About Armenia

Armenia Alphabet

Armenia is a country in the north-western part of the South Caucasus, a region of Eurasia that lies at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. The country encompasses an area in the north-eastern part of the Armenian Highland.  The origins, formation and development of the Armenian people are known to be associated with this plateau. Unfortunately today a significant part of the highland is no longer Armenian territory. Armenia is not large - only 29.8 thousand square kilometers.  This equals just 0.02% of the earth’s territory and 0.7% of the continent of Asia. Armenia stretches 360 kilometers from northwest to southeast. At its widest the country extends 200 kilometers from west to east. Though Armenia is small in size, the nature here is diverse, beautiful and interesting. Geologists will be delighted to find here a natural museum. Historians will find here traces of ancient material culture of universal value.  Just one trip will not be enough for a traveler to see even a small part of the sights and sites and be satisfied. 

When people arrive at “Zvartnots” International Airport and set foot on the land of Armenia for the first time, they might think that this land is flat, because within their field of vision they see only Yerevan, located in Ararat valley.

In fact, Armenia is typical highland country. Suffice it to say, 50 percent of the territory is at a height of 1000-2000 meters above sea level and 40 percent - over 2000 meters. Only 10 percent of the country is located at a height of 1000 meters or less, above sea level. Mount Aragats which has four peaks, is the highest summit in Armenia (4090 meters). Aragats is the fourth highest mountain in the Armenian highlands. The lowest point in Armenia is 375 meters above sea level (Debed river).

Armenia is located almost at the same latitude as the Balkans, the Apennine and the Pyrenean peninsulas. During the year it receives as much sunshine as the countries situated on these peninsulas. However, the climate here is different due to the distance from the ocean, the country’s elevation (vertical zone), great variation of land relief, the surrounding mountains and the unique atmospheric circulation. Despite the country’s small size and the fact that it is almost completely in the temperate zone, one can find a variety of different climate zones in just a 30 or 40 kilometer cross section - from semi-deserts to mountain tundra, depending of the height above the sea level. The wide variety of climates in Armenia results from its craggy landscape, complex mountainous relief, and the country’s elevation.

The climate in Tavush and Lori marzes located in the northern and north-eastern part of the country is humid. The area around Lake Sevan, Shirak marz, the area near Mount Aragats, the town of Jermuk and its surroundings in Vayots Dzor marz have a rather severe climate. Winter here lasts for about 6-7 months, from October to the end of April. At the same time the Ararat Valley, areas in and around the town of Meghri in Syunik marz, the town of Vayk in Vayots Dzor marz, and other low-lying areas have a warm climate. Winter here lasts only 2-2.5 months, while snow does not fall for many days.

In general, the climate in Armenia is markedly continental and dry with little yearly precipitation, and with great daily and seasonal temperature variations.

The lowest temperature recorded was -460C, the highest - + 420C, and the absolute temperature difference is 880C. Here streams of snow melting from the top of Mount Aragats, on their way down to the mother river Araks, may encounter in one day all four seasons - winter, spring, summer, and autumn.  However, Armenia is generally described as a sunny country, The annual duration of sunlight here can amount to as much as 2780 hours.

Though a small country, mountainous Armenia is famous for its floral diversity. That is due to the complexity of its geological structure, the climate and diversity of soil, the diverse shapes and types of mountainous relief, and most importantly - its favorable geographical position. There are more than 3500 plant species growing in Armenia, some of which may be found only here. The famous French botanist Tournefort discovered a flower in 1701 in Armenia, near Khor Virap Monastery, and named it “Dotarcia oriental apricot flower.” In summer the Alpine meadows high up in the mountains are covered with aromatic flowers of pure colors.

200 years ago most of the country was covered in forests. Today however, forested areas have shrunk by more than half, occupying 12 percent of the country's territory.  Now there are two main tracts of forest - one in the northern and north-western parts of the country whilst the other is in the south-east. 

The unique Khosrov Forest stretches from the banks of Araks river in the Ararat valley to the Azat and Dvin rivers. The Forest was established in the 4th century by the Arshakuni King Khosrov, who created it as a royal hunting ground.

Since ancient times the major occupation of the people living in mountainous valleys has been cultivating grain, flax, sesame seeds, producing wine grapes, growing apricot trees, peach trees, apple trees and other fruit trees.

Some of these plants are native to the Armenian highlands. Some species of Armenian fruits have a unique appearance and sweetness and they are tastier than fruits in many countries of the world.  Armenia is the homeland of the apricot. The Armenian sun-kissed apricot of the Ararat Valley is the most famous and popular fruit. Enjoyed all over the world, it is very good for one's health. Today, in scientific literature, the apricot's Latin name remains “Prunus armeniaca,” and the Arabic name is “tufah al Armani” (Armenian apple). In ancient times the Armenians categorized 15 species of fruits, where apricots, grapes, peaches, pomegranates were “queens” and the others were “servants”.  The pomegranate, with its coronet on the top, was the king of the fruits, and apricot - the queen. Armenia is one of the oldest places of grape cultivation and wine making, and it is here that the most ancient wine press has been found.

Armenia's fauna is also very rich and diverse. Around 17 000 species of animals are known to live in Armenia, which is rare for such a small territory. In Ancient times Armenia was famous for horses. According to the Greek historian Strabon, the Armenians had to render 20000 horses as tribute to the Persian kingdom. Armenian Gamr dogs, the country’s pride, inspired awe by their big size and fascinated all by their devotion. And Ishkhan fish, dwellers of Lake Sevan, are distinguished by their beauty and taste. There are many ibexes in Armenia.  The Accadian ibex (wild goat) was named “armatu”, i.e. Armenian. In scientific literature one type of wild goat is called “Ovis Armeniana”. It is no coincidence that the goat was an object of cult worship for pagan Armenians. 

 A number of reserves have been established to protect flora and fauna in Armenia - Khosrov, Shikahogh, and Dilijan State Nature Preserves, Sevan National Park and others. There are many species of animals here, such as brown bear, roe deer, forest cat, lynx, bezoar ibex, Armenian moufflon, leopards and many other species including also rare ones.

Armenia is also rich in minerals, such as copper, molybdenum, iron, lead, gold, silver, and others. The Republic of Armenia is first among the CIS countries in terms of mineral resources per square kilometer. From earliest times, Armenia has been one of the most important centers of metalworking in Asia Minor and the Transcaucasus. The iron casting furnace unearthed during excavations at Lchashen, Gegharkunik marz, proves there was a high standard of metalworking in ancient Armenia.

Armenia is also famous for its rocks, canyons and lots of stones. It is no wonder that Armenians call their country “Hayastan, Qarastan,” which means "Armenia, land of stones." Volcanic tuff and basalt are ideal materials for construction. They tell a vivid story about the past and the present of Armenia. The colors of marvelous Armenian tuff can range from white to black; it has over 60 colors and shades.

The Armeniаn nation is one of the oldest nations in the world. It was formed in ancient times and has preserved its unique identity and traditions over the centuries. Armenians call themselves “Hai” and their country “Hayastan,” though most of the world calls the country Armenia. The original Armenian name for the country was Hayk. The Armenian people originated and created their state in the Armenian Highland; they created their own culture here. However, in the long course of its history Armenia’s borders have changed. Its administrative boundaries have been drawn many times over.

Many archaeological discoveries can prove that Armenia is the cradle of human civilization - Karahunj observatory (Zorats Karer), artifacts found at archaeological sites in Areni, Lchashen, Metsmor, Mount Artin.

Armenian tradition has preserved several legends concerning the origin of the Armenian nation. The most important of these tells the story of Hayk, the forefather of the Armenians. Hayk, son of Togarmah, was a great-great-grandson of Noah. Hayk led his household of 300 away from Babylon and settled down near Mount Ararat. The Babylonian ruler Bell sent one of his sons to Hayk and demanded from him the recognition of his superiority. But Hayk declined Bell's demand. Bell drew up a large army and came to Ararat. A great battle ensued, during which Hayk’s arrow killed Bell. After this victory Hayk lived free in his new homeland. This battle took place on 11 August 2492 BC and one version of an Armenian calendar begins with that date as the New Year.

The first record of information about Armenia dates from 3000 BC. It is mentioned in the oldest Sumerian texts that were found about the Epic poem of Gilgamesh. In the legend Uru gives Gilgamesh - the hero who looks for immortality, the guides of the road of the Aratta country.

In the 9th century BC a state, named the Kingdom of Van, was formed in the Armenian Highlands. The kingdom rose to power in the beginning of the 9th century BC, but for three centuries it struggled for independence with neighboring countries and powerful empires, such as Assyria and Asia Minor. The Kingdom of Van flourished in the Caucasus and eastern Asia Minor until the 6th century BC. It was a significant and prosperous period in terms of the economy and construction.  The history of ancient Yerevan begins with Arin-Berd hill in the southeastern part of Yerevan where archaeologists restored the ruins of Erebuni, the ancient fortress, founded in 782 BC, to serve as a fort and citadel guarding against attacks from the north Caucasus. That is why Yerevan is considered to be one of the most ancient cities in the world.

The Kingdom of Armenia reached its greatest extent under Ardaxiad dynasty in 2 century BC.

During the reign of Tigranes the Great (95–55 BC), who was a member of the Artaxiad dynasty,  the kingdom of Armenia was at the zenith of its power, extending from the shores of the Caspian, Black and Mediterranean seas. It was called by historians “the empire of the Three Seas.” However, after the death of Tigranes the Great, the Armenian empire was weakened, the country was reduced back to its ethnic Armenian territory and found itself in the middle of a long war campaign between Rome and Persia.

In 301 AD, Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, which was a significant turning point in the history of Armenia. In 301-304 AD Echmiadzin Cathedral was built. It is considered the oldest cathedral in the world. The austere beauty of the Cathedral attracts tourists from all over the world.

In 428 AD, after a long struggle, Armenia lost its independence and became a part of the Persian Empire. However, before that, in 405 the Armenian alphabet was created by a monk, Mesrop Mashtots, patron of teaching and learning for Armenians. The alphabet preserved the Armenians’ identity during invasions, and allowed them to avoid assimilation. Today, when the Armenian alphabet has more than 1600 years of history, it practically has not been changed, which proves its uniqueness and perfection.

In the 7th century the Arabs conquered Armenia. Under Arab and Bysatine rule, in 885 the Armenians managed to consolidate their power and restored the Kingdom of Armenia under the dynasty of the Bagratides (Bagratuni).  Their struggle against the Arab invaders is reflected in the epic poem “David of Sassoon,” which is one of the most valuable written monuments of the Armenian people of Middle Ages. The reign of Bagratuni left a significant mark in the history of Armenia. It was a period of prosperity and cultural development. The most remarkable Armenian poet and theologian St. Grigor Narekatsy (951-1008) lived during that period. His Book of Prayers, also known as “Book of Lamentations,” has been translated into many languages and is considered to be an “encyclopedia of prayer for all nations…”

In 1045 the Byzantine Empire annexed the Armenian territory, and the Bagratuni kingdom collapsed. Armenian sovereignty in its traditional homeland was lost for a period of more than 900 years. It was restored only in 1918. For centuries the country was devastated by wars and attacks of Seljuk-Turks, and Tatar-Mongols. Because of the deportation policy of the Byzantine Empire and devastating invasions of Seljuk Turks, large numbers of Armenians were forced to leave the country. Part of them settled in Cilicia, founding the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia (1085-1375).

During the 16th and 17th centuries Armenia became the apple of discord between Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Persia. In 1639 Armenia was divided between the Ottomans, who took western Armenia, and the Safavids, who took eastern Armenia. In the 1820s Eastern Armenia became part of the Russian Empire, survived under Russian rule and later regained independence. Western Armenia remained under Ottoman rule. In the 1880s the Ottoman government organized the mass destruction of Armenians in Western Armenia.  This escalated into the genocide of 1915. As a result, more that 2 million people were deported and massacred in the Ottoman Empire over 30 years. Many Armenians were dispersed worldwide, creating the Diaspora we see today.

After the collapse of the Russian Empire, Russian-controlled Armenia declared independence on May 28, 1918.  This lasted only 2 and a half years.

In 1920 Armenia became one of the 15 Soviet republics constituting the Soviet Union. During the 70-year period of Soviet rule Armenian science, culture, economy and sport flourished. Among prominent personalities of the Soviet Armenia are Tigran Petrosian, the world chess champion from 1963 until 1969, famous composer Aram Khachaturian, Victor Hambardzumyan, a scientist, one of the founders of theoretical astrophysics.

The final years of the Soviet era were difficult but at the same time glorious for Armenia. In 1988 a devastating earthquake in Spitak took thousands of human lives and ruined many cities and towns. The same year the Artsakh liberation movement started. After the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 Armenia declared its independence. The Artsakh Liberation War ended in 1994 with Karabakh Armenians gaining de-facto independence.

Having overcome the aftermath of the earthquake, the difficulties of the war and the transportation blockade, Armenia gained independence in 1991, and now, creating a new history, the country is entering the 21 century.

Armenia is a country with an ancient cultural heritage, which comes from the depth of the country’s turbulent history and has been preserved through the challenges of time. Here one may see many historical monuments of architecture and art in deep gorges, in caves, in gales and in fields - churches, monasteries, temples, fortresses, the everlasting symbols of our culture - multiple khachkars (cross stones), an abundance of ancient petroglyphs which are between four and seven thousand years old. 

In almost every city or town in Armenia you will find an historical or ethnographic museum dedicated to an outstanding personality, which makes for a more visual perception of the material and spiritual culture of Armenia.

Everyone who comes to Yerevan may visit Matenadaran, the unique depository of ancient manuscripts and a scientific research institute. There are more than 20 000 handwritten books and manuscripts in Matenadaran. However, this is a small part of the Armenian manuscripts and books. Tens of thousands of them were destroyed in the countless wars and invasions that ravaged the country. 

About half a century after Johannes Gutenberg developed the technology of printing with movable type, the very first book in Armenian was published in Venice in 1512 by Hakob Meghapart.

A prominent British writer George Gordon Byron, expounding on Armenia’s history and Armenians, wrote in one of his essays that “whatever may have been their destiny- and it has been bitter - whatever it may be in future, their country must ever be one of the most interesting on the globe.”

Visit Armenia and discover the most ancient and at the same time modern country!