Archives for the month of: October, 2014

Vernissage. For those who know what it is, the word evokes an image of controlled chaos. A French word used to describe the day before the opening of an art exhibit, the word Vernissage has been coopted and assimilated into Armenian lexicon to describe the sprawling open-air market located in the center of Yerevan. Also known as a major tourist trap, Vernissage is home to every gadget, knick-knack and pomegranate-shaped doodad you can imagine. As beautiful as these items are, it is a shame. It’s a shame that Vernissage has become nothing more than the epicenter of miniature khachkars (cross stones) in many peoples’ minds. In order to remedy this situation, a fancy new Instagram account has been created called TheVernissager. The Vernissager is dedicated to documenting all the beautiful, interesting, musty and weird things you can find there. So for all you people who love finding charming and hidden relics, feel free to follow and take in all the truly fantastic, sometimes peculiar and always intriguing items you can find at Vernissage, a place that is more than just trinkets.

Today is the 2796th birthday of Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia. The streets are filled with happy people smiling and celebrating alongside their chubby, cherub-like little ones with tricolor painted faces. There is an unmistakable air of pride permeating throughout the city. I like it. In honor of this birthday of Armenia’s capital, I’ve decided to compile a list of 2796 awesome facts about Armenia….

Hah. JK. No. Though I’m sure there is no dearth of information to complete such a list, I just recently jumped on the Game of Thrones bandwagon and am super behind so I will include one topic for every month I have had the privilege of living in this beautiful city. (This list is cursory, by no means comprehensive, completely random based off my own personal interests and meant to spark interests and further research on your own behalf.  Each topic can have volumes dedicated to it, but I chose to not dedicate volumes to each at this particular juncture)  Enjoy.  (I’ve been on a Komitas trip lately and was listening to him while writing the post, so I will pass on the goods for all interested in something beautiful to listen to while reading this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHK7b0v7fYU)

  1. Lets get the most important thing out of the way first: wine. Armenia is home to the “oldest proven case of documented and dedicated wine production.” Going back about 6,000 years, this winery is located in the Areni region of Armenia. It is still intact and you can even go visit and see for yourself. So if you’ve ever had one too many cups of vino and embarrassed yourself and said something you shouldn’t have, making you temporarily believe that veritaserum is real and someone must’ve put it in your drink, you have Armenia to thank! Yay!
  2. Ahhhhhh the Zartonk period of Armenian history. Quite possibly my personal fave. Zartonk translates to “renaissance” and is considered the “awakening” of the Armenian people. Starting from around the mid-19th century, Armenian intellectuals from all over the place started to realize—‘hey, we could be doing way better for ourselves if we just stopped feeling so bad for ourselves’. You see, for a long time, up until this period, Armenians lived under foreign rule and pretty much lived by the motto “keep your head low and don’t do anything about the massive injustices we face every day cuz like, if you’re nice to others they’re automatically nice back, right? Right?” Well, that was about to change with writer such as Khachatur Abovian, Raffi and others who, through their writings, championed self-reliance, courage and defense for the Armenian. The systematic work done by these intellectuals paved the way for the revolutionary movement to come. Speaking of which….
  3. The revolutionary movement was awesome. Young men and women who had gone abroad for schooling had come back with crazy ideas of enlightenment and equality. It was weird. So they decided to do something about it. Using the intellectual base provided by the aforementioned Zartonk-era authors, these young people felt that really, no one was going to help Armenians but Armenians and began defending themselves. It was truly revolutionary. (Heh). This led to rebellions in Sasun in 1894, Zeytun in 1895-96 and Van in 1896 and an attempt to not only liberate the Armenian people but to liberate their minds as well. It was heavy stuff.
  4. Mkrtich Khrimian, better known as Khrimian Hairig (father). This guy. Let me tell you about this guy. He pretty much dedicated his life to the Armenian cause, he was a Catholicos and also a veritable badass. Not content with being just another man of the cloth, he was an activist, educator and writer.  He published the Artzvi Vaspurakan (Eagle of Vaspurakan) which voiced the concerns of the Armenian people and worked to awaken their spirits and mobilize them. His Iron Ladle speech is now legendary, telling people to get over their ever-present victim mentality, stop waiting for a savior (ironic?) and get what they want themselves.  (Read the speech here: http://thearmenite.com/magazine/arts/iron-ladle-khrimyan-hayrig/)
  5. 1965.  It was a very good year. At this point, Armenia was already a part of the USSR. Now, in case you weren’t privy to this information, you couldn’t really express nationalistic sentiment or really do much of anything under the USSR. Which meant that for 50 years, Armenians in the USSR never publicly discussed the Genocide, its aftermath or commemorated the victims. So when given permission by Moscow to have a low-key commemoration, they kind of took the proverbial ball and ran with it. About 200,000 people gathered in the city center, not exactly just to remember but to demand their lands in Western Armenia and for genocide recognition. It must’ve been a magical time: “It was quite something, for the first time people and academics were discussing the Genocide. All were awed, that the Genocide was being talked about openly. Then Paruir Sevak leaped onto the stage and recited his poem written for the occasion: We are few, but we are Armenian! There was dead silence. It was a miracle.” (First-hand account from a student who was present).
  6. The Mekhitarists. These wildchild monks were the people considered to be a partial catalyst to the Armenian Renaissance (see: Zartonk). Founded in the eighteenth century by Abbott Mekhitar, they were responsible for bringing classical Armenian texts back into the fore and made them cool again, like Leandra Medine and overalls. Funny enough, the Abbott was also a fan of using the vernacular, as in, writing in such a way that average people would actually understand! Novel idea.  He published the first book in the Armenian vernacular, so non-intellectuals or upper-class people started getting printed materials that were accessible to them. Ah the spreading of information. It’s a beautiful thing.
  7. Srbuhi Dussap was considered the first Armenian feminist writer. She wrote extensively about the plight of Armenian women and advocated for equality. This was in the nineteenth century so suffice it to say, some people weren’t happy about her outspokenness. She wrote extensively, among her works, “The Education of Women,” “The Principle of Working Women,” and “Armenian Societies.” She harbored fantastic ideas of egalitarianism and that like, women should be able to choose who they marry. Pft. Rabble rouser.
  8. Monte Melkonian. You may have heard of him. Its become an unfortunate cliché to throw out his name whenever anyone wants to make an example of a modern-day warrior but besides being a soldier, he was actually also quite an intellectual and thinker. He wrote throughout his life and constantly contemplated about the Armenian life and nation. He was born in the diaspora and taught himself about Armenia. He picked up and went to go fight in the Artsakh war where he was killed. His writings, condensed in either “The Right to Struggle” or “A Self-Criticism” are something that I personally suggest everyone read if they have the slightest interest in the Armenian nation. You can also listen to some of his interviews. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EA70A1qIv9I
  9. Armenia.  The country, the nation, the history, its people. All of it.  I love it. I’m going to end this post with the hopes that some of this will encourage you to further look into some of the awesome things that have taken place in the Armenian past, because there are a lot. Good luck, and feel free to let me know what your 9 most interesting points of Armenian culture and history are.

Some sources for further reading.

  1. http://edition.cnn.com/2011/LIVING/01/12/oldest.winery/
  2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  JK Rowling
  3. The Armenian Renaissance, 1500-1863. Harry Jewell Sarkiss. Journal of Modern History, vol. 9. No. 4, 1937
  4. The Armenians: From Kings and Priests to Merchants and Commissars. Razmik Panossian.
  5. The Right to Struggle. Selected writings from Monte Melkonian.
  6. A Self Criticism. Monte Melkonian
  7. The Heritage of Armenian Literature. Volume III. From the Eighteenth Century to Modern Times.