saw various massacres of Armenians. This culminated in the Ottomans' reputation being thoroughly ruined during the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.
During the First World War, the Ottomans fought the Russians. The Christian Armenians on the Ottomans' Russian border were considered liable to side with Russia and so they were treated as an enemy. The Ottomans attempted to kill or deport the entire Armenian population. Even the Ottomans' defeat in 1918 did not prevent the continuation of the persecution which continued until 1923 and saw approximately 600,000 - 1.5 million people perish.
The genocide led to the huge Armenian diaspora community that exists all over the world today and the ongoing diplomatic hostility between Turkey and Armenia.
As all over the Soviet Union, Armenia saw great industrial growth and widespread increases in education. Yerevan mushroomed from a dusty garrison town of 20,000 to a metropolis of 1 million and the Soviet culture machine, within strict limits, churned out heavily subsidized cultural education and activities.
These benefits came with the perverse, bizarre and terrible drawbacks that only the Soviets could manage. There was zero political freedom. Anyone thought to think anti-Soviet thoughts was sent to die in the Gulag. Arbitrary borders were drawn between Armenia and Azerbaijan and so set the stage for a conflict which runs on today. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians died in WWII.
As the Soviet Union fell apart in the early 1990s, the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, a culturally Armenian region in Azerbaijan, fought for independence from Azerbaijan with support from Armenia, and the Armenian Diaspora. The war was won militarily, but no diplomatic solution was reached. The ceasefire line of 1994 now represents a de facto national boundary and Nagorno-Karabakh is in an odd state of unrecognized statehood. While the fighting on the ground stopped, with only minor exceptions, diplomatic tensions still run high. The Armenian/Karabakh borders with Azerbaijan are closed. Turkey has also closed its land border with Armenia in support of its Azeri-Turk kinsmen.
A small and mountainous, landlocked country, Armenia almost never fails to surprise visitors. The mountain passes, valleys and canyons make it feel much larger, and Lake Sevan provides a welcome sight, with endless water visible from its southern shores. Given the geographic variation, there is also much variety of climate — there's barren lunar landscapes, forests, snow-capped peaks and alpine lakes.
Five percent of the country's surface area consists of Lake Sevan (Sevana Lich), the largest lake in the Lesser Caucasus mountain range.
- Rock Climbing
- Wind Surfing
- Sun Baking
- Monastery hopping
For a sample tour itinerary of Armenia, see Armenia in 9 Days
- Khorovats (called Shashlik in other countries) BBQ which can be pork, lamb, chicken or beef. Usually, it is flavored with onions and other Armenian spices. Tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers are also part of the khorovats meal.
- Harissa - A dish similar to kashkeg, a kind of homogeneous porridge made of previously stewed and boned chicken or lamb and coarsely ground soaked wheat (typically, shelled wheat, though in some regions with a high Turkish population, pounded wheat, or yarma, is also used). The dish has been passed on since ancient times. Harissa is traditionally served on Easter day. It is still prepared by many Armenians around the world and is also considered the national dish of Armenia.
- Borscht is a vegetable soup. It is traditionally made with beetroot as a main ingredient, which gives it a strong red color. It is usually served warm with fresh sour cream.
- Khash is a traditional dish, originating in the Shirak region. Formerly a nutritious winter food for the rural poor, it is now considered a delicacy, and is enjoyed as a festive winter meal.
- Dolma (stuffed grape leaves; a variety with stuffed cabbage leaves, bell peppers and eggplants) also exists.
- Byorek - consists of phyllo dough folded into triangles and stuffed with cheese, spinach or ground beef, and the filling is typically spiced. A popular combination is spinach, feta, cottage cheese (or pot cheese) and a splash of anise-flavored liquor (such as raki).
Desserts and snacks:
- Nazook - A flaky pastry with a sweet filling.
- Alani – pitted dried peaches stuffed with ground walnuts and sugar.
- Kadaif (ghataif) – shredded dough with cream, cheese, or chopped walnut filling, soaked with sugar syrup.
- Anoushabour – dried fruits stewed with barley, garnished with chopped almonds or walnuts (a traditional Christmas pudding).
Armenian fruits and vegetables are special. One should definitely try them and will never forget the taste of Armenian apricot, peach, grapes, pomegranate, etc. Especially the watermelons in Armenia and neighboring countries with similar altitude and climate are of superior taste.
Armenian bread is very tasty as well. There is a wide range of different types of bread, starting from black and white till lavash (a soft, thin flatbread) and matnaqash.
Don’t miss trying milk products! Along with ordinary milk products, there are some traditional and really tasty and refreshing ones. Matsun (yogurt) is a traditional Armenian dairy product that has centuries of history. It contains a number of natural microelements, which have high biochemical activity. It’s really refreshing, especially when you try it cold during hot summers. Okroshka - cold soup with kefir and cucumber and dill; it is a healthy and refreshing dairy product. Spas is really tasty hot yogurt soup with grains in it.
Café culture rules in Armenia, and the best places to have a cup of coffee and people-watch are sidewalk cafés. Any place near the Opera is certain to be jumping late into the summer nights. A popular chain is "Jazzve" (several locations throughout the city, including near the Opera and off Mesrop Mashtots Avenue), which offers many varieties of tea and coffee as well as great desserts.
Alcoholic: Vodka, tutti oghi (mulberry vodka), honi oghi (cornelian cherry vodka), Tsirani oghi (apricot vodka), local beer (Kilikia, Kotayk, Gumri), wine (can also be made of pomegranate), and brandy.
Other: Tan (yogurt combined with water and salt), Jermuk (mineral water), masuri hyut (rose hip juice), chichkhani hyut (sea buckthorne juice), bali hyut (sour cherry juice), Armenian coffee, and herbal teas.
Armenian carpets, cognac, fruits, handicrafts and Soviet memorabilia are some of the most popular things people take home from Armenia. Most of these are plentiful at Vernissage, a seemingly never-ending weekend flea market next to Republic Square with the more touristy stuff in the back half, further from Republic Square.
The Armenian currency is known as the ‘’dram’’, and the currency is abbreviated as AMD (Armenian Dram). The dram is accepted everywhere, and in some seldom cases US dollars will be accepted for larger purchases - though the dram is the only legal currency for commerce. US dollars, Euros and Rubles can be exchanged almost anywhere in the country, with other major currencies also easy to exchange. Exchange booths and commercial banks do not charge a commission and rates are almost always quite competitive.
ATMs (Bankomats) are widely available in larger towns; though outside of Yerevan, you should have a major system such as Visa or MasterCard on your card for it to work.
Credit cards are not widely accepted yet, though they will get you pretty far in Yerevan.
Exchange rates (approximate, January 2013):
- €1 = 538 dram
- US$1 = 404 dram
- £1 = 646 dram
- RUB 1 = 13.24 dram
Most shops/restaurants are open every day and offices and schools are open Monday to Saturday. Mornings are usually slow, and places don't tend to open early, or even on time.
Included in prices (except sometimes hotels).
Bargaining is uncommon in Armenian stores, though when purchasing expensive items or bulk, they may be amenable to it. In markets, however, bargaining is a must!
Tipping is increasingly common in Armenia, especially at cafes and restaurants. Many Armenians will simply round up their checks, or leave ten percent. Some café staff are only compensated in the tips they earn, though you cannot always tell by the service they provide. Many restaurants have begun to charge a ten percent “service fee” which they usually do not share with the waiters, and it is not clear for what it is used. This fee is often not clearly stated on the menu, so you should ask if you want to know. Tipping is usually not expected in taxis, but again, rounding up is not uncommon.
Vernissage - every Saturday near Republic Square, there is an open market with great shopping for tourists and locals alike. You can buy everything from a 300-year-old carpet to a 1970s Soviet phone to Russian nesting dolls.
The "covered market" on Mashtots Street has fresh fruits and vegetables along with great dried fruits.
For Armenian- and Russian-speaking visitors, a visit to the underground book market can be quite interesting. Located in an underground passageway under Abovyan Street, close to the medical school and the Yeritasardakan Metro Station, vendors sell thousands upon thousands of books. Bargaining is a must!
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Armenia on Wikivoyage.
Cities in Armenia
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Yerevan is the capital of the Republic of Armenia, one of the three hubs of the South Caucasus and is home to over a million people - the largest Armenian community in the world. In Soviet years Yerevan underwent massive reconstruction, following Alexander Tamanyan's (the architect) new plans to make a ... (read more)
- National Gallery of Armenia
- Yerevan Opera House
- Republic Square
- Blue Mosque
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Tsaghkadzor is a city in Central Armenia, known for being a ski resort, with forests and an ancient monastery. In the summer, people go there to get away from the city life of Yerevan, and the heat, for the fresh air in the mountains. In the winter, the town is completely overtaken by skiers and people who ... (read more)
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Dilijan is a resort town with mild climate, fresh air in the northeast of Yerevan. It is famous for its amazing surroundings, called the "Armenian Switzerland" by the locals, due to the densely forested valleys and mountains with alpine meadows around. It is an excellent center for walking. Most visitors to ... (read more)
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Yeghegnadzor is a town in Southern Armenia. This small city is located in a good spot to explore the surrounding sites for a few days, and in a fantastic area for hiking and spelunking. The city itself is right by the main North-South highway and has comfortable accommodations and is a very typical town in ... (read more)
- Noravank Monastery
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Goris is a city in Southern Armenia. The city was possibly the first build in a grid layout in Armenia, with a very quaint regional style of stone architecture. Located along a river in a valley surrounded by mountains, Goris is the last major town in Armenia for travelers continuing to Karabakh. It's also ... (read more)
Points of Interest in Armenia
Consider seeing churches and other religious buildings, that are built more than 1700 years ago. Such constructions are almost everywhere. One particularly interesting Church is in Khor Virap, located a short drive from Yerevan. Close to the Armenian-Turkish border, this ancient monastery is a perfect place to observe Mount Ararat in its full beauty.
National Gallery of Armenia - Yerevan
Sevanavank Monastery - Sevan
Echmiadzin Cathedral - Ecmiadzin
Noravank Monastery - Yeghegnadzor
Khor Virap Monastery - Lusarat
Garni Temple - Garni
Tatev Monastery - Tatev
Freedom Square - Gyumri
Saghmosavank Monastery - Saghmosavan
Amberd Fortress - Byurakan
Haritchavank Monastery - Artik
Haghpat Monastery - Haghpat
Talin Cathedral - Talin
Yerevan Opera House - Yerevan
Republic Square - Yerevan
Cascades - Yerevan
Blue Mosque - Yerevan
Yerevan State University - Yerevan
Mother Armenia - Yerevan
Matenadaran - Yerevan