ARMENIA

Official name: Republic of Armenia
Capital Yerevan
Population 3,330,099
Languages Armenian 96%, Russian 2%, other 2%
Time Zone: GMT+4hrs in winter and GMT+5 in summer

Independence 21 September 1991 (from Soviet Union)
National holiday Independence Day, 21 September (1991)
Currency dram (AMD)

Summer Temp: 17º C / 34º C
Winter Temp: -9º C /10º C

Ethnic groups Armenian 93%, Azeri 3%, Russian 2%, other (mostly Yezidi Kurds) 2% (1989)
note: as of the end of 1993, virtually all Azeris had emigrated from Armenia
Religions Armenian Apostolic 94%, other Christian 4%, Yezidi (Zoroastrian/animist) 2%

Location South-western Asia, east of Turkey
Area
total: 29,800 sq km
water: 1,400 sq km
land: 28,400 sq km
Land boundaries
total: 1,254 km
border countries: Azerbaijan-proper 566 km, Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave 221 km, Georgia 164 km, Iran 35 km, Turkey 268 km
Coastline 0 km (landlocked)
Climate highland continental, hot summers, cold winters
Terrain Armenian Highland with mountains; little forest land; fast flowing rivers; good soil in Aras River valley
Elevation extremes
lowest: Debed River 400 m
highest: Aragats Lerrnagagat' 4,090 m
Natural resources small deposits of gold, copper, molybdenum, zinc, alumina
Natural hazards occasionally severe earthquakes; droughts
Armenia prides itself on being the first nation to formally adopt Christianity (early 4th century). Despite periods of autonomy, over the centuries Armenia came under the sway of various empires including the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman. It was incorporated into Russia in 1828 and the USSR in 1920. Armenian leaders remain preoccupied by the long conflict with Muslim Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated region, assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s by Moscow. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also a significant portion of Azerbaijan proper. The economies of both sides have been hurt by their inability to make substantial progress toward a peaceful resolution. Turkey imposed an economic blockade on Armenia and closed the common border because of the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas.

Culture
The international Armenian community remains loyal to strong cultural traditions, many of which have enriched the societies into which Armenians emigrated. Cultural tradition has been a means of maintaining a sense of national unity among widely dispersed groups of Armenians.


Literature and the Arts
The Armenians became active in literature and many art forms at a very early point in their civilization. Urartian metalworking and architecture have been traced back to about 1000 B.C. The beginning of truly national art is usually fixed at the onset of the Christian era. The three great artistic periods coincided with times of independence or semi-independence: from the fifth to the seventh century; the Bagratid golden age of the ninth and tenth centuries; and the era of the kingdom of Lesser Armenia in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries.
Of especially high quality in the earlier periods were works in gold and bronze, as well as temples, military fortifications, and aqueducts. In the early Christian era, classical church architecture was adapted in a series of cathedrals. The circular domes typical of Armenian churches were copied in Western Europe and in Ottoman Turkey. The best example of the distinctive architectural sculpture used to adorn such churches is the early tenth-century Church of the Holy Cross on an island in Lake Van. The architecture of contemporary Erevan is distinguished by the use of pinkish tufa stone and a combination of traditional Armenian and Russian styles.
Armenian painting is generally considered to have originated with the illumination of religious manuscripts that thrived from the ninth to the seventeenth century. Armenian painters in Cilicia and elsewhere enriched Byzantine and Western formulas with their unique use of color and their inclusion of Oriental themes acquired from the Mongols. Many unique Armenian illuminated manuscripts remain in museums in the West.
The nineteenth century saw a blooming of Armenian painting. Artists from that period, such as the portrait painter Hacop Hovnatanian and the seascape artist Ivan Aivazovsky, continue to enjoy international reputations. Notable figures of the twentieth century have included the unorthodox Alexander Bazhbeuk-Melikian, who lived a persecuted existence in Tbilisi, and the émigré surrealist Arshile Gorky (pseudonym of Vosdanik Adoian), who greatly influenced a generation of young American artists in New York. Other émigré painters in various countries have continued the tradition as well.
The Armenian literary tradition began early in the fifth century A.D. with religious tracts and histories of the Armenians. The most important of these were written by Agathangelos, Egishe, Movses Khorenatsi and Pavstos Buzand. A secular literature developed in the early modern period, and in the eighteenth century Armenian Catholic monks of the Mekhitarist order began publishing ancient texts, modern histories, grammars, and literature. In the nineteenth century, Armenians developed their own journalism and public theater. Khachatur Abovian wrote the first Armenian novel, Verk Haiastani (The Wounds of Armenia), in the early 1840s. Armenian literature and drama often depict struggles against religious and ethnic oppression and the aspirations of Armenians for security and self-expression.


National Traditions
Major Armenian holidays commemorate both religious and historical events. Besides Christmas and Easter, the most important holidays are Vartanants, the day marking the fifthcentury defense of Christianity against the Persians, and April 24, which commemorates the 1915 genocide of the Armenians in Turkey.
At times of celebration, Armenians enjoy traditional circle dances and distinctive Eastern music. Their music and their cuisine are similar to those of other Middle Eastern peoples. A typical Armenian meal might include lamb, rice pilaf, eggplant, yogurt, and a sweet dessert such as paklava (baklava). Armenians pride themselves on their close family ties, hospitality, and reverence for their national language and culture, an appreciation that is passed from one generation to the next.

Getting There
Flying to Yerevan's Zvartnots airport takes about five hours from major European cities. There are lots of flights via Moscow, and a growing number of flights to Middle Eastern hubs such as Dubai. By land, the only option is to enter from the south via Iran or from the north via Georgia. The borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are currently closed and unlikely to open soon, though oddly enough you can fly between Istanbul and Yerevan.

Food
Armenian cuisine is as ancient as the history of Armenia, and a combination of different tastes and aromas. Closely related to Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, various spices, vegetables, fish, and fruits combine to present unique dishes. The preparation of a large number of meat, fish and vegetable dishes in the Armenian kitchen requires stuffing, frothing and pureeing. Throughout history, Armenian cuisine has had cultural exchange with its Greek, Persian, Turkish, and Arab counterparts. Armenia is also famous for its wine, brandy and vodka. In particular, Armenian cognac is renowned worldwide, and was considered by the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, as his favourite.
Barbecue is very popular in Armenia, and makes the primary offer of main courses in most restaurants. It is often eaten as fast food.

Historical Background
Armenian civilisation had its beginnings in the sixth century B.C. In the centuries following, the Armenians withstood invasions and nomadic migrations, creating a unique culture that blended Iranian social and political structures with Hellenic-- and later Christian--literary traditions. For two millennia, independent Armenian states existed sporadically in the region between the north-eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea and the Caucasus Mountains, until the last medieval state was destroyed in the fourteenth century. A landlocked country in modern times, Armenia was the smallest Soviet republic from 1920 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The future of an independent Armenia is clouded by limited natural resources and the prospect that the military struggle to unite the Armenians of Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region with the Republic of Armenia will be a long one.
The Armenians are an ancient people who speak an Indo-European language and have traditionally inhabited the border regions common to modern Armenia, Iran, and Turkey. They call themselves hai (from the name of Hayk, a legendary hero) and their country Haiastan. Their neighbors to the north, the Georgians, call them somekhi, but most of the rest of the world follows the usage of the ancient Greeks and refers to them as Armenians, a term derived according to legend from the Armen tribe. Thus the Russian word is armianin, and the Turkish is ermeni.


Ancient Times
People first settled what is now Armenia in about 6000 B.C. The first major state in the region was the kingdom of Urartu, which appeared around Lake Van in the thirteenth century B.C. and reached its peak in the ninth century B.C. Shortly after the fall of Urartu to the Assyrians, the Indo-European-speaking proto-Armenians migrated, probably from the west, onto the Armenian Plateau and mingled with the local people of the Hurrian civilization, which at that time extended into Anatolia (presentday Asian Turkey) from its center in Mesopotamia. Greek historians first mentioned the Armenians in the mid-sixth century B.C. Ruled for many centuries by the Persians, Armenia became a buffer state between the Greeks and Romans to the west and the Persians and Arabs of the Middle East. It reached its greatest size and influence under King Tigran II, also known as Tigranes or Tigran the Great (r. 95-55 B.C.). During his reign, Armenia stretched from the Mediterranean Sea northeast to the Mtkvari River (called the Kura in Azerbaijan) in present-day Georgia. Tigran and his son, Artavazd II, made Armenia a center of Hellenic culture during their reigns.
By 30 B.C., Rome conquered the Armenian Empire, and for the next 200 years Armenia often was a pawn of the Romans in campaigns against their Central Asian enemies, the Parthians. However, a new dynasty, the Arsacids, took power in Armenia in A.D. 53 under the Parthian king, Tiridates I, who defeated Roman forces in A.D. 62. Rome's Emperor Nero then conciliated the Parthians by personally crowning Tiridates king of Armenia. For much of its subsequent history, Armenia was not united under a single sovereign but was usually divided between empires and among local Armenian rulers.

Early Christianity
After contact with centers of early Christianity at Antioch and Edessa, Armenia accepted Christianity as its state religion in A.D. 306 (the traditional date--the actual date may have been as late as A.D. 314), following miracles said to have been performed by Saint Gregory the Illuminator, son of a Parthian nobleman. Thus Armenians claim that Tiridates III (A.D. 238-314) was the first ruler to officially Christianize his people, his conversion predating the conventional date (A.D. 312) of Constantine the Great's personal acceptance of Christianity on behalf of the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire).
Early in the fifth century A.D., Saint Mesrop, also known as Mashtots, devised an alphabet for the Armenian language, and religious and historical works began to appear as part of the effort to consolidate the influence of Christianity. For the next two centuries, political unrest paralleled the exceptional development of literary and religious life that became known as the first golden age of Armenia. In several administrative forms, Armenia remained part of the Byzantine Empire until the mid seventh century. In A.D. 653, the empire, finding the region difficult to govern, ceded Armenia to the Arabs. In A.D. 806, the Arabs established the noble Bagratid family as governors, and later kings, of a semiautonomous Armenian state.
The Middle Ages

Particularly under Bagratid kings Ashot I (also known as Ashot the Great or Ashot V, r. A.D. 862-90) and Ashot III (r. A.D. 952-77), a flourishing of art and literature accompanied a second golden age of Armenian history. The relative prosperity of other kingdoms in the region enabled the Armenians to develop their culture while remaining segmented among jurisdictions of varying degrees of autonomy granted by the Arabs. Then, after eleventh-century invasions from the west by the Byzantine Greeks and from the east by the Seljuk Turks, the independent kingdoms in Armenia proper collapsed, and a new Armenian state, the kingdom of Lesser Armenia, formed in Cilicia along the north-easternmost shore of the Mediterranean Sea. As an ally of the kingdoms set up by the European armies of the Crusades, Cilician Armenia fought against the rising Muslim threat on behalf of the Christian nations of Europe until internal rebellions and court intrigue brought its downfall, at the hands of the Central Asian Mamluk Turks in 1375. Cilician Armenia left notable monuments of art, literature, theology, and jurisprudence. It also served as the door through which Armenians began emigrating to points west, notably Cyprus, Marseilles, Cairo, Venice, and even Holland.
The Mamluks controlled Cilician Armenia until the Ottoman Turks conquered the region in the sixteenth century. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Turks and the Persians divided Caucasian Armenia to the northeast between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The Persians dominated the area of modern Armenia, around Lake Sevan and the city of Erevan. From the fifteenth century until the early twentieth century, most Armenians were ruled by the Ottoman Turks through the millet system, which recognized the ecclesiastical authority of the Armenian Apostolic Church over the Armenian people.


Russian Influence
In the eighteenth century, Transcaucasia (the region including the Greater Caucasus mountain range as well as the lands to the south and west) became the object of a military-political struggle among three empires: Ottoman Turkey, tsarist Russia, and Safavid Persia. In 1828 Russia defeated Persia and annexed the area around Erevan, bringing thousands of Armenians into the Russian Empire. In the next half-century, three related processes began to intensify the political and national consciousness of the ethnic and religious communities of the Caucasus region: the imposition of tsarist rule; the rise of a market and capitalist economy; and the emergence of secular national intelligentsias. Tsarism brought Armenians from Russia and from the former Persian provinces under a single legal order. The tsarist system also brought relative peace and security by fostering commerce and industry, the growth of towns, and the building of railroads, thus gradually ending the isolation of many villages.
In the mid-nineteenth century, a major movement toward centralization and reform, called the Tanzimat, swept through the Ottoman Empire, whose authority had been eroded by corruption and delegation of control to local fiefdoms. Armenian subjects benefited somewhat from these reforms; for instance, in 1863 a special Armenian constitution was granted. When the reform movement was ended in the 1870s by reactionary factions, however, Ottoman policy toward subject nationalities became less tolerant, and the situation of the Armenians in the empire began to deteriorate rapidly.
The Armenians themselves changed dramatically in the mid nineteenth century. An intellectual awakening influenced by Western and Russian ideas, a new interest in Armenian history, and an increase in social interaction created a sense of secular nationality among many Armenians. Instead of conceiving of themselves solely as a religious community, Armenians--especially the urban middle class--began to feel closer kinship with Christian Europe and greater alienation from the Muslim peoples among whom they lived.
Lacking faith in reform within the empire, Armenian leaders began to appeal to the European powers for assistance. In 1878 Armenian delegates appeared at the Congress of Berlin, where the European powers were negotiating the disposition of Ottoman territories. Although Armenian requests for European protection went largely unanswered in Berlin, the "Armenian question" became a point of contention in the complex European diplomacy of the late nineteenth century, with Russia and Britain acting as the chief sponsors of Armenian interests on various issues.
The Armenian independence movement began as agitation on behalf of liberal democracy by writers, journalists, and teachers. But by the last decade of the nineteenth century, moderate nationalist intellectuals had been pushed aside by younger, more radical socialists. Armenian revolutionary parties, founded in the early 1890s in Russia and Europe, sent their cadres to organize in Turkey. Because of the self-destruction of one major party, the Social Democratic Hnchaks, and the relative isolation of the liberals and the "internationalist" Social Democrats in the cities of Transcaucasia, the more nationalist of the socialist parties, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, also known as the Dashnak, a shortened form of its Armenian name), emerged by the early twentieth century as the only real contender for Armenian loyalties. The ARF favored Armenian autonomy in both the Russian and the Ottoman empires rather than full independence for an Armenia in which Russian- and Ottomanheld components would be unified.
In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the Armenians' tendency toward Europeanization antagonized Turkish officials and encouraged their view that Armenians were a foreign, subversive element in the sultan's realm. By 1890 the rapid growth of the Kurdish population in Anatolia, combined with the immigration of Muslims from the Balkans and the Caucasus, had made the Armenian population of Anatolia an increasingly endangered minority. In 1895 Ottoman suspicion of the westernized Armenian population led to the massacre of 300,000 Armenians by special order of the Ottoman government.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Russian border, Armenian churches and schools were closed and church property was confiscated in 1903. Tatars massacred Armenians in several towns and cities in 1905, and fifty-two Armenian nationalist leaders in Russia were tried en masse for underground activities in 1912.
The Young Turks

The Armenian population that remained in the Ottoman Empire after the 1895 massacre supported the 1908 revolution of the Committee of Union and Progress, better known as the Young Turks, who promised liberal treatment of ethnic minorities. However, after its revolution succeeded, the Young Turk government plotted elimination of the Armenians, who were a significant obstacle to the regime's evolving nationalist agenda.
In the early stages of World War I, in 1915 Russian armies advanced on Turkey from the north and the British attempted an invasion from the Mediterranean. Citing the threat of internal rebellion, the Ottoman government ordered large-scale roundups, deportations, and systematic torture and murder of Armenians beginning in the spring of 1915. Estimates vary from 600,000 to 2 million deaths out of the prewar population of about 3 million Armenians. By 1917 fewer than 200,000 Armenians remained in Turkey.
Whatever the exact dimensions of the genocide, Armenians suffered a demographic disaster that shifted the center of the Armenian population from the heartland of historical Armenia to the relatively safer eastern regions held by the Russians. Tens of thousands of refugees fled to the Caucasus with the retreating Russian armies, and the cities of Baku and Tbilisi filled with Armenians from Turkey. Ethnic tensions rose in Transcaucasia as the new immigrants added to the pressures on the limited resources of the collapsing Russian Empire.
As was the case for most of Europe, World War I changed Armenia's geopolitical situation. The war also precipitated an ethnic disaster of rare magnitude and brought the Armenians who remained in their native territory into a new type of empire.


Postwar Realignment
Between 1915 and 1917, Russia occupied virtually the entire Armenian part of the Ottoman Empire. Then in October 1917, the Bolshevik victory in Russia ended that country's involvement in World War I, and Russian troops left the Caucasus. In the vacuum that remained, the Armenians first joined a Transcaucasian federation with Azerbaijan and Georgia, both of which, however, soon proved to be unreliable partners. The danger posed by the territorial ambitions of the Ottoman Turks and the Azerbaijanis finally united the Caucasian Armenian population in support of the ARF program for autonomy. In May 1918, an independent Armenian republic was declared; its armies continued to fight on the Allied side south of the Caucasus until the Ottoman Empire surrendered in October 1918. The independent republic endured from May 1918 to December 1920. In the new government, ARF leaders R.I. Kachazuni and A.I. Khatisian became prime minister and foreign minister, respectively.
The Republic of Armenia included the north eastern part of present-day eastern Turkey, west along the Black Sea coast past Trabzon and southwest past Lake Van. But Armenia's precarious independence was threatened from within by the terrible economic conditions that followed the war in the former Ottoman Empire and, by 1920, by the territorial ambitions of Soviet Russia and the nationalist Turks under Kemal Atatürk. Atatürk had rehabilitated Turkey rapidly under a new democratic system, but the ruling party still hoped to create a larger state by taking territory in western Armenia from which Armenians had been driven. In defending its independence, the Republic of Armenia waited in vain, however, for the material and military aid promised at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The Allies' memories of the 1915 massacre faded as war weariness and isolationism dominated their foreign policy.
In agreeing to the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, the World War I Allies and Turkey recognized Armenian independence; as part of the treaty, Armenia received some disputed territory in what had been the Ottoman Empire. However, most of western Armenia remained in Turkish hands. Eastern Armenia, ravaged by warfare, migration, and disease, had an Armenian population of only 720,000 by 1920. Caught between the advancing Turks and the Red Army, which had already occupied neighbouring Azerbaijan, in November 1920 the ARF government made a political agreement with the communists to enter a coalition government. The Treaty of Aleksandropol', signed by this government with Turkey, returned Armenia's northern Kars District to Russia and repudiated the existence of Armenian populations in newly expanded Turkey.
In 1922 Armenia was combined with Azerbaijan and Georgia to form the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (TSFSR), which was a single republic of the Soviet Union until the federation was dissolved and each part given republic status in 1936. When the TSFSR was formed, the new Soviet government in the Armenian capital of Erevan ruled over a shrunken country with a devastated economy and few resources with which to feed the populace and rebuild itself. In integrating their republic into the newly forming Soviet Union, Armenian communists surrendered the sovereignty that the independent republic had enjoyed briefly. Although it eliminated rival political parties and restricted the range of public expression, the new government promoted Armenian culture and education, invited artists and intellectuals from abroad to return to Armenia, and managed to create an environment of greater security and material well-being than Armenians had known since the outbreak of World War I.
During the rule of Joseph V. Stalin (in power 1926-53), Armenian society and its economy were changed dramatically by Moscow policy makers. In a period of twenty-five years, Armenia was industrialized and educated under strictly prescribed conditions, and nationalism was harshly suppressed. After Stalin's death, Moscow allowed greater expression of national feeling, but the corruption endemic in communist rule continued until the very end in 1991. The last years of communism also brought disillusionment in what had been one of the most loyal republics in the Soviet Union until the late 1980s.

Stalinist Restructuring
Stalin's radical restructuring of the Soviet economic and political systems at the end of the 1920s ended the brief period of moderate rule and mixed economy under what was known as the New Economic Policy. Under Stalin the Communist Party of Armenia (CPA) used police terror to strengthen its political hold on the population and suppress all expressions of nationalism. At the height of the Great Terror orchestrated by Stalin in 1936-37, the ranks of CPA leaders and intellectuals were decimated by Lavrenti Beria, political commissar for the Transcaucasian republics.
Stalin's enforced social and economic engineering improved literacy and education and built communications and industrial infrastructures where virtually none had existed in tsarist times. As they emerged from the Stalin era in the 1950s, Armenians were more mobile, better educated, and ready to benefit from the less repressive policies of Stalin's successor, Nikita S. Khrushchev (in power 1953-64). The years of industrialization had promoted an upward social mobility through which peasants became workers; workers became foremen or managers; and managers became party and state officials.

Communism after Stalin
After Stalin's death in 1953, Moscow granted the republic more autonomy in decision making, which meant that the local communist elite increased its power and became entrenched in Armenian politics in the 1950s and 1960s. Although overt political opposition remained tightly restricted, expressions of moderate nationalism were viewed with greater tolerance. Statues of Armenian national heroes were erected, including one of Saint Vartan, the fifth-century defender of Armenian Christianity.
Even as Armenia continued its transformation from a basically agrarian nation to an industrial, urban society--by the early 1980s, only a third of Armenians lived in the countryside--the ruling elite remained largely unchanged. As a result, corruption and favouritism spread, and an illegal "second economy" of black markets and bribery flourished. In 1974 Moscow sent a young engineer, Karen Demirchian, to Erevan to clean up the old party apparatus, but the new party chief soon accommodated himself to the corrupt political system he had inherited.
Three issues combined by 1988 to stimulate a broad-based Armenian nationalist movement. First, the urbanization and industrialization of Armenia had brought severe ecological problems, the most threatening of which was posed by a nuclear power plant at Metsamor, west of Erevan. Second, many Armenians were angered by the pervasive corruption and arrogance of the communist elite, which had become entrenched as a privileged ruling class. Third and most immediate, Armenians were increasingly concerned about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, an autonomous region of Azerbaijan having nearly 200,000 Armenians living within Azerbaijan under Azerbaijani rule, isolated from mainstream Armenian culture.
Control of Nagorno-Karabakh (the conventional geographic term is based on the Russian for the phrase "mountainous Karabakh") had been contested by the briefly independent republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan after World War I. In 1924 the Soviet government designated the region an autonomous region under Azerbaijani jurisdiction within the TSFSR. At the time, 94.4 percent of the estimated 131,500 people in the district were Armenian. Between 1923 and 1979, the Armenian population of the enclave dropped by about 1,000, comprising only about 76 percent of the population by the end of the period. In the same period, the Azerbaijani population quintupled to 37,000, or nearly 24 percent of the region's population. Armenians feared that their demographic decline in Nagorno-Karabakh would replicate the fate of another historically Armenian region, Nakhichevan, which the Soviet Union had designated an autonomous republic under Azerbaijani administration in 1924. In Nakhichevan the number of Armenians had declined from about 15,600 (15 percent of the total) in 1926 to about 3,000 (1.4 percent of the total) in 1979, while in the same period immigration and a higher birth rate had increased the Azerbaijani population from about 85,400 (85 percent) to 230,000, or nearly 96 percent of the total.
In addition to fearing the loss of their numerical superiority, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh resented restrictions on the development of the Armenian language and culture in the region. Although the Armenians generally lived better than Azerbaijanis in neighboring districts, their standard of living was not as high as that of their countrymen in Armenia. Hostile to the Azerbaijanis, whom they blamed for their social and cultural problems, the vast majority of Karabakh Armenians preferred to learn Russian rather than Azerbaijani, the language of Azerbaijan. As early as the 1960s, clashes occurred between the Karabakh Armenians and the Azerbaijanis, and Armenian intellectuals petitioned Moscow for redress of their situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. )
A series of escalating attacks and reprisals between the two sides began in early 1988. Taking advantage of the greater freedom introduced by the glasnost and perestroika policies of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev (in power 1985-91) in the late 1980s, Armenians held mass demonstrations in favor of uniting NagornoKarabakh with Armenia. In response to rumored Armenian demands, Azerbaijanis began fleeing the region. A two-day rampage in the industrial town of Sumgait, northwest of Baku, resulted in the deaths of more than 100 Armenians. During 1988, while Moscow hesitated to take decisive action, Armenians grew increasingly disillusioned with Gorbachev's programs, and Azerbaijanis sought to protect their interests by organizing a powerful anti-Armenian nationalist movement.
Gorbachev's 1989 proposal for enhanced autonomy for NagornoKarabakh within Azerbaijan satisfied neither Armenians nor Azerbaijanis, and a long and inconclusive conflict erupted between the two peoples. In September 1989, Azerbaijan began an economic blockade of Armenia's vital fuel and supply lines through its territory, which until that time had carried about 90 percent of Armenia's imports from the other Soviet republics. In June 1989, numerous unofficial nationalist organizations joined together to form the Armenian Pannational Movement (APM), to which the Armenian government granted official recognition.
After more than two years of the Karabakh conflict, Armenia had gone from being one of the most loyal Soviet republics to complete loss of confidence in Moscow. Gorbachev's unwillingness to grant Karabakh to Armenia and his failure to end the blockade convinced Armenians that the Kremlin considered it politically advantageous to back the more numerous Muslims. Even the invasion of Azerbaijan by Soviet troops in January 1990, ostensibly to stop pogroms against Armenians in Baku, failed to dampen the growing anti-Soviet mood among Armenians.
On August 23, 1990, Armenia formally declared its intention to become sovereign and independent, with Nagorno-Karabakh an integral part of what now would be known as the Republic of Armenia rather than the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Armenian nation was defined broadly to include not only those living in the territory of the republic but also the worldwide Armenian émigré population as well.
Independence

In January 1991, the Armenian Supreme Soviet decided not to participate in Gorbachev's planned referendum on preserving the Soviet Union. In March the parliament announced that, instead, the republic would hold its own referendum in September, in compliance with the procedure outlined in the Soviet constitution for a republic to secede. Although literal compliance would mean that Armenia would not be fully independent for five years after the referendum, Moscow soon moved to change Armenia's course. Without notifying the Armenian government, Moscow sent paratroopers to the republic in early May, ostensibly to protect Soviet defense installations in Armenia. Ter-Petrosian's official statement in reaction characterized the move as a virtual declaration of war by the Soviet Union.
In August 1991, when a self-proclaimed emergency committee attempted to overthrow Gorbachev and take control in Moscow, the Armenian government refused to sanction its actions. Fearing an extension of the Soviet incursion of May, Ter-Petrosian approached the Moscow coup very cautiously. The republic's Defense Committee secretly resolved to have the Armenian armed forces go underground and wage guerrilla warfare. Ter-Petrosian, who believed that Gorbachev's personal blunders, indecisiveness, and concessions to conservative communists were to blame for the coup, was overjoyed when the conservatives were defeated. But the coup itself convinced Armenians of the need to move out of the Soviet Union as rapidly as possible, and it validated TerPetrosian 's refusal to participate in the revival of the Soviet Union advocated by Gorbachev.
Within two months of the coup, Armenians went to the polls twice. In September 1991, over 99 percent of voters approved the republic's commitment to independence. The immediate aftermath of that vote was the Armenian Supreme Soviet's declaration of full independence, on September 23, in disregard of the constitution's restraints on secession. Then in October, Ter-Petrosian was elected overwhelmingly as president of the republic. He now had a popular mandate to carry out his vision of Armenian independence and self-sufficiency.
As political changes occurred within the republic, armed conflict continued in Nagorno-Karabakh during 1991. Armenia officially denied supporting the "Nagorno-Karabakh defense forces" that were pushing Azerbaijani forces out of the region; Armenia also accused the Soviet Union of supporting Azerbaijan as punishment for Armenia's failure to sign Gorbachev's new Union Treaty. In turn, Azerbaijan called Armenia an aggressor state whose national policy included annexation of Azerbaijani territory.
Two immediate tasks facing independent Armenia were rebuilding its devastated economy and strengthening its fledgling democratic institutions. But the escalating war in NagornoKarabakh and the effective blockade of the republic by the Azerbaijanis led to a total collapse of the economy. By early 1993, the government seemed helpless before mounting economic and political problems. The last remaining oil and gas pipelines through neighboring Georgia, which itself was being torn by civil and interethnic war, were blown up by saboteurs. To survive the cold, Armenians in Erevan cut down the city's trees, and plans were made to start up the nuclear power plant at Metsamor. In February 1993, demonstrations called for the resignation of the government, but Ter-Petrosian responded by naming a new cabinet headed by Hrant Bagratian.
While economic and political conditions deteriorated within Armenia, the military position of the Armenians in the Karabakh struggle improved dramatically. Various peace negotiations sponsored by Iran, Russia, Turkey, and a nine-nation group from the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe had begun in 1991 and sporadically had yielded cease-fires that were violated almost immediately. In the spring of 1992, while the Azerbaijani communists and the nationalist Azerbaijani Popular Front fought for control in Baku, Karabakh Armenian forces occupied most of Nagorno-Karabakh, took the old capital, Shusha, and drove a corridor through the Kurdish area around Lachin to link Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. But the immediate result of this victory was the collapse of Russian-sponsored peace negotiations with Azerbaijan and the continuation of the war.
Beginning a counteroffensive in early summer, the Azerbaijanis recaptured some territory and created thousands of new refugees by expelling Armenians from the villages they took. In midsummer this new phase of the conflict stimulated a CSCEsponsored peace conference, but Armenia stymied progress by demanding for the first time that Nagorno-Karabakh be entirely separate from Azerbaijan.
By the end of 1992, the sides were bogged down in a bloody stalemate. After clearing Azerbaijani forces from NagornoKarabakh and the territory between Karabakh and Armenia, Armenian troops also advanced deep into Azerbaijan proper--a move that brought condemnation from the United Nations (UN) Security Council and panic in Iran, on whose borders Armenian troops had arrived. In the first half of 1993, the Karabakh Armenians gained more Azerbaijani territory, against disorganized opposition. Azerbaijani resistance was weakened by the confusion surrounding a military coup that toppled the APF government in Baku and returned former communist party boss Heydar Aliyev to power.
The coup reinvigorated Russian efforts to negotiate a peace under the complex terms of the three parties to the conflict: the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the increasingly independent and assertive Karabakh Armenians. CSCE peace proposals were uniformly rejected during this period. Although Russia seemed poised for a triumph of crisis diplomacy on its borders, constant negotiations in the second half of 1993 produced only intermittent cease-fires. At the end of 1993, the Karabakh Armenians were able to negotiate with the presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia from a position of power: they retained full control of Nagorno-Karabakh and substantial parts of Azerbaijan proper.
The Armenian Diaspora
Beginning in the eleventh century, a long series of invasions, migrations, conversions, deportations, and massacres reduced Armenians to a minority population in their historic homeland on the Armenian Plateau. Under these conditions, a large-scale Armenian diaspora of merchants, clerics, and intellectuals reached cities in Russia, Poland, Western Europe, and India. Most Armenians remaining in historical Armenia under the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century survived as peasant farmers in eastern Anatolia, but others resettled in Constantinople, Smyrna, and other cities in the empire. There they became artisans, moneylenders, and traders. In the nineteenth century, the political uncertainties that beset the Ottoman Empire prompted further insecurity in the Armenian population. Finally, the Young Turk government either massacred or forcibly removed the vast majority of Armenians from the eastern Anatolian provinces in 1915.
Today about half the world's Armenians live outside Armenia. Armenian communities have emerged in the Middle East, Russia, Poland, Western Europe, India, and North America, where Armenians have gained a reputation for their skill in crafts and in business. Although accurate statistics are not available, the Armenian diaspora is about equally divided between the 1.5 million Armenians in the other republics of the former Soviet Union and a similar number in the rest of the world. The postcommunist Republic of Armenia has officially defined the Armenian nation to include the far-flung diaspora, a policy in accord with the feelings of many diaspora Armenians.
A common theme in Armenian discourse is the need to preserve the culture and heritage of the Armenian people through education and mobilization of younger members of the community. In this task, the Republic of Armenia enjoys the enthusiastic support of the international Armenian community, which sees a new opportunity to impart information to the rest of the world about Armenian culture--and especially to rectify perceived inattention to the tragedy of 1915.
The Armenian diaspora maintains its coherence through the church, political parties (despite their mutual hostilities), charitable organizations, and a network of newspapers published in Armenian and other languages. Armenian émigrés in the United States have endowed eight university professorships in Armenian studies. With the reemergence of an independent Armenia, diaspora Armenians have established industries, a technical university, exchange programs, and medical clinics in Armenia. Several prominent diaspora Armenians have served in the Armenian government.

Climate
Temperatures in Armenia generally depend upon elevation. Mountain formations block the moderating climatic influences of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, creating wide seasonal variations. On the Armenian Plateau, the mean midwinter temperature is 0° C, and the mean midsummer temperature exceeds 25° C. Average precipitation ranges from 250 millimeters per year in the lower Aras River valley to 800 millimeters at the highest altitudes. Despite the harshness of winter in most parts, the fertility of the plateau's volcanic soil made Armenia one of the world's earliest sites of agricultural activity.


Physical Environment
Armenia is located in southern Transcaucasia, the region southwest of Russia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Modern Armenia occupies part of historical Armenia, whose ancient centers were in the valley of the Aras River and the region around Lake Van in Turkey. Armenia is bordered on the north by Georgia, on the east by Azerbaijan, on the southwest by the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan, on the south by Iran, and on the west by Turkey.
Topography and Drainage
Twenty-five million years ago, a geological upheaval pushed up the earth's crust to form the Armenian Plateau, creating the complex topography of modern Armenia. The Lesser Caucasus range extends through northern Armenia, runs southeast between Lake Sevan and Azerbaijan, then passes roughly along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border to Iran. Thus situated, the mountains make travel from north to south difficult. Geological turmoil continues in the form of devastating earthquakes, which have plagued Armenia. In December 1988, the second largest city in the republic, Leninakan (now Gyumri), was heavily damaged by a massive quake that killed more than 25,000 people.
About half of Armenia's area of approximately 29,800 square kilometers has an elevation of at least 2,000 meters, and only 3 percent of the country lies below 650 meters. The lowest points are in the valleys of the Aras River and the Debet River in the far north, which have elevations of 380 and 430 meters, respectively. Elevations in the Lesser Caucasus vary between 2,640 and 3,280 meters. To the southwest of the range is the Armenian Plateau, which slopes south-westward toward the Aras River on the Turkish border. The plateau is masked by intermediate mountain ranges and extinct volcanoes. The largest of these, Mount Aragats, 4,430 meters high, is also the highest point in Armenia. Most of the population lives in the western and north-western parts of the country, where the two major cities, Erevan and Gyumri (which was called Aleksandropol' during the tsarist period), are located.
The valleys of the Debet and Akstafa rivers form the chief routes into Armenia from the north as they pass through the mountains. Lake Sevan, 72.5 kilometers across at its widest point and 376 kilometers long, is by far the largest lake. It lies 2,070 meters above sea level on the plateau. Terrain is most rugged in the extreme southeast, which is drained by the Bargushat River, and most moderate in the Aras River valley to the extreme southwest. Most of Armenia is drained by the Aras or its tributary, the Razdan, which flows from Lake Sevan. The Aras forms most of Armenia's border with Turkey and Iran as well as the border between Azerbaijan's adjacent Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and Iran.

Language
The Armenian language is a separate Indo-European tongue sharing some phonetic and grammatical features with other Caucasian languages, such as Georgian. The Iranian languages contributed many loanwords related to cultural subjects; the majority of the Armenian word stock shows no connection with other existing languages, however, and some experts believe it derives from extinct non-Indo-European languages. The distinct alphabet of thirty-eight letters, derived from the Greek alphabet, has existed since the early fifth century A.D. Classical Armenian (grabar) is used today only in the Armenian Apostolic Church as a liturgical language. Modern spoken Armenian is divided into a number of dialects, the most important of which are the eastern dialect (used in Armenia, the rest of Transcaucasia, and Iran) and the western dialect (used extensively in Turkey and among Western émigrés). The two major dialects differ in some vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and orthography.
In the Soviet period, schools in Armenia taught in both Armenian and Russian; in a republic where over 95 percent of the people claimed Armenian as their native language, almost all of the urban population and much of the rural population knew at least some Russian. At the end of the Soviet period, 91.6 percent of Armenians throughout the Soviet Union considered Armenian to be their native language, and 47.1 percent of Armenians were fluent in Russian.
Regions of Armenia

Yerevan
The Erebuni Fortress was an Urartuan stronghold, founded in the last quarter of the 8th century. B.C. by King Argishti I. Located within the Yerevan city limits, the striking archaeological remains are an excellent reminder that the bustling capital of Armenia has been continuously inhabited by its denizens for three thousand years.
Excavations have revealed a veritable treasure trove of archaeological discoveries. On the extensive premises one can firsthand behold palaces, temples, and domiciles from antiquity. Renovations to restore certain buildings and walls are currently underway at this impressive site. Certain well-preserved items are showcased at the State Museum of Armenian History in Yerevan.
The 7th century BC unearthed remains of Teyshebahini, an Urartuan stronghold, can be observed on the hillside of Karmir-Blur, in a suburban area south of Yerevan.
Excavations have disclosed a variety of structures which shed light on the level of advancement of Urartuan civilzation, including a mighty citadel, wine storage vessels, private houses, and evidence of an urban society. Certain distinguished pieces of bronze work such as helmets, weapons, and statuettes are on display at the State Museum of Armenian History (Yerevan) and the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The Genocide Memorial. On April 24th 1915 Ottoman Turks ordered the elimination of all Armenians living in the empire. The elimination of the Armenians had been planned carefully so that it would not be noticed. Turks thought5 that the major powers of the world would not pay attention to what was happening as they were caught up in a world war.
First, Turks were choosing leading male Armenian intellectuals, such as teachers, writers and civil servants. These individuals would be eliminated so that the Armenians would have no leadership to guide them. Afterwards they were killing them. Thousands of Armenian men were forced to join the Ottoman army. In reality they formed labor battalions. These Armenians were worn down by hard labor and hunger and then were forced to dig their own graves at gunpoint before they were shot.
Women and children were raped and sold into slavery. Witnesses recalled how Turkish officers would throw babies into flames or would bind groups of Armenians together and pour gasoline over them, and burn them alive. Tens of thousands died from thirst, starvation, exposure and disease, as it was strictly forbidden for anyone to help the Armenians.
All in all, 1, 5 million perished in this merciless campaign.
St. Hovhannes-Mkrtich Church was built in 1710 on the top of a hill in the Kond district of Yerevan where a medieval church once stood before being destroyed by an earthquake. This church is of basilica style. In modern times, the architect Rafael Israelian drew the attention of CatholicosVazgen I, to a basic plan for reconstruction of the church.
Avan Cathedral, situated in Yerevan, was built by order of Catholics John (591-602).
The interior quadra-apse composition resting on circular corner niche supports and having circular chambers is inscribed in a rectangle made up of massive external walls. It is the earliest example of its kind, while still reflecting earlier styles at its western entrance. Steles and khachkars are also found among later medieval monuments in Avan.
Saint Katoghike Church was built after a major earthquake during the years 1693-1695. Built with tufa-stone and cement, it was a basilica type church without a dome and one of the largest churches of Yerevan at the period. The church had entrances at both the southern and western sides of the structure. The walls of St. Katoghike Church lacked the usual characteristics of architectural art, save the khachkars (cross-stones) that appeared on these walls here and there dating back to 1679, 1693, 1694, and 1695. When the walls were demolished, old khachkars were found in them dating from 1472, 1641 and 1642. According to historical a much older church, traditionally called St. Astvatsatsin, occupied the same site. What remains is relatively in small size (5.4 x 7.5 m) but functions as a well attended community church today.
St. Sargis Church was built in 1450.Standing upon the upper part of Dzoragyugh and facing the old Yerevan Fortress on the left bank of the River Hrazdan, a desert-monastery functioned there since the earliest Christian era.
St. Sargis Church, together with the desert-monastery, was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1679 but was rebuilt on the same site during the reign of Catholicos Edesatsi Nahabet (1691-1705).
The present St. Sargis Church was rebuilt once again during the period 1835-1842. In 2000 a new gavit was added.
St. Astvatsatsin Church is situated on the top of Nork district. The church was destroyed by the disastrous earthquake of 1679. At the beginning of the XX century the church was restored by the donation of Ter-Avetikyan. As a result of the soviet policy of persecuting religion, the church was destroyed in 1930s’, yet numerous pilgrims from other parts of Armenia continued to visit the ruins of the church on feasts days of the Blessed Virgin. After independence, at the end of the XX century and beginning of the XXI, the church was rebuilt once again, thanks to Armenak Armenakyan.
St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral of Yerevan is an ensemble of 3 churches which together seat nearly 2,000. The main church seats 1700 - a symbolic reference to the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity as a state religion, for which commemoration it was commissioned. The two chapels have a capacity of 150 to 200 each. They are named after Tiridates and Ashkhen, the Armenian King and Queen who converted to Christianity in 301 AD and declared Christianity as a State religion. The total area of the church is 3,200 square meters (34,500 square feet).
St. Hakob Church was built on the site of a church destroyed by the earthquake of 1679. The St. Sahak Partev Diocesan School run by Mesrop Archimandrite Smbatyants had been functioning at the church since 1868. In soviet times, the church had been locked and served as a storehouse. Subsequently St. Hakob Church was restored and began functioning in 1990.
St. Zoravar Church is situated in the center of town. It was founded in the 7th century by Anania the apostle. It was ruined completely by the earthquake of 1679, but rebuilt in 1694. At the entrance there is a fresco of the Holy Mother and Child.
The Blue Mosque and Fortress was originally built by Turks. In the Middle Ages, the Persians recaptured Yerevan and the shah rebuilt this structure as a Persian mosque, adding the arched courtyard and madrasah (school for students of the Koran).After the Russian revolution, the mosque functioned as the city museum of Yerevan. When the Russians took Yerevan, the mosque served as a Russian Orthodox church, then fell into ruin during soviet rule. It was carefully rebuilt by Iranian benefactors during the past four years.
The Mordechay Navi Jewish Religious Community of Armenia was founded in 1992. Gersh Meir Burshtein is the Head Rabbi of Armenia. The main activity of the community is the religious education of Jews, translation from and into Hebrew, domiciliary aid to Jews, worship and funeral service. There is also a large library. Consultations for Jews are conducted concerning: medical problems, Jewish laws for Jewish women. Instruction is also available in the following fields: Hebrew language, ethnic culture of Jews and history of the Jewish People.
Medical equipment for disabled Jews and family members, a soup kitchen for Jews, and entertainment for Jewish children are also available here.


Aragatsotn
The region of Aragatsotn encompasses the alluring Mount Aragats, and its picturesque foothills. The spiritual subject of many Armenian writers and painters, Mount Aragats (Ara + Gah, means the throne of Ara) has exuded a mystic and magical aura throughout the ages. Aragats, with its four peaks, is Armenia's highest mountain. Its splendour has awed and attracted travellers throughout the ages. In addition to its raw natural beauty, the region, with more than 1000 historical monuments has much more to offer. The lace around the slopes of Mt. Aragats is accented by ancient frescoed churches in Mastara, Talin and Aruch, as well as splendid castles and impregnable fortresses, not to mention some world-renowned scientific centers.

Ararat
The impressive panorama of Mt. Ararat, its inaccessible height, and deep abysses has had a great influence on Armenians and become an object of cult and mythology. The region is rich in fascinating architectural monuments and archaeological ruins. Khosrov Preserve is located in the eastern part of the region, in the basins of the Azat and Vedi rivers

Aragats
Between the four-peaked mountain of Aragats and the biblical Mount Ararat, Armenia's national symbol of remembrance and hope lies the fertile lowlands of the Armavir region. Armavir is a symphony of beautiful landscapes, wondrous architecture, hospitable traditions, and momentous history, existing in unity and harmony. The Ararat valley is the largest and the most fertile land of the forty valleys of the historical Armenian highland. At once we are presented with contrasts in the Armavir region: four of the thirteen capitals of Historic Armenia can be found in the same region as the Zvartnots International Airport, currently undergoing a much-needed makeover.

A mere twenty minutes from Yerevan by car is the spiritual center of Armenia, the Holy See of Echmiadzin, the Mother Cathedral of the world's oldest Christian nation. Located in the city of the same name, which was once the capital of Armenia, Echmiadzin is the residence of the Catholicos, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. A beautiful cathedral, museum, and seminary are among the most significant edifices of this holy site.

The Armavir region can be thought of as a giant Armenian orchard. Apples, apricots, cherries, plums, watermelons, strawberries, raspberries, melons, peaches and many other gifts of nature grow on this fertile land. Of note, both the apricot and the peach are said to have their origins in the Ararat valley. Alexander the Great reportedly introduced apricots to Greece after leading his legendary armies through the Armenian highlands.

Located a short distance from the Mother Cathedral, the majestic masterpieces of Armenian architecture St. Hripsime and St. Gayane churches are at once inspiring and solemn. Each church is dedicated to the Christian nuns who were martyred prior to Armenia's conversion to Christianity. Locals are said to prefer St. Hripsime for marriage ceremonies and St. Gayane for the baptism of their children. On the outskirts of Echmiadzin, another stunning site are the ruins of Zvartnots, a 7th century cathedral and architectural masterpiece that was destroyed during a subsequent earthquake

The Metsamor Archaeological Museum you will have an opportunity to see the impressive collection over 26,000 items of which nearly ten thousand are on permanent display. Archaeological excavations of an ancient fortress-settlement located in the vicinity of Taronik village at the source of Metzamor River have provided many of the findings.

A symbol of pride and survival, the Sardarapat Memorial marks the place of Armenia's successful last-ditch effort to save the nation from obliteration at the hands of the Turks. Against tremendous odds, and during the haunting backdrop of genocide during the previous few years, Armenia's makeshift army rebuffed the Turkish troops and safeguarded the small portion of historic Armenia, what became the current republic as it stands today. On the grounds of the historic battle one can today visit the Sardarapat Ethnography and Liberation Movement History Museum adjacent to the outdoor monument.

Gegharkunik
Studded with mountains and the sun-kissed shores of Lake Sevan, Gegharkunik is enticing with a rich palette of history, culture and natural beauty. It is situated in the eastern part of Armenia, rising from the Marsik valley Mount Azhdahak at 3598 meters.

The administrative center of the region, Gavar, is an important industrial center of Sevan basin, situated in the eastern slopes of Geghama mountain range. Many of the ancestors of the inhabitants of Gavar arrived in 1830 from the town of Bayazet of Western Armenia and in the place of historic Gavaravan established a settlement, aptly called New Bayazet. Despite its relatively modern rebirth, the center has an ancient past. Fabled monuments dating back to the Bronze Age adorn the region, a testimony to the presence of Armenians in the region for thousands of years.

For bird-watchers, Gegharkunik is a veritable treasure trove given the plethora of different kinds of birds in the region, including several loons, grebes, and the great cormorant, pelicans, herons and the famous Armenian Artsatapajl Voror. One could easily claim that although Armenia boasts literally hundreds of charming vista points and landscapes, nowhere will one find the spectacular scenery of Lake Sevan.

Martuni is the second largest urban center of the region and is famous for its highly developed fishing industry. The town is situated on the commercial crossroad between Syunik and Gegharkunik, not far from the historic town of Koti, dating back over a thousand years. The fields of Masrik are famous for its gold mines that have attracted enthusiasts since ancient times.

The Gegharkunik landscape is dotted with impressive churches. Off the main road leading to the town of Kamo is the church of Hairavank (9-10 century). This edifice is a perfect example of the harmony of architecture and nature. Northeast of Gavar, on the shores of Lake Sevan is Noradouz, famous for the largest collection of stone-crosses (khachkars) in Armenia, some of which date as far back as the 7th century.
At the crossroads of civilizations, Armenia has historically been at the center of many international commerce and military routes, including the renowned Silk Road connecting China to Europe. Caravansaries, the rest-stops of antiquity, were a welcome sight to traders, travellers, and explorers of old. These architectural monuments of Medieval Armenia are a testimony to those legendary times of adventure. One of the better preserved is the Selim Caravansery, built in 1332 and situated high in the Selim (Sulema) mountain pass at 2410 m above the sea level, on the road connecting the historical regions of Gegharkunik and Vayots Dzor.

Kotayk
The Kotayk Region boasts some of the most astounding nature in Armenia, replete with scenic beauty and fabled monuments. Situated north of Yerevan, with its administrative center Hrazdan, the Kotayk region is one of the popular destinations for local as well as foreign tourists in Armenia. The name of the region goes back to ancient times, to the period of Kot Patriarch. One third the region is forested, and the Hrazdan River is the dominant waterway in the area.
During the early Middle Ages, the locale of Kecharuik was the royal hunting ground for the House of Arshak. In the 10th century, ownership changed hands and Kecharuik was renamed Tsakhnots. Today this area, the jewel of the region, is called Tsakhkadzor, or canyon of flowers. This small winter resort town is a popular tourist destination, located on the eastern slope of Teghenis Mountain 2000 meters above sea level. A relaxing wooded hilly getaway in the summer, Tsakhkadzor is even more popular in the wintertime as a winter resort and its excellent ski slopes.

The village of Arzni, famous for its therapeutic mineral waters, is situated in the picturesque Hrazdan canyon. In recent times, the health spas and treatment centers of Arzni have earned attention as destinations for cardio-vascular treatment.

Hrazdan is the region's most developed industrial center, yet is nevertheless rich with archeological and medieval monuments. Northwest of Hrazdan, perched on a mountainside of the Pambak range, the Kecharis monastery (11-13 cc.) can be admired. This pearl of Armenian architecture was a renowned religious and educational center and underwent development in the 11th century under the supervision of Grigor Magistros Pahlavouni, the famous Armenian politician, military commander, diplomat and scientist. He founded the Monastery of Kecharis, built the churches of St. Grigor the Illuminator and of Surb Nishan.

The village of Garni is situated on the edge of the Azat canyon 35 km south of Yerevan. Although the village is most well known for the 3rd century BC temple of the same name, the area is rich in Christian monuments as well, including numerous cross-stones, tombstones, and the frescoed churches of Sourp Astvatsatsin or Mashtots Hairapet, Saint Sargis (17c.). Of architectural significance is the 10th-12th century bridge spanning the Azat river, connecting the Armenian highland with the Ararat valley.

Nearby Geghard may very well be the most astonishing architectural wonder in Armenia. Hewn from the solid rock of a mountainside one can freely walk into a large church dating back nearly 9 centuries. The name Geghard dates back to Biblical times, and is named after the legendary lance said to be the one used to pierce the body of Christ. The lance itself was long kept at the church prior to it being moved to the museum of the Cathedral at Echmiadzin.

South of the town of Abovian along the Hrazdan River lies the town of Yeghvard, famous for its unique assemblage of 4th century stone-crosses (khachkars), a two-story church-mausoleum dating back to 1301 and a great number of settlements that stretch up to the village of Aragiugh. The Tegheniats Monastery (initial construction in the 6th century) and the churches and fortress of Dovri the Zoravor Monastery (7th century) are further examples of architectural wonders shrouded away in the dense forests of Kotayk.

Lori
Lori (Gugark in ancient times) is the northern region of Armenia, where the imposing mountain ranges of the Caucasus interlace with the maze of rivers cutting through the forests. Native to this region are an amazing assortment of oak, beech, and pine trees as well as dozens of fruits, nuts, and berries. It is not surprising that the Armenian language has specific words designating forests of fruit trees: "Khndzorut" (apple-trees); "Tandzout" (pear-trees), "Shlorout" (plum-trees), etc. Lori's climate is temperate and relatively humid as the Lori-Pambak Mountains protect this area from the penetration of cold air from the north. Consequently, this region is a favorite for camping and hiking, as there is an ideal confluence of pure mountain air, the fragrant aroma of the woods and meadows, and the secluded natural environment all beckon the adventuring visitor.

Vanadzor, largely constructed from multi-color tufa stone, is the center of the Lori region. Once a small community, in modern times it has become well known for its developed industries and resorts. Boasting a folk and history museum, a children's art gallery and many other cultural centers, Vanadzor proudly honors the people of Lori in celebrating their art and culture.

The Pambak, Dzoraget, Aghstev and Debed rivers, together with their tributaries and streams, give rise to the popularity of fishing in this area.
However, it is not only the nature of Lori that enchants the visitor. Equally stunning are the architectural wonders such as the monasteries of Sanahin, Haghpat, and Kober as well as the cathedral of Odzun. In fact, the harmony of spirituality, nature, and human creation seems to be ever-present in Lori, especially embodied in the many churches and citadels throughout the wooded north.
The village of Sanahin is situated on the right bank of Debed River, near the town of Alaverdi and is connected to the main roads by a 12th century bridge, the oldest engineering construction in the area preserved to the present day. The Sanahin Monastery (10-13 cc.), one of two Unesco World Heritage sights in Lori, is indeed worthy of its fame. An architectural masterpiece, the library of Sanahin was the largest building in medieval Armenia. The oldest building of the monastic complex is the church of Saint Astvatsatsin built in 951. During several centuries, the monastery expanded to include the church of Amenaprkich, the 10th century chapel of Saint Grigor and the Academy building of Grigor the Master.

The other Unesco World Heritage sight in Lori is the monastic complex of Haghpat (10-13cc.), a mere 5 km from Sanahin. Ashot III of the Bagratuni dynasty founded the monastery in 976, which was completed over the next 15 years. Haghpat was similarly an epicenter of learning, and acted as a repository of an enormous collection of literature. Those manuscripts which survived numerous acts of invasion and plunder over the centuries have found their way to the Madentaran museum in Yerevan today. Together with nearby Sanahin, Haghpat is another breathtaking architectural achievement and celebration of Armenia's spiritual faith, and rightfully on everyone's must-see list of Lori's sites.

South of Alaverdi, commanding a presence above the roadway is the famous cathedral of Odzoun, erected nearly 1500 years ago of white and red felsite stone. It is a magnificent example of Armenian architecture of the early Christian period. Indeed throughout Lori one can find numerous remnants and traces of ancient settlements and fortresses, monastery complexes and churches throughout the rich region of Lori.

The town of Alaverdi has been the center of Armenia's copper and molybdenum industry and is nestled in the Debed Canyon. It is a small and cozy town where one can admire nature, meet hospitable people, and appreciate architectural monuments of fantastic beauty. Worth visiting is the Alaverdi Branch of the National Art Gallery, which includes works by Hakob Hakobyan, Panos Terlemezyan, Grigor Khanjyan, and others.

Shirak
The Shirak region, located in Armenia's northwest corner, includes the nation's second largest city, Gyumri. Shirak offers some of the country's best and least known scenic and natural features, such as the great Arpa Lake and the alpine meadows and valleys of the Ashotsk region. Shirak is also the only place from within Armenia’ The Syunik region is stunning: a mosaic of lofty mountains, lush green valleys, raging rivers, deep rocks and jagged canyons. Also known as Zangezur, it is the biggest province in Armenia (4506 sq. km) and is comprised by the districts of Kapan, Goris, Sisian and Meghri.
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The Shirak region's climate and landscapes are similarly rugged, with high altitudes and long winters, but the warm season ushers in unparalleled beauty unfurled across miles of wildflower meadows under snow capped peaks and icy mountain streams. The architectural splendour of Haritch, Marmashen and many other churches and monasteries dotting the region are likewise attractions to the area as are the denizens of Shirak, famous for their hospitality, sense of humour and love of culture.
Gyumri, the heart and soul of Shirak, endured tremendous damage and human loss in the 1988 earthquake, as many of the poor quality soviet-era buildings collapsed on top of their inhabitants. During the years that followed, harsh winters, blockade, and a shattered economy all combined to force the proud inhabitants into survival mode. However, many would agree that today, at least in part, the corner has been turned, and Gyumri is once again beginning to stand upright with dignity. Cooperative efforts between the leadership and government of Armenia, solidarity and monetary assistance from the Diaspora coupled with support from many International Organizations have acted to bolster the resilient spirit and boundless energy of the citizens of Gyumri to transform the city from a disaster to a recovery zone. New apartment buildings, schools, public buildings and community centers are under construction everywhere, reflecting the city’s rebirth.
Gyumri is a historic city, with a rich urban legacy and culture. Among its attractions are the old city (Kumayri historic district), the recently refurbished St. Nishan Church, various museums and theaters, and an expansive open air market, a pre-soviet center of commerce which has survived and is blossoming today.
The Shirak Region is full of intriguing places. Lake Arpa, situated in the northwest corner of Shirak, is one of the world’s most ecologically important lakes, supporting several unique and endangered species of wildlife. Arpa, with its 20 square kilometer surface area and maximum depth of only 8 meters, is fed by the Yeghnajur, Karmrajur and Elal Rivers. In turn, it is the source of the Akhuryan River.
The Mantash Reservoir is one of Shirak’s most beautiful places. Containing over 8 million cubic meters of water at an altitude of 2,600 meters, the reservoir is a favorite destination for fishermen determined to catch the famed ‘alabalagh’ trout.
The famous pagan monument, Tsak Kar (literally hole stone) is situated in Toparli, an idyllic mountain village. The monument is a huge stone with a hole just big enough for a person to squeeze through. Legend has it that people who pass through the hole will acquire eternal happiness, and locals love to tell stories of overweight yet resolute individuals who have spent hours trapped in the hole! Beyond Toparli is Tarband, a remarkably well-preserved but sparsely populated village with interesting stone walls and streets and a lovely old church.
Haritch Monastery (7th to 13th cc.) was built with giant multi-coloured stones-each 3.5 meters wide. It is adjacent to the 7th Century St. Grigor Church. For centuries, Haritch was the summer residence of Armenian Catholicos who preferred the region’s cool nights to the oppressive heat of Echmiadzin. Also of interest in Haritch are the ruins of the 5th Century Church of the Resurrection, a 13th Century chapel and the village history museum, the creation of a local history teacher. Visitors will want to record their impressions in a log delicately presented to them by the museum’s single employee! En route, visitors may also want to visit Artik, home of the famous pink Artik tuf stone.

Syunik
The Syunik region is stunning: a mosaic of lofty mountains, lush green valleys, raging rivers, deep rocks and jagged canyons. Also known as Zangezur, it is the biggest province in Armenia (4506 sq. km) and is comprised by the districts of Kapan, Goris, Sisian and Meghri.
The Syunik region is a sightseer’s dream come true. Beautiful nature, a diverse climate and unique mountains and landscapes are converge in Armenia’s south. Various rock formations, markings of region’s turbulent volcanic past, can be found in the form of caves, eroded canyons, and natural pyramidal rocks, such as those of Goris. The main north-south artery connecting Armenia with Iran winds through the mountain-pass of Tashtun (2400m), Vorotan (2344m), and Sisian (2345m). Syunik is likewise rich in cool natural springs and numerous sources of mineral water. The highest point of Syunik is the peak of Kaputjukh in the Zangezur mountain-chain at 3904m, while the lowest elevation is the Valley of the Araks River at 375m. The range of microclimates, from dry tropical, to temperate warm, to the cold and snowy mountains is particularly broad in Syunik, even by Armenian standards. The warmest area of Armenia is Meghri lowland along the Iranian border.
The hospitality of the people of Syunik and examples of the cuisine one is certain to be offered will undoubtedly exceed all expectations. Notable examples include the cheese from Sisian, the toe-curling mulberry vodka of Karahunj, lavash flat-bread of Kapan (the national bread), and the succulent pomegranates and figs from Meghri.
Among the assemblage of sights and destinations of Syunik, some of the more prominent are the petroglyph-rich fields of Ughtasar, the mysterious Zorats Karer or Karahunj (Armenian Stonehenge), the resplendent churches such as the Tatev Monastery, Bgheno -Noravank Monastery, Vorotnavank, and Vahanavank, and idyllic wonders of nature such as Sev Lich, Shaki Waterfall, and Shikahogh. It seems that every road of Syunik offers the visitor beautiful streams or sacred spring sites, often with accompanying picnic tables, ideal by which to pitch a tent.
The flora of the region is rich and full of surprises. The forests of Meghri are covered with varieties of oak, hornbeam, ash and juniper, in addition to wild fruit-trees, such as pear, cornel, walnut, hazel, and plum. Various bushes such as hawthorn, woodbine, dog-rose and blackberry bushes are also prevalent. The fauna in Syunik is typical to Caucasian forests and mountainous terrains. Chamois, wild boar, Caucasian bear, lynx, Persian squirrel, field-mouse, mole, and shrew are all among the denizens of the forests and hills of Armenia’s south. Bird watchers will be pleasantly surprised to learn that white-throat, pheasant, red-tail, wood pecker, black and singing little bustards, black and blue tits, serinos, larks, owls, eagle-owls are widely spread here. One can also come across snake-like legless lizards, frogs, wolves, and foxes, to name only a few.
Kapan at the foot of mountain Khustup (3214m) is the center of the region. It is a cultural, educational as well as mining center of Armenia, famous for its copper and molybdenum. Its central and relatively flat part is nestled in the Voghchi river valley, surrounded by fabulous mountains on either side. Terraces of housing rows climb up the mountain slopes forming a cascade looking down on the city center from above.
Kajaran is a small town, famous for its mineral water and its legacy of mining. Roman helmets and gun shields were unearthed during more recent construction in Kajaran, a testimony to the devastating defeat endured by Roman legions here two thousand years ago. Since then, no enemy marched on Kajaran again. The Kapuyt Lich (Blue Lake) commands a presence at 3250 m high above sea level, fed by mountain snow. On its serene surface, icebergs drift aimlessly, even during the summer months.
Meghri is rich in lush vegetation, grain steppes, and meadows. In the Meghri river valley at the border of Armenia with Iran, steep, rocky slopes act as the gateway to the south. Meghri has a remarkable history with a rich archaeological heritage reflecting habitation since prehistoric times. Bronze Age swords, bracelets, necklaces, and other arte-facts have been revealed during excavations.
Goris, meaning rocky place, is in fact an orchard in a town and a lovely resort on the bank of Vararik River. It is one of the few towns that exhibit a comprehensive planned architectural and urban design. Goris is first mentioned as one of the regions conquered by King Rusa in the 8th century BC during the Urartian period. The surrounding crags, caves and rock formation make it appear as though Goris is surrounded by an army of stone figures. The regional ethnographical museum in Goris is among the sites to visit in this scenic city.
The town of Sisian straddles the two banks of the Vorotan River. Against the backdrop of the harsh mountainous plain, it looks like an oasis. A constant breeze accents this pretty town, frequented for its fantastic cold natural springs, mineral waters and unique beauty. The ancient monument-tomb of Khoshun Dash is located here as well.

Tavush
Words alone cannot express the natural beauty of the Tavush Region. The rocky hillsides and flat peaks shrouded in the dense forests of the region give the north of Armenia a characteristic look.
More than 120 kinds of trees including beech, oak, yew, and pine give richness to the textured landscape and are home to brown bear, wild boar, fox, wolf, and other animals of the wild. Bird watchers will be surprised to learn that more than 240 kinds of birds can be observed against the local nature.

The region is teeming with rivers, lakes, and natural mineral springs. Several resorts, hotels, and treatment centers can be found in Tavush as well, where people can recharge their batteries, get some rest and relaxation, or rejuvenate themselves in a pastoral environment. The towns of Ijevan and Dilijan, the main industrial and resort centers of the region, are equally famous for their cultural heritage and activity.

As the serpentine road winds through the mountains towards Dilijan, the landscape undergoes a gradual but thorough metamorphosis as more and more plants and then trees appear. The town itself, with its preserved wooden house from pre-soviet days, is the most famous of Armenia’s regional cultural districts, boasting a rich legacy of craftsmanship, music, and the arts.

Turning back the clock, this region of Armenia bustled with activity as the Silk Road passed through this center of monastic life and learning, with signs of this activity evident at the impressive monasteries at Goshavank and Haghartsin.
The Dilijan national park is a showcase of a broad variety of animals and plants, many of which are identified as endangered species or nurtured for protection. The breadth of wildlife in this picturesque area includes over 1000 species of plants and 107 kinds of birds.
Ijevan, situated in the heart of Tavush, complements Dilijan and has earned a similar reputation for hospitality since ancient times. Its name is derived from the word ’inn’ or ‘caravansary’ as it welcomed travellers, merchants, and adventurers for a stop during their travels along the Silk Road. Driving into the city, a visitor will first notice a wrought iron fence and handcrafted light fixtures beside the Agstev River denoting a park. Sprinkled up the mountains is an array of buildings, lining either side of the road leading to the center of town. Sculpture Park, with its large pine trees, provides a serene backdrop against dozens of contemporary stone pieces of art, each of which tells a story. These unusual pieces of sculptured art do not end at the gates of the park, but are randomly placed throughout the pedestrian walkways of the town, as if to pique the curiosity of the visitors, tempting them to explore every nook and cranny of this enchanting city.
Historically Ijevan was a center for handcrafted items including traditional Armenian rugs, for which its weavers have received acclaim. These intricately designed knotted carpets decorate homes around the world.

Dendro Park is dedicated to preserving special species of trees and abounds with a multitude of varieties of flowers. In the springtime, a walk down any of several mountain trails will offer you a spectacle of endless fields of wild flowers or a stop by a natural spring and have a picnic.

Vayots Dzor
Vayots Dzor is a wild assemblage of small lakes, narrow gorges, lush vineyards, rough and jagged slopes, bucolic pastures, and noisy rivers. Against this natural mosaic, a visitor to this southern region of Armenia will happily discover ancient monuments and modern hospitality, not to mention unbelievably tasty fruits and vegetables. With the Yeghegia and Arpa rivers flowing through the region, Vayots Dzor is a perfect place for trout fishing, nature tours, historic tours and hunting. For the more adventurous, a helicopter tour will provide a plethora of unforgettable impressions and fantastic memories.
The earliest historically recorded settlement in Vayots Dzor was at Moz, near the present-day village of Malishka. Various ruins, including of forts and graveyards from the Bronze and early Iron Age can be found in this region. From the days of Marco Polo, Silk Road (from China to Europe) Medieval Armenia was a major thoroughfare for merchants, traders, and explorers alike. Weary travellers would look forward to a stay at one of many inns, or caravansaries, along the way. The Selim Caravansary, constructed in 1332 and situated in the Selim (Sulema) mountain pass on the border of Gegharkunik, is one of the best preserved.
The center of Vayots Dzor is the attractive town of Yeghegnadzor, situated on the bank of Arpa River. Lush with fruit trees, Yeghegnadzor proudly displays monuments dating as far back as the 1st millennium BC. Among the worthwhile sites in the area are the Regional Museum of Yeghegnadzor, the city Art Gallery, and the History Museum of the University of Gladzor, which recently celebrated its 700th anniversary. The Paskevich Bridge is an architectural achievement worth seeing as well.
Jermuk, the third largest town in the region, is among Armenia's most famous spa resorts. Boasting many days of sun, and situated on high ground with clean air and favourable climatic zone, Jermuk's most deserved claim to fame are the 40 underground fresh water and mineral water springs. The word "Jermuk" derives from Armenian "jerm" which means warm. Local Spas provide Mineral Water treatment for various ailments and diseases, and is an ideal spot for rest and relaxation for all. The quiet resort town teems with parks, forested areas, and showcases many natural wonders such as a waterfall and a natural land bridge. A special pavilion is located downtown where amazed guests can taste firsthand the renowned mineral waters, which freely flow at natural temperatures ranging from 57 to 64 degrees Celsius!.
One of the up and coming industries in Armenia, winemaking, is actually a "return to roots" movement for the Armenian nation. Famous in ancient times, Armenians are once again beginning to make their mark as wine producers. The village of Areni, the flagship in this burgeoning industry, is worth a visit to sample the tasty grapes and the surprisingly fine wine.

Possibly the most strikingly picturesque edifices in Armenia, the Noravank Monetary is nestled deep in the eponymous canyon, against the fiery red rocks which surround this holy site. Recent renovations to the church buildings and the surrounding grounds make Noravank a must-see site in Vayots Dzor. Other sites in this rich area include the ancient settlements of Yeghegis and Mogh (dating back to the 5th century AD and the 2nd millennium BC, respectively) and the fortresses of Proshaberd, Smbataberd, Berdakar, and Kechout.


Among the many caves and underground passageways in Vayots Dzor, the Mozrov caves, located near Yeghegnadzor, may be the most spectacular. Extraordinary beauty can be witnessed in the form of delicate stalactites and stalagmites filling the intricate underground passageways that extend over 300 meters. A note of caution: explorations through these caves should be conducted with a specially trained guide for one's safety.