Armenia is one of those countries that every now and then appears in the spotlight sometimes for good reasons, others… not so much. Here we will explore a few of the things Armenia is known for, good and bad.
It’s curious to notice that Armenia is a rather singular country, with its own culture that reflects its unique language, alphabet, religion (a separate branch of Christianism), and a very long and rich history.
If you plan to visit Armenia, we suggest you also have a look at our 50 things you need to know before visiting Armenia. But for now, let’s review what is Armenia famous for!
Ten things Armenia is famous for
#1 Armenian Diaspora
The most famous thing about Armenia is probably the Armenians themselves. Due to many historical, economic, and war factors, Armenians have migrated from Armenia to the rest of the world since antiquity. This is usually called the Armenian Diaspora.
The Armenian Diaspora (in Armenian called Spyurk) established communities worldwide over the last 1700 years. A good example of this is the Armenian community living in Old Jerusalem for many, many centuries.
Nevertheless, this diaspora intensified due to WWI and as a consequence of the Armenian Genocide (check below) when the Ottoman Empire forced people to flee or be killed. This is usually called the modern Armenian Diaspora.
As a result of so many years of emigration, today, there are between 10 and 11 million people of Armenian ascent, but Armenia has only 3 million inhabitants. This means that about 7 Million Armenians live outside Armenia, i.e., there are more than twice as Armenians outside Armenia than in Armenia.
The countries with the most prominent Armenian populations are Russia, the USA, France, Argentina, Syria, Lebanon, Canada, Turkey, Ukraine, Australia, and Greece. There are also 130 000 Armenians in the de facto republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, but we will explore this below.
#2 Kardashians (and other famous Armenians)
In the last decade or so, the most famous Armenian diaspora members are the Kardashian family. And they are quite a lot, as you probably know. Kim Kardashian is clearly the most famous, but Kourtney, Khloé, and Rob are well-known.
However, plenty of more famous people are of Armenian origin. Even though most of them aren’t born in Armenia and are of mixed ancestry, there are other pretty celebrities, artists, and sportsmen with Armenian genes. Some of these include:
- Cher – Singer and Oscar winner actress.
- Andre Agassi – Tennis superstar from the 90s and early 2000s
- Garry Kasparov – One of the best chess players of all time.
- Aram Khachaturian – Composer
- Sergei Parajanov – Surrealist Artist/Produce
- Calouste Gulbenkian – Oil tycoon, was one of the wealthiest men alive.
- Alain Prost – 4-time formula one champion. His mother was Armenian.
- System of a Down – American Rock band with all members of Armenian origin
#3 Armenian Genocide
Many sensitive topics often originate lively discussions or, even worse, when talking about Armenia. The most delicate of these is probably the Armenian Genocide.
The Armenian genocide was a mass deportation campaign and killing of the Armenian people of the Ottoman Empire conducted by the new Turkish government during WWI.
Armenians argue that it was a deliberate action to destroy the Armenian people, thus a genocide. The Turkish don’t accept this claim, and while accepting that some atrocities have happened, there was no official polity of extermination directly against the Armenian people.
It’s estimated that 1.5 Million ethnic Armenians were either deported or killed between 1914 and 1923. As said above, many Armenian diaspora communities surged due to these unfortunate events.
The Armenian Genocide has been on the news in the last few years because more and more countries (and the EU) have recognized the events as genocide. Consequently, the Turkish government denies it and strongly condemns countries that recognize it.
#4 Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict about Nagorno-Karabakh
Another delicate topic is the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which is yet to be solved. Populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan.
The main issue here is that the Karabakh Armenians demanded that Karabakh be transferred from Soviet Azerbaijan to Soviet Armenia initially and want to be part of Armenia now. They have Armenia’s support in its goal of breaking away from Azerbaijan, the internationally recognized owner of the land.
The conflict started in 1988 and had its worse part between 1992 and 1994 when a cease-fire was negotiated. In 2020 it has escalated again from a low-intensity conflict (1994-2020) to a full-scale war. This war is one of the unfortunate reasons for Armenia being constantly on the news and is naturally one of the things for which Armenia is famous.
#5 The first country to adopt Christianity
More than 95% of the Armenians are Christian, but most (about 92%) are members of Armenia’s own church, usually called the Armenian Apostolic Church. Founded in the 1st century, it’s considered one of the oldest Christian churches and, in 301 AD, became the first branch of Christianity to become a State religion.
Legend says that Christianity was introduced in Armenia by the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus in the 1st century, where it started to develop clandestinely. By the 4th century, in 301 AD, St. Gregory, the illuminator, convinced and converted Tiridates III, the king of Armenia, to Christianity. Since then, the Arminian Church has developed independently.
For this, Armenia is usually considered the first Christian country. In fact, many of the best things to do in Armenia are to explore their many unique churches and monasteries!
#6 The oldest Cathedral in the world
Armenia is also home to what is considered by many the oldest cathedral in the world, Etchmiadzin Cathedral – the mother church of Armenia Apostolic Church.
Etchmiadzin Cathedral is located in Vagharshapat, fairly close to Yerevan. The original church was built in the 4th century, between 301 and 303, following the adoption of Christianity mentioned above. It was built over a pagan temple, symbolizing the conversion to the new religion.
The building has gone through a lot during its long history, with several destructions and damages though it never lost significance for the Armenians.
Etchmiadzin Cathedral has been a world heritage site since 2000 and is one of the most famous landmarks in Armenia.
#7 Mount Ararat
What is Armenia famous for? Mount Ararat, right? This is a curious one, and it will probably make some of you cringe or be mad, but please bear with us for the explanation!
First of all, and to make it clear, Mount Ararat is not even inside today’s Armenia. Through the years, Mount Ararat has been passed through Armenia, Persia, Russia, and Turkey. Today it is in Turkey, close to the border with Armenia.
Nevertheless, Mount Ararat is the main symbol of Armenia, and it’s even considered sacred. They also believe it is Noah’s Ark’s resting place. Despite this interpretation of the Bible, there is no scientific evidence for it or even the Ark’s existence.
You can see the imposing mountain from Armenia, the best place to see it is probably Khor Virap, a beautiful monastery and one of Armenia’s most popular destinations. To visit it, you must go to Turkey, but all the borders between Turkey and Armenia are closed.
Within Armenia, you’ll see references to Mount Ararat everywhere. Stores, restaurants, banks, brands of things, you name it, and probably there are one or several Ararat-named products. The most famous is probably the Ararat brandy.
Yerevan is well-known for being a beautiful city with a long history and a model of Soviet architecture and design with huge, massive buildings, wide streets, and spacious city squares.
Armenia’s capital is also famous for being one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, with a history that dates back to the 9th century BCE when the fortress of Erebuni was founded by King Argishti I. Yerevan’s importance and size varied a lot during the centuries, with huge declines in importance for many centuries. Only in 1918 it became the capital of Armenia.
Yerevan is also famous for its very unique hue. The city is widely known as the pink city for its rose buildings due to the rosy ancient volcanic rock used to build most of its constructions. Republic Square is an excellent place to enjoy this uncommon design and colors.
Lavash is a thin, soft flatbread made with flour, yeast, water, and salt, baked in a tandoor. Toasted sesame and/or poppy seeds are sometimes sprinkled on before baking. It’s the most widespread bread in Armenia, but also in the neighboring countries, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey, as it’s common in the South Caucasus, Western Asia, and the Caspian Sea cuisines.
In 2014, Lavash’s preparation, meaning, and appearance was inscribed as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity, as an expression of culture in Armenia. Although Azerbaijan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan protested as they considered it regional, not Armenian. In 2016, making and sharing flatbread in those countries was also inscribed on UNESCO’s list.
So, lavash and similar types of bread aren’t only Armenian, but it’s a cornerstone of Armenian cuisine and of the things Armenia is famous for. Lavash is a very familiar sight when visiting the country. It’s very typical to see dried lavash stacked high in layers to be later used. When the time comes, it’s possible to rehydrate the bread by sprinkling it with water making it soft again.
To be clear, before we jump to conclusions, Chess was not invented in Armenia. Chess was derived from an Indian game called Chaturanga before the 7th century. Chess has been played in Armenia since the middle ages, but the interesting part happened later.
First, it was institutionalized during the Soviet times, and then after independence in 2011/12, chess entered the curriculum in every school in Armenia. Until today chess is compulsory for every child from the 2nd to the 4th grade, making Armenia the first and only country in the world to make chess mandatory in schools.
This was widely reported in the international media. Journalists and chess experts in various countries praised the program, making chess one of the things Armenia is famous for.
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