[ armenia - cultural overview ]

armenian cultureThroughout the centuries, Armenians have created a unique and remarkable culture at the intersection of east and west. Even though countless invaders attempted to destroy it, archaeological research testifies to its existence alongside that of the Babylonians and the Assyrians from at least the III Millennium BC, proven by excavations at Erebuni, Teyshebaini and Medzamor.
In 301AD, Armenians were the first nation to officially adopt Christianity as their national state religion, and this influenced many developments in Armenian culture, and specifically architecture. Replacing pagan temples with the first churches, Christian influences created architectural masterpieces such as the churches of Hripsime, Gayane and the gem of 7th Century Armenian architecture, Zvartnots.

Armenian Language

armenian alphabetThe Armenian language is part of the larger Indo-European family, and the Armenian alphabet was created at the beginning of the 5th Century by St. Mesrob Mashtots. Since then, the alphabet has become the solid foundation of national language and culture, with over 25,000 Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts currently preserved in the Matenadaran, the Institute of Ancient Manuscripts located in central Yerevan. Armenian Manuscripts are also held by libraries and museums in Jerusalem, Vienna, Venice, London and elewhere.

Armenian is a complex and beautiful language. Except for a transition into middle Armenian during the 10th-12th centuries and into a modern form in the 19th century, it has been continuously used for more than 1500 years as it was first created, borrowing traces of words and expressions from Hindu, Persian, Arabic, Greek and Latin along the way. In its current form in the Republic, it uses a lively and vibrant incorporation of words from Russian, French, English and other countries. It is a language alive.


armenian religionIn the 10-13th Centuries new architectural styles developed into the monastery complexes of Geghard, Sanahin, Haghpat, and Haghartsin. Armenian architecture had always been remarkable throughout the centuries, but the adoption of Christianity developed into what has become the most significant of all Armenian works of art. Stone crosses, khachkars, are scattered throughout the territory of historical Armenia, and are unique in their specific ornamental style.

Another revolutionary turning point in the history of Armenian culture occurred when the scholar and philosopher, Mesrob Mashtots, created the Armenian alphabet. This led to the development of Armenian literature and science, although the first book translated was The Holy Bible. Thousands of illuminated manuscripts written before decoration by artists are currently stored in the largest depository of illuminated manuscripts in the world, the Matenadaran, located in central Yerevan.

Armenian historians including Movses Khorenatsi, Pavstos Buzand, and Yeghishe documented the history of the Armenian nation from its very beginning, based upon early references to Armenia and the Armenians by Greek and Assyrian historians. Agatangeghos even proposed the idea that the Earth was round centuries before Copernicus.


Minas AvetisianArt has always had its special place in Armenian culture, and many remarkable painters include the Hovnatanyan family, Nagash Hovnaton. Hakob and Mkrtum Hovnatanyan decorated the interior of Holy Etchmiadzin, and Hovhannes Ayvazovski is famous throughout the world for his seascapes. The work of Martiros Saryan, Minas Avetisyan, Hakob Hakobyan, Rudolf Khachatrian, Gevorg Bashinjagyan and many more are displayed at Yerevan's National Art Gallery, but the colorful and unique depiction of Armenian nature and village life define the work of one of Armenia's greatest painters, Martiros Saryan. Armenia also has an old established tradition of carpet weaving, and its rugs are unique.

Music and Dance

Armenian music has a long history, and 'sharakans,' liturgies and sacred music are purely Armenian, and artistically priceless. Komitas is perhaps the most famous Armenian composer however, creating 'khazes,' the Armenian form of musical notation. He also wrote many religious and national songs before eventually going mad from his experiences during the 1915 Genocide of the Armenians living within the then Ottoman Empire.

Gusans and ashughs were singers in royal households and palaces in Armenia, and passed songs from one generation to the next. Many are still preserved to the present day and in particular the work of Sayat Nova, gusan Ahot, and Sheram Jiven. The 19th Century however, was to mark a new phase in Armenian music when Tigran Chukhajyan wrote the first Armenian Opera, "Arshak II."

"Anoush" by Armen Tigranyan however, is one of the most famous and popular operas, based on traditional Armenian folk songs and dances. The storyline and text is based on Tumanian's "Anush," and blends classical interpretations seamlessly with Armenian folk melodies. Aram Khachaturyan is of course, the most well known Armenian composer for foreign audiences, composing the ballets, "Spartacus" and "Gayaneh." In particular, he composed the well-known "Sabre Dance" familiar to almost everyone outside of Armenia.

Armenian folks songs sung by the ashughs and gusans are still alive today in Armenia, and the Artist Djivan Gasparian has taken the unique sound of the Armenian duduk to foreign audiences worldwide, collaborating with internationally renowned musicians such as Peter Gabriel and the Kronos Quartet. Other Armenian instruments include the zoorna, dhol, tar and kanon.

The oldest in the world and most famous Armenian music group carries the name of Komitas (Soghomon Soghomonian, 1869-1935), a hiermonk whose genius brought a renaissance to Armenian music at the turn of the XX-th century. In 2004 the quartet will celebrate its 80th anniversary that will be publicized with a world tour.

Traditional music can still be heard today in restaurants such as Hin Erevan in the capital city, or at numerous cultural festivals held throughout the regions of Armenia during the summer months. Musicians and singers such as Shushan Petrosyan , Nune Yesayan , Ara Gevorgian, Alla Levonyan and others from the National Song Theatre of Armenia represent the development of contemporary Armenian music in the Republic, and have performed to much acclaim for foreign audiences.

Armenian dance is perhaps the most representative of the rich fabric of Armenian culture when accompanied by traditional or contemporary Armenian music. The graceful, although sometimes frantic, choreography of Armenian dance sets it apart from other oriental forms of dance, and Armenian dance ensembles win countless awards at festivals and competitions throughout the world.

Theatre and Film

Theatre in Armenia started around the II-I millennium BC, and initially performed both Greek and Armenian dramas. Even King Artavazd II wrote plays, and Roman historians refer to the staging of Armenian plays.

While the theatre continues its traditions today, the development of the Armenian film industry started in 1924 with documentary films before producing the first Armenian feature film the same year. Drawing upon historical, cultural and rural influences, the Armenian film industry was particularly developed during the Soviet years before its collapse after independence.

The most famous of all Armenian film directors is the internationally renowned Sergei Paradjanov, and works such as "The Color of Pomegranates" have won awards and are critically acclaimed worldwide. The museum dedicated to his life and work is Yerevan's most visited, and unique among museums found throughout the world. More recently, the first feature film produced since independence was released this summer.

None of the above can fully represent the ancient and unique culture of Armenia without visiting the country.

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