April 13, 2010
Yerevan, Armenia April 10—12
On Saturday we visited the robust art market in a Yerevan park. The art and sculpture here is very good and many prolific artists seem to eke out a living at it. Many large sculptures are located in the city and in places where you’d never expect them. Very little graffiti is present and the people seem to respect what little they have. Several dozen painters set up their work in a park near the opera house every Saturday in good weather.
Cell phones and cigarettes are everywhere. Smoking is very prevalent and everyone, it seems, has a cell phone.
Vahan has cousins everywhere! On Saturday we met Rosa and her friend and later in the day, Mariam and her sister joined us for dinner at a nice restaurant downtown. We drove them home to their apartment where they share a room. Mariam’s older sister, Haykuhi, is studying to be a physician and Mariam is also in university studying tourist and hotel commerce and management. Both speak excellent English ( as well as Russian and Armenian) and are beautiful young women.
On Sunday we attended part of a service at the Armenian Apostolic ‘mother church’ a sprawling complex of church, school and residences for aspiring priests. The people stand in the church with only a few seats near the altar for dignitaries and elderly people. The celebrants come down from the altar in a procession among the people who offer gifts and obeisance to the various banners and paraphernalia carried by the priests in rich robes.
In older times as part of the services, lambs were brought and slaughtered with the obvious significance of Jesus’ giving his life for the people. That’s not done often, if at all now. The church grounds are populated with stone crosses called khachkars (http://www.armenianheritage.com/rescross.htm). These intricately carved stone crosses are found throughout Armenia some 12 centuries old. Armenia was the first country/people to embrace Christianity in 301 A.D. and has been oppressed by Turks and others every since the rise of Islam a few centuries later.
We then stopped at an old pagan/ then Christian temple, considered an architectural wonder in its day, rebuilt continually after earthquakes and Arab destruction since the Roman times. It was thought to be the inspiration for the great dome of Sophia.
We then visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial, a very moving experience. There’s a museum underground and a spire, eternal flame and very much a hallowed place in memory of the 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered, starved and otherwise destroyed by the Turks in their villages in what was western Armenia and is now Turkey. In addition to the killings, a half million were displaced to what is now the present Armenia and elsewhere. This genocide began in about 1895 but reached its peak in 1914-1915 and following the end of WWI.
Next we traveled to Garni, the site of the only Hellenic temple remaining in the Caucasus region, then on to Geghard a very old monastery and church, mostly carved out of the mountain rock face. This is such an ancient place. When traveling in Europe, one visits Roman, some Etruscan, much Renaissance and other earlier tims, but this is truly and ancient land.
Early in Armenia’s history its dominance spread to the Mediterranean Sea just north of Jerusalem all the way east to the Caspian Sea. Now they have no coastline and the borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed. Their major abutting trading partners seem to be Russia, Georgia and Iran.
Last night for dinner we visited yet another cousin living in Yerevan for a full Armenian meal. Their son recently married and the four live in the same home., very nicely furnished and loads of food!
Today is rainy and cold, so we are not traveling. I’m resting up a bit and Vahan is visiting a museum.