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Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook- Introduction
An Archaeological/Touristic Gazetteer and Map Set for the Historical Monuments of Armenia
Copyright 2018 Raffi Kojian, all reserved.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook|
|Intro, Yerevan, Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori, Shirak, Syunik, Tavush, Vayots Dzor, Karabakh (Askeran, Hadrut, Martakert, Martuni, Shushi), Nakhichevan, Western Armenia, Cilicia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Maps, Index|
Table of Contents
Sources and Methods
Armenian Terms Useful for Getting Lost With
Note on Monasteries (Vank)
The Erivan Fortress
Suburbs: Avan and Kanaker
EXPLORING ARAGATSOTN MARZ
South from Ashtarak - Oshakan (Maps A, D)
The South Slopes of Aragats --Amberd (Map A)
Climbing Mt. Aragats (Map A)
West Around Aragats -- Aghdzk and Aruch (Map A)
North Toward Talin and Mastara (Map B)
Talin Fortress and Kristapori Vank (Map B)
North from Ashtarak -- Hovhannavank to Aparan (Map A)
EXPLORING ARARAT MARZ
West of Yerevan (Maps C, D)
South from Yerevan (Map C)
To Ancient Dvin (Map C) 24
Khor Virap and Artaxiasata (Map C)
Vedi and Eastward (Map C, inset)
East from Yeraskh -- S. Karapet Monastery (Map C inset)
EXPLORING ARMAVIR MARZ
Ejmiatsin and Environs (Map D)
The Northeast Corner -- Aghavnatun and Targmanchats (Map D)
Metsamor and Environs (Map D)
Sardarapat and Ancient Armavir (Map D)
Southwestern Armavir (advance permission required)
Southeastern Armavir (Map D)
North of Armavir City
West from Armavir
EXPLORING GEGHARKUNIK MARZ
Approaching Sevanavank (Maps H, E)
Gavar and the South Sevan Basin (Maps E, F)
East from Martuni -- Teyseba and Vanevan (Map F, G)
Former Vardenis Rayon -- Makenyats Vank (Map G)
North from Vardenis (Map G)
East from Vardenis (Map G)
The East Side of Sevan -- Chambarak (Map E)
South toward Vardenis (Map E)
Down (NW) the Getik River -- Old Getik Vank (Map E)
EXPLORING KOTAYK MARZ
The Road to Garni and Geghard (Map H)
North along Hrazdan Gorge -- Bjni (Map H)
Tsaghkadzor and the Marmarik Valley (Map H)
Abovian and the Foothills (Map H)
To the Geghama Mountains (Map H)
The East Road from Abovian (Map H)
Into Mt. Ara (Map H)
To Yeghvard and Buzhakan (Map H)
EXPLORING LORI MARZ
Spitak and Eastward (Map I)
North to Stepanavan (Map I, J)
Along the Gargar River -- Hnevank (Map J)
Along the Dzoraget -- Lori Berd (Map J)
North from Stepanavan (Map J)
Vanadzor and Eastward (Map I)
North from Vanadzor on the Debed -- Dsegh, Kober (Map I, J)
West of the Debed Gorge -- Odzun (Map J)
Sanahin and Haghpat (Map J)
West from Spitak (Map I)
The Zakarian Lords Zakare and Ivane
EXPLORING SHIRAK MARZ
North to Gyumri -- Horom (Map B)
East from Maralik -- Artik, Harich (Map B)
Up the Akhuryan -- Yereruyk (Map B)
Gyumri East toward Spitak (Map M)
West of the Akhuryan River (Map M)
The Northwest Corner -- Marmashen Vank (Map M)
North Toward Akhalkalakh (Map M)
EXPLORING SYUNIK MARZ
Entering Syunik -- Angeghakot (Map L)
Sisian and Tanahati Vank (Map L)
To Dastakert (Map L)
To Vorotnavank and Beyond (Map L)
East to Goris -- Kotrats Caravansaray, Khndzoresk (Map L)
The Road to Tatev (Map L)
South to Kapan (Map L)
East of Kapan (Map M)
The Shikahogh Reserve (Map M)
West toward Kajaran -- Vahanavank (Map L, M)
South to Meghri (Map L)
EXPLORING TAVUSH MARZ
West of Dilijan -- Jukhtak Vank (Map N)
East From Dilijan -- Haghartsin, Goshavank (Map N)
The Shamsadin District -- Khoranashat, Varagavank (Map O)
East of Ijevan (Map N)
North to Noyemberian -- Makaravank, Kirants (Map N)
EXPLORING VAYOTS DZOR
East from Ararat -- Areni, Noravank (Map P)
Selim Caravansaray and the Yeghegis Monasteries (Map P)
Shatin and Eastward -- Tsakhatskar, Smbataberd (Map P)
Yeghegnadzor and Environs -- Tanahat, Boloraberd (Map P)
Moving East to Vayk (Map P)
Southern Vayots Dzor (Map P)
Jermuk and Eastward -- Gndevank (Map P)
The Orbelian Princes
KARABAKH - Intro and history
Central Karabakh - Shushi, Stepanakert, Aghdam
Southern Karabakh - Marduni, Hadrut
Northern Karabakh - Mardakert, Sarsang
ARMENIAN QUARTER, JERUSALEM
Dating Armenian Monuments (The Armenian Alphabet and its Transliteration)
Knowledge of the Armenian alphabet is useful but not essential for appreciation of Armenia's cultural patrimony. However, one sure way to impress on-lookers, including local worthies, is by deciphering the date on medieval inscriptions. Dates are generally marked by the letters ԹՎ or the like, often with a line over, indicating "t'vin" ("in the year") followed by one to four letters, each of which stands for a number based on its order in the alphabet. In the Middle Ages, Armenians used a calendar that started in AD 552 as the beginning of the Armenian era. To translate into standard years, simply add 551 to the number. Thus, should you see an inscription reading ԹՎ ՈՀԳ, simply check the alphabet table below and see that this equals 600+70+3+551= the year of Our Lord 1224.
Since this book was originally released, Armenia has undergone massive change. Tourism is now booming, with numbers increasing by leaps and bounds each year. The highways throughout the country have been repaved. Hotels are being built or rebuilt - in Yerevan and the regions. Other guidebooks have come out. Central Yerevan has undergone a rebirth with massive infrastructural renovation of streets, sidewalks, museums and other cultural venues. A wide variety of restaurants have opened and countless other changes come every day. The numbers of tourists, while growing by double digits each year, are still relatively low, and the vast majority still do not reach all the corners of Armenia.
This book was originally written by Brady Kiesling and is an excellent resource for any traveler to Armenia. The amount of information is staggering, and any visitor will find it a useful accompaniment during their travels. I have used this guide myself to travel extensively in Armenia, and was inspired by the beautiful places throughout Armenia that are almost completely unknown and unvisited. Through research and travels I have gathered some additional information that I incorporated beginning in 2000. I have also implemented a much more detailed rating system, added city maps, GPS coordinates, added the entire Karabakh section and maps, added pictures and more. The latest version of this guide, along with other updated tourism information and pictures are online at www.armeniapedia.org where visitors can now edit the text themselves, in order to keep this a living guidebook.
-Raffi Kojian (raffi at cilicia dot com)
Note: This preface was written in 1999, a lot has changed since that time (eg. faulty plumbing in hotels)
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Armenia has fallen off the tourist map. Ethnic Armenians from the diaspora make their brief pilgrimage to the religious capital Ejmiatsin, see Garni, Geghard and Khor Virap, pass a few wind-swept days by Lake Sevan, and possibly make the journey to Artsakh/Nagorno Karabakh or the Gyumri-Spitak earthquake zone to see where their donations have gone. The scenery of the Ararat valley and its rocky edges can seem bleak and alien. They leave Armenia, often, with memories of faulty plumbing interspersed with random monumentality.
But there is another Armenia, a subtly green, richly textured landscaped, every corner of which has been sculpted by millennia of human triumphs and tragedies. There is a gifted and generous population, now mostly cut off from outside stimuli but still desperately eager to demonstrate to foreign visitors its traditional hospitality and pride at its survival. There is nature, exotic, sometimes heart-rendingly beautiful, now mostly unvisited but far from inaccessible. And of course there is the basic human truth, that enjoyment of a place or activity is directly dependent on the investment made. Armenia is still difficult to explore unaided, but the rewards of doing so are commensurately great.
This guide was designed for several purposes, but its central goal is simply to exist, as a first taste of Armenia in English for enthusiasts willing to invest some attention in this country during a difficult transition period. I believe that tourism development will play an important role in Armenia’s economic rebirth, a rebirth many brave souls are helping to achieve. Second goal is to empower independent travel, not dependent on a paid guide or interpreter, to allow curious visitors to navigate the often unsignposted hinterland. A third goal is to encourage interest in Armenia’s antiquities by English-speaking scholars. A fourth, expressed through the choice of material, is to preserve some record of the wrenching demographic changes that have taken place since 1988, to preserve some traces of a once multi-ethnic landscape. A final goal is to repay through some hope of future economic development the dozens of ordinary Armenians, scattered across the landscape, who opened their homes, larders and hearts to a disheveled traveler on foot, bicycle or battered station wagon, speaking mangled Armenian and looking for monasteries.
As the after-hours work of a non-specialist who has visited many but far from all the sites mentioned, this guide not a complete archaeological, historical, cultural and/or practical guidebook to Armenia. It is only as accurate as its sources, some of which are vague or contradictory. I hope that other guidebook compilers, and several are reportedly at work, will draw upon the information contained herein, with the goal of opening up Armenia to the broadest possible range of tourism, study, and adventure.
Sources and Methods
Sources of information
Original starting point for this work was the official list of communities and number of registered voters published in electronic form by the Armenian Central Election Commission (funded by IFES and USAID) following the 1998 Presidential elections (major population shifts have occurred in Armenia since the last Soviet census in 1989, published results of which were in any case was not conveniently to hand). These place names, which have changed in a series of waves since 1921, most recently after the mutual ethnic cleansing of 1988-89, were compared against Soviet General Staff maps (1978) and more recent maps of Armenia, and the names were then looked up in the Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia or, in a more sophisticated stage, the five volumes of the Dictionary of Armenian Place Names. This latter work contains a huge amount of information and is an invaluable reference. Many inscription translations were derived from Khachatrian’s French version. It seemed important to include as many translated inscriptions as I had strength for: in most cases the donors of a church ask to be remembered in our prayers, and it would seem churlish to refuse.
This research was sometimes followed, sometimes preceded, by long drives in the countryside, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of patient friends and colleagues. The results are erratic and incomplete of course, despite friendly contributions by many wonderful people (See below). As a work in progress, in flexible electronic form, it will, I hope, continue to expand and evolve through the contributions of all those interested in the land of Armenia.
Two asterisks after a place name (**) signal a place that struck me as unforgettable. One asterisk (*) signals a place worth a detour. Absence of stars may simply mean that I haven’t been there properly and should in no case be a deterrent to exploration. This system of rating is being supplemented with a much more descriptive scale of 0-100, which will appear in addition to the asterisks wherever available. Eg. Tatev Monastery =100= is located in...
Thanks to Dr. Aram Kalantarian, Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences, and to Boris Gasparian of the same Institute, two scientists who generously shared their time and expertise, and would have shared more had I been efficient enough to make better use of them. Boris spent sleepless nights making the archaeological component more detailed and rigorous than it would have been. Many thanks to the State Administration for Protection of Historic and Cultural Monuments, whose Director, Dr. Gurjian, and Mrs. Melania Dovlatian, chief of Vayots Dzor Marz, offered invaluable encouragement, information, and hospitality. Some marz and local officials have provided information, and throughout Armenia we have benefited from the hospitality and generosity of dozens of local citizens and informal guides. Especial thanks to my U.S. Embassy companions along the way, particularly to Political Assistant Alla Bakunts and Economic Officer Jeff Horwitz, whose (respectively) patience and Niva I abused on many adventures. Dr. Levon Avdoyan of the Library of Congress was the finder of many obscure publications. I am much indebted from afar to Professor George Bournoutian, whose published works have recently made available a treasure of documentation on Armenia in the 19th century. I take cheerful responsibility for all mistakes of fact or interpretation. -Brady Kiesling
The sequence of historical periods I use for Armenia is inconsistent but roughly as follows, with precise dating still subject to scholarly debate:
|Paleolithic||2,000,000 - 12,000 BC||(open-air workshops, cave sites,|
|Mesolithic||12,000 - 8000 BC||with stone, bone tools)|
|Neolithic||8000 - 6000 BC||(early agriculture sites)|
|Chalcolithic||6000 - 3500 BC||(first copper implements)|
|Early Bronze Age||3500 - 2000 BC||(black burnished pottery)|
|Middle Bronze Age||2000 - 1500 BC||(red-burnished painted pottery)|
|Late Bronze Age||1500 - 1200 BC||(Cyclopean fortresses)|
|Early Iron Age||1200 - 850 BC||(first iron implements)|
|Urartian/Van Kingdom||800 - 585 BC||(links to Assyrian culture)|
|Early Armenian Kingdom||585 - 330 BC||(Median/Achaemenid influence)|
|Hellenistic/Orontid||330 - 201 BC|
|Artashesid||189 BC - 1st c. AD|
|Arsacid||66 - 428 AD||(also Roman, Parthian, Sasanian)|
|Early Christian||4th - 6th c. AD|
|Medieval||7th - 16th c. AD||(Arab, Seljuk, Mongol, Turkmen, Ottoman)|
|Persian||17th - 18th c. AD|
|Russian Imperial||19th c - 1917 AD|
|First Republic||1918 - 1921 AD|
|2nd Soviet Republic||1921 - 1991 AD|
|3rd, Independent, Republic||1991 - Present|
It is illegal in Armenia, as in most other places, to export cultural patrimony without a license, obtained from a special commission of the Ministry of Culture. In almost no case will export of antiquities be licensed. Many ancient sites in Armenia are still strewn with potsherds, obsidian tools (“Satan’s fingernails” in colloquial Armenian) and other small finds. With next to no commercial value in any case, wrenched from their context they lose their scientific value as well. These should be picked up, fondled, photographed, and replaced, both as a courtesy to future tourists and scholars and to avoid expensive embarrassment at the border. May apes void on the ancestral sepulchres of any reader of this work who defaces Armenia’s battered but beautiful patrimony with graffiti or trash.
Note on Transliteration
The Latin alphabet is poorly adapted to exact rendering of Armenian names. Basic approach in this guide is generally phonetic, to produce a rough approximation of the standard pronunciation of Eastern Armenian. Word stresses tend to be more evenly distributed than in English, but with the greatest stress almost always on the final syllable. Note that GH is pronounced like a French "r", voiced from the back of the mouth. KH is a raspy, unvoiced consonant like the German ch in "Ach." The CH combination is used for two distinct letters, one the CH in "church", the other somewhere between "church" and "jug". Few American ears can tell the difference in real time between these three Armenian consonants, nor between aspirated and unaspirated K/K’, P/P’, and TS/TS’. Armenian does not usually write out the short, colorless vowel like the vowel sound of the second syllable in "trouble." When you see a series of impossible consonants together, you should add that short vowel in between, e.g., Mkhchian is pronounced more like "mUHkh-chyAHn, except the first syllable is shorter than American "Uh..."
Western to Eastern Armenian Guide
The difference between Eastern and Western Armenian is a potential minefield: G and K occasionally flip-flop, as do D and T, P and B, J and CH, and TS and DZ. There are various other differences of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. The vocabulary can easily be adjusted by using the Eastern word, but getting the conjugation down is much more of a challenge. I do not recommend even trying if you are on a short trip - try repeating yourself if you are not understood - but if you must, you change the Western order of Verb+Person+Tense to Verb+Tense+Person, and on top of that, exchange any use of "gor" with "um". For example: siresgor in Western becomes sirumes in Eastern. Another important difference is that the use of the formal tense in Eastern Armenian is much stricter than in Western. The elderly expect to always be referred to in the formal "duk" tense. So to an elder, or someone you just meet, you would say barev dzez in Eastern Armenian, rather than the simple parev in Western. Some of the more important word differences are listed below.
|Western Armenian||Eastern Armenian||English|
|hos, aysdegh||estegh, aystegh||here|
|hon, ayndegh||entegh, ayntegh||there|
|inch bes||vonts, inch pes||how|
|ganchel||zangel, zangaharel||to phone|
|otanav||inknatir, samaliot (rus.)||airplane|
|hing u ges||hing ants kes||5:30 (time)|
|hargav||i harke||of course|
A lot of old place names are Turkish, but Turkish with a local (Azerbaijani) dialectal pronunciation. Turkish "k" tends to turn into Armenian "gh." Turkish also has the same short, colorless vowel as Armenian, depicted with an undotted "i" in Turkish but omitted in Armenian. Thus, Turkish "Kara" (Black) becomes Ghara, and "Kizil" (Red) becomes Ghzl in Turkish transliterated into Armenian transliterated into English. Apologies for the consequent difficulties in figuring out what is where and how to pronounce it.
Armenian Terms Useful for Getting Lost With
|Gavit||Narthex of church||Hin||Old|
|Khachkar||Carved stone cross||Vat||Bad|
|Ur e tanum ays chanaparh'||Where does this road go?|
|Vonts gnam vank'||How do I go to the monastery?|
Other useful terms:
- Militant Hospitality - hospitality offered so forcefully, you feel you cannot refuse
- Shepherd's Blow - when a shepherd blows his nose by covering one nostril and projectile launching the mucous out of the other nostril.
- Mamikonian's Revenge - any case of traveler's diarrhea contracted by tourists visiting Armenia or Karabakh.
- Monastery Fatigue - the feeling some travelers get after visiting over a dozen monasteries in a day
Armenians are very proud of the disproportionate success of their people around the world, and some of the many things they've invented or been among the first to adopt. The Georgians, living next door, may have heard these stories one too many times, and invented the following joke about it.
Archaeologists in Georgia were digging up a 4,000 year old site, and discovered phone cables under the ancient settlement. They proudly announced that their country was the birthplace of the phone. Armenians couldn't believe that it was possible that Georgians could have invented the phone before Armenians. They went to their ancient settlement sites and dug one up after another looking for traces of phone lines, without any luck. They realized this could only mean one thing. They announced that 4,000 years ago Armenians had invented mobile phones before anyone else, and that is why there were no phone lines to be dug up.
Armenians are an Indo-European people, whose origins are not clearly known. Specialists speculate that the Armenians migrated to the Armenian Highland via the Balkans or the Caucasus. At that time the area was inhabited by the Urartians, who seem to have assimilated very quickly and absorbed the language of the newcomer Armenians. An advanced Urartian nation existed at the turn of the first millennium before Christ, later replaced by the first Armenian kingdom in the sixth century B.C.. This kingdom united the tribes of Hayasi and Armen. Recent linguistic studies present strong evidence that the Indo-European language group originates in Anatolia.
Tigran the Great
Armenia was independent on and off starting in the ninth century, BC. At times it was splintered, at other times engulfed temporarily by neighbors, but until the Armenian genocide in 1915, large numbers of Armenians lived throughout the Caucasus and Anatolia, from the Mediterranean, to the Black and Caspian seas. At its largest, the Armenian Empire encompassed that entire area under the rule of Tigran the Great, shortly before the time of Christ's birth.
The work of the apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew in Armenia after Jesus' crucifixion set the stage for the official conversion of Armenia in 301 A.D. to Christianity, the first country to officially do so. Traditionally, it was Saint Gregory the Illuminator (Surp Grigor Lusavorich) whose prayers healed the pagan king, causing the king to declare the country officially Christian. A century later the monk Mesrop Mashtots invented the Armenian alphabet in order to translate the Bible into Armenian.
As large parts of Armenia became parts of the Persian and Byzantine Empires, the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was born on the Mediterranean coast in 1080. It existed there as an independent state for centuries and was very helpful to the crusaders. It was conquered by the Mameluks 1375, with its last king exiled to Europe.
Ottoman & Russian Occupation
In 1047, Seljuk Turks invaded Armenia for the first time and by the 1300s were ruling large parts of historic Armenia in Anatolia. At the same the Persians were ruling Eastern or Caucasian Armenia, which caused the political separation of the Armenian people. Even as Persian rule over Caucasian Eastern Armenia gave way to Russian rule, the political separation of the Armenians did not change, and along with the mountainous terrain contributed to a large overall rift in the eastern and western Armenian dialects, and other associated differences. As the concept of nationalism reached Armenia, new international Armenian organizations were formed and new Armenian literature crossed borders, leading to the spread of desires for an end to the division of Armenia.
Genocide Memorial Day
Each year on April 24 in Yerevan, hundreds of thousands of Armenians pour out of their homes in streams, which becomes a river as they get closer to the Armenian Genocide Memorial Monument named Tsitsernakaberd. Most people carry a red or white flower, and put it on down on top of others by the eternal flames. As the number of visitors and flowers grows, the flowers form a tall wall around the flame. This solemn commemoration is not to be missed if you are in the country.
Unfortunately, a virulent form of nationalism was adopted by the leadership of the Ottoman Empire before the beginning of the first world war. As they saw their European holdings disappearing, and saw a national consciousness forming among Armenians, they began formulating a plan to rule all of the Turkic peoples across Anatolia, Caucasia, and Central Asia. The Armenians were the only nationality between Anatolian Turks and the eastern Turks, so the Ottoman rulers, primarily Talaat Pasha decided to eliminate them completely so that they could never threaten the heartland of this new empire. The mass killings began in 1915, and by the time Mustafa Kemal formed the Republic of Turkey and expelled all of the remaining Armenians in Anatolia in the early 1920's the Armenian population went from 2 million to virtually zero in Anatolia. A fledgling Armenian Republic was born in Caucasia with the collapse of the Russian Empire which was attacked by Mustafa Kemal's forces which resulted in the annexation and depopulation of Armenians from Kars and Ardahan as well. This Armenian Republic was attacked by Soviet forces which were repelled once, but not the second time, thus becoming part of the USSR for the next 70 years.
Soviet work ethic
The Soviet Union collapsed for a number of reasons, but the foremost was that the socialist economy was collapsing. People joke about those times that "they pretended to pay us, and we pretended to work".
Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan were united into the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Republic from 1922 until 1936, at which time the three states once again became separate republics. The borders were very unfavorable to Armenia with hundreds of thousands of Armenians left out of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic in adjacent lands such as Karabakh, Shahumian, Nakhichevan, Akhalkalakh, and Javakh. Nevertheless Armenians were no longer in immediate danger from Turkey and Armenia began to develop an advanced economy. Yerevan, a village at the turn of the century grew to exceed a million residents, with high tech computer and defense industry, as well as large scale chemical and many other industries. Tourists from throughout the Soviet Union and beyond began to flock to Dilijan, Sevan, Jermuk and other resorts, while a few hundred thousand Armenians immigrated to Soviet Armenia from abroad. At the same time there was oppression, with tens of thousands of Armenians dying in the numerous purges, and with Armenians in Azerbaijan being treated as second class citizens in Karabakh and Nakhichevan. These actions by the Azerbaijanis led to the Armenian population of Nakhichevan dropping from 50% of the population to zero, and the Armenian proportion of the population in Karabakh dropping by about 15% before their war of independence began in 1988.
The policies of glasnost and perestroika were first tested on a revolutionary scale by the one million strong peaceful Armenian protests demanding the union of Karabakh with Armenia in February, 1988. These protests shocked the world and led to outbursts of nationalism throughout the East Bloc countries which eventually splintered the Soviet Union in December, 1991. The last few years of the Armenian SSR saw the most destructive earthquake it had known, the start of a brutal war in Karabakh, and a suffocating blockade of Armenia by Azerbaijan and Turkey. The fighting ended in 1993 but a peace treaty has not been signed to this day. This meant that in addition to privatizing the economy, forming a new government, and dealing with the collapse of the heavily interdependent Soviet factory system, landlocked Armenia had to spend much of its budget on the military, and develop entirely new supply systems over the long windy mountain roads linking to Iran, and the uncontrolled roads of Georgia. Today Armenia's economy is growing again with tourism, information technologies, and other fields of business rapidly expanding.
Armenia's two most outstanding geographical features are its mountains and Lake Sevan. Most of the country lies between 1,000 and 2,500m elevation, with the lowest point being 500 meters. The highest point in the Republic is the peak of Mt. Aragats, at 4090m. The capital Yerevan is located on the large, dry Ararat plain which is about 1,100m above sea level. Although Armenia is landlocked, Lake Sevan takes up about 5% of the countries surface area and is found at a very high elevation, nearly 2,000m. The waters are crystal clean, often blue or turquoise, and always cold. Below is a list of the highest peak on each of Armenia's mountain-chains.
|Mets Ishkhanasar||3549||Karabakh Chain|
|Mets Gukasyan||3049||Egmakhag Chain|
DISTANCES TO YEREVAN
|Madrid||3705||Rio de Janiero||10725|
Due to its high elevation and inland location, most of Armenia has a continental climate, despite being latitudinally equivalent to Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece. This means that the summers are very hot and the winters moderately cold, especially on the Ararat plain. Due to the very mountainous terrain however, Armenia has innumerable microclimates which include temperate rain forests in the north and south, and arctic tundra like conditions on some of the highest peaks. If you venture into the areas with the lowest elevations, you will even see palm trees in some parts (E Karabakh, Ijevan, Bagramashen).
FLORA & FAUNA
Due to the large number of microclimates in Armenia, there is also a great variety of flora and fauna which can be seen at different times of the year in different parts of Armenia. There are bears, mountain cats, boars, and deer among others. Additionally there is a huge variety of migratory birds which stop in Armenia, the land bridge from Europe to Asia. Many of the worlds bulbs originate in the Armenian Highland, and there is a great variety of wild bulbs in the country. Large parts of the country are relatively unspoiled and still have wild grasses, flowers, trees and shrubs growing.
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
Armenia is a parliamentary democracy with a strong executive branch. Many parties have formed and disappeared in Armenia's first years of independence, and the parties often are based on the popularity of one leader, or dislike of a current leader. There are also some political parties which formed over a hundred years ago and were represented in the Armenian government in 1918-1921, which have survived in Diaspora communities and have reestablished themselves after independence.
The transition from communist to capitalist economy was very difficult for Armenia, coming shortly after the devastating earthquake of 1988 and during the blockade of Armenia by Azerbaijan and Turkey. Armenia was one of the leaders in privatization, and its currency has been very stable since the introductory year ended. The widespread collapse of the interdependent Soviet industries as well as the blockades prevention of raw material import and product export however caused a severe shrinking of the economy. Electricity shortages caused by the blockade forced the reopening of the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant, and now Armenia is once again exporting electricity. Agriculture, Information Technologies, Tourism, and other industries are re-emerging as the infrastructure and economy recover. The last few years have seen massive infrastructure projects by the Lincy Foundation and one of the highest economic growth rates in the world.
POPULATION & PEOPLE
The Armenian Nose
Back in the day, God was handing out noses to the different tribes of the earth. Armenians got in line to get their national nose as well. When they got to the front of the line, they asked God how much the noses cost. God said that they are free of course. In that case, the Armenians said, we'll take the biggest one you've got.
The Republic of Armenia now has a population of about 3 million after following the large-scale emigration after the earthquake, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. 98% of the residents are ethnically Armenian, with Yezidis comprising the largest minority and handful of Russian, Greek, Assyrian villages remaining. There are more Armenians living outside of the borders of Armenia today than inside, due to the Armenian Genocide, and the recent emigration. The Armenian Diaspora formed large communities throughout the Middle East, Europe and Asia after the Armenian Genocide. Beirut, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Paris, Moscow, Isfahan and many other cities have thriving Armenian communities.
Throughout history Armenian art and culture have been influenced by far off places due to its location in the middle of the silk road. At the same time a uniqueness has been preserved in architecture, music, khachkar carvings, and illuminated manuscripts that have left a rich legacy for today's Armenia, and which in turn have influenced art in Europe and Asia as well. The Soviet system encouraged many artists, and Armenians living in the diaspora also excelled as the likes of Arshile Gorky, Aivazovsky, Carzou, and others of the 20th century are featured prominently in the world art museums and galleries.
SOCIETY & CONDUCT
Armenia lays across Anatolia and Caucasia, the two land bridges from Europe to Asia. It has been a Christian country surrounded almost entirely by Muslim neighbors since the dawn of these religions. These factors have influenced the society heavily, and caused a pleasant mixture of east and west. Armenians are extremely proud of their culture and history, which includes a level of hospitality unseen by most westerners. You will hear many times that Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion, even though the vast majority of Armenians are not churchgoers. Many locals who have not traveled about Armenia as much as the average two week tourist will ask if Armenia is not more beautiful than the homeland of the tourist, if the water is not more delicious, if the fruits are not more tasty.
As a Christian nation of the former Soviet Union, Armenians are very accepting of western behavior and dress by tourists. The local men are rarely seen wearing shorts, but it is perfectly acceptable unless you are attending a formal affair. Drinking and smoking are the norm, and although you will never be pressured to smoke, on many occasions you may be asked to share a bottle of vodka, which they drink straight, and over many toasts. As a foreigner, almost anything you normally do is perfectly acceptable in Armenia. Also as a foreigner, you may alternately be offered things for exorbitant prices, or for free.
Mice in the church
There was a town with a serious mouse problem, and three religious leaders got together to discuss the issue of their houses of worship being overrun by rodents. A year later, they got together to compare results.
The Rabbi said that he had prayed that the mice stop coming to his synagogue, but it had not worked. The Catholic Priest said he had also prayed, and even resorted to mousetraps, but the problem was as bad as ever at his church. The Armenian Priest said he had solved his problem. When the others asked in amazement how he did it, he said that he baptized the mice, and now they only come to church on Easter like all the other Armenians.
The vast majority of Armenians claim membership in the Armenian Apostolic Church, an independent national church. Communism frowned upon religion and church services are attended by a tiny percent of the population. Marriages and baptisms are customarily done at church still, and occasional visits to churches or monasteries to light a candle or sacrifice an animal are not uncommon. Since independence, Armenia has seen the construction of many new churches, and religious instruction is being taught as well.
There are also separate branches of Catholic and Protestant Churches in Armenia, which account for under 5% of the population, in addition to the even smaller Greek, Russian, and Assyrian Churches and the Yezidi population, with its own religion. A small number of Iranian businessmen reside in Armenia as well since independence, and they can be seen at worship at the Blue Mosque in Yerevan.
Persian Armenian Dialect Joke
A Persian Armenian walks into a shop in Yerevan and asks a question in the typical Persian-Armenian accent -- no rolling the 'r' and extending out the last vowel of the sentence a great deal.
'duk unek varoooooooong?' (do you have cucumbers?)
The shopkeeper pauses, then answers,
'ayo, bayts voch et qan yerkar'. (yes, but none that long)
Armenian is a branch on the Indo-European language tree, with no close living related languages. Armenian has its own alphabet, invented by Mesrop Mashtots in order to translate the bible into Armenian. There are many dialects spoken today, with the eastern dialects being spoken in Armenia, and the Yerevan Armenian being most widely spoken. Most of the diaspora outside of the former Soviet Union speaks Western Armenian, which differs significantly from Eastern. Karabakh has its own dialect, which even Armenian's from Armenia can have a difficult time with, and Armenians from Persia (Iran) speak a very distinct dialect as well, similar to standard Eastern Armenian, but without ever rolling the 'r' sound, and often elongating the last vowel of the sentence a great deal. More information can be found at Armenian Language
|AVOIDING MONASTERY FATIGUE|
Some visitors can't get enough of Armenia's countless ancient monasteries. If you are going to venture out of Yerevan, you'll no doubt see your share - but if you plan things right, you'll never grow tired of them. Many of the day tours offered in Armenia are crazy day trips to the regions, in order to see as many churches as possible, no matter the distance. While this is a convenient way to see a bunch of the country, and get photos of all the biggies, there is another way. There are decent hotels in the regions where you can spend the night, so why drive 3 hours to Lori and 3 hours back in a day? It just doesn't make sense at all. Plus, since most of the monasteries are sited in areas of spectacular natural beauty, there is no need to drive up, snap photos for 15 minutes, and jump back in the car.
Plan your day so that you visit a couple of monasteries, work in a hike, a picnic, a khorovadz (BBQ). Camp out in the area, if you can get your hands on some gear (contact Avarayr Travel for rentals, or better yet, bring your gear). Take a book and read in ancient Sanahin, where Sayat Nova, the famous bard sang. Hike from Parz Lij to Goshavank, and lay under the trees where Mkhitar Gosh codified medieval Armenian laws. Explore Tatev, then make your way down to devils bridge to soak in mineral waters and climb down under the natural land bridge. Just take your time, mix it up, and enjoy. There will always be more monasteries waiting for you...
When to Go
Spring and autumn are the best times to visit, although most visitors come in the summer out of convenience. The winter is cold. Much of Armenia is only green in the spring, while the short fall display is beautiful in forested places like Dilijan, Jermuk, and much of Karabakh.
There are some good maps of Armenia, but they are often hard to find abroad. Your best bet is to travel to Armenia, then look for maps at Vernissage or the book stores. Road maps, topographic and political maps abound, and those by "Collage" are quite good.
What to Bring
This depends on the purpose of your visit, and the length of your stay. For the most part, things you are used to in the west will be easily available in Yerevan. People here tend to dress business casual on a regular basis, and usually do not get much fancier than that. As a tourist you can wear whatever you are accustomed to abroad.
VISAS & DOCUMENTS
A visa is required for a visit to Armenia, except for citizens of certain CIS and East Bloc countries. You can get a 3 week visa upon arrival for $30, while a 3-day transit visa costs $20 upon entry. 3-week tourist visas are also issued at embassies for about $50, or online at www.armeniaforeignministry.am for $60 if you want it ahead of time. If you leave with an expired visa, you will not be in trouble, but must pay a $3/day fee for staying over when you leave. There is also an airport tax of 10,000 AMD which is paid in cash when you leave, so keep exactly 10,000 AMD in your pocket when you leave for the airport. This is not a departure tax and is not required when exiting a land border crossing.
A 3 week tourist visa may be extended without much fuss once for 2 additional weeks at OVIR (behind the OLD Aeroflot building on Mashtots Street) for a fee. OVIR can be a difficult place to understand and get things done. Keep trying to see an English speaker which will probably be Tigran, head of the visa department. He should be able to help you. Extensions longer than that can be more complicated, and are easier for ethnic Armenians, but you always have the option of overstaying your visa and paying the fine when you leave as described above.
There are virtually no student discounts in Armenia. In case you lose your passport it is a good idea to have a photocopy of it in a separate place, as well as a certified copy of your birth certificate so your embassy can issue you a new one. If you plan to drive, bring your drivers license, which will do for a few weeks. For longer stays an international drivers license is recommended.
Armenian Embassies Abroad
Avda. Pte. Roque Saenz Pena 570 Piso 3, Buenos Aires 1035 Argentina
Tel: 011-541-345-2051 011-541-345-1882 011-541-345-2037; Fax: 011-541-343-2467
use UK or Canada embassy
Neubaugasse 12-14/1/16, 1070 Vienna, Austria
Tel: 011-431-522-7480 011-431-522-7479; Fax: 011-431-522-7481
157 Franz Merjay street, 1050 Brussels, Belgium
Tel/Fax: +32 (2) 346-56.67 +32 (2) 344-97.01
130 Albert St., Ste. 1006, Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 5G4 Canada
Tel: (613) 234-3710; Fax: (613) 234-3444
26 rue Dode de Bruneria, 00716 Paris, France
Tel: 011(331) 5376-0993, 011(331) 4212-9800; Fax: 011(331) 5376-1007, 011(331) 4212-9803
4 Tetelashvili Street, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia
Tel: 011(8832) 951-723 011(8832) 964-286; Fax: 011(8832) 990-126 011(8832) 985-535
Viktoriastrasse 15, 53173 Bonn, Germany
Tel: 011(49228) 366-329; Fax: 011(49228) 352-903
159 Syngrou Ave., First Floor, 17121 N. Smyrni, Athens, Greece
Tel: 011-301-934-5727; Fax: 011-301-935-2187
D-133, Anand Niketan, 110057, New Delhi, India
Tel: +91-11-2410-2851 (and 2 at the end also works); Fax: +91-11-2410-2853 Email: email@example.com
India Consulate in Mumbai - Rosyblue(I) Pvt. Ltd., 7th Floor, Mehta Mahal, 15 Mathew Road, Opera House
Phone: +91-22-5665-0135 Fax: +91-22-2362-1670 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Ostad Shahriar St. Corner of Razi, Jonhouri Eslami Ave., Tehran, Iran
Tel: 011(9821) 674-833; Fax: 011(9821) 670-657
Tel: 011(9821) 674-833; Fax: 011(9821) 670-657
2 Armiansky Per., Moscow 101000
Tel: 011(095) 924-1269; Fax: 011(095) 924-4535 011(095) 928-3384
EMB - Adnam Maliki Ibrahim Hananu, Damascus, Syria Tel: 011(9631) 1373-2992
CON - A 1 Kawakibi 4, Taha, Hussein 12, Aleppo, Syria Tel: 011(9631) 1171-1757
25A Cheniston Gardens, London, W8 6TG, United Kingdom
Tel: 011-44171-938-4514 011-44171-938-5435; Fax: 011-44171-938-2595
2225 R Street, NW; Washington, DC 20008
BP (202) 319-1976; BF (202) 319-2982</span>
1000 N Central Avenue #200
Glendale, CA 91202
BP: (818) 265-5900
Foreign Embassies in Armenia
8 Lusavoritch Street
42 Aram St
29 Charents St
72 Dzorap St, Hrazdan Hotel; 5th fl.
50/2 Dzorapi Street, Yerevan 375019
Phone: (00-374-10) 539-173, 539-174. 539-175 Fax: 533984, 539170
1 Budaghian St.
7 Vardanants St.
13a Lusavorich St.
BP 56-74-27; consular 58-98-43
14 Baghramian Ave.
Baghramyan St. (under AUA)
The dram is always accepted, and the dollar almost always as well. If you are bringing dollars you should only bring crisp newer bills to avoid hassles. The exchange rate is widely known and you usually will not come out ahead with any particular currency. There is no restriction on exchange, so do not hesitate to convert to dram and use that for your expenses. Credit cards are not widely accepted, only at certain upscale places. ATM's can be found in strategic spots in Yerevan, but the STAR and EXPLORE systems may not be supported yet. Don't bother to bring travelers checks, cash and credit are easier to deal with. Western Union is all over the country, so you always have that to back up should you run out of cash.
For the most part, Armenia is a very cheap country to visit, though more upscale establishments and higher prices are becoming more common. Normal hotel rooms in the center of Yerevan are however not cheap, and luxury hotels are proliferating. Hotels like the Shirak and Erebuni are still affordable in the center, though not as nice as the others. To keep hotel costs down, you can arrange a homestay for beginning at $5/night, or a nice apartment for $25/night. A good meal with alcohol will cost under $5, while most street foods will cost under $1. For those who want luxury, there are 5 star hotels and $50 meals available as well.
The national currency is the Armenian Dram (AMD) and is the same whether singular or plural. It has remained stable since it passed its introductory phase. The smallest unit normally used is the 10 dram coin, while the 500 and 1000 notes are the handiest to have around. Producing change is often a problem at stores and restaurants, so keep a fair amount of small change.
USA US$1 = 450 AMD (April, 2005)
Changing money is one of the easiest things to do in Yerevan, if you have dollars in good condition. Torn or worn out bills may be refused or else only accepted at a 3% discount. Rubles, Euros, and some other currencies exchange rates are posted as well, so in Yerevan, it should be easy to get drams for them. There is never a commission at the exchange windows, and posted exchange rates are reasonable. Usually, the smaller the difference between buy and sell, the better the rate you are getting. Exchanges are often side by side, but if you cannot find one you can go into most stores or to a market and ask around, likely as not they will be happy to change it for a pretty reasonable rate as well. The same is true outside of Yerevan, especially in larger towns.
Tipping & Bargaining
It is not a well established custom to tip in most parts of Armenia, but in Yerevan it has become the norm. Some places not accustomed to tips will actually refuse or return them. Many restaurants charge a "service" charge, which apparently does not go to waitresses. Bargaining is a deep rooted tradition and in some situations is an absolute must. Some places, especially outside of Yerevan will not bring you an itemized bill. If the bill seems high, ask for one. If places do not have menus, ask the price of everything you order, and don't let them just answer "normal". Most places are quite honest, but it is better not to allow room for misunderstanding.
POST & COMMUNICATIONS
Letters or postcards to and from Armenia usually make it in about 2 weeks. Many Armenians will try to get someone (like you) to hand carry letters abroad. Refusing should not cause offense, and in the end may cause mail delivery in Armenia to speed up and improve. It is highly recommended to send letters, packages and even postcards with secure mail (personal experience of Lusine and Roland Breitscheidel- of 24 postcards sent in April 2005 to Italy, Canada and Germany, from two different post-offices in Yerevan, one of them the main office at Republic Square, none has arrived).
Calling Armenia is easy, and the lines to central Yerevan are quite good. Unfortunately there is a domestic telephone monopoly owned by the Greeks, and calling abroad from Armenia can be intolerably expensive. Calls to the US are usually US$3/minute and about US$2.50/minute to Europe. Try to find an internet telephone shop to make a call for under 30 cents/minute (these were recently made illegal as well in a "deal" with the Greek phone company, so they may disappear). Public phones can be found all over, some using the old tokens, but most using pre-paid phone cards. There are also some services which rent mobile phones to visitors. Outside of Yerevan, you may need to ask where the phones are, because they are often housed in the main post office with attendants connecting you to your party. The international country code for Armenia is 374, and the city code for Yerevan is 10 (or 91, 92 or 93 if it is a mobile phone number). While calling from the CIS countries the old code 8852 (or try 8851) should be used.
Important Phone Numbers:
- 101 Fire
- 102 Police
- 103 Ambulance
- 109 Information (Or you can try 59-00-00 in Yerevan)
- 184 Railway Info
- 187 Airport Info
- 56-53-70 Bus Station (Avtokayaran)
Fax & Email
You will notice "FAX" signs in shops all over Yerevan, it is usually by the minute, and a bit more expensive than a phone call of the same duration. Internet cafes are all over downtown Yerevan, at the pretty standardized price of US$3/hour.
A very large number of Armenian Books are in circulation, although many are hard to find and in a variety of languages. A good number of books can be found on Amazon.com or if there is a large Armenian population in your town, there may be an Armenian bookstore. Books in Armenian can be found in Armenia for very cheap at vernisage among other places, with a fair amount of Russian as well. Art books, and other books with a lot of pictures can be bought for quite cheap if you are a good bargainer, which is nice since they can be enjoyed without reading the text. In general, it is hard to find books published in the west while in Armenia, and likewise it is hard to find books published in Armenia when you are in the west.
Travel books about Armenia are now multiplying. Starting with Passage to Ararat (ISBN 1886913056), a 1970's book about an Armenian-American's first trip to his homeland, you can see that although the country has changed tremendously in the past few decades, much remains the same. Recently published books are Armenia: A Country and the People by Khudaverdyan and Sargsyan, and The Crossing Place, by Philip Marsden. As far as guidebooks go there are the Lonely Planet: Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan (ISBN 0864426801), The Stone Garden Guide: Armenia and Karabagh (ISBN 0967212081), the Bradt Guide to Armenia & Karabakh, and the somewhat less conventional Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook, which is available in print or online for free. It covers all the major and minor sites, giving a bit of history and info on each including directions. The most recent publication is Adventure Armenia, by the Kanach Foundation, with 22 hikes and some rock climbs - all with maps and directions.
History & Politics
There is no shortage of books on Armenian history, as Armenians love this subject and they have a 3,000 year history. Armenia: The Survival of a Nation (ISBN 0312042302), by Christopher Walker is good. Armenia: Cradle of Civilization (ISBN 0049560093) is another good book, written by David Marshall Lang. Two fictional genocide era novels are the old bestseller, Forty Days of Musa Dagh (ISBN 0881846686), by Franz Werfel, and the Armenian classic The Fool, by Raffi, which eerily predicts much of the events of the genocide. For more history books visit Armenian History Books. There is understandably not much available yet on newly reborn Armenian politics.
Armenia at the Crossroads: Democracy and Nationhood in the Post-Soviet Era (ISBN 0962871516), is a book edited by Gerard Libaridian, a former presidential advisor in Armenia. Visions of Ararat: Writings on Armenia (ISBN 1860641113), by Christopher Walker, and the recent novel, The Crossing Place, by Philip Marsden is a highly recommended book about a man who travels to 20 countries to find their Armenian communities and stories, culminating in his arrival in the Republic of Armenia.
NEWSPAPERS & MAGAZINES
There are a couple of English language weekly newspapers in Armenia, none of which I'd recommend. Better to get your news online. Many periodicals such as Newsweek, the Economist, and some newspapers can be found for sale in central Yerevan. Try Artbridge Restaurant on Abovian St., and the nicer hotels. The International Herald Tribune can be found at Square One on Abovian Street.
RADIO & TV
There are a couple of FM stations in Armenia that play primarily English music. There are also Armenian, Iranian, Russian, Arabic and Turkish stations on the FM, AM and shortwave bands. On television there are a few Armenian stations with a mix of Armenian and Russian language programming, including western shows or movies dubbed usually into Russian. Stations from neighboring countries can be picked up on any antenna, and with a little receiver at about $20 USD/month you can get BBC, MTV, and a host of other international channels (call 54-54-54).
PHOTOGRAPHY & VIDEO
Most visitors to Armenia end up taking many more pictures, and much more video than they expect. This is usually not a problem, since film is plentiful and developing cheap at about US$4 for 36 prints. Digital Video (mini DV) cassettes and slide film are also available, but a little harder to find, so bring some extra along, or get it in Yerevan before heading out of town. You can take pictures just about anywhere (avoiding military posts and borders), and many people love having their pictures taken, with complete strangers often requesting to be photographed. (This is especially true in the villages).
Many hotels offer laundry service, or have a lady on each floor who will be happy to do it for you. Make absolutely certain you have agreed to a price before handing over the clothes, as it is possible they will later ask for more than you would pay in New York! For a store with reasonable prices and excellent service, you can visit Selena Service. Regular washing costs about a dollar a kilo. Ironing costs extra, and depends on the type of item. A medium sized duffel bag full without ironing is about $5. Pickup and delivery is also available for a fee (phone 53-65-08). There is a Selena shop at 4 Zakian Street, near Hotel Shirak, not far from Republic Square. Pyunic Laundry offers a similar service on Pushkin St., near Saryan St.
Women travelers will likely be be safer in Armenia than at home. Armenian men will usually do no more than try to talk to you, or stare. If it bothers you a loud goodbye should be enough, but having a companion will eliminate all issues.
Few places in Yerevan are built with the physically handicapped in mind, though this is changing. Many multilevel buildings have no elevators, and even on the first floor there is often a step or two, with no ramp. I have however seen handicapped people in wheelchairs get around solely by getting pushed by helpful strangers as many blocks as they are headed in the same direction, to be helped by the next helpful stranger.
Although this varies a bit, it is safe to say that restaurants and many businesses are open seven days a week, with some convenience stores open 24/7. Offices are often closed on weekends, while museums usually close on one weekday. There is no need to wake up early, most businesses take their time opening up, and offices rarely function before 9:30.
The electrical current in the Republic of Armenia is 220 V, 50 Hz, while the wall outlets take continental-type plugs, with two round prongs.
Armenia is 4 hours ahead of GMT (+4) and twelve hours ahead of California (+12).
PUBLIC HOLIDAYS & FESTIVALS
Being a Christian country, most Armenian holidays are the same as western holidays, and observed in a pretty similar fashion, although the different church calendar might cause it to fall on a different day.
New Years (January 1-2nd)
Armenia's biggest celebration starts on New Year's Eve, and continues for days.
Christmas (January 6th)
Christmas is observed in January, with Christmas trees pretty widespread, and gift giving and feasting lasting the entire week from New Years Eve to Christmas.
Women's Day (March 8th)
Flower's are everywhere, so it's best you don't show up without some.
Genocide Memorial Day (April 24th)
This day is commemorated in solemnity worldwide by Armenians. In Yerevan hundreds of thousands of people walk to the genocide memorial and place a carnation by the eternal flame for the victims.
Easter Sunday may or may not fall on the same day as the Greek or Catholic Easter, but it is celebrated much the same way, usually in April, but sometimes in March.
Labor Day (May 1)
Labor Day or May Day has been a holiday since communist times.
Victory Day (May 9)
Republic Day (May 28)
Celebrations of the independence of Armenia in 1918 are a national holiday. It was the first Armenian state since the fall of Cilicia, but was occupied by the Soviet Union a few years later before regaining independence in 1991.
Constitution Day (July 5)
Marks the adoption of Armenia's current constitution.
Known to most Americans in Yerevan as bucket day, or water day, it is a date you do not want to forget. Vardavar (Վարդավառ in Armenian, Vartavar in Western Armenian) falls on a Sunday, usually in July (98 days after the Easter to be exact), and any child (sometimes up to 16 years old) has the right to dump an entire bucket of water on anybody with no fear of repercussions. They exercise this right every chance they get, seemingly doing little else all day. Complaining will make you a bad sport after the fact, but pleading and running from them is acceptable. If you dress lightly (and girls avoid white t-shirts) on this holiday that comes at the peak of summer heat, you may enjoy Vardavar a lot.
Golden Apricot Intn'l Film Festival (July)
Large annual film festival with directors and films from all over the world.
Independence Day (September 21)
Independence day is celebrated with parades, concerts, barbeques and fireworks. The annual Kenats (Cheers) Festival is held on Independence Day.
Musa Ler Day (4th Sunday of September?)
Each year the village of Musa Ler (or Musa Dagh, both meaning Musa Mountain) celebrates the anniversary of their escape from the Turks during the genocide. They defended themselves on a mountain by the Mediterranean Sea for over a month from the Turkish army before their rescue by the French. Their story resulted in the international bestseller, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (ISBN 0881846686) by Franz Werfel. The descendants of these survivors live in a village near Yerevan and each year they cook 40 huge pots of Harisa which is given free to all visitors and celebrate.
Golden Autumn (October)
This holiday is celebrated in different ways and on different days in Armenia. Yeghegnadzor celebrates Voski Ashun (Golden Autumn) on the second Sunday of October every year with a huge festival. There is wine and cheese tasting, folk dancing, singing and plenty of entertainment all day long in the main park. Festivities start mid-morning. In Yerevan there is an annual concert at one of the stadiums with popular singers and fireworks.
New Years Eve (December 31)
December 31 marks the beginning of a week of celebration. Visiting friends from one house to the next at all hours of the night, fireworks and other celebrations take place until January 6th, which marks Armenian Christmas.
You will notice from many place descriptions and the basic geography of the country, that a great number of outdoor activities are possible. Most have not yet become popular in this post-Soviet state, but are bound to as the country develops.
Armenia is a hikers paradise. With beautiful mountains, valleys, canyons, ruins, and four distinct seasons, you will never run out of places to explore. With virtually no fences, and large parts of the country virtually untouched and pristine, there are few obstacles to reaching any point or peak in the country. Khosrov nature reserve requires a free permit available at the Ministry of Nature Protection. Hiking without the permit is unlikely to get you in any trouble, but cars may not be allowed in. Adventure Armenia: Hiking and Rock Climbing (ISBN 9993078549) was published in late 2004. Hike and Go will organize hikes for you.
See the bicycle section for information. Cyclists are rare in Armenia, but there are many excellent biking opportunities.
There is little in the way of water sports in Armenia at this time. The huge Lake Sevan has plenty of potential, but for now it remains just that. Swimming and a little boating exists, but windsurfing and other sports are yet to arrive.
There is one choice for skiing in Armenia, and that is Tsaghkadzor. The conditions at Tsaghgadzor are reasonable, with new lifts having been installed in 2004. There is a catch of course, there is no easy public transportation, and if you do not have your own skis, you may have to look around to find a suitable pair. There are a couple of people who rent out skis at the resort itself, but their selection is small and can be in bad shape. I have found my best bet is to get there early, go up the first lift, and go to the rental/ski lesson shop under the ski lodge - the best skis and very competitive (posted) prices.
As a land bridge between Asia and Europe,. Armenia has a tremendous variety of migratory and resident birds if you know where to look. A Field Guide to Birds of Armenia (ISBN 0965742911) is an indispensable resource for bird watchers in Armenia.
Rock Climbing & Mountain Climbing
Again, although these are not popular sports yet, Armenia and Karabakh are perfect for these activities. There is a small but dedicated group of mountain climbers. Avarayr Tours can help those iterested in doing some climbing.
Caving or Spelunking
There are a number of regions in Armenia and Karabakh with caves that anybody can enjoy, many of which have been inhabited. Kh'ndzoresk, Ayrk, Lachin, the cliffs of Shushi, of Saghmosavank, and countless other places as well have the shallow caves, many of which were lived in before. There are also caverns such as Mozrov, Arjeri and Magili near Yeghegnadzor that only the experienced or those with guides should enter.
Volunteer opportunities abound in Armenia, from the well organized group or individual programs, to just about anything you are willing to help with. There is a great variety of summer programs in particular. The Land and Culture Organization has separate July and August projects each summer where you are part of a group of volunteers from around the world in a village, working on reconstructing an old church or community center. The AYF Summer Internship program usually places college students in an Armenian government office related to their field so they can get experience and share ideas. You can also try http://www.birthrightarmenia.org and http://www.armenianvolunteer.org. There are a number of other organized programs as well. If you have other fields of expertise or interest, you can probably make the trip to Armenia and arrange something yourself with relative ease. English tutoring is always an easy way to make a living in Armenia, and there are many NGO and development job options as well: http://www.armeniapedia.org/index.php?title=Jobs_In_Armenia
A number of people prefer to stay in apartments in Yerevan over hotels. Apartments are more spacious, and often cheaper, especially if you are more than one person and also if you stay for a longer time. Menua Tours and Yerevan Rentals have listings online, while Sati Travel and Hyur Services also provide similar services.
Another new concept in Armenia, there is no single listing of B&Bs. See guesthouses above for relevant information, and try http://www.bedandbreakfast.am as their site grows.
Camping opportunities are great in Armenia for the same reasons that hiking is. Bring all of your own gear and you will enjoy getting out into the unspoiled country.
There is no directory of guest houses in Armenia, and there are not too many to begin with. If you need a place to stay at anytime and even begin asking around for such an establishment, you will probably be invited to stay at someone's house. The only downside to accepting such an invitation is that you may be faced with excessive hospitality and the conditions may be very poor.
The only hostel in Yerevan is the Envoy Hostel (corner of Pushkin and Parpetsi) which opened in September 2005. It is large, immaculate and currently costs 6,000-7,000 AMD with breakfast. Outside of Yerevan, most large towns have a hotel and they are normally under 2,500 AMD a night. The conditions vary greatly, although they are normally quite poor. The rooms are normally two person rooms charged per person, not room, and you do not share with strangers. It is also possible almost anywhere to find a house that will take you in for a couple of dollars a night. Check the conditions before accepting.
Hotels in Armenia and Karabakh come in two forms; upscale and downscale. If you are staying in Yerevan, you have one or two options in between, such as Parev Inn, but outside of Yerevan and Stepanakert, with few exceptions hotels are extremely run down at the least. Jermuk, Dilijan, Sevan, Lori and Tsaghkadzor have some nice exceptions, and new options are becoming available all the time.
Since the fall of communism, Armenia has seen a huge number of restaurants spring up, many of them reasonably priced, and good. Pizza, Arabic food, shish kebab/barbeque (also called khorovadz) and a sprinkling of other ethnic foods are easy to find in Yerevan. There are no western fast food franchises with the exception of Yum Yum Donuts. Service varies greatly and the check is never brought until requested. Outside of Yerevan, it may be hard to get real meals on the road except for khorovadz. Vegetarianism is virtually unheard of in Armenia and not well understood, but many suitable dishes are available, especially in the summer. At the khorovadz joints on the road, ask for them to khorovadz tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes for variety. Also try "kamats matsun" (pressed yogurt) if they have it, and fish, but always ask prices first (especially for fish!). It is probably best not to try "khash", the wintertime broth made from what is best described as leftover cow parts - it seems to be an aquired taste, though the amount of lavash and vodka consumed with it leads me to wonder if even locals have a taste for it yet.
Drinking vodka may seem to be the national pastime, especially in the villages. Many of them have built up a remarkable tolerance, although many may actually be drinking much less than it would outwardly appear if you watch closely. A large part of drinking is toasting, which at dinners is led by the tamada toastmaster). In villages, you are likely to be offered either excellent vodka made from local fruits (mulberries, grapes, cornelian cherry, wild pears), or something that tastes like rubbing alchohol - both are lethally strong. Aside from vodka, the local beer and cognac are excellent and cheap. There are many homemade alcohols and liqueurs as well, most of which are delicious. Mixed drinks and other alcohols tend to be hard to find and expensive. You will probably be offered Armenian Coffee (haykakan surch), which is the universal drink for any time of the day. It is thick, oriental/eastern coffee like that drunk throughout the region and comes sovorakan/normal (medium sugar), daruh (no sugar) and kaghtser (sweet). Much of the year, you can get fresh fruit smoothies at cafes and restaurants. Just ask what "fresh" they have available - strawberry (yelak), raspberry (malina), melon (sekh), as well as carrot, watermelon and others are commonly offered in season.
Wine is thought to have originated in this area, as the abundance of wild grape varieties indicate that this region is the source of the cultivated grape. The local legend is that Noah himself planted the first grape vines when he descended from Mt. Ararat. Some of the oldest historical references recording the mention of a drink which could be beer was made in reference to Armenia.
Cultural entertainment is prolific in Armenia. The Opera has many world class programs, with multiple events each week. Prices are astonishingly low, so if you like the symphony or opera, you are in luck. When it comes to the modern definition of night life, Yerevan is just a toddler. With its first club opening in 1996, there are still relatively few to choose from. Astral and Aqua in Opera park, and Relax are popular. If none of this interests you, you can sit at one of the hundreds of overlapping cafes, go to a jazz club, or simply sit by the fountains in Republic Square. The tourist information office at 3 Nalbandyan should have the latest information on entertainment.
THINGS TO BUY
You will find a large variety of handicrafts available in Armenia, of very high quality, and low prices. From carved wood and stone crosses, backgammon, chess and checker sets to boxes, coat of arms, and a hundred other things. The variety of things made out of obsidian is also large, since it is so plentiful here. The best prices are at Vernissage, but you should be prepared to bargain. There are also rugs, Caucasian socks, needlework, lace, and other handmade items. Some other items that may interest westerners are some remnant first and second hand Soviet products and books. The things for sale can vary from week to week. Be wary of taking anything out of the country that is an antique, it may be forbidden. You should check with the ministry of culture before buying anything very old that may be have cultural value attached to it. To take back a taste of Armenia, try some herbal teas. Ancient Herbals has a good line, and can be purchased at many locations.
ON THE GROUND INFORMATION
Armenia has the first tourist information office in the Caucasus, opened in 2001. Located at 3 Nalbandian Street, across from Republic Square metro station, they are quite helpful. Tel: 54-23-03 http://www.armeniainfo.am
GETTING THERE & AWAY
By far the most popular way of geting to Armenia, it is easy to catch a flight to Armenia from a large number of cities across Europe, America, and the Middle East. Most of these routes are serviced either by an Armavia, or by British, Austrian, German, Russian, Turkish, Syrian and Czech carriers. Levon Travel has offices in Yerevan, Tblisi, Paris, and Los Angeles, and their web site has some flight information.
You will arrive at Zvartnots International Airport, which is undergoing a massive overhaul. You can take a taxi, or a bus to Yerevan. Taxis cost about $10, while the bus costs 100 dram and operates from early morning until 6pm. If you take the bus you can ask to be dropped off by the covered market (pag shuga) or stay on until the last stop by the Opera. Zvartnots airport information can be called by dialing 1-87.
There are many ways to get from Armenia to Georgia by land. There are buses, trains, marshutnis, taxis and you can always drive or hitch. From Tblisi you can catch a taxi to Ortajala, which is where the minivans to Yerevan depart from.
The train line to Iran is via Nakhichevan region of Azerbaijan, so it is currently closed. Buses leave to Iran from Hotel Erebuni for approximately $50. Private cars are permitted to cross the border, and hitching with the numerous Iranian truck drivers by the border crossing in Meghri is not out of the question. A visa may be required. There is an informative Iranian Embassy in Armenia web site. Prana Tours (email@example.com) can assist with Iranian visas and tours. To get to Armenia you can catch a cab from Tabriz to Nocuz, the Iranian border town for $15. You may have to tell them Ermenistan. From there you easily cross to Agarak on the Armenian side and can catch a cab or hitch to nearby Meghri for about 30 cents/km where there are buses to Yerevan a few times a week, or you can take a cab/hitch much further to Kapan or Goris which have transport to Yerevan each morning. This all having been said, you may want to consider the cheap flights from Tehran to Yerevan.
A traveller writes: Consider going to Nurdooz (border with Armenia) and hopping on the Tehran-Yerevan bus. The bus arrives at the border at about 5:00 AM and then continues on to Yerevan, arriving at about 9:00PM. The bus only leaves on certain days so you would have to check the schedule. Alternatively, you can take a mashrutka on the other side of the border. The Tabriz-Nurdooz run costs about 160,000 rials and takes about 2.5 hours. It will take about 18 hours to do the whole thing.
Refer to getting around in Armenia section, the information is exactly the same except that you should obtain a visa from the Karabakh Representative Office in Yerevan.
The Armenian border with Turkey is closed by Turkey. Meanwhile, there are bus services from Turkey to Armenia via Georgia. A ticket costs about $40 one way, plus about about that much more for misc. border bribes in Georgia. A Turkish/Georgian/Armenian visa may be required of you so it is best to get these before arriving to the region (there is no Armenian Embassy in Turkey). There are discounts for part way trips.
- AST Turizm Ltd.
- Turkey - Tiyatro Cad. Esirci Kemalettin Sk. No. 12 Beyazit-Istanbul
Tel. (unavailable) :Armenia - Nalbandian 50, Tel +56-44-54
Departs Wednesday and Saturday at Kilikia bus station
- Mahmudoglu Turizm Ltd.
- Turkey - Buyuk Istanbul Otogari No: 3 B. Pasa-Istanbul
Tel. (0.212) 658 38 34 (and -35)
- Armenia - Hotel Erebuni Room 224, Tel +56-11-53
Departs Wednesday and Saturday
This is a very cheap way to get around in Armenia, but more for the budget traveler. A ticket to Lake Sevan for example will cost about a dollar, but will take twice as long as other means, and you may not get a seat. Buses are often beat up, but they cover the country well, and buses from the actual bus station to the regions are much better than the average private bus.
There are some inexpensive train lines in Armenia which can be taken to Gyumri, Sevan, Vanadzor, Alaverdi or Tblisi. They are very slow and basic transportation. Yerevan's train station is at Sasuntsi Davit Metro Station, where schedules and tickets can be obtained. Call 1-84 for Railway information.
A number of inexpensive and reliable taxi services exist in Yerevan, as well as countless taxis which sit at intersections. The taxi service companies are often easier to deal with than corner cabs and you can call their exchange to have them pick you up anywhere. They will quote you the correct and very inexpensive price on the phone. Corner taxis should not expect a tip, that is included in the price they negotiate, but service taxi company drivers might be given one. In the most desolate places with no taxis, you can offer any car at all money to drive you and as likely as not they will be happy to. Corner cabs usually charge 600 to 1000 drams for a ride anywhere within central Yerevan (gentron).
Marshrutni (Fixed Route Taxi-bus)
A marshrutni is a van which has a regular route around the city or country. The ones in Yerevan have numbers which identify which route they follow, while the marshrutnis that go to other cities have the city name in the window. Marshrutnis within Yerevan cost 100AMD (20 cents). The streets and places on the route are usually listed on the window in Armenian, so you may have to ask which one take you to your desired destination. You can also take marshrutnis around the country, or out of the country to Georgia or Karabakh. A ride to Stepanakert in Karabakh costs about 6,000AMD ($12). For more marshrutni info and a list of routes visit the Yertughayin Taxi page.
A surprisingly cheap alternative for day trips is to hire a van which comes with a driver. There are companies with set prices, reliable new vans, and honest drivers. Another plus is that you can seat up to 10 people, so if you can get a few people together, the per person price comes down considerably. This is a very flexible method of travel, and a half day will cost about $30, while a full day will cost about $50. Overnight trips are also possible. The same companies I recommend in the car section should be able to provide this service as well.
A couple of companies have a set schedule of tours, depending on the day of the week. Monday may always be Garni & Geghard, Tuesday may be Noravank and Khor Virap, and so on. With prices starting at just a few dollars a person, this is usually a great deal for individuals and smaller groups, plus it includes a tour guide. One company which has a good schedule of these tours is Sati-Armenia, (Tel. 53-10-22, 53-11-20) at 21 Mashtots Street. Another popular company with these day tours is Menua (Tel. 59-45-39, 58-56-16). These tours may not be operating in the low season.
CAR & MOTORCYCLE
Motorcycles are easy enough to get around in, but unavailable for rent.. Cars are easy enough to drive, and can be rented from many places. Cars with drivers included in the package can be arranged by most hotels and tour companies. Renting just a car costs about $40/day from the following companies, with some having modern western cars, and some having Nivas, etc.
50a Mashtots Ave. (on Issahakyan)
(374 10) 52-92-92, 58-19-75
(374 98) 55-92-92
Europcar Rent a Car
8 Kievyan Street
229495 or 269495
Although this is not a great idea to get around within Yerevan, there are many awesome biking opportunities throughout Armenia. Old Jermuk Canyon Road, Noravank Canyon Road, the road around beautiful Lake Sevan and countless others are a bikers delight. As biking is not yet popular here, you should bring your bike and all supplies (a few spare tubes at least!) See the Bike Armenia Tour Route route for a good itinerary. Bicycles can be rented in Armenia from Beau Monde Service at the Marriott on Republic Square. Tel: 59-99-64 or 59-99-65.
Hitching a ride is quite common in Armenia by the locals who will wait on the road for a bus or van, and who will sometimes get into a private car as well. You may or may not offer them some money to help with the gas, it will depend on the distance, inconvenience, etc. Hitching is very safe.