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Armenia is a nation and former Soviet republic in the mountainous Caucasus region between Asia and Europe. The country is one of the world's oldest civilizations--this fall, its capital of Yerevan celebrates its founding 2800 years ago! The fortress of Erebuni is its predecessor site, meaning Yerevan was founded about 30 years before Rome. Today, its ruins sit high above modern-day Yerevan, an evocative and peaceful place to contemplate the history of the country...and its future at this pivotal time, so full of hope with the a new government in place after a peaceful "Velvet Revolution" that ousted a corrupt oligarchy.
In 301 AD, Armenia became the first country in the world to adopt Christianity, and scattered across the country are dozens of ancient and magnificent churches and monasteries, each with extraordinarily colorful histories. For example, to single out just one, Geghard Monastery, founded in the 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator on the site of a spring inside a cave. With the arrival of Christianity in Armenia, and continuing up to the 17th century, kings, bishops and noblemen chose to be buried in tombs at the entrances of churches & monasteries so people would have to step on their graves to enter; these luminaries wanted to bear the weight of their people's worries.
Music is a huge part of Armenian culture, with a wide range of folk songs and sacred pieces that transmit the spectrum of emotions and messages that range from tributes to traditional food dishes, pleas to the diaspora to return home, sweet lullabies, rousing dance tunes, ancient chants, and iconic epics. The duduk is the Armenian oboe and the country's national instrument, which was inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008. Komitas, a priest who lived from 1869 - 1935, is considered the founder of Armenia's national school of music and one of the pioneers of ethnomusicology--in his lifetime, he collected and transcribed over 3,000 pieces of Armenian folk music. The Komitas Museum offers fascinating insights into his life, times, music and methodology for preserving Armenia's musical heritage.
Armenia has a wealth of other cultural traditions, all of which reflect a civilization with a very strong design aesthetic, such as carpet-weaving, cross-stone monuments, calligraphy, and illuminated manuscripts. The Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, known locally as Matenadaran, is considered one of the world's richest depositories of medieval manuscripts, spanning theology, philosophy, history, medicine, literature, art history, and cosmography.
Armenia's endurance as a culture is testimony to the spirit of perseverance of its people, who have faced many oppressors over the centuries, the most horrific being the Genocide by the Turks from 1915 - 1923. As a result, since antiquity, Armenians have left their Motherland to create communities around the world. Today there are seven million Armenians in diaspora, and three million living in their native land. The majority of visitors to Armenia today are members of the diaspora--but expect that to change, as non-Armenians wake up to all the country has to offer visitors.